Hunters of Hunterston, or, of that Ilk ... (Detailed History)
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The estate of Hunterston comprising Hunterston and Campbeltoun, two conterminous properties which retaining their distinctive names and rights, have been for centuries incorporated, is situated on the coast to the westward of Southannan. It is the only portion of the parish of Kilbride, which from its earliest division in the twelfth century has remained unalienated, and is the seat of the Hunters of Hunterston, or of that Ilk, a family of great antiquity.
Although the tower fortalice and manor place of Huntarstoune" are repeatedly named in the writs of the period, Bleau inadvertently failed to indicate them correctly in the map which he engraved for Pont about ad 1600. "Kamello" however is to be found in the position which Campbelton should occupy and the diligent topographer of Cuninghame duly caters "Kammeltounc" in his "Alphabett", and records that "Huntarstoune belongs to Robert Huntar laird thereof".
The surname of Venator or Huntar is of early Norman origin. Professor Innes tells us that "the use of fixed surnames arose in France about the year 1000, came into England about sixty years later with the Norman Conquest, and reached us in Scotland, speaking roundly about the year 1100". Sixteen years afterwards that is to say in 1116 we find in our Cartularies the name of William Venator as a witness with Hugh de Morville to an inquisition by David Prince of Cumbria; and this is noteworthy when we recall that "the race of Stuart already first of Scotch families in opulence and power were distinguished by no surnames for several generations after the Norman Conquest".
Surnames deseriptive of personal peculiarities and of callings or occupations, were not general until the thirteenth century and it would appear therefore that the designation of Venator which originated in the eleventh century must have been derived from the office of the first of the name who bore it. Renowned moreover as were the Normans for profieiency in venatic pursuits, and common to all as were the sports of the chase a special application must necessarily have been given to this appellative, and it is evident that the surnames of Grosvenor and of Venator were conferred distinctively on Le Gros Veneur, the holder par eminence of an hereditary office.
In the early charters the name assumes many forms of spelling and is recorded as Huntr, Huntar, or Huntare but in all the more recent documents it is written Hunter, according to the present mode of orthography. It matters little whether the designation Hunter of that Ilk arose from the family having assumed the name of the lands they acquired, or conferred their own upon them there is evidence enough in the writings of our best genealogists and in the expression "of that Ilk" itself, that the name of the property and the proprietor were the same Bellenden explains of that Ilk to mean that he who is thus designed "has a title the same with his surname".
Sprung from the same source descended, from a common ancestor two families of the name whilst acknowledging the identity of origin contested for some centuries the honour of precedence that of which we treat and Hunter of Polmood in Tweddale now extinct. But it is noteworthy that the rival house was invariably designated of Polmood and was never styled of that Ilk a distinction accorded as we have stated to the Ayrshire family.
In his notice of the Polmood branch Sir James Dalrymple satirically alludes to a copy of a charter "carried about" in his day by its representative, and alleged to have been granted by Malcolm Canmore in the first year of his reign (ad 1057) to Norman Hunter, the earliest of the name on record. A copy of this spurious document is inserted by Pennecuick in his History of Tweeddale and the too eredulous doctor does not appear to have entertained a doubt of its authenticity, but Armstrong who wrote more recently (ad 1775), interested himself in ascertaining the genuineness of this charter and pronounced its existence to be purely mythical. Professor Innes affirms that Scotland had no charters of any description so early as the reign of Malcolm Canmore even in the reigns of his sons, he says, none were granted to lay men, these first appearing in the time of David I.
This however is rather a hasty conclusion in the face of the fact that the monks of the Priory of St Andrews had a grant or charter of the lands of Kyrkness from Macbeth and his wife Gruoch, some years prior to the reign of Malcolm Canmore. The non existence of crown records and private charter chests, earlier than the twelfth or thirteenth centuries does not warrant us in the belief that no such thing as charters existed.
The earlier grants of the crown have come down to us mainly through the medium of the church and these of course refer almost solely to ecclesiastical gifts. But it is not thence to be inferred that lay grants were not also given That a species of feudalism prevailed in Scotland long previous to the advent of the Normans, is pretty generally admitted. But be this as it may, it is certain that Norman Hunter could not have been born until some years after the decease of the monarch of whose pretended rhyming charter, Pennccuick inserts the subjoined alleged copy.
"I, Malcolm Canmore, King, the first of my reign, give to thee, Norman Hunter of Polmood", the Hope up and down above the earth to heaven and below the earth to hell, as free to thee and thine as ever God gave it to me and mine; and that for a Bow and a Broad Arrow when I come to hunt in Yarrow "