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The Earls Marischal of Scotland

1ST EARL MARISCHAL: William Keith (d. 1463)
The 4th Lord Marischal of Scotland, William Keith was raised to the rank of Earl Marischal by King James II in 1455, thus starting the hereditary line of Earl Marischals. He married Margaret, the daughter of James, 1st Lord Hamilton. They had two children, William and Janet.

2ND EARL MARISCHAL: William Keith (d. 1483)
Son of William Keith, 1st Earl Marischal. He does not appear in all Keith peerages.

3RD (2nd) EARL MARISCHAL: William Keith (d. 1530)
Son of William, the 2nd Earl Marischal, William married Elizabeth, daughter of Alexander Gordon, 1st Earl of Huntly. They had a number of children, including Alexander who later received Estates at Pittendrum (1513). The 3rd Earl supported King James III against Barons, and had custody of the young James V in the 1520s; both of which awarded him with lands and honours. Both of his sons were killed at Battle of Flodden Field (where the dead included Sir William Keith of Inverugie and Sir John Keith of Ludquhairn). His son Robert sired 2 grandsons for the 3rd Earl, William and Robert Abbot of Deer.

Black John Skirving who was Standard Bearer to Keith, Earl Marischal, at the Battle of Flodden in 1513, was wounded but survived, taken prisoner by the English and imprisoned for several years. He hid the Keith Banderole around his person so that it wouldn't be found. The Skirving family presented this historic relic to the Advocates Library in Edinburgh in the 19th Century. The Banderole is 6 foot in length with 3 stags and the motto "Veritas Vincit". "Truth conquers."

4TH (3rd) EARL MARISCHAL: William (1501-1581)
William, 4th Earl Marishal was one of the guardians of Mary Queen of Scots during her minority, and was a member of her privy council on her return to Scotland.  While refraining from extreme partisanship, he was an adherent of the Reformation.  His contributions to the Keith fortunes came from his marriage to Margaret, daughter and heiress of Sir William Keith of Inverugie. This marriage nearly doubled the family lands, reaching into 7 shires: Haddington, Linlithgow, Kincardine, Aberdeen, Banff, Elgin and Caithness. His estates lay in so many counties that he could travel from Berwick to John o' Groats eating every meal and sleeping every night on his own lands.

The Earl was reputed to be the wealthiest man in Scotland at one time, but his extravagant lifestyle began to diminish the family's estate. Upon this realization, William retired to a private life at Dunnottar Castle in 1567. This self-imposed incarceration lasted for over 17 years, until all the debts were cleared, and earned him the moniker "William of the Tower".  William died in 1581 and was succeeded by his grandson.

5TH (4th) EARL MARISCHAL: George Keith (c1553-1623)
(The founder of Aberdeen's 2nd University (Marischal College) was educated at its first (King's College) and then in Calvinist Geneva. After succeeding his grandfather as Earl Marischal (1581) he stood by James VI after the Ruthven Raid and in 1585 was involved in the defence of Stirling Castle against those nobles sympathetic to the Raiders and lately returned from exile. In 1589 he was chosen as the Royal Emissary to arrange the marriage with Anne of Denmark and to fetch the bride. Bad weather, for which Keith was subsequently exonerated, forced the returning party to seek shelter in Norway. The impatient James sailed from Scotland to meet his bride and the wedding took place in Oslo. Keith was subsequently a Privy Councillor and much concerned in the congenial (for a strict Calvinist) task of hunting down and prosecuting his northern rival, the Catholic Earl of Huntly. The Reformation may also have triggered his foundation of Marischal College in 1593.  In 1609 he became High Commissioner or Viceroy to the Parliament of Scotland. The Earl was married twice, producing 2 children from the 1st and one from the 2nd. He died at Dunnottar in 1623 
- the stronghold given to the Keith family by James V 1531.  With his first wife, Margaret, the daughter of Alexander Home, 5th Lord Home, he had a son William, who later became 6th Earl Marischal and 2 daughters. His 2nd wife was another Margaret, the daughter of James Ogilvy, 6th Lord Ogilvy of Airlie.


6TH (5th) EARL MARISCHAL: William Keith (d.1635)
Son of the 5th Earl, William Keith became the 6th Earl Marischal. He officiated at the coronation of Charles I, and served in his Privy Council. He married Mary, daughter of John Erskine (Earl of Marr) and Mary Stewart, and had 3 sons and 2 daughters. The first 2 sons, William and George each served as Earls Marischal, and the 3rd son, John, became Knight Marischal and Earl of Kintore. The daughters, Janet (married Alexander Lord Pitsligo) and Mary (married John Lord Kilpont, son and heir to William, Earl of Airth and Monteith).  The 6th Earl is perhaps most noted for spending a great deal of the family fortune. He died in 1635.


7TH (6th) EARL MARISCHAL: William Keith (d. 1661)
The son of the 6th Earl Marischal, William Keith signed the National Covenant for Religious Freedom and joined the army of James Graham, 1st Marquis of Montrose, in 1639. Six years later, however, Montrose switched to supporting the Royalist Army due to the mounting threat of Oliver Cromwell. This put Montrose at odds with the 7th Earl, who chose to decline Montrose's offers of negotiation and refused him entrance to Dunnottar to discuss terms. In retaliation, the Captain's envoy set fire to every house, barn, stable and even ship in the Baronies of Dunnottar, Fetteresso and Cowie.

In July 1650, the young King Charles II arrived in north-east Scotland and stayed a while at Dunnottar. Outraged by the King's return to Scotland, Oliver Cromwell, the self-proclaimed Lord Protector, led an invasion to the north. In some haste Charles II was crowned at Scone, but the crown and other regalia were then hidden at Dunnottar by order of the King. Shortly thereafter, the Earl Marischal and a number of other Scottish noblemen were captured by a troop of Cromwell's forces.

While imprisoned in the Tower of London (he was held there for 10 years), the Earl named George Ogilvy of Barras to serve as Governor of Dunnottar Castle (1651-2.

Shortly thereafter the castle was under siege from Cromwell's Army, and by May 1652, it remained the only place in Scotland that still flew the Royal Flag. Under heavy artillery bombardment that resulted in the partial destruction of the Castle, and with no hope for reinforcements from Royalists, Ogilvy surrendered after 8 months. Before the surrender, however, the Scottish Regalia were smuggled away from the Castle and hidden at nearby Kinneff Church.

The Honours remained in the custody of Mr Grainger at Kinneff until the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660. At the opening of the Scottish Parliament the following year, the Earl Marischal carried the Crown, his brother, George (later the 8th Earl) the Sceptre, and the younger brother John (later the first Earl of Kintore) the Sword.

The 7th Earl thus upheld the traditions of the Marischalcy but his finances had suffered severely, partly through his own extravagance, but mainly due to the continuous troubles. He spent most of the rest of his life in London where he could more easily hide his poverty.  He was married twice, which produced 3 daughters from the 1st marriage but no children from the second. He was, therefore, succeeded by his brother George in 1661.

8TH (7th) EARL MARISCHAL: George Keith (d. 1694) Colonel George Keith of Aden
Brother to the previous Earl, George Keith supported his brother and Charles II during the Restoration. His involvement with the protection of the Scottish Regalia is noted above. At the time of his brother's death, much of the families wealth had diminished. Dunnottar Castle, once the pride of the Keiths', had been badly damaged by Cromwell's forces: the Keep was vulnerable to the elements and the stately halls had been rifled of their contents. The Earl Marischal did not have the means to repair the damage, so Dunnottar served as a military depot. In the summer of 1685 it served as a prison to 122 men and 45 women Covenanters (resulting from Charles II's rejection of religious freedom in favour of the Episcopacy).  The 8th Earl served as a Colonel in France, and he married Mary Hay, daughter of the Earl of Kinoul. They had only 1 son, who became the 9th Earl upon George's death in 1694


9TH (8th) EARL MARISCHAL: William Keith (d. 1712)
During the spring of 1689, Dunnottar housed a garrison of 60 men under the leadership of William Keith, 9th Earl Marischal. Holding the castle for the Monarchs William and Mary, the Earl oversaw the imprisonment of 17 Aberdonians accused of being Jacobites. Among the captives was George Liddel, one of his own appointees at Marischal College. As a staunch Jacobite sympathizer himself, it is safe to say that these prisoners were treated far better than the Covenanters that were held there a few years before. They were released 1 year later upon an Act of Indemnity by order of the Privy Council.

The 9th Earl sat as a peer in Parliament at Westminster. He was a Jacobite sympathizer, as already noted, and opposed the Union of Scotland and England.  He is noted for completing much of the construction of Inverugie Castle, which became the Keiths' principal home. He married Mary, daughter of James Drummond, Earl of Perth. They had 2 sons and 2 daughters. During a time of religious unrest, it is important to note that religion was never an obstacle for the Keiths' political endeavours: "Here we have [William Keith], an Episcopalian, his [wife] a Catholic and [son James] a Protestant, all of them desperate to have a Catholic Stuart King on the throne   William died in 1712

10TH (9th) EARL MARISCHAL:George Keith (1692-1778) - Last of the Earl Marischals
"George Keith, the 10th and last of the Earls Marischal succeeded his father William in 1712. In his youth he was made Lord Keith, by Queen Anne, and appointed Captain of her Majesty's Guards. Thus, his service was long, even though he was Earl for but a few years. In 1715, for having supported the cause of the Stuart Kings, the English revoked his titles and estates. Exiled to Europe, George and his brother James achieved fame and esteem among the courts of Spain, France, Russia and Germany. Representing Frederick the Great of Germany, he returned on a visit to England, was reprieved for supporting the Stuarts, and had some of his family properties restored to him.... including Dunnottar Castle . The painting at right shows the Earl in his younger years. George died, childless, in 1778, and chieftainship of Clan Keith then passed to the Earl of Kintore."

The Keiths

George Keith was the oldest son of William, Lord Keith, who himself was the oldest son of William Keith, 4th Earl Marischal. The office of "Marischal of Scotland" had been held by the senior member of the Keith family since Hervey de Keith, who held the office of Marischal under Malcolm IV was later confirmed as "Great Marischal of Scotland" by Robert the Bruce. In 1458 the title was converted into the more standard "Earl Marischal". 

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Last modified: 01/09/2013