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Historic Earls and Earldoms of Scotland
Chapter V - Keiths, Great Marischals of Scotland, and Earl Marischals
Section I


LEGEND AND TRADITION OF THE KEITHS—NOTICE OF EARLY GREAT MARISCHALS—HERVEY DE KEITH—SIR PHILIP—SIR HERVEY—SIR JOHN—SIR ROBERT—SIR ROBERT—SIR EDWARD SIR WLLLIAM—DUNNOTTAR CASTLE—SIR WILLIAM.

THE legend and tradition associated with the Keiths stretches far back into bygone ages. Tradition brings the Keiths to Scotland from the province of Hesse, in Germany, which was the home of the Catti until they were conquered by the Roman legions. After leaving Germany, they landed on the northern extremity of Scotland, where they secured a settlement, and gave the name of Caithness to the territory which they had conquered. According to the legend, their chief married a daughter of the Pictish King, Brude, who had his seat on the south side of the river Ness, on or near the old Castle Hill of Inverness; and consequently they became involved in the misfortunes which befell the Picts in succeeding generations. At length they were driven out of Caithness and into Lochaber, where many tragic scenes and deeds have been enacted. But eventually they emerged from Lochaber, and appeared in another quarter of the country.

Robert, the chief of the Catti in 1010, fought against the Norsemen, and slew Comus, the leader of the invaders, and thus gained a complete victory, for which Malcolm II. gave him the lands of Keith in East-Lothian. He was succeeded by his son Robert, who also fought against the Norsemen in Fife.

In the period of transition from legend to records there is usually some confusion and inconsistency. Accordingly, the lists of the names of the early Great Marischals of Scotland show some discrepancy.

Hervey de Keith was Great Marischal of Scotland in the reign of William the Lion. He witnessed several charters between 1189 and 1195, and died before 1196. He was succeeded by his grandson, Sir Philip Keith, Great Marischal of Scotland. He died before 1219, and was succeeded by his son, Sir Hervey. On the 15th of July, 1220, he officiated as Marischal of Scotland at the marriage of Alexander II. to Joan of England, at York.

He died before 1250, and was succeeded by his son, Sir John Keith, Great Marischal of Scotland. As Marshal he witnessed a charter of Alexander II. He married a daughter of Alexander, Earl of Buchan, and had issue. He was succeeded by his son, Sir Robert, Great Marischal of Scotland. Before the end of the thirteenth century the Keiths had become numerous in Scotland, and a discrepancy in the family succession appears.

But in 1294 Sir Robert Keith, Great Marischal of Scotland, received a charter from King John. He was a man of great energy and ability, and took an active part in the affairs of the nation and the War of Independence. He joined Robert Bruce, and fought in the battle of Inverurie, in which he greatly distinguished himself. Shortly after this event he received a grant of lands in Aberdeen-shire, including the seat called "Hall Forest" in the parish of Kintore.

At the Battle of Bannockburn Sir Robert, Great Marischal, had a very important duty to discharge. The King gave him the command of the Scottish cavalry— numbering only 500, and held in reserve for a special movement After the English cavalry had many times furiously charged the Scottish spearmen, but were repelled, then the English bowmen and archers supported the cavalry charges by showers of arrows and stones, which severely galled the ranks of the Scottish spearmen. It was at this critical moment that Sir Robert Keith, with his 500 cavalry, advanced round the Milton Bog and charged the left flank of the archers, and, as they had no weapons with which to defend themselves at close quarters, they were instantly broken and scattered in all directions, and so utterly cowed that they declined to return to their posts, in spite of all the efforts of their leaders to rally them and restore order. They dispersed and fled headlong.

There is no reasonable doubt that the dispersion and dispiriting of the English bowmen by Sir Robert Keith’s small body of cavalry was one of the main causes which contributed to the complete overthrow of the great English army on the field of Bannockburn.

Sir Robert was present at the meeting of Parliament in the Abbey of Arbroath in April, 1320, in which the memorable address to the Pope was drawn up. In this spirited and constitutional address, the following, amongst other very important sentences, occur:—"For, so long as one hundred of us remain alive, we will never consent in any way to subject ourselves to the English; since it is not for glory, nor riches, nor honours, but liberty alone that we fight and contend for, which no good man will lose but with his life."

On the 7th of November, 1324, Robert I. granted a charter of the lands of Keith Marischal to Sir Robert Keith and his heirs, and the office of Great Marischal of Scotland.

The Marischal married Barbara Douglas, by whom he had two sons, John and William. John, the elder, died in his father’s lifetime, leaving a son, Sir Robert Keith. The Marischal was engaged in the battle of Dupplin, and fell on that disastrous field, on the 11th of August, 1332.

He was succeeded by his grandson (mentioned above) Sir Robert Keith, Great Marischal of Scotland. He was a man of much energy, and a warm supporter of the young King David II. against the claims and pretensions of the adventurer, Edward Baliol; and he exerted himself to the utmost to expel this intruder and disturber of the nation. He also showed an aptitude for administrative work, and was appointed Sheriff of Aberdeen.

Sir Robert married Margaret, a daughter of Sir Gilbert Hay, First High Constable of the Erroll line.

He accompanied David II. and the army which invaded England in 1346, and was engaged in the battle of Durham, on the 17th of October, and fell on the field. He was succeeded by his kinsman, Sir Edward Keith, Great Marischal of Scotland.

Sir Edward first married Isabel Keith, by whom he had two sons, Sir William Keith and John. Secondly, he married Christian, only daughter of Sir John Menteith and Ellen of Mar, by whom he had a daughter, Janet, who married Sir Thomas Erskine, ancestor of the Earls of Mar of the surname of Erskine.

The Marischal’s second son, John Keith, married Mariot, a daughter of Sir Reginald Cheyne of Inverugie, and with her he obtained the lands and barony of Inverugie. Sir Edward died about 1350, and was succeeded by his eldest son, Sir William, Great Marischal of Scotland.

He married Margaret, only daughter and heiress of Sir John Fraser, eldest son of Sir Alexander Fraser, High Chamberlain of Scotland. By this lady the Great Marischal of Scotland obtained extensive estates—embracing the lands and baronies of Cowie, Durris, Strachan, and others in Kincardineshire; the lands and baronies of Aboyne, Cluny, Glentanner, Tullich, and Glenmuick in Aberdeenshire.

In 1357, the Marischal was appointed one of the Commissioners to treat with the English Government for the liberation of David II. The following year he was sent to England touching the King’s affairs. Again, in 1369, he was one of the Commissioners appointed by the Scottish Parliament to treat with England for a truce, which was arranged for a term of 14 years.

He was present and officiated at the coronation of Robert II. at Scone, on the 26th of March, 1371. He was also present at the meeting of Parliament, held at Scone, on the 4th of April, 1373, when an ordinance limiting the succession to the Crown and Kingdom to the male line was passed, "by all the bishops, earls, and barons, which ordinance was. also confirmed by the consent and assent of a multitude of the people assembled in the Church of Scone, before the great altar."

Sir William gave lands in Fifeshire to William Lindsay, Lord of Byres, in exchange for the lands and Lordship of Dunnottar in Kincardineshire. He afterwards erected the Castle of Dunnottar, which became one of the chief seats of the family. The Castle was associated with interesting events and incidents which will be narrated in succeeding sections.

By Margaret, his wife, he had three sons and four daughters. His eldest son, John, married a daughter of King Robert II., by whom he had an only son, Robert; but John died before his father, and his son Robert also died before his grandfather, leaving an only daughter, Lady Jane Keith. The Marischal’s second son, Sir Robert, married the heiress of Urquhart, of Troup, and had issue two sons, William and John; but Sir Robert also predeceased his father.

The Marischal’s eldest daughter Muriel, married the Duke of Albany, Regent of Scotland, and by her he had a son, John Stewart, Earl of Buchan and Constable of France; his second daughter, Janet, married Philip Arbuthnott of Arbuthnott; his third, Christian, married Sir James Lindsay, Lord of Crawford; and his fourth, Elizabeth, married Sir Adam Gordon of Strathbogie - and through her, as stated in a preceding chapter, Lord Gordon inherited the Aboyne estates.

Sir William died about 1412, and was succeeded by his grandson, mentioned above, Sir William Keith, Great Marischal of Scotland. He married Mary, a daughter of Sir James Hamilton of Cadzow, by whom he had four sons and two daughters.

He was a man of remarkable ability and energy. During the minority of James II. the Marischal rendered important service to the country. When the factions of the Crichtons, Livingstons, and the Earl of Douglas were distracting the southern quarters of the kingdom, he endeavoured to secure order and peace in the north. When the King attained his majority he recognised and rewarded the Marischal’s services.

Owing to so large a portion of the Keith estates having passed into the hands of Lord Gordon of Huntly, a dispute arose between him and Sir William, Great Marischal of Scotland. On the 1st of August, 1442, a meeting to settle this matter was held at Cluny, at which Sir William and Lord Gordon, and others were present. After discussion and careful consideration of the matter, an amicable agreement between the parties was concluded.


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