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Surname:  Abernathy
Branch:  MacDuff
Origins:  Scottish
More Info:  Scotland

Background:  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 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.

Motto:  Deus juvat, God Assists.
Arms:  Quarterly, 1st & 4th, Or, a lion rampant Gules, armed and langued Azure (Viscount Macduff and Earl of Fife); 2nd & 3rd, Vert, a fess dancetty Ermine between a hart's head cabossed in chief and two escallops in base Or (Duff of Braco).
Crest:  A demi-lion Gules holding in the dexter paw a broadsword erected in pale Proper, hilted and pommelled Or.
Supporters:  Two savages wreathed about the head and middle with laurel holding branches of trees in their hands, all Proper.

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Clan Duff claims to be of the original Royal Scoto–Pictish line, of which Queen Gruoch, wife of Macbeth, was the senior representative. After the death of the king, her second husband, her son Lulach was murdered in 1058. Malcolm III seized the Crown and his son, Aedh, married Queen Gruoch’s only living granddaughter. He was created Earl of Fife and hereditary abbot of Abernethy. Fife, symbolically representing the ancient royal line of his wife, became the undisputed second man of the kingdom. He bore on his shield the red lion rampant and was accorded three distinct privileges: to lead the vanguard of the Scottish army; to enthrone the king of Scots at his coronation; and the right of sanctuary for all his kinsmen, even for the crime of murder, if they reached the cross near Abernethy, after which a small fine would be levied instead of more severe penalties. Gille-michael MacDuf was one of the witnesses to the great charter of David I to the Abbey of Dunfermline. At the coronation of Robert the Bruce in 1306 Duncan Macduff, Earl of Fife, was a minor held by Edward I of England as his ward, and so his sister, Isabel, Countess of Buchan, placed the golden circlet upon the king’s head. For this heinous crime, she was imprisoned in a cage suspended from the walls of Berwick Castle when she later fell into the hands of King Edward’s army. Duncan married Mary Monthermer, niece to Edward I, and he threw in his lot with his uncle against the Bruce. He was captured and held in Kil-drummy Castle in Aberdeenshire where he died in 1336. The earldom passed into the hands of Robert Stewart, later Duke of Albany and Regent of Scotland. The family had lost their great rank but they continued to prosper, and in 1404 David Duff received a charter from Robert III to the lands of Muldavit in Banffshire. John Duff sold Muldavit in 1626, but his half-brother, Adam, was a man of ability who acquired considerable wealth and laid the foundation for the ultimate prosperity of the family. His son, Alexander, improved the family’s estates in Banffshire, which he further extended by marriage to Helen, the daughter of Archibald Grant of Ballentomb. A Fife title returned to the family when William Duff, MP for the county of Banff, was created Earl Fife and Viscount Macduff in 1759. He commissioned the building of the splendid Duff House in 1740 which cost over £70,000 to complete, a staggering sum for the time. Sadly, he quarrelled with the architect, and when some structural defects became apparent he abandoned the house and never lived in it again. The house has recently been fully restored and is now open to the public. James, the fourth Earl Fife, fought with distinction during the Peninsular War of 1808–14, being granted the rank of major general. He was wounded at the Battle of Talavera and was made a Knight of the Order of St Ferdinand of Spain. His country honoured his services when he was appointed to the Order of the Thistle. The ancient lineage of the Macduffs received another infusion of the blood royal when Alexander, the sixth Earl Fife, married HRH Princess Louise, the Princess Royal, eldest daughter of the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII. He was advanced to the highest rank of the peerage as Duke of Fife in July 1889. By a special reservation in the patent creating the dukedom, the title was to pass, in default of a male heir, to the duke’s eldest daughter, Princess Alexandra, and if she produced no male heirs, to her sister Princess Maude. In 1923, Princess Maude married Lord Carnegie, who was later to succeed to his father’s title as Earl of Southesk and chief of the Carnegies. The Countess of Southesk in due course did inherit the dukedom, which passed on her death to her son, James Carnegie, third Duke of Fife. This created the remarkable situation that the heir to the earldom of Southesk and the chiefship of Clan Carnegie also bore the ancient title of Macduff and outranked his own father by two steps in the peerage. The duke has since succeeded to his father’s earldom and chiefship.

Name Variations:  Doff, Duf, Duff, Duif, Macduff, Makduf, Abbernetti, Aburnethe, Abrenythie, Abirnythy, Abirnethy, Abirnethny, Abirnethie, Habernethi, Abernethy, Abernethny, Abernethie, Abernethi, Aberneathy, Abernythe, Abernathy, Abernathie, Abirnyte, Laynge, Abernyte, Lange, Lang, Wemysse, Wemyss, Wemes, Wemeth, Wemys, Wemis, Wemyes, Wemise.

One or more of the following publications has been referenced for this article.
The General Armory; Sir Bernard Burke - 1842.
A Handbook of Mottoes; C.N. Elvin - 1860.
Scottish Clans and Tartans; Neil Grant - 2000.
Scottish Clan and Family Encyclopedia; George Way of Plean and Romilly Squire - 1994.
Scottish Clans and Tartans; Ian Grimble - 1973.
World Tartans; Iain Zaczek - 2001.
Clans and Families of Scotland; Alexander Fulton - 1991.

The beautiful heraldry artwork for this family is available to purchase on select products from the Celtic Radio Store. We look forward to filling your order!

Ancient Hunting

Modern Dress

Modern Hunting


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