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


ALTHOUGH George, fifth Earl Marischal, was occasionally embroiled in the feuds of the time, yet he served his King and country admirably. He was a man of the World, as we have seen in a preceding section. Among the Scottish barons of his time he was reputed the wealthiest and most distinguished for learning and culture. Having himself experienced the advantages of education, and keenly felt the blessing which it would impart to the nation, he resolved to found a new educational institution in his native country.

During the last forty years of the sixteenth century great and memorable efforts were made to improve and extend the blessing of education to all classes of the people, and with this movement the name and fame of the fifth Earl Marischal is honourably and justly associated.

His foundation charter of Marischal College is dated the 2nd of April, 1593. It indicated the advantages of education, which, in the northern quarters of Scotland, was then deficient. He expressed his desire to found at New Aberdeen a public gymnasium, in which young men might be thoroughly trained and instructed in the humane arts, and also in philosophy and a purer piety, "under the charge of competent and learned teachers, to whom shall be given from our endowment such salaries as may be required."

The original endowment consisted of—"The manse and offices, glebes, yards, cloisters, church, and walls, which formerly belonged to the Franciscan Friars, commonly called the Grey Friars, of Aberdeen, as they are bounded and marked off by walls lying on the east side of the street called the Braid Gate; all the lands, crofts, roods, rigs, orchards, barns, dovecots, tenements, houses, buildings, yards, acres, annual rents, feu-duties, kilns, offices, and others whatsoever, belonging to the Preaching and the Carmelite Friars of Aberdeen, commonly called the Black and White Friars; and the estates and lands belonging to us in Bervie, once the Chaplainry of Bervie, and also the Chaplainry of Cowie, commonly called St. Mary’s, belonging to us. . . To be held of us and our successors, Earls Marischal, in pure and perpetual alms, rendering therefor only the offering of pious prayers."

At the end of the foundation charter, the Marischal says :—"We forbid any perpetual leasing out of land or feus, whether on pretext of augmentation or improvement, or for any other reason, or under any name whatsoever." In this he showed his remarkable sagacity, and the only regret is that his wise provision was not adhered to.

Earl Marischal married, first, Lady Margaret, a daughter of Alexander, Lord Home, by whom he had a son, William, and two daughters. Lady Anne Keith married William, Earl of Morton, and Lady Margaret married Sir Robert Arbuthnott of Arbuthnott. Secondly, he married Margaret, a daughter of James, Lord Ogilvie of Airlie, by whom he had a son, Sir James Keith of Benholm.

In the latter years of his life he lived in retirement at the castle of Dunnottar. But, sad to say, the evening of the Marischal’s life was clouded by domestic troubles. Sir James Keith of Benholm behaved extremely ill to his aged father, who was forced to complain against him to the Lords of the Privy Council. The Marischal died at Dunnottar Castle on the 2nd of April, 1623.

He was succeeded by his eldest son, William, sixth Earl Marischal. In 1623 he issued a charter ratifying his father’s provisions to Marischal College; but recalled the important grants of the Chaplainry of Bervie and the Chaplainry of Cowie.

The Marischal was called by a letter from the Privy Council to attend a meeting at Edinburgh on the 9th of July, 1623. This meeting was to consider the ways and means of establishing manufactures in Scotland, especially the woollen manufacture. He was appointed a member of the Privy Council by Charles I.

Touching the report of the Commissioners on the privileges, functions, and duties of the High Constable, presented to Charles I. in July, 1631: on the 21st of the month Robert Keith, writer to His Majesty’s signet, appeared before these Commissioners as counsel for William, Earl Marischal, and in name and behalf of the earl protested:—"That nothing to be done by the said Commissioners in the trial and report to be made by them to His Majesty touching the privileges due and belonging unto the office of Constabulary, should be prejudicial to the Earl Marischal—touching the rights, liberties, and privileges due and belonging unto him in right of his office as Marischal of the Kingdom, whereof he and his predecessors have been in possession, or which has been controverted and not decided, and whereunto it shall be found, after lawful trial, that the said Earl has just right. This protestation the Commissioners thought reasonable; whereupon Robert Keith, in name and behalf of the Marischal, asked and took instruments in the hands of me, Mr. Gilbert Primrose, clerk of His Majesty’s Privy Council, and to the Commissioners before mentioned."

The Marischal officiated at the coronation of Charles I. at Edinburgh on the 18th of June, 1633, and in the ceremony performed the part which belonged to his office. He walked and rode on the left hand of the King.

He married Lady Mary Erskine, a daughter of John, Earl of Mar and High Treasurer of Scotland, by whom he had four sons, William, George, Robert, and John (who eventually became Earl of Kintore), and three daughters. Lady Mary married John, Lord Kilpont, son and heir of William, Earl of Menteith and Airth; and Lady Jean married Alexander, Lord Pitsligo.

The Marischal died on the 28th of October, 1635, and was succeeded by his eldest son, William, seventh Earl Marischal. He was in France when his father died. Returning through England, he stayed for some time at the Court of Charles I. When he arrived in Scotland the nation was in a state of great excitement, and shortly after entered on the momentous Covenanting Struggle.

The Marischal was then a youth in his 20th year, animated with all the glowing feelings and aspirations which entrance the mind of the young and vigorous man. In the winter of 1639, he hospitably entertained a committee of the Covenanters at Dunnottar Castle, who were returning south from a meeting held at Turriff on the 14th of February. The Marischal then joined the Covenanters. In the month of March he accompanied the Covenanting army under the command of the Earl of Montrose, which marched northward toward Aberdeen. The Marquis of Huntly held Aberdeen for the King, but on the approach of Montrose at the head of a superior force, he rode out of the city with 100 horse to Inverurie, where 5000 Royalists had mustered. A party of the Covenanters took possession of Aberdeen, and visited the colleges. A number of the leading citizens fled from the town and offered their services to the King, while others sought refuge in houses in the neighbourhood of the city. The main body of the army under Montrose and Earl Marischal, advanced to Kintore, and encamped at Tilty.

The Marquis of Huntly sought an interview with Montrose, and they met on the 4th of April, and the following day a compromise was arranged between them. But a few days later Huntly was invited to Aberdeen, and entrapped by Montrose, and conveyed a prisoner to Edinburgh.

Afterwards, Earl Marischal mustered the Covenanters of Angus and Mearns; while the Aberdeenshire Covenanters mustered and encamped in the vicinity of Aberdeen. Earl Marischal and the Forbeses took possession of Aberdeen; and on the 25th of May they were joined by the Earls of Montrose, Kinghorn, and Athole, Lord Drummond, the Master of Gray, and the Constable of Dundee. Their combined force numbered over 6000 men. Yet the position of parties in Aberdeen and the north again changed. Early in June, 1639, the Covenanters retired from Aberdeen, and the city fell into the hands of the Royalists.

The Marischal continued to act on the side of the Covenanters till 1645, when he joined the Royalists and supported the cause of the King.

After the surrender of Charles I. to the English Parliament, the Scots sent Commissioners, in the end of December, 1647, to make a last attempt to treat with the King, then a captive in the Isle of Wight. He now promised to be the Covenanted King of the Presbyterians, and entered into a treaty with the Scots, but it came too late; and it was regarded as an act of treachery to the Long Parliament and the English army, with whom the King was at the same time openly treating. This underhand treaty with the Scots is known in history as "the Engagement."

Parliament met at Edinburgh in March, 1648, and agreed to the Engagement, and commissioned an army to aid the King. The commission of the General Assembly opposed this, and proclaimed that the King’s concessions were incomplete. They demanded that the King should take the Covenant him self, and immediately establish Presbyterianism in England. Parliament, however, ordered the army to muster and fight for the King, and the Duke of Hamilton was placed in command of the force.

Earl Marischal raised a troop of horse and joined the army, and his brother George also accompanied it. The army marched into England in several divisions, at too long distances from each other. Cromwell attacked the Scots at Preston on the 17th of August, 1649, and completely defeated them. Earl Marischal and his brother escaped with difficulty from the disastrous field. But the Duke of Hamilton was taken prisoner; and, shortly after, he was tried and beheaded.

On the 23rd of June, 1650, Charles II. arrived at the mouth of the Spey. There he signed the Covenant and Solemn League and Covenant, and landed the following day. Thence he proceeded southward, and was met by Earl Marischal, who entertained the King at Dunnottar Castle.

The Marischal officiated at the coronation of Charles II. at Scone, on the 1st of January, 1651. On this occasions as usual, the Marischal was on the left hand side of the King, and the High Constable on the right. As part of the coronation ceremony, the King again swore to maintain the National Covenant and the Solemn League and Covenant.

As the Scots were unable to drive back the English army in Scotland under Cromwell, they resolved to make a raid across the Border. But Earl Marischal was hereditary custodier of the Crown jewels (Regalia), and after being used at the coronation, the Earl placed them for safety in the Castle of Dunnottar, and the King forbade the Marischal to leave his charge of the castle. But his brother, George Keith, accompanied the King and the Scottish army into England. Cromwell, with a part of his force, followed the Scottish army, and on the 3rd of September, 1651, a battle ensued at Worcester, in which the Scots and English Royalists were defeated. The Marischal’s brother, George, was taken prisoner, sword in hand, fighting heroically. The King escaped and fled to the Continent.

Earl Marischal himself was taken in Scotland, by Cromwell’s officers, conveyed to England, and imprisoned in the Tower of London for nine years. His estates were seized by Cromwell’s Commissioners, and the rents and revenues lifted by them. So, during the nine years that the Marischal was imprisoned, his mother had to supply the means of his support.

Shortly before he was imprisoned, he appointed George Ogilvie of Barras Governor of the Castle of Dunnottar. As Cromwell’s force was rapidly subduing the kingdom, it was feared that he would seize and carry off the Regalia. But Mrs. Ogilvie devised a plan to get it removed out of the castle, without the knowledge of her husband, that he might not be compromised when it was missed. The castle was besieged before she got the scheme carried into effect. She took into her counsel the Rev. James Grainger, minister of Kinneff, and his wife. One day the minister’s wife went past Dunnottar, on horseback, to Stonehaven for flax to spin, accompanied by a servant woman to carry the flax. When returning, she asked leave of the commanding officer of the beseiging army to visit Mrs. Ogilvie in the castle, and was permitted to pass followed by her servant with the bag of flax. On reaching the Governor’s quarters, the servant was relieved of her burden and sent to another apartment, until the two mistresses transacted their business, which was to place the regalia in the bag of flax. When Mrs. Grainger returned from the castle, through the lines, the officer on duty kindly assisted her to mount her horse; while the servant knew nothing of what had occurred, or that she was carrying the crown, sceptre, and sword of the kingdom of Scotland in her flax-bag. On reaching the manse of Kinneff, the mistress took the bundle. That very night the minister and his wife made a receptacle for the regalia beneath the pulpit of the church. Sometimes it was hid there and at other times in a double-bottomed bed in a room in the manse until the Restoration in 1660, when it was returned to George Ogilvie of Barras, who restored it to the Court.

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