CollectionGB 0231 University of Aberdeen, Special Collections
Ref NoMS 3175
TitlePapers of Duff House/Earls of Fife
Date13th century - 20th century
Extent1300 boxes, 1300 volumes and 500 plans
Administrative HistoryWilliam Duff (1697-1763), Lord Braco of Kilbryde, created Earl Fife and Viscount Macduff in 1759. He was MP for Banffshire from 1727 to 1734.

James Duff, second Earl Fife (1729-1809) was born in Banff and studied at the University of Edinburgh. He was elected MP for Banff in 1754 and also represented Elgin from 1784 to 1790. During his time spent living at Duff House he introduced a number of improvements to the estates, including setting up model farms and planting great numbers of trees. Duff married Lady Dorothea Sinclair in 1759 and although they did not have any children, he had three children with a Margaret Adam from Keith, the eldest of whom was Sir James Duff (1753-1839). He also founded the town of Macduff and received a peerage in 1793.

Alexander Duff, advocate (1731-1811), third Earl Fife, 1809-1811.

James Duff, fourth Earl Fife (1776-1857) was the son of Alexander Duff (1731-1811), the third Earl Fife. His early education was supervised by the second Earl, also James (see above) with a view to him becoming his heir. He went on to study at Christ Church, Oxford before joining the army and marrying Maria Caroline (1775-1805) in 1799. In 1808 he enlisted as a staff officer in the Spanish service in the war against Napoleon's army. He served with distinction in Spain and returned to England after succeeding his father as fourth Earl in 1811. Duff was a Conservative MP for Banffshire from 1818 to 1827 and created a peer in 1827. He retired to Duff House and established himself as a popular landlord, focusing on his interests in farming and cattle raising.

James Duff, fifth Earl Fife, nephew of fourth Earl (see above).

The Duff family were related by marriage to many other notable families including the Earls of Findlater and Seafield, the Earls of Caithness, the Brodies, Urquharts, Abercrombies, Skenes, Gordons, Kinlochs, Tullochs and Hays.

Duff House was built between 1735 and 1740 and was designed by William Adam. During the twentieth century it was used as a hotel, a sanatorium and a prisoner of war camp and in 1995 it was reopened as a country house gallery after extensive refurbishment.
Custodial HistoryThe papers were kept in an archive room in Duff House from the late 1750s until the house was gifted to Banff and MacDuff in c.1900. It is though that it was then that the room at Montcoffer was constructed.
SourceReference was made to some documents of the 5th Lord Fife in the appendix to 4th report of HMC, 1874 (pages 515-516), by John Stuart, including:

Charter Room at Duff House: extensive series of documents recently arranged according to General Schedule, 1164 entries; globally described as title deeds, list of families whose descent is illustrated by charters; papers relating to purchase of Braemar area formerly belonging to Earls of Mar, from Commissioners of Forfeited Estates; Barony of Skene; Spalding Club; some items examined while in possession of Messrs. Inglis (Writer to the Signet), agents of Lord Fife.

The National Register of Archives (Scotland) undertook surveys of Duff-related material from 1955. The North Eastern Survey of records in private hands (based in the Department of Economic History and funded through the National Register of Archives (Scotland), operational between 1971 and 1978, incorporated Duff-related material.

The first removal of material from Montcoffer Lodge at Banff was in 1972 when maps and plans were taken to the SRO for listing and copying (RHP list). Early music manuscripts were recognised as being of particular interest and were deposited at Aberdeen University Library (AUL) as MS 2861, the list subsequently being published as part of BAR Cooper, ‘Catalogue of Early Printed Music in Aberdeen Libraries’, Research Chronicle 14: 1978, pp. 124-128.

Around 1977, when AUL was temporarily unable to take in further large collections, the SRO stepped in to negotiate and receive deposits until 1984/1985, when Duff House/Montcoffer material was transferred from the SRO to AUL (SRO refs.: TD/75/80, TD/79/75 and TD/79/98). During the period when much of the material was at Edinburgh it was cleaned, bundled, boxed and roughly listed by Dr. E. Furgol, working for the Historic Buildings Commission. On the transfer of the collection to AUL, photocopies of Furgol’s handlists were provided. These formed the only finding aid to much of the collection.

AUL’s negotiations with the depositor resulted in the transfer of the remainder of the material (mostly volumes) from the Montcoffer Lodge Charter room in 1985 to the Library, King’s College. In accordance with the wishes of the depositor (who owns copyright and whose permission must be sought, should publication of items from the deposit be considered), the whole collection is to be known as ‘The Duff House/Montcoffer papers’. It was allocated the AUL reference MS 3175. Reorganisation of library accommodation in King’s College in 1990 necessitated the re-location of MS 3175 and this permitted a reassessment of shelving and a radical relocation of the constituent parts of the deposit to allow for potential growth after future cleaning, flattening and listing of bundles.
DescriptionFamily and estate papers of the Earls of Fife (Duff House papers) -

The earliest papers date from the fifteenth century. However in common with many estate collections there is a wealth of material from the eighteenth century onwards. Much of the material was accumulated from the time of William Duff, Lord Braco and first Lord Fife. There is subject material on the development of planned villages, the American War of Independence, Marlborough's campaigns, the Napoleonic wars, India, plantations in Jamaica, local and national politics and estate improvements.

The volumes have been sorted into areas of the estate to which they refer. They include accounts, rentals, minutes of tack, farm, household, garden, estate work, lint mill, salmon fishing, insurance, inventory, family settlement, survey and MacDuff harbour books, cash books, letter books, almanacks, printed books, crop books, woods and sawmill books, factors' books, personal day books, library catalogues, baron court books and valuation rolls.

Areas covered by the Duff House (Montcoffer) papers:
Delgaty district: Barony of Delgaty, Barony of Alva, estates of Gask and Melrose, lands of Alva.
Doune district (acquired 1699): Barony of Doune [Macduff], lands of Gorrachy, land in Banff.
Duff House district: Fishery and Montcoffer in King Edward, Garnieston and Blackton, Fintry and Auchry in Turriff, Stonieley in Alva, Sandyhills and Duff House parks in Banff, Montbletton, Cullen and Tarlair in Gamrie.
Auchintoul district (sold 1880s): in Marnoch, includes Kinairdy, Turtory, Suitroll Croft, Floors.
Balvenie and Glass district (17th century acquisition). Lands in Mortlach, Aberlour (sold 1880s), Botriphnie and Boharm, including Asswanley.
Strathisla district (acquired 17th century): Keith, Grange, Rothiemay (sold 1880s), Inverkeithny, Marnoch, Dufftown, Fife Keith, Newmill.
Glenbucket (acquired 1737, sold 1880s).
Echt (acquired 1736, sold 1801).
Careston: lands in Brechin, Careston, Fearn, Tannadice, Menmuir, Lethnott and Navar [Forfarshire].
Skene estate (to Duffs by marriage 1827, sold 1880s).
Mar estate (acquired 1735): in parishes of Braemar and Crathie including Balmoral, Inverey, Corriemulzie and Auchindryne.
Moray estate: Innes House (acquired by 2nd Earl, sold 1880s) administered areas from parishes of Urquhart, Lhanbryde, Coxtown (acquired 1714), Leuchars, Spynie in Moray from Brodie (2nd Earl), Elgin (including Pluscarden Abbey and Elgin Cathedral work by 4th Earl).
Aberdeen: including property on Castle Street and Foresterhill.

Other areas include: Drummuir (17th century), Braco (17th century), Dipple (early 18th century), Eden (Grant Duffs). There are also papers relating to exchanges of land with the Duke of Gordon, buildings (including Duff House, 1735-1740s (to Banff and Macduff, 1906); Balvenie new house, 1724-1725; Fife House alterations, 1760s; Housedale, Echt) and planned villages: Macduff (Doune) development; Newmills (Keith); Dufftown (19th century) and Aberchirder (19th century).

Series A is bundles of general papers including much correspondence and accounts. The series seems to stop in 1857 at a time of major re-organisation of the estate. Some similar material can be found in the B2 and M series.

Series B is papers referred to as Brodie WS and includes material dating from the late seventeenth century to the late 1870s, mostly relating to the Skene estate and Milton in Moray, although general estate papers of the factors from 1820s-1870s are also to be found here: the latter part of the series comprises accounts and vouchers.

Series B2 contains eighteenth to twentieth century material, being estate correspondence of agents, rentals, accounts etc. much relating to Moray although Keith, Banff, Duff House and Drumuir are also covered. The series stops in the 1960s. Some odd bundles of 2nd Lord Fife's correspodence have strayed from the A series into B2.

Series E comprises bundle outsize items such as rentals, accounts, prints of portraits etc. from 1781-1959. Some are noted as being items out of another series.

Series F is mainly estate accounts, vouchers and correspondence, 1500-1900s, although mostly dating from the eighteenth to twentieth centuries. The material is a miscellaneous collection which was deposited when the listing of the rest of the papers had already begun.

Series GS is made up of charters, deeds and other tenurial material from the fifteenth century onwards which were listed in an early estate inventory of which the library holds a bound photocopy. There are some gaps in the numerical sequence and some overlap with the M series.

Series M is general papers including deeds for all areas of the estate, bonds and case papers, papers relating to teinds, boundary disputes, fishing, marriage settlements and bursaries etc. from 1500-1830. They were listed and bundled in the nineteenth century and a photocopy of the estate inventory has been annotated as boxes were surveyed.

Series Y is a miscellaneous series of items boxed up after transfer to Aberdeen University Library and includes vouchers, correspondence etc. from 1700s-1900s with occasional stray 17th century items.

Series Z is those general papers listed by the NRA(S) as survey list 1218 in which items are referred to as 'found to have fallen from the storage shelves in the strong room at Montcoffer Lodge'. Some bundles appear to be original and some artificial.

Series 'V' are volumes have been sorted into areas of the estate to which they refer.

Series RHP are plans.


No indication is given in the list as to whether the named correspondent wrote more than one letter, so, where a reference occurs, the whole bundle should be checked for subsequent letters. A letter which covers more than one subject is referred to under as many subject headings as are necessary to reflect its content.

The correspondence has been arranged chronologically, original bundles being preserved with the addition of obviously misplaced items. This is noted on the key. The list entries give names of correspondents, covering dates and identifies subject of correspondence according to the following broad categories:

'Building' can refer to work on houses on Scottish estates or at Fife House, London.
'Business' is in Edinburgh, Aberdeen or London, usually from solicitors or Writers to the Signet.
'Elections' refers to vote collection, candidacy, canvassing, congratulations on results, comment and information and is arranged by county.
'Estate' gives names of correspondents reporting to Lord Fife: more specific subject matter is not identified, so, for example, correspondence from William Rose, factor, could cover many subjects, such as family affairs, local news, accounts, leases, court cases, weather or gossip. A special case was made of bundles 129-140 (covering one year) which were listed in detail to see what amount of listing would be necessary to identify each piece.
'Family' refers to letters from members of family, some containing family news. However, in the early stages of listing only close relatives could easily be identified as family and therefore some families related to the Earls Fife do not appear in this category, but elsewhere according to the subject of their letters.
'Finances' refers to Lord Fife’s investments or major finance (see also 'Money' category).
'Furnishing' covers references to items provided for houses or schemes of decoration.
'Local' is letters giving information about Scottish estates and affairs and from neighbours.
'Local-Militia' covers letters relating to the Volunteers, their commanders and officers and can include returns from the different sections of the Militia, letters from the commanding officers, patronage and place.
'Military news' is for letters mentioning military events. Place of writing is given where possible. Some letters pass general comments on the state of the war in Europe and only the name of the correspondent is given.
'Money' refers to letters requesting donations or begging for aid.
'Personal' is letters from friends, with miscellaneous comment or information for Lord Fife.
'Place' is letters relating to requests for use of patronage or influence by the Lords Fife in non-church or non-military appointments, for example customs. The name of the correspondent is not usually the person for whom advancement is sought. 4th Lord Fife particularly was asked to use his influence with the Prince Regent to obtain places.
'Place-Church' location is usually specified; again, the name of the correspondent is not usually the person for whom appointment is sought.
'Place-Family': letters from family or for family advancements.
'Place-Military' is self explanatory.
'Politics' includes references to events in Parliament, pleas for support of causes, comments on national events, or ministries. It should be noted that important political figures also appear regularly as personal correspondents and include Thomas Pitt, Lords North, Grey and Egremont, George Grenville and Henry Dundas (Lord Melville).
'Printed circulars' are not identified unless of Scottish interest.
'Society' includes gossip.
'Trade' is advertising sent to Lord Fife; the subject is sometimes mentioned.
Access StatusOpen
Access ConditionsThe records are available subject to the signed acceptance of the Department's access conditions.
Physical DescriptionSome of the papers are in a poor condition but the vast majority are in fair to good condition. Where appropriate, reference to the condition of individual items or bundles has been noted.
Related MaterialMS 997: Duff family papers/Lumley-Smith papers (1558-1890). Includes letters and papers of Duff family, also covering period of 1st Lord Fife, William Duff, and 2nd Lord Fife, James Duff.

MS 2196: Letter from James Duff, 2nd Earl Fife, to William Urquhart, Craigston, regarding roads through his estate (October 1767).

MS 2226: Includes correspondence relating to first and second Earls Fife and their factor William Rose (18th-19th century).

MS 2568: Correspondence of Garden Duff of Hatton (1805-38).

MS 2727: William Duff of Braco papers (1713-1869).

Duff-related survey lists:

NRS(S) list 0074, Duff of Braco papers, March 1955 by WDS, belonging to Mrs Wharton-Duff of Orton, came to Taylers through Mrs Wharton-Duff who was a relative, preserved in AUL, MS 2727, deposited August 1960; much of it was used as background material for various works on the Duff family especially Book of Duffs. Lord Fife and his factor, but many letters quoted in Book of Duffs are not in MS 2727 [could be in MS 2226(?)].

NRA(S) list 0075, Duff of Hatton Castle papers, May 1947, used by Taylers and appear in Family of Urquhart by Henrietta Tayler.

NRA(S) list 0277, Ramsay of Mar papers of Captain Alexander Ramsay of Mar, July 1964, examined on premises of Messrs. John C. Brodie (WS), Edinburgh.

NRA(S) list 0508, Duff of Meldrum, September 1970, papers of R.B. Duff of Meldrum, esq., AUL, MS 2778.

NRA(S) list 0578, Duff of Muirtown, March 1971.

NRA(S) list 1218, Montcoffer Lodge papers (Z series); ‘found to have fallen from the storage shelves in the strong room at Montcoffer Lodge’; some bundles original, some artificial.

Department of Economic History, Survey of Business and Estate records in North-East Scotland, Survey NES/E/3.
Publication NoteDuff House/Montcoffer Papers. Northern Scotland, Volume 11 (1991), pp. 73-76.
Finding AidsSeries F and GS are not currently on the CALM archive catalogue although paper catalogues are available in the Reading room.
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