The Cummings of Altyre and the search for an ancient genealogy, part 2: ‘Truth has here lain in the bottom of a well’

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Part 1 of this study, in Proceedings volume 151 (Cleary 2022), analysed a tradition of descent built by the Gordon Cummings of Altyre, Moray, from a mix of historical fact, legend and romance, claiming descent from one of the two ‘Red Comyns’ killed by the Bruce party in Dumfries, 1306. In a 150-year genealogy linking the Red Comyns to the first verifiable Cumming resident of Altyre, only two of the names were demonstrably historical persons. Part 2 examines the historical evidence for these two individuals and for whether they were related in the way the Altyre tradition claims. It is argued that one of them, but not both, was a lineal ancestor of the Altyre Cummings. The two were more distantly related than tradition claims, and the first – Sir Richard Comyn the Crusader (c 1340–1412×1415) – founded a different line of Cummings, that of Couttie, Perthshire. The other, Alexander Cumyne, who contracted to marry a sister of the Dunbar earl of Moray in 1408, almost certainly is the Altyre line’s founder, and through him the Gordon Cummings may be descended from the Red Comyns, but in a different way to constructed tradition. In a remarkable series of letters by the antiquarian lawyer John Riddell, a sound account of the Cummings’ origin was put forward in the 1820s, before being overlooked for 200 years. Transcriptions are presented in an appendix to this article.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)217-239
Number of pages23
JournalProceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2023


  • medieval Scotland
  • medieval genealogy
  • tradition
  • Moray
  • Comyn
  • Cumming
  • antiquarian
  • John Riddell
  • Gelre armorial

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History

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