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The first Duke of Fife

Alexander William George Duff was rather obscure but nevertheless wealthy Scottish noble who had held senior positions with various banks and was a Member of Parliament for the Liberal Party. He had the distinction of being twice Earl of Fife, being the 6th Earl in the Peerage of Ireland by virtue of the title originally granted to William Duff of Dipple in 1759 and 1st Earl in the Peerage of the United Kingdom by virtue of the creation bestowed upon him personally in 1885. However in the summer of 1889 Alexander became decidedly less obscure when he became engaged to Louise Victoria Alexandra Dagmar Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, otherwise known as Princess Louise eldest daughter of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, later Edward VII.

At the time Royal princes and princesses were supposed to marry fellow royals, preferably German as long as they were Protestant. Alexander Duff might well have met the last condition, but he was most certainly Scottish and non royal. Fortunately Louise's mother was in favour of the match as queen Victoria had developed a certain romantic attachment to all things Scottish due to repeated exposure to the novels of Walter Scott but more importantly she considered it a "brilliant marriage" as the Earl of Fife was "immensely rich". However since it was not considered appropriate for a member of the royal family to be married to a mere earl, Alexander William was awarded the titles of Marquess of Macduff and Duke of Fife on the 29th July 1889 two days after he married Louise at Buckingham Palace.

The Duke and Duchess of Fife appear to have been well suited to one another and preferred to keep out of the public eye as far as that was possible. However with the death of the Duke of Clarence in 1891 they were faced with the possibility that they might in some way succeed to the throne, as George (Clarence's younger brother) was then unmarried and seemed likely to remain in that position.

Since neither Alexander or Louise viewed this prospect with enthusiasm the Duke and Duchess decided to play matchmaker and encouraged George to take an interest in his brother's former fiancee Mary of Teck. The Duchess Louise is recorded as having pushed her brother George out of the door of their home with the immortal words "Now Georgie, don't you think you ought to take Mary into the garden to look at the frogs in the pond?". It was beside this pond that the Fifes accomplished their objective as the future George V proposed to the future Queen Mary and thus ensured the succession.

However the Duke and Duchess were less fortunate as regards ensuring their own succession. Their only son Alastair Duff did not long survive his birth and it once it became apparent that no further male heirs son would be forthcoming, in order to secure the continuation of the title, new letters patent were issued on the 24th April 1900 re-granting the dukedom to Alexander only this time with a special remainder enabling the title to pass to his two daughters.

In December 1911 the family were aboard the steamship Delhi en route for Egypt when they were shipwrecked off the coast of Morocco. Although they all survived the ordeal Alexander's health was effected and he died shortly after they arrived in Egypt at High Aswan on the 29th January 1912. With death of the 1st Duke, although the dukedom of 1889 became extinct for want of male heirs, that of 1900 passed to his eldest daughter Alexandra.

The Duchess of Fife and her successors

In 1912 Alexandra married her cousin Albert Frederick Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, heir to the dukedom of Connaught. As Arthur was generally known at the time under the style of HRH Prince Arthur of Connaught, Alexandra was similarly known after her marriage as HRH Princess Alexandra of Conaught rather than as the Duchess of Fife.

Whilst Alexandra pursued a successful career in nursing, she and Arthur did not succeed in having any children and whilst this meant that the title of Duke of Connaught was doomed to extinction, that of Fife had an alternative route of descent through the younger of the 1st Duke's two daughters. Thus when Alexandra died on the 26th February 1959 at the age of 67 the title passed to her younger sister Maud Alexandra Duff. Although Maud had predeceased her sister on the 14th December 1945, she had previously been married to Charles Alexander Carnegie, 11th Earl of Southesk and so the title passed to their son James George Carnegie.

James George Carnegie, 3rd Duke of Fife therefore inherited the title of Duke of Fife from his aunt and found himself in the odd position of outranking his father by two degrees. A former chairman of the Amateur Boxing Association, James was once considered a likely match for Princess Margaret but in the end married a Caroline Dewar whose father owned the Dewar distillery business.

He later duly succeeded to his father’s titles after the latter's death on the 16th February 1992 and therefore also holds the titles of Earl of Southesk, Earl of Macduff, Lord Carnegie of Kinnaird, Lord Carnegie of Kinnaird and Leuchars, Baron Balinhard of Farnell as well holding a baronetcy. He is also regarded as Chief of the Name and Arms of Carnegie, which is to say the head of the Clan Carnegie, and stands fifty-first in the line of succession to the British throne.

His eldest son David Charles Carnegie is the heir apparent to the dukedom, and although he was initially known under the courtesy title of 'Earl of Macduff', once the title of Southesk passed into the hands of the Duke it was decided that David should adopt the dignity of 'Earl of Southesk' in honour of his Carnegie ancestors.





  • Alexander,Duke of Fife http://www.regiments.org/biography/royals/1849fife.htm
  • Clan Duff http://www.myclan.com/clans/MacDuff_251/default.php
  • Fife, Chief of Carnegie at http://www.burkes-peerage.net/sites/Contents/book/scotland/FHP/Peerage/fhp-FIFE.asp
  • A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain at www.thepeerage.com
  • Brian Masters The Dukes: The Origins, Ennoblement and History of 26 Families (Blond and Briggs, 1975)
  • Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)

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