a feudal barony on the Moray Firth

“Lay on, Macduff; and damned be he that first cries, ‘Hold enough!’” This, from the play whose title those in the superstitious theatre world fear to mention, is the favourite quotation of young schoolboys, and it was the Chief of the Macduff clan who in the year 1056 AD allegedly slew Macbeth. He is supposed to have been the Thane of Fife (although there were no such thanes), and a distinguished figure in Scottish history whose powers and privileges his successors in the Earldom of Fife believed they had inherited. It was in the exercise of her family’s rights, as they had come to be accepted, that the Countess of Buchan, sister to the absent Earl of Fife, placed the crown on the head of King Robert Bruce (for which pious act she later suffered seven years in an iron-barred cage exposed to Berwick’s cruel winds).
The senior line of the Macduffs died out circa 1390 with Isabel, daughter of Duncan, the 8th of the Macduff Earls of Fife, after four husbands had failed to give her an heir, and in 1757 the Lord Lyon declared that the representation of this line was to be vested in the Earls of Wemyss whose seat was appropriately in Fife. However, a long way north, along the southern coast of the Moray Firth, other members of Clan Macduff had been flourishing, the first of these on record being John Duff of Muldavit, near Cullen in Banffshire. Family tradition insists that he descended from the famous “Thane”, and that his descendant two hundred undocumented years later was Adam Duff of Clunybeg in the parish of Mortlach, Banffshire. “Gentry the Duffs have always been,” wrote Charles Rampini in the “County Histories of Scotland” series, where he reported that Adam Duff of Clunybeg was an enthusiastic Royalist punished by the Covenanters.
Adam’s sons Alexander and John fought under Montrose and also suffered in those troubled times, but the family was about to prosper. Alexander’s wife Helen, daughter of Alexander Grant of Dallachie, brought him a rich dowry and he acquired the lands of Keithmore, matriculating arms in 1676 as Duff of Keithmore. His elder son, Alexander Duff of Braco, was a Writer to the Signet in Edinburgh where he specialised in feudal law, and, when he returned to his ancestral country, he used that knowledge and the purchase of its owner’s debts to seize control of Balvenie, an ancient barony owned at various times by Comyns, Douglases and Atholls. He was Member of Parliament for Banffshire. He died five years after his father, and his only son, regretting an unwise and childless marriage, committed suicide, so the riches and lands his canny legal expertise had accumulated passed to his brother, William Duff of Dipple.
This inheritance added new power to an already successful businessman then prospering principally as a banker, or old-fashioned money-lender, but active also in every aspect of foreign trade, both import and export, north of Aberdeen. He was ever ready to help local lairds with their liquidity problems, and was even faster when foreclosing on the lands they had given him as security. William’s only surviving son, William Duff of Dipple and Braco, inherited £30,000 in cash, a rent roll of £6,500 a year, and unencumbered estates, in all totalling substantial wealth at that time. Like his uncle he became the Member of Parliament for Banffshire. In 1735 he was raised to the peerage with an Irish title as Baron Braco of Kilbryde, and in 1759 he was promoted to be Viscount Macduff and Earl Fife, which titles, although in the Irish Peerage, appeared to reinforce the family’s claims to descent from the Macduff Earls of Fife.
Macduff ~ Ancient and Modern
Crawford landscape
James Duff, the 2nd Earl Fife, first Member of Parliament for Banffshire and then later for Morayshire, inherited all the characteristic traits of his family. He was an enthusiastic politician, a clever and acquisitive landowner, and he worked hard to earn a good local reputation and the influence that brought. In this pursuit he invested in the little coastal village of Doune on the opposite side of the River Deveron from Banff, building a harbour there in 1760 and, in 1783, with the new name of Macduff, he caused it to be erected into a feudal barony in his favour. Doune, as it had previously been, and the lands around, had formed part of the ancient thanage of Glendonachie, in a district held predominantly by the Ogilvies and their Seton and Barclay neighbours, but henceforth it was to be associated in the popular mind with the Duff family that was now becoming the largest landowner along the southern coast of the Moray Firth.
When the 2nd Earl died in 1809 leaving no children, his brother Alexander became the 3rd Earl Fife and 2nd Baron of Macduff. He held the titles for only two years before dying, his son James inheriting as 4th Earl Fife and 3rd Baron of Macduff. He initially replaced the family’s political interests with an enthusiasm for military life, fighting with distinction in the Peninsular War, where he was wounded twice in action, and becoming a Major General in the Spanish army, but he later became the Member of Parliament for Banffshire. When he died childless in 1857, his nephew, another James Duff, inherited the titles as 5th Earl and 4th Baron. He, too, was Member of Parliament for Banffshire. His wife, a daughter of the 18th Earl of Erroll, was, through an illegitimate daughter, a granddaughter of King William IV, so when his son Alexander, the 6th Earl and 5th Baron, in 1889 wedded Princess Louise, the daughter of the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, it was a marriage of third cousins.
Two days after his marriage, the 6th Earl Fife in the Irish Peerage, who had earlier been created Earl of Fife in the Peerage of the United Kingdom, was created Marquess of Macduff and Duke of Fife. Subsequently these two latest titles were given a special remainder in favour of his daughters, so that despite not having a son his senior peerage honours would continue.
His elder daughter, Princess Alexandra, thus became Duchess of Fife in her own right when he died in 1912, and, as her only son, Alastair, had died prematurely in 1943, she bequeathed the Barony of Macduff together with other estates to her nephew Alexander Ramsay of Mar, who thus became 7th Baron of Macduff. He married Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, Chief of Clan Fraser, and died three years ago.
William Duff,
1st Earl Fife
Earls of Fife
Alexander Duff
of Keithmore
William Duff
of Dipple
The Duff arms are of interest heraldically because a second son chose to difference his arms by changing his father’s buck to a hart. The eldest son of Alexander Duff of Keithmore, Alexander Duff of Braco, W.S., inherited his father’s arms illustrated above centre-left, but his brother William Duff of Dipple (who became later William Duff of Dipple and Braco) bore the arms above centre-right. The special heraldic interest is owed to this being conclusive proof that, despite claims made recently to the contrary, the buck and the hart (or stag) are not the same or interchangeable charges in Scottish heraldry.
The arms of Alexander Ramsay of Mar, 7th Baron of Macduff, whose banner is illustrated on the left, quarter his father’s Ramsay arms with those of the Duke of Connaught whose daughter, Princess Patricia, was his mother. The Duke, third son of Queen Victoria, bore the Royal Arms with a label of three points (difficult to see at this scale) charged on the centre point with the cross of St George and on the outer points charged with a blue fleur de lis. The black Ramsay eagle in the 1st and 4th quarters is quartered with Maule of Panmure.
The Barony of Macduff is to be offered for sale by its Trustees. Any reader interested in this unusual opportunity should write to the Editor and ask for details of whom to contact. The buyer, if he is not already armigerous, will doubtless petition the Lord Lyon for a grant of arms, and the Baronage magazine will look forward to illustrating those arms on a revised page together with the Duff and Ramsay arms illustrated above.
The Barony of Macduff was sold to its new Baron shortly after being featured in the Baronage pages.
Return to the
Properties Page
Baronage Current Contents Page
© 2004 The Baronage Press