The Barony of Pluscarden


Pluscarden Priory lies six miles south west of Elgin, Morayshire and was one of the most important ecclesiastical foundations in Morayshire. Pluscarden reflects the preference of King Alexander II in 1230 for the Valliscaulians, a somewhat recondite French order which also had houses in the Highlands at Beauly, Ross-shire, and Ardchattan, Argyllshire. These represented the only houses of that order to be found anywhere in Great Britain. The Valliscaullian order had been founded in the Val des Choux [Valley of the Cabbages] around 1200, and shared the strictness of the Carthusians and the fellowship of the Benedictines. The army of Edward I of England caused damage to the Priory during the Wars of Independence, but worse followed in 1390 when the Priory of Pluscarden was burned by the Wolf of Badenoch who burned Elgin Cathedral around the same period. The Wolf of Badenoch was Alexander Stewart, son of King Robert II, who had been excommunicated by the Bishop of Moray and this destruction was the consequence. Although Elgin Cathedral was reconstructed the Priory was in a sorry state of disrepair. In 1456 the Benedictines from nearby Urquhart Priory took over the Priory of Pluscarden. The last Prior of Pluscarden before the Reformation was Alexander Dunbar, 1533-1560. The monks of Pluscarden were left undisturbed at the Reformation although most of their lands were taken over. They were protected by Alexander Seton, a Roman Catholic, was became lay Commendator of Pluscarden. In 1948 a group of Benedictines from Prinknash Abbey in Gloucestershire returned to restore the Priory of Pluscarden.

Pluscarden Priory has the tradition that a ring found at the Priory had been given to a monk by Joan of Arc before her being burned as a witch. The monk later found his way to Pluscarden bringing the ring.

In the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation of the mid sixteenth century the crown claimed most of the former church lands. In Morayshire new lordships were created out of the former ecclesiastical estates and granted, in part, to individuals who had rendered service to the king, a notable example being Alexander Seton, (1555-1622) who became Commendator of Pluscarden, Lord President of the Court of Session from 1593 to 1605, thereafter Lord Chancellor, and latterly Earl of Dunfermline.

Alexander Seton, was the fourth son of George, Lord Seton, and his wife Isobel, daughter of William Hamilton of Sorn, High Treasurer of Scotland. He received “ane god-bairne gift” from his god-mother, Mary Queen of Scots, the lands of Pluscarden. In 1587 the lands of Urquhart and Pluscarden were erected into a barony and granted to Alexander Seton, which was confirmed on 28 February 1596 by King James VI. Seton was known as Lord Urquhart, later as Lord Fyvie, and finally as the Earl of Dunfermline. On 6 April 1611 Seton got a charter of novodamus of the lands and Baronies of Urquhart and Fyvie, the lands of Dalgety and Danduff, which were all incorporated into the Earldom of Dunfermline and lordships of Urquhart and Fyvie. Alexander Seton had been one of the most prominent civil servants during the reign of James VI.

He was succeeded by Charles his son by his third wife Margaret, daughter of Lord Hay. Charles, born 1608, succeeded his father in 1622. He was a courtier and a Gentleman of the Bedchamber under Charles I. He also was commander of a Scottish regiment. Charles, the second Earl of Dunfermline was a Royalist who moved to Holland after the execution of Charles I in 1649. At the Restoration in 1660 he became a member of the Privy Council, in 1669 a Lord of Session, and later Lord Privy Seal. He died in 1672 and was buried at Dalgety House.

He was briefly followed by his second son Alexander as Earl of Dunfermline. Alexander died unmarried in Edinburgh in 1675 and also was buried at Dalgety

The earldom then fell to his brother James who became the fourth Earl of Dunfermline. On 25 April 1684 he was granted a charter of the lordship of Urquhart. However he too was a Royalist and committed to the House of Stuart. He fought for the Jacobites at the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689 and consequently he was outlawed and his title and estates declared forfeit by Parliament in 1690. He fled to the Jacobite Court at St Germains in Paris, where he was awarded with the Order of the Thistle. He died there on 26 December 1694.

According to one source Alexander Seton sold Pluscarden to Kenneth McKenzie of Kintail, a Privy Councillor to King James VI, in 1594. Kenneth, Lord Mackenzie of Kintail, had several children. His eldest was George McKenzie of Tarbit, later the Earl of Seaforth, who on 14 January 1620 was served heir to his father, in the lands and barony of Pluscarden. George McKenzie, second Earl of Seaforth, was a Royalist, and fought under the Marquis of Montrose. After the execution of King Charles I he was briefly Secretary of State to Charles II in exile in Holland, where he died in 1651. His son, Sir George McKenzie, was served as his heir on 24 January 1655 to various properties including the lands and barony of Pluscarden.

On 25 July 1636 Charles I had granted the barony of Pluscarden to Thomas McKenzie, brother-german of George, Earl of Seaforth, and to his wife Jean Grant the barony of Pluscarden. Thomas McKenzie was Member of Parliament for Elgin from 1645 to 1663. He married twice. Firstly to Jean, daughter of John Grant of Freuchie, the widow of Sir William Sutherland of Duffus, and secondly to Jean, daughter of Sir William Cockburn, widow of Alexander Dunbar of West Grange. Thomas had several children, including Colin, Alexander, Charles, Kenneth, Margaret, and Sybilla Thomas McKenzie of Pluscarden died on 27 November 1676, and was succeeded by his eldest son Colin.

Colin McKenzie, the eldest son of Thomas McKenzie of Pluscarden and his wife Jean Grant, was served heir to his father on 6 May 1687. He also married twice, firstly to Margaret Heatley and then to Isobel Leslie.

On his death he was succeeded by his eldest son Thomas McKenzie. Thomas was an army officer who held a commission as a Major in Lord Strathnavar’s Regiment. Thomas died in Elgin on 17 February 1699. He died without issue and the lands and title of Pluscarden fell to his brother Colin. Colin had settled in Edinburgh where he served an apprenticeship under the goldsmith James Penman beginning in 1688. Having successfully completed his apprenticeship Colin was eligible to become a burgess and guildsbrother of Edinburgh. He was admitted to that position in 1695 which then gave him certain privileges, such as the right to vote and the right to operate a business in the city. The following year, 1696, he married Jean, the sister of Sir Thomas Kennedy the Lord Provost of Edinburgh.

He was followed by his son Colin, a merchant, who was admitted as a burgess and guildsbrother of Edinburgh in 1724. The male issue of Thomas McKenzie of Pluscarden was proved extinct at the Allangrange service in 1829

Towards the close of the eighteenth century Pluscarden became the property of the family of Duff, Earls of Fife. William Duff, a son of William Duff and his wife Jean Gordon, served as MP for Banffshire from 1727-1734. In 1735 he was created Baron Braco of Kilbryde, County Cavan, Ireland. During the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745-1746 he supported the Hanoverian government. In 1759 he was made Viscount Macduff and Earl Fife in Irish Peerage. He married firstly Janet, widow of Hugh Forbes, and daughter of James Ogilvie, 4th Earl of Findlator, and secondly Jean Grant. He died in 1763 and was buried at Duff House.

Succeeded by son James [1729-1809] as second Earl of Fife etc in 1763; Viscount Duff, became MP for Banffshire and later Morayshire, also founder of town of Macduff in Banffshire. He was a notable agricultural improver and was responsible for the reforestation of 14,000 acres in northern Scotland. During a period of famine, around 1782-1783, he cut the rent on his estates by twenty per cent and imported grain from England which was sold at a loss to his tenantry. He married Dorothea Sinclair, daughter of Alexander, 9th Earl of Caithness in 1759. In 1790 he was created Baron of Fife. On his death he was buried in Duff House mausoleum.

His titles etc were inherited by his brother Alexander Duff, [1731-1811], who was an advocate. He was married in 1775 to Elizabeth, daughter of George Skene of Skene. On his death the title Earl of Fife went to his son and heir James Duff [1776-1857], a Major General of the Spanish Army during the Peninsular War, who was wounded at Talavera in 1809 and at Fort Matagorda in 1810. Subsequently he was awarded the Sword of Sweden and became a knight of San Fernando in Spain; the Grand Master of Freemasons from 1814-1816, MP for Banffshire, Lord of the Bedchamber, Lord Rector of Marischal College, Aberdeen. He was created Baron Fife in 1827, and retired to Scotland where he died at his seat Duff House on 9 March 1857.

Title then was inherited by his nephew James, [1814-1879], son of General the Hon. Sir Alexander Duff. His appointments included British attaché in Paris, MP for Banffshire, and Lord Lieutenant of Elgin. He was created Baron Skene of Skene in 1857. In Paris, during 1846, he married Agnes, daughter of the Earl of Erroll. He had earlier followed a military career as commander of the 88th Regiment [the Connaught Rangers] and had participated in Baird’s Expedition from India to Egypt in 1801, also in the attack on Buenos Ayres in 1806.

Then followed Alexander William George Duff, [1850-1912] his son and heir as Earl Fife, Viscount Macduff, Baron Braco of Kilbryde, Baron Skene, and Viscount Macduff. He was MP for Elgin and Nairn, Captain of the Corps of Gentlemen at Arms, Privy Councillor, Knight of the Thistle, Envoy Extraordinary to the Court of Saxony, Lord Lieutenant of London and Lord High Constable. In 1885 he was created Earl of Fife, and in 1889 on his marriage to Princess Louise, daughter of the Prince of Wales, he became Marquess of Macduff and Duke of Fife. He was a successful financier and was founder of the Chartered Company of South Africa. He died at High Aswan in Upper Egypt in 1912 and was buried at Braemar.

In 1898 Pluscarden passed from the Earl of Fife to the third Marquis of Bute, and his son Lord Colin Crichton-Stuart gave the Priory to the Benedictines from Prinknash. The barony was sold in 1938 and has been owned by two families since then.