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The Norman Legacy

Clan Cumming is believed by some to descend from the Norman nobleman Robert Comyn (Comines) who fought at Hastings, becoming for a short time Earl of Northumberland and losing his life during the rebellion at Durham in January 1069. Others contend that the family owes its early political progress to William Comyn Lord Chancellor of Scotland from 1136 to King David l and its’ traceable lineage to his nephew Richard Comyn, who married Hextilda of Tynedale,  granddaughter to the Scottish king Donald III. Richard’s descendants acquired further land and influence through strategic marriages and by 1300 the Comyns were the most powerful clan in Scotland holding 13 Scottish earldoms. The insignia of the clan was the cumin plant – in Gaelic Lus Mhic Cuiminn. The clan had three principal branches in Badenoch, Buchan and Kilbride.

Ascendancy of the Clan

In Badenoch the clan’s early base was at Lochindorb Castle, south-east Inverness-shire. Sir John I Comyn the first Lord of Badenoch -famously known as ‘the Red Cumin’ –was in 1240 ambassador of Alexander II to King Louis IX of France. His son John II ‘the Black’ Comyn married the sister of Donald III’s successor John Balliol and was one of the ‘Competitors’ for the Scottish Crown, though deferring his interest to Balliol despite being a descendant of both kings Donald III and David I. Their son John III, also ‘the Red’, was rival to and co leader with Robert Bruce of the Scottish forces which fought the War of Independence from England.
He was Guardian of Scotland during the Second Interregnum 1296–1306.

Greyfriars and Culbleau

John III ‘the Red Comyn’ and Sir Robert Comyn of Altyre (from whom this branch of the family are said to descend directly) were murdered at a meeting at Greyfriars Church, Dumfries 1306 by Robert Bruce and his followers. The factionalism that broke out subsequently saw an end to the hegemony of the Comyns at the Battle of Inverurie in 1308. John’s son, also known as the Red Comyn, was the last of the family to hold the title of Lord Badenoch. The high mark in the family’s political fortunes passed with the slaying of a number of leading Comyn nobles at the battle of Culbleau in Glenwick in 1335. On the death of John the Red the chieftainship fell to the Cummings of Altyre.

Decline and Feud

The 14thto 16th centuries witnessed further decline. Castle Grant, a former Comyn stronghold was taken by the Grants and MacGregors in the 14th century and the Comyn chief slain. By the 15th century ‘Clan Cumming’ was no longer at the centre of government or a source of power, although its influence persisted in Badenoch, Strathspey and in Aberdeenshire. Feuds with other clans dominated the 15th-16th centuries– notably with Clan Macpherson, Clan Brodie and Clan Shaw over land in Nairnshire. In 1550 Alexander Brodie and his supporters were denounced as rebels for attacking the Cummings of Altyre. Heavily outnumbered, Clan Cumming emerged victors in support of the Earl of Huntly against the Earl of Argyll at the Battle of Glenlivet 1594. In the 16th and 17th centuries we learn of members of Clan Cumming serving as the hereditary pipers and fiddlers to the Laird of Grant of Clan Grant.

Cumming and Gordon

In 1657 in a marriage that echoes the strategic unions made by the Comyns in the 12th and 13th centuries, Robert Cumming of Altyre took for his second wife, Lucy, daughter of Sir Ludovick Gordon of Gordonstown, 1st baronet of Nova Scotia. Their great-great grandson later became the first Baronet, who as Sir Alexander Penrose Cumming Gordon assumed the additional surname of Gordon on succeeding to the Gordon of Gordonstoun estates. In April 1671 a Crown Charter was issued at the Palace of Whitehall ‘to Robert Cumyng of Altyre and heirs male creating the free Barony of Altyre.

Council and Parliament

By the mid-18th century the Cummings of Altyre were better known for their civic associations in the area and with Forres in particular. George Cumming, son of Alexander Cumming and Elizabeth Brodie was Provost of Forres, holding the Civic Chair from 1757-59. In 1763 he retired from the army to Altyre and had much influence over the estate. He was succeeded by his grandnephew Alexander Penrose Cumming who in 1773 married Helen Grant, fifth daughter of Sir Ludovick Grant of Grant. Alexander became Provost of Forres from 1776-78 and again from 1782-84. Sir Alexander Penrose Gordon Cumming had seven sons and nine daughters. The Gordon-Cumming baronetcy was created on 27 May 1804 for the then Alexander Cumming – Gordon formerly Member of Parliament for Inverness Burghs.



Sir Alexander Gordon-Cumming was succeeded in 1806 by his third son William Gordon. Following his first wife’s death he married Jane Eliza Mackintosh and two of their children became well known adventurers. Constance Gordon Cumming became a notable author, painter and travel writer. Roualeyn Gordon Cumming gained fame as an African explorer.

Altyre, Gordonstoun, Dallas

Sir William was succeeded by Sir Alexander Penrose Gordon Cumming (1816-1866) and followed in turn by his son Lt Col Sir William Gordon Gordon-Cumming the 4th baronet who inherited in 1866 at the age of eighteen three large Moray estates - Altyre, Gordonstoun and Dallas-  amounting to over 38,000 acres and covering an area of 156km2. Two years later he secured a commission in the Scots Guards, fought in the Anglo-Zulu War, rose to the rank of Lt Colonel and at one stage found himself shipwrecked off the coast of Cape Town. He led a colourful life in London society before marrying in June 1891 the American heiress Florence Josephine Garner.

Arts & Crafts Renewal

Her drive and resources were instrumental in reshaping Altyre until the Wall Street Crash in 1929 depleted her fortune. Their stewardship represents the modern heyday of the estate. They commissioned the Arts and Crafts architect WL Carruthers and later John Kinross of Edinburgh to redesign and redevelop Altyre. The marriage produced four children and on Sir William’s death in May 1930 he was succeeded by the fifth baronet Sir Alexander Penrose Gordon –Cumming (1893-1939).

The Youngest Laird

On the latter’s death in 1939, Sir William Gordon Cumming became laird at the young age of 11. Following active service in the 1940s he returned home to devote his life to the estate. His tenure until his death in 2002 is notable for the stability it brought to Altyre. An exemplary sportsman and a progressive landowner he stands out as the ‘architect’ of the modern estate. He became a notable figure in forestry and was regarded as a far sighted conservationist. With his passing in 2002 the current laird, his son Sir Alexander Gordon-Cumming, inherited the estate as 7th baronet.

Foundations for the Future

Alastair has sought to build on his father’s philosophy and practice. Most notably by consolidating Altyre as a ‘family estate’. The developments and initiatives described on this web site mark a new era in the outlook, diversification and renewal of Altyre.

Link: If you wish to find out more about the Comyn-Gordon Cumming story please visit our Clan Comyn website at

Our aim is to establish Altyre as the 'rural hub' within Moray and as a regional 'gateway' to innovation, enterprise and investment.
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