The Duffs are descended from
those original Gaels who inhabited the Highlands of Scotland long before the
Roman Invasion, and before the Christian era. Their ancient Gaelic name, Dhuibh,
is pronounced Duff, and signifies a dark complected man with dark hair. The
first Scottish Highlanders were members of the ancient German Tribes who crossed
over the German Ocean and settled first on the east and north coast of the
barren Island of Caledonia, later moving inland. They were of the Chauci, Cimbri,
Suevi, Catti. and others, all fair complected with either red or brown hair, and
of a giant stature and enormous endurance. The people of Britain and the
lowlands of Scotland were originally from France and southern Europe, but the
Highlanders from the beginning, kept themselves apart, and did not mingle with
the lowlanders, whom they hated.
The Duffs were of German Catti
ancestry, having settled on the shores of Caithness in very early times. At
first they were of the ancient Kournaovioi Tribe who occupied the north
peninsula of Caithness, later moving down into Moray below the Moray Firth,
where they were Mormaers of the Kanteai Tribe for many ages. At one time Moray
included all the north central Highlands, and the more reliable historians agree
that the famous Thane of Fife (Fifus Duffus) came from Moray, previous to the great historical
event which brought him to the attention of posterity.
With the other Caledonian Tribes
the Duffs fought the Roman Invaders and thus prevented the foreigners from
gaining a foothold in Scotland.
According to an old genealogical
manuscript, the Duffs were Mormaers of Moray during the era of the Pictish
Kings, and were also prominent in Fife and Fothriff. Strath Avon was one of
their old neighborhoods, near the Cairngorm Mountains.
The first Official Record of the
Thanes of Fife was in the year 838 A.D. At that time Kenneth MacAlpin, who bore
the blood of both Pictish and Scots-Irish Kings in his veins, had united two
warring nations under one rule in the name of Scotland. When he appointed his
Governors for the several Provinces, Fifus Duffus, or Duff of Fifeshire was
appointed Governor of Fifeshire.
In 1039 Queen Gruoch's
(travestied by Shakespeare as Lady Macbeth) second husband King Macbeth, Mormaer
of Moray - who also belonged to the House of Duff slew King Duncan and seized
upon the Throne, and when Duff, the Thane of Fife, vowed that he would "I not be
ridden with a snaffle" and failed to aid in building MacBeth's Castle, the
pretender swore vengeance and drove Duff, the Thane of Fife, into exile. Duff
hurried to England to join forces with Malcolm, young son of King Duncan, and
now that he had reached maturity, prevailed upon him to return to Scotland and
take for himself the Throne of his fathers.
In 1057 after the death of her
second husband, King MacBeth. the son of Queen Gruoch (who was the senior
representative of the House of Duff), by her first husband, succeeded as King
But upon returning, with an
Duff, the Thane, found that MacBeth had murdered Lady MacDuff and several of her
children. and attacking MacBeth's Castle of Dunsinane, they drove him north into
the Hills above the Dee River, where Duff slew the Pretender on a slope above
Lumfannaaine, and carried his head to Prince Malcolm.
When King Malcolm of Canmore was
firmly established on the Throne, he called a Parliament at Forfar in 1057, and
rewarded those who had aided him in attaining the crown, King Malcolm honored
with three sorts of Privileges -
That the Earl of Fife,
by Office, shall bear the heraldic red lion rampant of
the Royal House, and shall set the Crown upon the King's head on
the stone of Scone at his Coronation.
Battle to his enemies, that the same Earl should lead the Vanguard of
That when the King should give
and Power within
all their lands, as to appoint officers and judges for the hearing and
determination of all manner of Controversies - "Treason onlie
excepted" - and if any men or tenants were called to answer
in any court other than their own circuit, they
appeal to their own judges.
That the lineage of Duff should
enjoy Regal authority
should kill by chance and not by pretensed malice, twenty four marks
fine, and released from punishment by
In case of slaughter of a mean
person, twelve marks fine - and if a
King Malcolm also commanded Duff
to build a great Sanctuary in his own district of Fife, where his people could
seek safety in time of need. It was called the Gurth Cross, and it stood high in
the Ochill Range, near the border between Fifeshire and Strathearne.
At that time the King raised the
Thanes of his Kingdom to Earldoms, and Duff was made Senior Earl of Scotland.
He was also Commander in Chief of
the Royal Army, and when word was received that Lulach. Queen Gruoch's (Lady
MacBeth) son, had tried to seize the crown at Scone, Duff was given full
Commission in the King's name, and marching against Lulach, he encountered the
rebel at the village of Essen in Bogdale, and slew him.
At the time the Norse -men had
gained a foothold in Moray, and in 1087 there was another outbreak in the
turbulent north. Under the leadership of Maelsnectan, son of Lulach, the
insurgents of Moray, Ross and Caithness rose and slew the King's representatives
and laid wait to the country.
Shaw MacDuff, second son of the
Earl of Fife, was sent to investigate the trouble, and finding the rebels well
equipped and strongly entrenched in a great camp at Elgin beyond the Spey River,
the officer stationed himself at Braemar, where he subdued the inhabitants and
awaited the arrival of the Kings army.
The Earl of Fife and his eldest
son, Alexander MacDuff, accompanied King Malcolm to Monimuske, situated on Kings
lands in Aberdeenshire, where they were joined by the younger MacDuff, and there
were great preparations for a decisive encounter with the enemy.
The old inhabitants, descendents
of the ancient Picts, hated the Norse and newcomers, and these people rose and
joined the King's forces.
Malcolm vowed to give Monimuske
to the Church of Saint Andrew if he were victorious and a few days later they
moved west toward the enemy camp. Led by Malcolm Canmore and the three MacDuffs, the royal forces came to the Spey
River where they encountered Maelsnectan and his rebels. There were several skirmishes, but at last the Moray
men saw that they could not stand against the King's army, and through the good
offices of certain church men the matter was arranged and the rebellion quelled.
Shaw MacDuff, younger son of the
Earl of Fife, was made governor of Moray, and had his headquarters at Inverness,
where Malcolm built a great new fortress.
The ancient Castle of the Thanes
of Fife stood half a mile west of Culross Abbey, and not far from Saint Andrews.
It was the fortress of Dunamarle, and was the place where MacBeth had slain Lady
MacDuff and her helpless children.
The Earl of Fife built another
stronghold, MacDuff Castle, on a sea-cliff above the waters of the Forth. It
overlooked the coast line and the mountain vistas landward. Alexander, the
oldest son of the great Mormaer, inherited the title and estates, and continued
to be prominent on the affairs of Scotland until the time of Alexander the
Gillemichael, fourth Earl of
Fife, witnessed the Charter of Holyrood granted by David I, and Duncan
the Sixth Earl. was one of the nobles who treated for the ransom of King William
Duncan MacDuff, tenth Earl
supported the succession of the Maid of Norway, and the Twelfth Earl signed the
letter to the Pope in 1220. He also supported Alexander, the third, at the
Battle of Largs when Haco and the Norsemen were defeated.
In the latter part of the
thirteenth century Duncan, Earl of Fife, married the niece of Edward the First,
King of England. He was Governor of Perth, and perhaps it was natural that he
took the side of his wife's people. At any rate, he was on the opposite side
against Robert The Bruce, and Isabell, MacDuff's sister, was married to the Earl
of Buchan, a Comyn - and mortal enemy to Bruce.
However, the Countess of Buchan
was a lady of spirit, and a true Scotswoman, and she officiated at Robert
Bruce's Coronation, placing the Crown upon his head in accordance with
hereditary right of her people. It was said that circumstance was responsible
for the situation with the Earl of Fife, Isabell's brother, but when her
husband, Earl of Buchan, learned that she had crowned Bruce, he wanted to kill
Bruce had slain Buchan's kinsmen,
the Red Comyn and his Uncle, and when Isabell was later captured and displayed
publicly in a cage by Edward the First, it was said that her vicious husband
enjoyed her public humiliation, and tried to prevail upon Edward to kill her.
After Bruce won the War for
Independence and the Scottish ladies were released, Buchan had been forced to
flee England, however, and Isabell returned to her own domicile in safety.
But Robert Bruce did not take
kindly to the treatment accorded the ladies, and later when the Earl of Fife and
his lady fell into his hands, King Robert imprisoned them in Kildrummy Castle,
Aberdeenshire, where they remained until the Earl's death in 1336.
Duncan, the next Earl, marched
with the Scots against the English and was taken prisoner at Dupplin, however,
and his son and successor was slain fighting gallantly against the English at
Durham in 1346.
His daughter, also named Isabell,
was his heiress, but dying without issue, the title went to Robert, third son of
Robert the Third.
The Clan had several Cadet
Chieftains, but in 1401 Robert the Third granted lands and the Barony of
Muldavit to David Duff, Grandson of the last Earl of Fife, by a younger child.
The title remained in the family until the time of Charles the First.
The power of the Duffs in
Fifeshire had declined somewhat, but other branches had risen powerfully in the
North, in Aberdeen, where many of them were prosperous merchants, and in the
neighborhood of Banff and Inverness.
A later Chief, William MacDuff,
of Banff, was raised to the peerage of Ireland, as Baron Braco of Kilbride, and
being descended from the ancient Thanes of Fife was also created Earl of Fife,
and Viscount MacDuff, in 1759. James MacDuff, a later Chief was raised to the
peerage of England in 1859, and his line continue to reside at his mansion,
Duffhouse, near Banff. Alexander, sixth Earl, married Princess Louise of Wales,
and created Duke of Fife in 1890.
The Clan Duff always marched with
their kinsmen, the Mackintoshes of Clan Chattan, and the Shaws of Clan Quhele in
time of war, and it was established that they were not only valiant on the Field
of battle, but mostly continued to be conscious of and to uphold those fine
ideals and traditions that had so long sustained their brilliant ancestors back
in the earlier days of Scotland's history.
Other branches of the Clan were
the MacKintoshes of Nairn and Iverness, also the Duffs of Monyvaird, and the
Earls of Finday, Craigton, and so on.
The male line of Earls failed in
1353, and passed through an heiress until it reached the royal house of Stewart
who was regent during the captivity of James I in England. In 1425 the Earldom
passed to the Crown.
The direct line of the ancient
House of Clan Duff has been continued in the family of Wemyss.
The Wemyss family of Fifeshire,
and Aberdeenshire, who took their name from Eoin mor nah Uamh, or Great John of
the Caves, a Duff who lived during part of the twelfth Century. Wemyss being a
corruption of the Gaelic Uamh, meaning a cave. Below the ruins known as MacDuff's Castle, on the coast of Fife, are caves containing Pictish drawings; and these
in all probability gave rise to the local place-name Wemyss. It became the
surname of a cadet branch of the Royal House of Duff, descendants of
Gillemichael, who was the Earl of Fife early in the 12th century. When senior
male lines failed, that of Wemyss became the Chief of Scotland's senior clan,
although it never reverted to the patronymic of MacDuff.
Sir Michael of Wemyss ensured the
family's future prosperity by supporting the cause of Robert the Bruce.
Thereafter the name multiplied in many branches. Its senior line rose to the
peerage in the reign of Charles I, and again survived the hazards of the century
of revolution and counter-revolution to emerge in the 18th century as the senior
representatives of the ancient Earldom of Fife. But they never held the Earldom
of Wemyss, and after the forty-five even the surname of the Chiefs of Clan
MacDuff was changed again.
The Earl's eldest son Lord Elcho
supported Prince Charles Edward, and after his attainder his Younger brother was
invested with his titles. But this Earl adopted the name of Charteris when he
fell heir to the fortune of his maternal grandfather.
While Charteris remains the name
of Wemvss to this day, despite their descent in the male line from the House of
Duff, The chiefship of Clan Duff passed to the descendants of a younger son of
the fifth Earl of Fife who have not changed their name. It is they who live in
the Castle of Wemyss, which was built early in the Fifteenth century to replace
the older stronghold, and enjoy with the Chiefship, the Title of Wemyss of
The Priest of Wedale was once
Tosach of the ancient Clan, and was connected with Saint Andrews, as were all
the tribe of the good Duff, Thane of Fife.
Other residences of the later
Earls of Fife were the Castles of Rothiemay, Balven