The National Records of Scotland has a series of letters from a minor courtier David Cunningham of Auchenharvie to his younger cousin David Cunningham of Robertland in Ayrshire. [1] The writer lived in London and had the office of ‘Receiver of rents the king had when he was Prince’ or ‘Receiver General of the Principality of Wales’, an office inherited from Adam Newton of Charlton House. [2] From this income he made miscellaneous payments for the royal wardrobe and for the lodgings of painters and engineers like Daniel Mitjens and Arnold Rotsipen. [3]

Mobilities Michael

Cunningham paid a stipend to gunsmith Arnold Rotsipen and house rent for the painter Daniel Mitjens, (TNA E101/439/2).

He may have been the ‘D: C’ who looked over and countersigned the bill for joinery at Ham House presented by Thomas Carter in 1639, (Christopher Rowell, Ham House (National Trust, 2013), p. 502.)

Cunningham had some interesting opinions on the building of the chapel at St. James Palace for Henrietta Maria, the funeral of Duke of Buckingham, and alterations at Denmark House to accommodate ‘certain religious (or rather irreligious) men coming hither out of France’. He also described an entertainment at Oxford given by Archbishop Laud at the end of August 1636, where walking ‘pyes’ represented English bishops and foreign cardinals to be reconciled by Charles, on which ‘he held his tongue’ and give no further comment. [4] Presumably he thought these views were controversial, because he asked his cousin to destroy these letters, ‘Sir, I beseech you burn my papers the time is woeful and dangerous, God bless the King.’ [5]

After hearing of his impending knighthood, he bought rights to seating in the kirk at Stewarton in Ayrshire and installed new pews. Three pews at the front by the pulpit  were built on steps higher than the others ‘for grace and a better view of the minister’. Housemaids were to sit on the steps outside the pew doors and ‘tenants of the better sort to sit in the rest’. While he was away in London his cousin could decide who sat at the front. [6]

Cunningham frequently expressed his contempt for the people of his estates in Ayrshire. He thought that his late brother Archibald had ‘spoiled all my tenants with his indulgent negligence’. His cousin knew that ‘strict dealing and awful authority is the best way to draw these rustic clowns in due obedience and order’, and he hoped they would not write to him, or worse turn up in London in person, ‘PS Sir, let the tenants know no other but you will use them the worse for complaining to me’. [7]

Cunningham Charlton pulpit

David Cunningham’s arms on the pulpit at St Luke’s Charlton.

He was clearly a gatekeeper for Scots seeking employment in London, and in these letters is seen deterring office seekers. He wrote of the limited opportunities available for a cousin of limited talent, James Cunningham:

I find his great spirit and conceit of mind doth so far exceed his ability or means of subsistence that it is part of my worke as a man of arte to learne him the rules of proportion, and to advise him to balance his estate and fortune, in the scale of discretion and judgement, [… ] the worst is I can not see a way how he shall be employed, it is almost impossible to sett any thing here now for any of our nation. [7]

Cunningham had an eye for costume. In May 1633 he wrote to Robertland confirming details of clothes he had ordered for him in London. These were to be worn when Charles I came to Edinburgh for his coronation. No expense was to be spared on this occasion and costs were rumoured to exceed those made in 1617 for the salmon-like return of James VI & I. Mr Heriot and Mr Peter Newton would deliver Robertland’s suits at Holyroodhouse. The letter is a typical example of Cunningham’s waspish humour:

Sir,   in my last to you I shew you how I was resolved to have sent you two coloured suits, but having as well seen and his majesties apparel newly made, as sundry other noble mens and likewise having taken advise of Patrick Black his majesties tailor, and some others, they have forth of considerable reasons altered my resolutions therefore now you shall expect a very rich cloth of silver doublet with black satin breeches and satin cloak much laced as the fashion is.

This suit is for all great days and holly days and when for variety you please to make this suit somewhat worse there is a black satin doublet suitable, also you shall have another fair new kind of wrought satin suit willow colour with silver lace doublet breeches and cloak, to which for change and variety your satin doublet will suit very well, you shall have stockings, garters, roses, points, girdles, hat bands, and some few facing bands to make you complete, they will cost you dear enough, for all commoditie for this [?] are straight risen.

Here is such preparation of sumptuous apparel made here this time especially by the English that certainly the like was never in Scotland, nor I think never shall be again, it is thought that clear  five times as much costly apparel made now than when King James went into Scotland.

Sir, you needed not in your letter to instruct me to be lavish of your purse for I am apt enough to transgress that way, yet I will put you to as little charge as I can: but your honour and reputation being engaged at such an extraordinary time as this (the like whereof I hope shall not be seen in my days) we must not stand too much on saving only it will give occasion to spair hereafter, [… ] [8]

The expenditure on costume was as conspicuous as Cunningham predicted and by 5 July it was reported in London that ‘the Scottish did far exceed the English in bravery’. [9]

Michael Pearce.


F264941, p.4

The image of his signature is from Folger X.d.672, Cunningham’s account for repairs he supervised at Berkhamsted House for Mrs. Murray, the widow of Secretary Murray – ‘which business as I might not refuse his majesty’s command, so I was the more willing to undergo it, in respect of the good affection that I owe to the gentlewoman and her children’, NRS GD237/25/1/7, 8 May 1629.


[1] National Records of Scotland GD237/25/1-4: David Cunningham of Auchenharvie was the executor of Adam Newton at Charlton, W. L Spiers, ‘The Note-book and Account Book of Nicolas Stone’, 7th Volume of the Walpole Society (Oxford, 1919), pp. 65-6, ‘In 1630 I mad a tombe for Ser Adam Niton and set it up at Charlenton by Grenwedg for the wich my very nobell frind Ser David Cuningham paid me 180£.’: Howard Colvin, Essays in English Architectural History (Yale, 1999), pp. 180-1.

[2] NRS GD237/25/1/6, 20 February 1629, ‘my uncle Sir Adam Newton who deceased on the 13th day of the last month, though he has appointed sundry other executors with me yet by his will he hath left the principal care of his children and estate unto me before all his other friends [ … ] it hath pleased my gracious master to settle me absolute receiver general of the principality of Wales in full and ample manner as Sir Adam had it, whereof formerly I was but deputy’

[3] Ayrshire Archives GB244 ATD5 is a duplicate of one of Cunningham’s official accounts for 1631: TNA E101/439/2 summarises activity in 1634.

[4] NRS GD237/25/4, no. 12, 4 October 1636: M. Questier, Newsletters from the Caroline Court (Cambridge, 2005), 289-90: M. Butler, ‘Entertaining the Palatine Prince: Plays on Foreign Affairs 1635-1637’, English Literary Renaissance, vol. 13, No. 3 (Autumn 1983), pp. 319-344, 338: Calendar State Papers Domestic, 1636-1637, 114-5, Garrard to Conway, 2 September 1636.

[5] NRS GD237/25/1 no.13, 16 November 1629: See the discussion of correspondence and (self)-censorship in K. Sharpe, The Personal Rule of Charles I (London, 1992), 682-90.

[6] NRS GD237/25/2 nos. 15, 18, Oct. & Nov. 1633, GD237/25/4 no. 20 9 (n.d): Cf. A Flather, Gender and Space in Early Modern England, (Woodbridge, 2007), pp. 135-173.

[7] NRS GD23725/4 no. 2, 2 February 1635, Ayrshire tenants.

[8] NRS GD237/25/4 no.1, 26 January 1635, James Cunningham in London.

[9] NRS GD237/25/2 no.11, 1 May 1633, Sumptuous apparel.

[10] Michael Questier, Newsletters from the Caroline Court (Cambridge, 2005), p. 189.


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