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Elie & Earlsferry History Society

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MacDuff’s Cross

The legend and history of MacDuff’s Cross

The stone cross is supposed to mark the spot where the clan MacDuff in return for its chief’s services against Macbeth was granted rights of sanctuary and composition for murder done in hot blood. This legend suggests a penalty of nine cows and a heifer for such a crime.  Shortly after the death  in about 1056 of Macbeth, King of Scotland, Malcolm III his successor was also supposed to have bestowed on the Thane of Fife the privilege of ordaining the king, and leading the charge in battle. The cross was originally dedicated to Saint Magider and smashed to pieces by a mob of fanatical followers of John Knox in 1559. It was a place where William Ballingall suggested “arch-criminals claimed the protection of the Law of Clan MacDuff” (Wikipedia)

Ruin of MacDuff’s Cross at Lindores

 

This is remains of the cross at Newburgh in North Fife and it is thought that the close connection between Earlsferry and MacDuff may have led to the erection of a similar cross at Earlsferry.  Of course it could equally have been just a mercat cross and the legend of MacDuff is so engrained in Earlsferry history and psyche that the inhabitants adopted its powers of protection.   There is little doubt that the legend that Earlsferry fishermen helped MacDuff escape from Macbeth may have some ring of fact.  A cave on Kincraig Point has always been known as MacDuff’s cave and it seems likely that it was named after the Thane of  Fife who hid from Macbeth as Shakespeare dramatised.  It is suggested that the fishermen of Earlsferry rowed MacDuff across the Firth of Forth to East Lothian where he was known to have land holdings and thereby escaped from  Macbeth but it is further suggested that the Earlsferry people were endowed with the right to prevent hot pursuit of fugitives until any escapee was at least half away across the Forth.   This may have been totally independent of the right of sanctuary, or more exoneration, which the MacDuff’s Cross was supposed to give but the actual restrictions on that right of sanctuary may have somewhat reduced its effectiveness.  It is reported that Malcom III was so grateful to MacDuff for his help in restoring  the Kingdom of at least Fife and probably the whole Scotland having wrested it from Macbeth that he granted MacDuff and his successors in all time coming three privileges.  The first was to be ordained to lead successive Kings of Scotland to coronation. The second that he and his successors should lead the kings armies and thirdly that if any of his family were guilty of the unpremeditated slaughter of a nobleman, he should pay four and twenty marks of silver, as a fine; if a plebeian twelve marks;  In addition to this set of privileges Malcolm III by virtue of his exile in England for a number of years  created MacDuff one of the first Earls in Scotland as opposed to a Thanes as was described by Shakespeare.   {Buchannan History of Scottish Kings} Walter Wood (History of the East Neuk of Fife (1862)) states with some conviction that the legend of the flight of MacDuff across the Forth is based upon fact since there were, at Woods time of writing, descendants of the men who helped him escape still alive.  Wood goes on to recite the inscription which was on the MacDuff’s Cross  (apparently in the books of Kilconquhar Church which is possible  in that Earlsferry was in Kilconquhar Parish) which in a fairly free translation states “An alter for those whom law pursues, a hall for those whom strife pursues, being without a home. Who makest thy way hither, to thee this paction becomes a harbour.  But there is hope of peace only when the murder has been committed by those born of my grandson.  I set free the accused, a fine of a thousand drachms from his lands.  On account of Macgridin and of this offering, take once for all the cleansing of my heirs beneath this stone filled with water.”

In 1824 Sir Walter Scott wrote a drama entitled “MacDuff’s Cross “ in which a fugitive from the Lindesey Clan, one Berkeley, was chased to the abbey in Londores beside the cross.   The allegation was that Berkeley had fallen in love with a lady who had been betroth the Lindesey’s brother.    Dramatically one of the monks there on interviewing the parties in front of the Cross and trying to diffuse the situation disclosed that he was also a brother of the pursuing Lindesey and it all ended happily ever after.  Rather a romanticised idea of the sanctuary and exoneration such a cross was expected  to give.

On the assumption then that there  is or was such a connection with MacDuff and his Cross it is reasonable to conclude that Cross Wynd in Earlsferry was named after the existence of such a  cross.