An important county in the eastern part of Scotland, opposite the Lothians. It is bounded on the south by the Firth of Forth; on the west by the counties of Clackmannan, Kinross, and Perth; on the north by the waters of the Tay, and on the east by the German Ocean. Its extreme length is upwards of 50 miles, by about 20 in breadth; the medium length being about 36 by 14 miles in breadth, comprising 328,000 acres, and it is calculated that fully four-fifths of its entire surface is under cultivation. This county was originally called "Ross," which signifies "peninsula," and comprehended the district of Clackmannan, Kinross, and part of Perth. From the independent geographical position of this large territory, it may possibly in those ancient times have received from some ambitious and patriotic chief its grand title of the "Kingdom of Fife." There seems to be no certainty as to the origin of the name of Fife. The district having been at one time inhabited by the remote race of people called "Picts," Sir R. Sibbald, a native historian, ingeniously traces the name to the word "Veach," signifying painted; others, again, maintain that it was called so in honour of one Fifus Duffus, a traditional hero, who had performed important services to his people in times of war. The ancient history of Fife is, of course, involved in obscurity. It is certain enough, however, that for a considerable period before the 11th century this part of the kingdom had been under the powerful sway of a line of thanes or chiefs named Macduff, who possessed strongholds at different places in the county, and one of whom was created Thane (or Earl) of Fife by Malcolm Canmore. The first Earl had great influence with the King, and obtained certain privileges and immunities, some of which according to W. & R. Chambers, were, "that his posterity should place the King who was to be crowned in the Chair of State, that they should lead the van of the King's armies, and that if any of the clan were guilty of murder or manslaughter they should not be punished, on condition of paying a fine proportionate to the rank to the victims." The family had further a complete power of regality within the Earldom, by which the courts of the Earl were final in civil as well as in criminal matters. . . .

This article was provided by John G. Duffus of Dundee.  

Reference to Fifus Duffus


The Scottish Family History

or, The

Historical and Genealogical Account of All

Scottish Families and Surnames

by James McVeigh

Clan MacDuffus History Recognizes Fifus Duffus

"The Legendary History of

Clan MacDuff


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 Lulach.

But upon returning, with an army, 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.

  • That when the King should give Battle to his enemies, that the same Earl should lead the Vanguard of his host.

  • That the lineage of Duff should enjoy Regal authority 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 might appeal to their own judges.

  • In case of slaughter of a mean person, twelve marks fine - and if a Duff should kill by chance and not by pretensed malice, twenty four marks fine, and released from punishment by Duffs Privilege.

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 First.

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 in 1174.

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 her.

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 Wemyss.

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

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Aa richts is pitten by. Nae pairt o this darg shuid be doobelt, hained in onie kin o
seestem, or furthset in onie kythin or bi onie gate whitsomeiver, athoot haein leave
frae the writer afore-haund. 

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