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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Cunninghame of Annbank and Enterkin, William (1757 - ?)

He provided the subject of Burns's ballad 'The Fete Champetre' — written to the tune 'Killiecrankie' which Cunninghame gave when he attained his majority and inherited his grandfather's estates, the two mansion houses of which both were in a ruinous state. Glibert Burns recorded the reasons for the fete, which was held in the summer of 1788, the year Burns began farming at Ellisland: 'Wishing to introduce himself with some eclat to the country, he got temporary erections made on the banks of the Ayr, tastefully decorated with shrubs and flowers for a supper and ball, to which most of the respectable families in the county were invited. It was a novelty in the county and attracted much notice. A dissolution of Parliament was soon expected, and this festivity was thought to be an introduction to a canvas for representing the County. Several other candidates were spoken of, particularly Sir John Whitefoord, then residing at Cloncaird, commonly pronounced Glencaird, and Mr Boswell, the well known biographer of Dr Johnson' — who is referred to as 'the meikle Ursa Major' in the first stanza of the poem — ' The political views of the festive assemblage which are alluded to in the ballad, if they ever existed, were, however, laid aside, as Mr Cunninghame did not canvas the county.'

As Burns put it:

"When Love and Beauty heard the news,
The gay green-woods amang, man;
Where gathering flowers and busking bowers,
They heard the blackbird's sang, man;
A vow they scal'd it with a kiss,
Sir Politics to fetter;
As theirs alone, the potent bliss
To hold a Fete Champetre'

The 'ether stone' or adder stone, referred to in the concluding stanza was used by the Druids as an amulet. There was a Druid superstition that adders formed little streaky coloured stones from their slough, which were believed to act as charms. These stones, of course, were simply beads made by primitive man.

As to the location of the Fete Champetre, John McVie has written: 'As Annbank was a comparatively small house in those days, and as Cunninghame ultimately took up his residence in Enterkin, it is very probable that the function was held in the holm on the banks of the river immediately below Enterkin House.'

Cunninghame married Catherine, daughter of Stewart of Afton, in 1794. They had 1 son.

Buy the Burns Encyclopedia online
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Complete Burns Songs

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