The Legal History of Medieval Fife

Book tickets for this event here.

This event will take you back in time to Medieval Fife, where we will be visiting several locations of historical legal interest. Central to this visit to Fife will be the case of the Culdees of St Serf’s Inch, Loch Leven v. Sir Robert de Beaune (Lochore), which took place sometime between 1124 and 1130.

It was last year that the idea for this excursion came into existence. While taking the course “Lords and Vassals in Medieval Scotland,” some of the reading material involved land grants made by the Scottish King in Fife. While looking at maps and photos, one could not help but notice that Fife is quite close to Edinburgh. It was thus that the plan came into being to organize a trip to have a look at some of the locations that had been read about in manuscripts. Sadly, this planned excursion never took place due to insufficient time for the necessary organisation. Therefore, we are very happy to have the excursion take place during this year’s Festival of Creative Learning.

Fife may very well have been the first earldom to have been held feudally by the kings of Scots after the accession of David I in 1124. Anglo-French knights who followed David to Scotland settled in Fife, and Sir Robert de Beaune was probably one of these. The grants of land David made to these knights were paid for by their providing mounted and armoured service to the king. This came to be the essence of feudalism in Scotland, and the basis for Scottish land law as it developed in the subsequent centuries.

Photo of Ruined Castle

The case central to our visit – the Culdees of St Serf’s Inch, Loch Leven v.Sir Robert de Beaune (Lochore) (1124×1130) – concerns land held by monks, or “culdees” (keledei, servants of God), who had their monastery on an island in Loch Leven. Besides the island, the monks also held some land on the lochside, including Kirkness, granted to them by the Scots king and queen Macbeth and Gruoch in the mid-eleventh century. To the south of Kirnkess is Loch Ore. On the isolated mound near the loch’s north-east one can still see standing a ruinous castle (above). This was probably the caput(head place) of the knight’s fee of Lochore that King David had granted to Sir Robert de Beaune. The dispute with the culdees concerned a fourth, or a quarter, of the lands of Kirkness.  Now Sir Robert was laying claim to some of it, to the culdees’ great indignation; but we can only speculate as to why Sir Robert thought he was entitled to act in this way. Looking at the site may give us some clues.

Other interesting historical locations and artefacts that we shall be having a look at are the Cross Macduff, where something of a sanctuary was offered to killers related to the Earl of Fife, and Markinch, the ancient capital of the Earls.

Photo of Cross Macduff
Cross Macduff


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