Also known as Diego Duff, vizconde Macduff, conde de Fife was a volunteer in the Spanish Army during much of the Peninsular War (1808-1814) when he became a close friend of the Spanish American liberator José de San Martín (1778-1850) and made a number of acquaintances who were active in the Hispanic-Anglosphere, particularly in the field of politics and arts. He also played a key role in establishing the first ‘Patriotic Fund’, a non-governmental association established to assist those ignored by the precarious Spanish military welfare system.
His military experience prior to travelling to Spain had been limited to being Lieutenant-Colonel in the Invernesshire militia established by his uncle, the Second Earl of Fife. In Spain, he was present at the battles of Talavera (27-28/07/1809), Ocaña (19/11/1809); the siege of Cadiz, particularly in the defence of Matagorda (22/02/1813) and gained the ranks of brigadier (03/1809) and mariscal de campo (03/11/1810) and was awarded the Gran Cruz de San Fernando (1812).
He returned to Scotland in May 1813 to take responsibility of earldom of Fife inherited from his father, the Third Earl of Fife, but he brought from Cádiz the celebrated dancer Maria Mercandotti (c. 1800-?), the young ‘Andalusian Venus’ who introduced the exotic bolero to London audiences thirsting for excitement during charity performances organised in aid of the Spanish Patriots. Years later, still under his patronage, her dance, to music composed by Federico Moretti (1795-1839)’s friend, the afrancesado Fernando Sor (1778-1839) caught the imagination of post-war Europe and, in the words of the music historian Brian Jeffery, ‘became part of the Spanish aura of Romanticism, an aura that produced such works as Hugo’s Hernani and Bizet’s Carmen. Its popularity culminated in the most famous bolero of all, Ravel’s Bolero for orchestra (1928)’ (Jeffrey, Fernando Sor, p. 16).
At his return from Spain, he also soon became Grand Master of the Scottish Freemasons (1813-1816) and of the Provincial Lodge of Banff (1813-1821), MP for Banffshire from 1818 to 1827 and Lord of the Bedchamber to the Prince Regent, later George IV (1819-1821). He was dismissed from that position for opposing a malt tax prejudicial to his constituents, but was reinstated in 1827 during George Canning’s premiership when he was also created a peer of the United Kingdom as Lord Fife (27 April 1827) and made a KT (September 1827). Soon afterwards, he retired altogether to Scotland, where he lived at Duff House, Banffshire. A popular landlord, he spent a good deal of his fortune establishing new villages, such as Dufftown, now known as the capital of Scotland’s malt whisky distilling, and in the restoration of Pluscarden Abbey, the religious house founded in 1230 by the Scottish king Alexander II, all with the social aim of giving employment to veterans of the Napoleonic wars.
He died, childless, at Duff House on 9 March 1857, and the United Kingdom barony of Fife thereby became extinct. He was succeeded as fifth Earl Fife by his nephew, James Duff, the elder son of his only brother, General the Hon. Sir Alexander Duff, who commanded the 88th foot (Connaught Rangers) from 1798 to 1810, serving at its head in Sir David Baird’s expedition from India to Egypt in 1801, and in the second of two failed British invasions of Buenos Aires in 1807.
Sources: Graciela Iglesias-Rogers, British Liberators in the Age of Napoleon: Volunteering under the Spanish Flag in the Peninsular War, (London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2014); Brian Jeffery, Fernando Sor: composer and guitarist (London: Tecla Editions, 1977)
Author: Graciela Iglesias-Rogers
How to cite: To cite from this page, please use any style (Chicago, Harvard, etc). Our preferred citation form is: Iglesias-Rogers, Graciela, ‘Duff, James, Viscount Macduff, Fourth Earl of Fife (1776-1857)’, The Hispanic-Anglosphere: transnational networks, global communities (late 18th to early 20th centuries), project funded by the AHRC and University of Winchester in partnership with the National Trust, [https://hispanic-anglosphere.com/individuals/duff-james-viscount-macduff-fourth-earl-of-fife-1776-1857; accessed – please add the date of your visit].