Clan MacDuff

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Clan MacDuff
Marchbrae artpewter clancrestbadgemacduff 1455123805MacDuff.jpg
Crest: Red whortleberry (Lingonberry)
MottoDeus Juvat (Latin) (God assists)
RegionScottish Lowlands
Pipe musicMacDuff's Lament
Duff Ancient.png
Clan MacDuff has no chief, and is an armigerous clan
Chief of Clan MacDuff
Historic seatMacDuff's Castle
Last ChiefAlexander Duff, 1st Duke of Fife
Died29 January 1912

Clan MacDuff is an ancient Lowland Scottish clan over 1,000 years old. The clan does not currently have a Chief and is therefore considered an Armigerous clan, which is registered with the Court of the Lyon Court. The early Chiefs of Clan MacDuff were the original Earls of Fife, although this title went to the Stewarts of Albany in the late fourteenth century. The title returned to the MacDuff chief when William Duff was made Earl Fife in 1759. His descendant Alexander Duff was made Duke of Fife in 1889.

Origins of the Clan

Macduff's Castle, in Fife, Scotland. The site is associated with the MacDuff Earl's of Fife
The Ancient Tartan of Clan MacDuff.

Clan MacDuff (Gaelic: Dhuibh) originated from the Gaels who inhabited the Highlands of Scotland before the Roman conquest of Britain in 43 C.E.. The MacDuff family were originally Mormaers of Moray during the era of the Pictish Kings of Scotland and were significantly associated with Fife and Fothriff. In 838 C.E. Kenneth MacAlpine 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.

The Clan Duff claims descent from the original Royal Scoto-Pictish line of which Queen Gruoch of Scotland, wife of Macbeth, King of Scotland was the senior representative. After the death of MacBeth, Malcolm III of Scotland seized the Crown and his son, Aedh, married the daughter of Queen Gruoch. Aedh was created Earl of Fife and abbot of Abernethy. The early Chiefs of Clan MacDuff were the Earls of Fife. Sir Iain Moncreiffe, Knight wrote that the Clan MacDuff was the premier Clan among the Scottish Gaels. Today, the Earls of Wemyss are thought to be the descendants in the male line of Gille Míchéil, 5th Earl of Fife (1130–1133), thought to be one of the first Clan MacDuff Chiefs. Gille-michael MacDuff was one of the witnesses to the great charter of King David I of Scotland to Dunfermline Abbey.

14th and 15th centuries

In 1306 during the Wars of Scottish Independence, Duncan MacDuff IV, 12th Earl of Fife was as a minor, held by King Edward I of England at the coronation of King Robert I of Scotland as his ward while Duncan's sister, Isabella MacDuff, placed the golden circlet upon King Robert's head. As a result, when she fell into the hands of King Edward's army, she was imprisoned in a cage which was suspended from the walls of Berwick Castle. Duncan Macduff IV, 12th Earl of Fife later married Mary, the niece of King Edward, and threw in his lot against King Robert I of Scotland. However, he was captured and imprisoned in Kildrummy Castle where he died in 1336. The Earldom later fell into the hands of Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany, however, although the MacDuff family lost their rank, they continued to prosper. In 1384, the Earl of Fife was described as capitalis legis de Clenmcduffe, meaning Chief of the law of Clan MacDuff. In 1404, David Duff received a charter from King Robert III of Scotland for lands in Banffshire.

17th, 18th and 19th centuries

In 1626, John Duff sold the lands in Bannfshire which his ancestor had acquired in 1404. The title of The Fife returned with William Duff, 1st Earl Fife and in 1759. The 1st Earl of Fife's cousin, Captain Robert Duff of the Royal Navy supported the British-Hanoverian Government during the Jacobite rising of 1745 and was involved in the Skirmish of Arisaig. James Duff, 4th Earl of Fife fought with distinction in the Peninsular War where he was wounded at the Battle of Talavera in 1809 and was later made a Knight of the Order of St Ferdinand of Spain. Alexander Duff, 6th Earl of Fife married Louise, Princess Royal, eldest daughter of King Edward VII of England. Alexander was advanced to the rank of Duke of Fife in July 1889.

20th and 21st centuries

With the death of the 1st Duke of Fife, the Clan MacDuff had its last Chief. As of 2014, the representative that should eventually succeed to its Headship is James Richard Valentine Duff, born on 19 October 1941.

Law of Clan MacDuff

Clan Macduff was the first Scottish clan to be recognized as a clan by the Scottish Parliament, by legislation dated November 1384. The Earl of Fife and the Lord of Abernethy were both "Capitals of Law of the Clan MacDuff". The law protected all murderers within ninth degree of kin to the Earl of Fife, as they could claim sanctuary at the Cross of MacDuff near Abernethy, and could find remission by paying compensation to the victim's family. The chiefs of the clan had the right to enthrone the King on the Stone of Scone. When the Stone of Scone was taken to England by King Edward I of England, King Robert I of Scotland had himself crowned King of Scots a second time, in order to be crowned by a member of clan MacDuff, in that case the Earl of Fife's sister. In 1425, the last Earl of Fife, Murdoch Stewart, Duke of Albany, was beheaded. The Clan MacDuff's hereditary right of bearing the Crown of Scotland then passed to the Lord Abernethy. The current Lord Abernethy, who is consequently bearer of the Scottish Crown, is Alexander Douglas-Hamilton, 16th Duke of Hamilton.

Clan Castles

  • Macduff's Castle in East Wemyss, Fife is now a ruinous castle that was once held by the MacDuff Earls of Fife. The property later went to the Clan Wemyss who built the present castle.
  • Airdit House in Leuchers, Fife was originally held by the MacDuffs but later went to the Clan Stewart who held it in 1425 when Murdoch Stewart, Duke of Albany (also then Earl and Duke of Fife) was executed.
  • Barnslee Castle near Markinch, Fife was held by the Clan MacDuff. One story is that an underground tunnel led from it to Maiden Castle, that was about three miles away.
  • Castle Hill in North Berwick in East Lothian was probably held by the MacDuff Earls of Fife who had a ferry from North Berwick to Earlsferry in Fife.
  • Cupar Castle in Cupar, Fife, was held by the Clan MacDuff.
  • Falkland Palace in Falkland, Fife, there was a castle here that was held by the MacDuff Earls of Fife although it was destroyed by the English in 1337. It was re-built in 1371 and passed to Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany who was then also Earl of Fife.
  • Fernie Castle in Cupar, Fife was once held by the MacDuff Earls of Fife.
  • Maiden Castle near Methil, Fife was once held by the Clan MacDuff. One story is that an underground tunnel led from it to Barnslee Castle, that was about three miles away.


  • Adam, F. (1970). The Clans, Septs & Regiments of the Scottish Highlands. Genealogical Publishing Com.
  • Maclean, F., & Blumenfeld, R. (1995). Highlanders: A History of the Scottish Clans. London: Viking Studio Books.
  • Macpherson, A. G. (1966). An old Highland genealogy and the evolution of a Scottish clan. Oliver and Boyd Limited.
  • Martine, R., & Martine, R. (1992). Scottish Clan and Family Names: Their Arms, Origins, and Tartans. Mainstream.
  • Reid, S. (2012). Castles and Tower Houses of the Scottish Clans 1450–1650. Bloomsbury Publishing.

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