CUNYNGHAME, Sir William Augustus, 4th Bt. (1747-1828), of Livingstone, Linlithgow and Milncraig, Ayr.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. 19 Apr. 1747, o. surv. s. of Lt.-Gen. Sir David Cunynghame, 3rd Bt., by Lady Mary Montgomerie, da. of Alexander, 9th Earl of Eglintoun [S]. educ. Ch. Ch. Oxf. 1766; Grand Tour. m. (1) 21 Oct. 1768, Frances (d. 14 Nov. 1771), da. and eventual h. of Sir Robert Myreton, 2nd Bt., of Gogar, Edinburghshire, 3s.; (2) 22 June 1785, Mary, da. and h. of Robert Udney of Udney, Aberdeen, 4s. 1da. suc. fa. 10 Oct. 1767.

Offices Held

Clerk comptroller of the Board of Green Cloth June 1779-Mar. 1782; receiver of the land tax in Scotland June 1806-Mar. 1807.


Cunynghame’s father, a distinguished soldier, contested Linlithgowshire in 1761, and as early as 1764 announced his candidature against the Hopetoun interest at the next election.1 William was originally intended for the army, but having been refused a vacant commission in his father’s regiment, the 57th, apparently declined an unpaid ensigncy in the 33rd.2 On his father’s death in 1767 he went abroad, returning shortly before the 1768 election to support James Dundas in Linlithgowshire. To ‘void’ his vote, his opponents made search for his ‘birth brieve’ and fixed the election date for 16 Apr., three days before he came of age.3 Cunynghame’s objections were a major factor in the success of Dundas’s petition.

After the death of his wife in 1771 Cunynghame spent much time abroad, in Italy, Paris and Vienna,4 until the general election of 1774, when by agreement with the Hopetoun interest he was returned for Linlithgowshire.5 A wealthy young man of fashion, prone to ‘rattle’ of his ‘fabulous gallantries’, he was a close friend of his brother-in-law James Stuart and Lord Mountstuart,6 whose politics he followed. As a faithful, though inconspicuous, Government supporter, he was given a lucrative place in the King’s Household in June 1779, and made his first recorded speech in the debate of 22 June on doubling the militia.7 On 3 Dec., in the debate on Scotland’s defences, he denied the charges of his kinsman Lord George Gordon that Scotland was drained of men; and described from personal experience the ‘respectable state of preparation’ when Paul Jones was in the Firth of Forth.8

In the Parliament of 1780-4 no speech by him is recorded. He consistently voted with North to the end of his Administration; voted against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783; and for Fox’s East India bill, 27 Nov. 1783. In December, shortly before Pitt took office, Robinson counted him ‘contra’, but possibly ‘pro’ in a new Parliament:9

Sir William Cunynghame is at present warm in support of the Administration. If he comes in he may not be quite steady, though most probably will be so, because he leans to Lord Mountstuart and affects to go as that family does; but a word from Lord Hopetoun might set this right both now and in future.

Nevertheless he remained against Pitt to the end of the Parliament, when Henry Dundas used all his influence without success to replace him in Linlithgowshire.10 In the debate of 30 Mar. 1786 on Marsham’s bill to disfranchise employees of the navy and ordnance boards, Cunynghame accused Dundas of having sent down dockyard placemen to ‘interfere against him’, an expedient which Dundas justified on party principles.11

Cunynghame, impervious to the ridicule of Pitt and Dundas, and even, on occasion, the admonitions of his friends, stood forth as the indefatigable champion of Scottish interests. Determined to ‘give a brain blow’ to the application of the coal tax in Scotland, he pressed a division on 1 July 1784; strongly supported the forfeited estates bill on 2 Aug. 1784; opposed, 4 Aug., on behalf of the Scots manufacturers, the new duties on cotton and linen, and was vehement against the window tax as oppressive to Scotland. In 1785 he campaigned in and outside the House against Pitt’s Irish propositions as ruinous to the Scottish linen industry, corn trade, and fisheries. Strongly opposed to the abortive plan for reducing the number of Scottish judges, he actively supported in 1786 the proposed augmentation of their salaries, and unsuccessfully moved an amendment for a further increase commensurate with the emoluments of English judges. He won great popularity in Scotland, and exasperated Pitt, by his vehement support of the Scots distilling interests in the measures of 1785, 1786 and 1788. He consistently voted against Administration.12

Defeated in 1790 by the Government-sponsored Hopetoun interest, he did not re-enter Parliament.  He died 17 Jan. 1828.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. Sir David Cunynghame to W. Mure, 9 Apr. 1764, Caldwell Pprs. ii (2), p. 244.
  • 2. Barrington to Granby, 18 and 29 Sept. 1766, Rutland mss.
  • 3. Loudoun’s corresp. with Ld. Cassillis and John Bell, Mar.-Apr. 1768, Loudoun mss.
  • 4. See his letters to R. Murray Keith, Add. 35507, ff. 134, 222; also T. Heathcote to Keith, 5 Mar. 1774, ibid. f. 8.
  • 5. Laprade, 8.
  • 6. Boswell, Private Pprs. x. 163, 272-4; xi. 161, 254-5.
  • 7. Fortescue, iv. 371.
  • 8. Almon, xvi. 84-85.
  • 9. Laprade, 103.
  • 10. Dundas to Duke of Rutland, 13 Apr. 1784, HMC Rutland, iii. 88-89.
  • 11. Debrett, xx. 45-46.
  • 12. Stockdale, ii. 252-5, 263; iii. 368, 391, 447; iv. 310; v. 5-6, 7, 45-46, 49, 52, 217, 310; vi. 427; viii. 77-78, 153-4; xiii. 134, 183; xiv. 233; xv. 50.