There is uncertainty about the source from which this distinguished family may take its name. It may be that the name comes from land called Cukooburn in Roxburghshire. As the Scots word for ‘cuckoo’ is ‘gowk’, it is unlikely that this was its derivation. Also, the fact that the family heraldry consists of cockerels does not assist this theory, as canting, or punning, heraldry usually illustrates the sound of the bearer’s name rather than its origin. Anderson suggests that the name may be a corruption of the old English name ‘Colbrand’. Peres de Cockburne rendered homage to Edward I of England, and his name appears in the Ragman Roll of 1296. Sir Alexander de Cockburn married the daughter of Sir William de Vipont, owner of the lands of Langton in Berwickshire, who fell at the Battle of Bannockburn, and the said lands passed into the Cockburn family. Sir Alexander was succeeded by a son of the same name who, on 10 February 1373, was created hereditary usher, an office thereafter held as an adjunct to the barony of Langton by a charter of James IV in 1504. This honour was to cause one of the family some inconvenience. Balfour’s Annals narrate that the office of great usher had been usurped by John, Earl of Wigtown. A committee of Parliament had been appointed to consider the complaint and report. Langton was not prepared to wait for such long-winded deliberations, and when the king entered the Parliament chamber he stepped forward, baton in hand, protesting his rights against those of the Earl of Wigtown. The king, offended at such disruption, immediately had the protesting great usher committed to Edinburgh Castle as a prisoner. He was released later that day on the petition of Parliament. The original chiefly line sold the barony and estate of Langton to a cousin who was created a baronet in his own right in May 1671. His successors still appear on the Roll of Baronets. Other distinguished Cockburns have included Lord Cockburn (1779–1854), a distinguished judge and author, and Sir George Cockburn, who conveyed the Emperor Napoleon to his final exile on the island of St Helena.

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