Earls and Earldoms of Scotland
Chapter V - Keiths, Great Marischals
of Scotland, and Earl Marischals
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.