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MacDuff


Although the MacDuffs Earls of Fife have always played a prominent part in Scottish affairs, the MacDuff family is not conspicious in the more recent periods of clan history. Tradition says that the MacDuff who opposed Macbeth and assisted Malcolm to the throne of Scotland, was the 1st Earl of Fife. The MacDuffs enjoyed the privilege of crowning the King and of leading the Scottish army. The old Earldom of Fife became extinct in 1353 on the death of the 12th Earl, Duncan but in the following centuries, seperate families of Duffs and MacDuffs featured prominently. In 1759 William Duff, Lord Braco was created Earl of Fife in the Irish peerage of Great Britain as Baron Fife. The Earls of Fife built Duff House, Banff and founded the town of Dufftown in 1817 having a barony from MacDuff on the Moray Firth. Alexander born in 1849 was Duke of Fife and Earl of Macduff and became Lord Lieutenant of the county of London. He married the daughter of King Edward VII, Princess Alexandra Victoria in 1889. He was succeeded by his daughter who married Prince Arthur of Connaught in 1912. In north-east Fife near Newburgh there is the cross of MacDuff where according to ancient tradition sanctuary could be claimed by any kinsman of the MacDuffs.

Another account of the Clan

BADGE: Lus nam braoileag (vaccineum vitis idea) red whortle berry.
PIDROCH: Cu ‘a Mhic Dhu.

MacDuffANDRO of Wyntoun, in his famous chronicle, tells the story of the circumstances in which the early chief of this clan rose to note and power. It was in the middle of the eleventh century, when Macbeth, one of the greatest Scottish kings, afterwards to be so sadly defamed by Shakespeare, was in the seventeenth year of his reign. Macbeth, like the later James I., had made "the key keep the castle, and the bush the cow " throughout Scotland. As Wyntoun put it,

All hys tyme wes gret plente
Abowndand bath in land and se.
He wes in justice ryclit lawchfull,
And till hys legis all awiull.

As was to happen afterwards in the case of James I., however, Macbeth’s strictness of rule and justice of government made him many enemies among the nobles of his realm, who found themselves subject to law equally with the humblest peasant. In the end it was the king’s jnsistence on fair play which brought about his downfall. The chronicler tells how Macbeth was building his great new castle, of which the traces are still to be seen, on the little mount of Dunsinnan in the Sidlaws. For this work of national importance the lieges had to furnish teams and working parties. As he watched the building, Macbeth one day saw one of the teams of oxen engaged in drawing timber fail at its work. On inquiry he was told that the inferior oxen had been furnished by Macduff, Thane of Fife, and with indignation he threatened to put the Thane’s Own neck into the yoke and make him draw. Macduff knew that the king was apt to be as good as his word, and he forthwith fled. He went first to his castle of Kennachy, then took boat across the Fifth of Forth from the spot still known from that circumstance as Earlsferry. At Kennachy his wife, who seems to have been of stouter heart than her husband, kept the pursuing king in treaty till she saw Macduff’s boat safely reach the middle of the Firth. From this occurrence arose the rule down to a recent period that any fugitive taking boat at Earlsferry was protected from pursuit till he had made his way halfway across the Firth. Macduff fled to the court of Siward, Earl of Northumbria, where he represented to Macbeth’s cousins, sons of the late Duncan, King of Scots, that the time was ripe for them to secure possession of their father’s throne. Duncan’s legitimate sons held back, knowing that they were Macbeth’s natural heirs, who must shortly succeed to the crown without effort. But an illegitimate prince, Malcolm, son of King Duncan and the miller’s daughter at Forteviot, saw his opportunity, and seized it. All the world knows how, helped by Siward and guided by Macduff, he invaded Scotland, drove Macbeth from Dunsinnan to Lumphanan on Deeside, and finally slew him there. Afterwards, Malcolm III. being firmly seated on his throne, Macduff asked, for his services, three special boons: first, that in all time coming his descendants should have the privilege at royal coronations of leading the king to the coronation chair; second, that, when the kings of Scots made war, the Thanes of Fife should have the honour of commanding the vanguard; and third, that if the Thane or his kindred to the ninth degree should slay a man he should be entitled to remission on payment of a fine, twenty-four merks for a gentleman and twelve for a yoeman, while if anyone slew a kinsman of the Thane he should be entitled to no such relief. As a result of this last boon, as late as 1421 three gentlemen in Fife who could claim kin with Macduff obtained a remission for the slaughter of Melville of Glenbervie upon payment of the stipulated fine. A more famous occasion on which the Boon of Macduff came into play was at the coronation of King Robert the Bruce. Duncan, the Earl of Fife of that time, had married Mary de Monthermer, niece of Edward I. of England, and was upon the English side, acting as Governor of Perth. His sister Isabella, however, who had married John Comyn, Earl of Buchan, was an ardent Scottish patriot, and at Scone in 1306 exercised the right of her house, and brought the sanction of ancient usage to the ceremony, by leading Bruce to the place of coronation. Both the Thane and his sister suffered from the contrasting parts they played. Falling into the hands of the English, the Countess of Buchan was imprisoned by Edward I. in a cage on the walls of Berwick, while Earl Duncan and his wife were captured by Bruce and imprisoned in the castle of Kildrummie in Aberdeenshire, where the Earl died in 1336.

Gilmichael, fourth Earl of Fife, who died in 1139, left two sons, of whom the elder, Duncan, carried on the line, while Hugo the younger, became ancestor of the house of Wemyss, which now probably represents the early thanes and earls of Fife.

Duncan, twelfth Earl of Fife, who was killed in 1353, was the last of the direct line of these early thanes. His daughter Isabella, who died without issue, conveyed the property and title of the earldom to the third son of King Robert II., who afterwards became notorious in Scottish history as the first Duke of Albany. During the Duke’s lifetime the title of Earl of Fife was borne by his son Murdoch, and upon the execution and forfeiture of this Murdoch, Duke of Albany, by his cousin James I. in 1425, the earldom at last became extinct.

The name Duff is believed to be the Celtic Dubh, which was given as a descriptive name to any Highlander who might be dark-complexioned, like Sir Walter Scott’s famous character, Roderick Dhu. The numerous families of Duff, therefore, who afterwards appeared as respectable burgesses of Aberdeen and Inverness, may not all have been descended from the original stock of the Thanes of Fife.

The family of the name which was afterwards to attain most consequence had for its founder a certain Adam Duff, tenant in Cluny Beg. One of the two sons of this farmer, another Adam Duff, born about 1598, by his remarkable shrewdness and sagacity, laid the foundation of the future greatness of his house. In the wars of Montrose and the Covenanters, he took part on the Royalist side, and was fined in consequence; but he died between 1674 and 1677 in possession of considerable wealth. His eldest son, Alexander Duff, took advantage of the great depression which prevailed in the country just before the Union with England, and purchased the lands of many of the old lairds in Banffshire and Aberdeenshire. Among the lands which he obtained on wadset or mortgage, and which the proprietors were never able to redeem, was Keithmore, a possession of the Huntly family, from which he took his designation as Alexander Duff of Keithmore. He also further advanced the family fortunes by marrying Helen, daughter of Grant of Ballentomb, ancestor of the lairds of Monymusk. This lady’s prudence and industry, not less than her wealth, went far to raise the fortunes of the family. The eldest son of the pair, again, Alexander Duff of Braco, continued to add to the family estates, which now included Aberlour, Keith-Grange, and Mortlach. At the time of the union he was Member of Parliament for Banffshire. He and his son, William Duff of Braco, were men of great importance in their district. Among other events in which they were concerned was the arrest in romantic circumstances of the cateran James MacPherson.

William Duff, however, died without surviving male issue, and the family estates passed to his uncle, another of the same name. This individual had already acquired immense wealth as a merchant in Inverness. According to Cosmo Innes, in Sketches of Early Scottish History, " he was a man of very general dealings—large and small. He could take charge of a commission for groceries, or advance the price of a barony, on good security. He had formed extensive connections, and was the first man in the north who dealt in money on a large scale, and he laid the foundation of a very noble fortune." This highly successful merchant acquired large estates in Morayshire, including Dipple and Pluscardine, and was known as William Duff of Dipple. On the death of his nephew, William Duff of Braco, in 1718, the older family estates also, as already mentioned, came into his possession, and when he died himself in 1722 he left his eldest son the landed proprietor with the largest rent-roll in the north of Scotland £6,500 sterling all clear.

As a result that son, still another William Duff " of Braco and Dipple," was M.P. for Banffshire from 1727 to 1734. In the following year he was made Baron Braco of Kilbride in the peerage of Ireland, and twenty-four years later was raised to be Viscount Macduff and Earl Fife in that same peerage. He continued the policy of his family by purchasing further large estates in the counties of Aberdeen, Banff, and Moray, and managed all his possessions with much care and ability. Two years after his father’s death he rebuilt the castle of Balveny, and between 1740 and 1745 he built the splendid mansion of Duff House at a cost of £70,000. During the Jacobite rebellion in 1745 he joined the Duke of Cumberland, and offered the Government his free services in any way that might be desired. By his first wife, a daughter of the Earl of Findlater and Seafield, he had no children, but he married again, a daughter of Grant of Grant, and two of his sons in succession inherited the earldom.

James, the elder of these, was Member of Parliament Successively for Banff and Elgin, and was made a peer of the United Kingdom as Baron Fife in 1790. By careful purchase he nearly doubled the size of the family estates, and he changed the name of the town of Doune, where Duff House was situated, to Macduff, procuring for the place at the same time a royal charter as a burgh. He married the only child of the ninth Earl of Caithness, but died without male issue, when his peerage of the United Kingdom of course expired. His brother Alexander, who succeeded as third Earl in 1809, married a daughter of Skene of Skene, and in consequence his son James, who became the fourth Earl, succeeded to the estates of Skene and Cariston in 1827. This Earl. distinguished himself during the Peninsular War. He volunteered his services, became a Major-General in the Spanish army fighting against Napoleon, and was twice wounded, at the battle of Talavera and at the storming of Fort Matagorda near Cadiz. In consequence, he was made a Knight of the Order of St. Ferdinand of Spain and of the Sword of Sweden. He was also made a Knight of the Thistle and G.C.H., and in 1827 was made a peer of the United Kingdom as Baron Fife. In private life he was notable as an art collector, and the towns of Elgin, Banff, and Macduff owed much to his generosity. He died, however, without issue, and was succeeded by James, son of his, brother, Sir Alexander Duff of Delgaty Castle, as fifth Earl. This Earl’s wife was a daughter of the seventeenth Earl of Errol and Lady Elizabeth Fitz Clarence, daughter of King William IV. He was Lord-Lieutenant of Banffshire, and was made a peer of the United Kingdom as Baron Skene in 1857 and a Knight of the Thistle in 1860.

The only son of this peer, who succeeded him in 1879, was Alexander William George, sixth Earl Fife, who was to be the last male of the more modern line. Before succeeding to the peerage he became Lord-Lieutenant of Elginshire, and he was M.P. for Elgin and Nairn from 1874. He was also Captain of the Corps of Gentlemen at Arms, and was a highly popular peer. The climax of the fortunes of his family was reached when in 1889 he married Her Royal Highness the Princess Louise, eldest daughter of the Prince of Wales, afterwards the late King Edward. Already, in 1889, he had been created an Earl of the United Kingdom, and two days after his marriage he was made a Duke. In 1900, seeing he had no sons, he was further created Earl of Macduff and Duke of Fife, with special remainder to his first and other daughters by the Princess Louise, and their male issue, and in 1905 his wife received the title of the Princess Royal, while her daughters were ordained to bear the title of Princess and to rank immediately after all members of the Royal Family bearing the style of Royal Highness. A great sensation was caused, when in 1912, the vessel in which the Duke and his Duchess, with their two daughters, were sailing to the east, was shipwrecked in the Mediterranean. None of the family was drowned, but the Duke’s health gave way, and he died shortly afterwards. He was succeeded in the honours and estates of the dukedom by his elder daughter, Her Highness the Princess Alexandra Victoria Duff, who in the following year married H.R.H. Prince Arthur of Connaught. The ancient line of the Duffs, therefore, has now merged in a branch of the reigning house of these realms.

Among distinguished people of the name of Duff has been the famous Indian missionary and publicist, Alexander Duff, D.D., LL.D., Moderator of the General Assembly of the Free Church in 1851, and one of the framers of the constitution of Calcutta University, who founded the Missionary Chair in the New College, Edinburgh, and was the first missionary professor. During the Irish insurrection of 1798 it was General Sir James Duff, commander of the Limerick District, who rendered the important service of keeping Limerick quiet. It was Robert Duff, who, as senior officer of a squadron in 1759, drew the French into the main body of the British fleet, and brought about the battle of Quiberon Bay. He became Commander-in-Chief in Newfoundland in 1775, and as Vice-Admiral co-operated at the siege of Gibraltar in 1779. And Sir Robert William Duff, who for a time bore the name of Abercrombie, was successively M .P. for Banffshire, a commander in the Navy, a member of the Liberal Government, a Privy Councillor, and was made G.C.M.G. and Governor of New South Wales in 1893.

Septs of Clan MacDuff: Duff, Fife, Fyfe, Spence, Spens, Wemyss.


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