Blaeu Atlas of Scotland, 1654

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Name: Blaeu, Joan, 1596-1673  
Title: Descriptio Fifae. Nova Fifae Descriptio  
Pagination: 74-75
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Translation of text:

today the Barony of Patrick Leslie; between them sits Banbrich, the habitation, fortified like a castle, of the Earl of Rothes. But concerning the towns of Fife on the shore, look now if you will at these verses of J. Johnston:

Towns are so scattered on all the shore, that one
Might be described and many joined together in the one.
As many as are the sands that roll on the curved shore of the Forth,
And as many as the waves that pound the coast with refluent main:
With almost so many ships might you spy the sea here strewn,
And with almost so many crowded cities of men the coast.
Every house, intent on its tasks, knows not foul ease;
Assiduous care in the house, assiduous care outside.
What seas and what lands does not the spirited youth
Ah! trusting the fragile beam, venture to go to?
Courage increased wealth, harsh perils with courage
Joined caused the loss even of their own gain.
What made spirits for the men and gave them culture,
Losses, dangers, toil are advantageous to the great-hearted.

The head of this province, as of the others in this kingdom, was formerly the Thane, that is, in the old language of the Angles, as still today in Danish, King’s servant; but Malcolm Canmore made Macduff, who was previously Thane of Fife, the first hereditary Earl of Fife, and as he had deserved very well of him, he granted that his descendants should place the king on the chair to be crowned, should lead the first line in the royal army, and should redeem by a gift of money any accidental death of nobleman or lower person caused by them. There is extant not far from Lindores a stone cross, serving as the boundary between Fife and Strathearn, which is inscribed with barbarous verses: it had a right of asylum such that a homicide who was joined to Macduff Earl of Fife within the ninth degree of relationship, if he came to this cross and gave nine cows with a heifer [‘colpindach’], would be absolved of the homicide. [These verses are found at the end of the Acts of Parliament, in the book On the Meaning of Words, in the explanation of the word Cross Macduff.] When his descendants lost this title is quite unknown to me [by forfeiture Buchanan says, whom you may consult], however it is clear from the State Archives that King David II granted this Earldom to William Ramsay, with individual immunities and the law which is called Clan-Mac-Duff; and it is considered certain that the families of Wemyss and Douglas and the very large tribe Clan Chattan, whose chief is MacIntosh, are descended from them. I learn from the most distinguished and erudite J. Skene, Clerk Register of Scotland, in his work on the meanings of words, that Isabella, daughter and heir of Duncan Earl of Fife, granted the Earldom of Fife on certain conditions to Robert III King of Scots, for the use of Robert Stewart, Earl of Menteith, who later as Duke of Albany, burning most ruinously with desire for the throne, destroyed David the king’s first-born most wretchedly with extreme greed of evil. But his son Murdoch paid for the crimes of both father and his sons, being executed by James I [1424], and it was decreed that the Earldom of Fife should be united in perpetuity to the Crown. But the authority of Sheriff of Fife pertains by hereditary right to the Earl of Rothes.


Fife, part of ancient Ottolinia, according to Boece, formerly called Ross, that is, peninsula, being enclosed on all sides by the German Sea and the Firths of Forth and Tay except on the west; of that name traces still remain, Culross, a town on the eastern boundary, which is as it were the back or posterior part of Ross, and Kinross, a small city on the bank of Loch Leven, which is as it were the head of Ross; but now since the year 840 called Fife. (For Kean is head in the Irish language.) (3)

From Fife, surnamed Duff, to whom that region was given in the year 840 A.D. by Kenneth II King of Scots, 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 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 touches Strathearn, is Macduff’s cross.

On the north it is separated by the Firth of Tay from Angus, which is part of the ancient Horestia, and Gowrie; on the north-west it touches Earn or Strathearn, and the provinces of Perth and Clackmannan; on the west, whence it is divided by the Ochil Hills, as to the south it is ended by the Firth of Forth (Bodotria to the ancients), and lies opposite the provinces of Lothian and Linlithgow. All of the eastern side is pounded by the German Ocean.

It extends in length 32 miles, viz. from the eastern promontory of Fife, Fife Ness, near the town of Crail, where it is narrowly reduced as it were to a wedge, to Culross; 17 miles wide, where it runs to the greatest extent between the firths. The whole border comprises 84 miles in circumference.

The soil is unequal and varied, better in the west. It may well be divided into three areas: the outer ones from west to east are very productive in all kinds of crops, while the middle one is blessed with most joyous pastures and number of flocks, of sheep especially which bear wool praised by outsiders, as the hills rise gently and frequent clear streams cut through valleys rich in grass. Nor is it unsuited to any kind of corn, when the industry of the inhabitants is added, and the new art of manuring, with seaweed, or lime from burnt stone, lightly spread on the surface of the ground, which has been proved by frequent experiment to pour life as it were on thin and sandy soils and to be efficacious beyond belief for fertility.

It has no noble woods, except Falkland, which, surrounded by a mound, supports wild animals of all kinds, given over to the hunting of kings. Yet materials for making fire are not lacking, since coal is dug out in incredible amounts, even on heather moors, sufficient not only for the inhabitants, but also for neighbouring regions and foreign nations; it is more welcome to brewers in Belgium than that of Liège. It gives rise to two rivers of better note: the Leven, rising from the loch of the same name, and discharging into the Firth of Forth; and the Adena or Eden, whose source is in the wood of Falkland, then cutting through the middle of Fife where it is narrower and passing Cupar, it joins the German Sea, with quite a wide mouth; both contain fish, and are crossed by stone bridges at suitable places.

It enjoys pure and healthy air, both for preserving and for regaining health.

Goods which are exported from here to foreign parts are hides of cattle, stags, deer, and goats, sheep’s fleeces, fish, especially salmon, herring, fossil coal, and salt of white colour produced from pure sea water.

It has several harbours which are safe and easy to access, and secure against all attacks by the winds; among them are preferred Inverkeithing, Burntisland and Elie on the left of the Firth of Forth. Hence it has come about that the fishing is most profitable and shipping flourishes above all provinces of the kingdom, nor would you easily find elsewhere sailors more industrious and contemptuous of danger, although they have not yet become accustomed to long voyages to the East or West Indies, only by lack of the necessary materials, arising mainly from the fact that the richer merchants have had recourse to the purchase of estates, as the most certain means of gain.

While the Pictish state existed, Picts inhabited this province; but when their kingdom was totally destroyed, and after many harsh but successful battles the Picts were all thrown into exile by Kenneth II, in the year

  [Continuation of text]

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