Earl of Fife

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Earldom of Fife

Coronet of a British Earl.svg
Blason Duncan de Fife.svg
The Arms of the Realm and Ancient Local Principalities of Scotland [1]

Earl of Fife is a title that has been in existence twice: once as a Gaelic comital lordship in medieval Scotland, and from 1885 to 1912 as an earldom in the Peerage of the United Kingdom, created by Queen Victoria for Alexander Duff.[2]

Medieval lordship[edit]

The term Earl of Fife or Mormaer of Fife referred to the Gaelic comital lordship of Fife which existed in Scotland until the early 15th century.

Mormaer of Fife[edit]

The Mormaers of Fife were the highest ranking native nobles in Scotland. They frequently held the office of Justiciar of Scotia - highest brithem in the land - and enjoyed the right of crowning the Kings of Scots. The Mormaer's function, as with other medieval Scottish lordships, was kin-based. Hence, in 1385, the Earl of Fife, seen as the successor of the same lordship, is called capitalis legis de Clenmcduffe (=Lord of the Law of the Children of Macduff).

The lordship existed in the Middle Ages until its last earl, Murdoch (Muireadhach), Duke of Albany, was executed by James I of Scotland.

Chief of Clan MacDuff[edit]

The deputy or complementary position to mormaer or earl of Fife was leadership as Chief (ceann) of Clan MacDuff (clann meic Duibh). There is little doubt that the style MacDuib, or Macduff, derives from the name of King Cináed III mac Duib, and ultimately from this man's father, King Dub (d. 966).[3] Compare, for instance, that Domhnall, Lord of the Isles, signed a charter in 1408 as MacDomhnaill. The descendants of Cináed III adopted the name in the same way that the descendants of Brian Bóruma mac Cennétig called themselves Uí Briain, although it does seem that at least initially MacDuff was a style reserved for the man who held the Mormaership of Fife.

The chieftaincy of the clan was not always held by the mormaer, especially after the mormaerdom became subject to the laws of feudal primogeniture in the reign of Donnchadh I. For example, at the Battle of Falkirk, it is the head of the clan who led the men of Fife, rather than the Mormaer.

UK Peerage (1885-1912)[edit]

The title of Earl of Fife in the Peerage of the United Kingdom was created in 1885 by Queen Victoria for Alexander Duff, 6th Earl Fife (1849–1912).[4]

He was the eldest son of James Duff, 5th Earl Fife, and the great-great-great grandson of William Duff (1696–1763), who had been created Lord Braco of Kilbryde in the Peerage of Ireland on 28 July 1735 and Earl Fife and Viscount Macduff, also in the peerage of Ireland, by letters patent dated 26 April 1759, after proving his descent from Macduff, Earl of Fife.

In 1889, Alexander Duff married Princess Louise, the third child and eldest daughter of the future King Edward VII; two days after the wedding, Queen Victoria elevated him to the dignity of Duke of Fife in the Peerage of the United Kingdom.[5] In 1900, Queen Victoria created a second dukedom of Fife which could also pass through the female line. Upon Alexander Duff's death in 1912, the peerages created for him in 1885 and 1889 and some older peerages held by the Duff family became extinct, while the peerages created in 1900 passed to his elder daughter, Alexandra, and her successors, the later Dukes of Fife.

List of holders[edit]

Mormaers of Fife[edit]

Earls of Fife (1885)[edit]

Other titles: Lord Braco of Kilbryde (1735), Viscount Macduff (1759), Earl Fife (1759), Baron Skene (1857)
Main article: Duke of Fife

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bartholemew 1983. ISBN 0-7028-1709-0
  2. ^ The London Gazette: no. 25490. p. 3239. 14 July 1885.
  3. ^ John Bannerman, "MacDuff of Fife" p. 24.
  4. ^ The London Gazette: no. 25490. p. 3239. 14 July 1885.
  5. ^ The London Gazette: no. 25958. p. 4077. 27 July 1889.


  • Bannerman, John, "MacDuff of Fife," in A. Grant & K.Stringer (eds.) Medieval Scotland: Crown, Lordship and Community, Essays Presented to G.W.S. Barrow, (Edinburgh, 1993), pp. 20–38
  • Barrow, G. W. S., Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland, (Edinburgh, 1988)
  • Barrow, G.W.S. Earl's of Fife in the 12th Century, (Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 1952–53), pp. 51–61.
  • Lawrie, Sir Archibald C., Early Scottish Charters Prior to A.D. 1153, (Glasgow, 1905), no. XXXVI, pp. 28–31, pp. 283–84
  • Roberts, John L., Lost Kingdoms: Celtic Scotland and the Middle Ages, (Edinburgh, 1997)

External links[edit]