According to legend, Scotland’s Pictish Kingdom was divided into several provinces of which Fife was one.
The hill-fort of Clatchard Craig near Newburgh is an important Pictish stronghold during this period. The Picts left behind no written records and all that can be gleamed of this mysterious civilisation is from their elaborately carved stones. These can be seen today at places across Fife including St Andrews Cathedral Museum, Largo Parish Church and even at Lundin Ladies Golf Club, the oldest ladies golf course in the world.
During the reign of Malcolm III (the historic figure upon which the Malcolm of Shakespeare’s Macbeth is based) Fife becomes an important royal and political centre.
The monarchy resides at Dunfermline Palace and Dunfermline Abbey replaces Iona as the burial place of Scottish kings and queens including Robert the Bruce. During this period the Earl of Fife becomes the highest ranked peerage in the country, a status it retains well into the 15th century. The Earls of Fife are also responsible for crowning Scottish kings.
15th - 17th century
In 1552 the Archbishop of St Andrew issues a decree granting permission for ‘the playing at golf’ on what is now the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. You can learn about the story of golf at the British Golf Museum, home to over 16,000 objects including original handwritten rules for game from 1754 and James Braid’s pocket watch.
James VI of Scotland, the son of the tragic Mary Queen of Scots succeeds the Scottish throne in 1567. He described Fife as a ‘beggar’s mantle fringed with gold’, the ‘gold’ referring to the region’s coastal ports with their thriving fishing fleets and important trading links with the rest of Britain. Valuable commodities of the time including wool, linen, coal and salt are all traded here. You’ll find a reminder of the Fife’s former flourishing salt industry at St Monans Windmill while the Scottish Fisheries Museum provides an insight into the region’s fishing and boat building heritage.
In 1598 James VI charges 12 gentlemen Fifers with colonising the Isle of Lewis and implementing a programme of civilisation or de-Gaelicisation following an Act of Parliament which demands all Highland chiefs present title-deeds confirming the ownership of their lands. Although their mission is ultimately unsuccessful, with Lord Mackenzie of Kintail forcing them out in 1609, these 12 men have become revered in Scottish history as the ‘Adventurers of Fife’.
Although coal has been mined in Fife since the 12th century, the industrial revolution sees the number of coal pits in the region increase ten-fold. As the demand for coal swells during the Victorian period, rural villages like Cowdenbeath are transformed into bustling towns as thousands from all over Scotland travelled to Fife in search of employment.
In 1865 a child named Andrew Carnegie is born in a modest cottage in Dunfermline. After emigrating to America with his family, Carnegie rises above his humble origins to become one of the richest men in world.
The steel magnate and philanthropist makes a triumphal return to his birthplace in 1881 and donates Carnegie Library and Pittencrieff Park while his wife Louise purchases his family home as a surprise 60th birthday gift. Today the cottage houses the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum which offers a fascinating glimpse into the private life of this remarkable man.
The construction of the Tay Rail Bridge in 1878 and the Forth Bridge in 1890 further consolidates the region’s economic importance by allowing the rapid transport of goods between Fife, Dundee and Edinburgh.
The conclusion of World War II witnesses the development of the first of Scotland's post-war towns, Glenrothes, which is built to house the workers of the new Rothes Colliery.
The region also plays an important role in the Cold War but this remains a closely guarded secret for over 40 years. Hidden beneath an unassuming farmhouse in the East Neuk is the Secret Bunker, a 24,000 sq ft command centre from which Scotland would have been governed had a nuclear war occurred.