Earl of Fife

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Earldom of Fife
Earl of Fife.svg
Or, a lion rampant gules
Creation date 11th century?
Peerage Peerage of Scotland
First holder Ethelred
Last holder Murdoch
Extinction date 1425
Seat(s) Macduff's Castle

The Earl of Fife was the ruler of the province of Fife in medieval Scotland, which encompassed the modern counties of Fife and Kinross. Due to their royal ancestry, the Earls of Fife were the highest ranking nobles in the realm, and had the right to crown the King of Scots.

Held by the MacDuff family until it passed by resignation to the Stewarts, the earldom ended on the forfeiture and execution of Duke Murdoch in 1425. It was revived in 1759 for William Duff, a descendant of the MacDuffs. Earl William's great-great-grandson was made Duke of Fife in 1889.

Medieval earldom[edit]

Macduff's Castle, seat of the Earls of Fife

The first earl or thane of Fife is traditionally asserted to have been a man named Macduff, who lived in the time of Macbeth. He is the basis for the character of the same name in Shakespeare's play. No reference to him occurs before the 14th century, and modern historians consider him a partly or wholly mythical personage. Two other shadowy figures occur after him, Duffagan and Beth. The first earl of which we know anything for certain is Ethelred, third son of King Malcolm Canmore. Earl Ethelred was succeeded by Constantine MacDuff. Who Constantine was and how he came to be earl is not certain, but he was probably of royal origin, as evidenced by his given name, which he shared with three Scottish monarchs, and his surname, which may have indicated descent from Duff, King of Scots (d. 996). Contemporary sources refer to Earl Constantine as a "man of the greatest discretion" and a "discreet and elegant man", who held the office of Magnus Judex in Scotia, or Great Judge in Scotland.

The next earl was Gilllemichael MacDuff, who is generally assumed to have been a son of Earl Constantine, though there is no explicit evidence of this relationship. Earl Gillemichael seems to have rendered King David great services, and it may have been during his tenure that the earldom became fixed as a hereditary position. He was succeeded by his son Duncan. Evidence of the Earl of Fife's high status and authority is demonstrated by the fact that, on the death of Prince Henry, Earl Duncan was the one who proclaimed Prince Malcolm as the new heir to the throne.

The MacDuff line continued without interruption until the time of Isabella, who was born circa 1325 as the only child of Duncan, 10th Earl of Fife and his wife Mary de Monthermer. She succeeded her father as suo jure Countess of Fife on his death in 1358, making her one of the most eligible maidens in Scotland. She married four times, but all her husbands died within a few years of their marriage. In 1371 she was persuade to name Robert Stewart, Earl of Menteith (later Duke of Albany) as her heir, who was her brother-in-law by her second marriage to Walter Stewart. He thus succeeded her as twelfth Earl of Fife on her death in 1389. Duke Robert was succeeded as Duke of Albany, Earl of Fife, etc. by his son Murdoch in 1420. Duke Murdoch was forfeited and executed in 1425, due to his father's part in the death of Prince David, Duke of Rothesay. Thus the earldom of Fife came to an end.

Coat of arms[edit]

Seal of Scone Abbey, made c. 1250. The Earl of Fife's shield is shown at the bottom-left, displaying the early striped version

The arms of the earldom of Fife are or, a lion rampant gules, that is, a red lion rampant on gold. These arms are testament to the Earls' royal connection, as they differ to the King's arms only in the exclusion of the flowered border, or royal tressure; in fact it is possible that the royal arms are actually a differenced version of those of the Earl.[1] The device of a lion is attested for the first time on the seal of the tenth Earl, but had probably been used for a long time before this, though some early seals show a different shield, bearing pallets or vertical stripes.[2]

The arms of the Earl of Fife are the basis for the arms of Fife Council, which show a knight on horseback in full armorial regalia, his shield, helm and the caparison of his horse bedecked with red lions.[1] The Fife lion also appears in the first quarter of the Duke of Fife's arms.[3]

Earls Fife (1759)[edit]

Main article: Earl Fife
Main article: Duke of Fife

The earldom of Fife was resurrected in 1759 for William Duff, after he proved his descent from the original Earls of Fife. This title was in the Peerage of Ireland, notwithstanding that Fife is in Scotland; the "of" was also excluded, for reasons not ascertained. His great-great grandson Earl Alexander married Princess Louise, the third child and eldest daughter of Albert, Prince of Wales, later 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.[4] When it became clear that Alexander was not going to have a son, Queen Victoria created a second dukedom of Fife which could pass through the female line. After his death in 1912, the dukedom of Fife passed to his eldest daughter Lady Alexandra, and his other titles, including the 1759 earldom, became extinct. The fourth and current Duke of Fife is David Carnegie, the grandson of Duke Alexander's younger daughter.

List of holders[edit]

Earls of Fife[edit]

Earls Fife[edit]

Dukes of Fife[edit]


  1. ^ a b Patton, David (1977). Arms of the County Councils of Scotland. Port Charlotte: Argyll Reproductions Ltd. 
  2. ^ MacDonald, William (1904). Scottish Armorial Seals. Edinburgh: William Green and Sons. 
  3. ^ "Fife, Duke of (UK, 1900)". Cracroft's Peerage. 2013. 
  4. ^ The London Gazette: no. 25958. p. 4077. 27 July 1889.


  • Grant, Rev'd Alexander, "The Ancient Earls of Fife", in Sir James Balfour Paul (ed.) The Scots Peerage, Volume IV, (Edinburgh, 1907), pp. 1-15
  • 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]