Macduff’s Cross

Macduff’s Cross NBH A NO227168 1 362 130m NWF

    Corsmacduf 1428 SAUL B13/22/3 [marking the north-western limit of the liberty of the burgh of Cupar; for context see CUP Intro., Burgh]
    the croce of Clan Makduffe 1597 Skene 1597 under Clan Makdvf [it ‘dividis Stratherne fra Fife abone [367] the Newburgh, beside Lundoris’]
    marche stone ... called Cross Mack-duffe 17 th cent. NLS Adv. MS 33.2.34 fo 12v [James Balfour’s observations on Fife and Kinross]
    Cross Mackduff 1642 Gordon MS Fife [with drawing of the cross on the parish and county boundary]
    Macduffi cru 1654 Blaeu (Robert Gordon) Atlas Novus [see discussion]
    Cross Mack Duff 1654 Blaeu (Gordon) Fife [with drawing of the cross on the parish and county boundary]
    Cors McDuff 1683 Adair/Strathearn
    Cors Macdufe 1684 Adair/East Fife [on the county boundary, with a drawing of a cross on top of a circle]
    Makduffs Croce 1710 Sibbald 1710 [frontispiece; see discussion]
    Cross of McDuff 1722 Geog. Coll. i, 305 [“There is on the road betwixt Pitcarlie and Newburgh about mid way the remains of that ancient monument called Cross of McDuff tho’ now nothing remains but the pedestall” (Mr John Taylor (Taylour)]
    Cross McDuff 1723 Geog. Coll. i, 306 [drawing with description, both difficult to follow, by Mr John Taylor: ‘The hight to the North is 2 foot 4 inches, the breid 2 foot & 11 inch; The high of the South East is 3 foot, with 3 reings. The breid of is <sic> 2 foot 19 inch. The hight of the west said is 2 foot and 20 inches. the breid is 3 foot and 2 reigns. [368] the breid of the North is 2 foot 22 inch. The breid over the heid is 2 foot 7 inch. the lenth is 2 foot 19 inch the lenth of the bason is 21 inch and the breid 13. The dip is 5 inch.’]
    McDuffs Cross 1775 Ainslie/Fife
    McDuff’s Cross 1783 Stobie
    Cross M’Duff 1790s OSA, 669 [‘consists at present of one large quadrilateral block of freestone, rudely indented in several places ...’]
    McDuffs Stone 1828 SGF [also shows McDuffs Cairn in ANY, west of Lochmill Loch; shown at its present site, not on the parish and county boundary]
    Cross Macduff 1840 Leighton 1840 ii, 199 [supposedly made of stone from a quarry in SLO]
    Cross of Macduff 1845 NSA ix, 70
    Macduff’s Cross 1856 OS 6 inch 1st edn [also shows Macduff’s Cross a building at NO225167]

G crois + pn Macduff

‘Macduff’s cross’; a G origin for this name is proposed on the strength of the earliest forms, which consistently show G word-order. The modern Sc and SSE Macduff’s Cross does not appear as such until around 1700. The so-called ‘cross’ is a large sandstone boulder, roughly cubical, standing on a low mound close to the border of NBH and ANY, which is also the north-western boundary of Fife. It ‘rests on an earthen platform and is surrounded by a setting of smaller stones erected by Newburgh Town Council in 1851’ (NMRS NO21NW 9, quoting Laing 1876). It is not a ‘cross’ in any sense now, though there have been suggestions that this boulder might have been the base of a cross of some sort, even though there is no recess in it capable of supporting a standing cross. The term cross can, however, be loosely applied to a conspicuous stone in the landscape, as in Earls Cross, a standing-stone beside Earlseat WMS (q.v., PNF 1), and it may be in this sense that it is being used here, although it should always be borne in mind that a cross could have been marked on these stones using paint or some other non-permanent material.

    The cross first appears in the written record in 1428 as marking the north-western limit of the Liberty of Cupar (see early forms and CUP Intro., Burgh, above). It does not stand exactly on the parish and county boundary, which is in the den of a small burn, but on higher ground a little to the east, at a point visible for miles around. It also stands beside the old road running from Abernethy towards Cupar and St Andrews, by-passing the burgh of Newburgh. It is possible that the stone stands close to Athan (probably ‘little ford’), one of the boundary-points of the lands of the monastery of Abernethy mentioned in the ninth-century foundation legend (for text and discussion of which, see Mugdrum NBH, below).

    The cross has become associated with the application of the Law of Clan Macduff. While this law or legal privilege for kinsmen of the earl of Fife (Macduff) is first mentioned in 1384, it is not until 1597 that the association is made with Macduff’s Cross, an association which may quite possibly be spurious. For more on this, see PNF 5, The Law of Clan Macduff.

    It is Sir John Skene who first makes this association between the Law and the Cross (1597, under Clan-Makdvf); and it is also Skene who is the first to mention that the Cross bore an inscription: ‘In the stanes of this Croce I saw sindrie barbarous wordes and verses written ... propter makgidrim & hoc oblatum, Accipe smeleridem super lampade limpida labrum (Skene 1597, ibid..). What he actually saw, or where he saw it, is not at all obvious, since there is nothing on the stone in question that might suggest there was ever such writing on it.

    James Balfour, writing in the seventeenth century, also claimed that there was a text on the ‘cross’, but that it was hard to read. We cannot put much trust in his account: as G. W. S. Barrow notes, ‘no one who has ever entered the field of Scottish antiquarian studies has shown the equal of Balfour’s capacity, either for deliberately fabricating “documents” that never existed or ... for bungling the transcription, at as many crucial points as possible, of genuine historical documents’ (Barrow 1953, 52). This did not prevent Sibbald from reproducing a text, which he believed to be the one obtained from the stone by Balfour, as the frontispiece of his book (Sibbald 1710, 93 and frontispiece).[369]

    Robert Gordon’s Description of Fife, written for Blaeu’s Atlas Novus, contains the following: ‘From Fife, surnamed Duff, to whom that region was given by Kenneth II, king of Scots, in the year 840 after the birth of Christ, because of his exceptional courage in the war against the Picts, the old inhabitants. His descendants were at first Thanes of Fife, that is prefects or area-rulers, then they were called earls by Malcolm III, 1057 A. D., and given outstanding privileges above all nobles, because of outstanding loyalty shown to king and country in very difficult times. Between Kenneth’s temple, Kennoway, and the River Leven is a mound, which the natives relate is the ruins of the castle of the earls of Fife, once surrounded by seven walls and the same number of ditches, and on the boundary where it [Fife] touches Strathearn, is Macduff’s cross’ (Blaeu 1654 (2006), 81).[370] This is based on a passage from Boece (1527, fo 205, lines 45 ff.), which does not, however, make any mention of Macduff’s Cross.

    Other place-names in this north-western corner of Fife contain the name Macduff: Clamieduff Hill (see Section 1, Linear Features, above) on the boundary of AMY and ANY contains G clann + Macduff. Also on the border of ANY and NBH (formerly ABE) is Macduffs Cairn, shown on SGF (1828) at about NO213163. A little further from the Fife boundary lies ‘a piece of ground called Macduffhill ... being part of the commonty of Woodmill (Woodmill ABE)’ Sasines no. 11,552 (1817). While it is generally assumed that these Macduff-names mark the north-western edge of the county of Fife, where the Macduff earls of Fife held sway, we may in fact be looking in the wrong direction. It should be borne in mind that the abbacy of Abernethy was in the hands of a cadet branch of the Macduff kindred in the twelfth century, and the later lords of Abernethy belonged to the same family. It may have been this strong Macduff connection with the lands of Abernethy that gave rise to this cluster of Macduff names along their eastern boundary with Fife, rather than any Macduff interests in Fife itself.

This place-name appeared in printed volume 4