The Great Marischals of Scotland

    Originating in French ("Marechal"), and pronounced as "Marshall", the Scottish office and title of King's Marischal is like that of a general. France had several such generals at any one time, while the English had only one (called "High Marshal") and Scotland had only a "Great Marischal". Duties of this office are less clearly recorded than we would like. During early centuries of the Keith tenure, many (with their sons and cousins in the family) fought in the seemingly endless battles on Scottish soil, but in later times the Marischal, himself, was more often occupied in various diplomatic chores for the kings.

    The title of Great Marischal was conferred upon Robert, a warrior of the Catti tribe, in the year 1010, and remained heridetary with his heirs for over 700 years. As with noble families, generally, the long string of Keith descendants who held the title are discussed in numerous writings, along with narratives about their accomplishments. Each Keith heir in succession gathered additional land and stature-- some of it by valour, some by marriage. Around 1380, Sir Edward Keith-Marischal was elevated to Lord Keith, which title continued for a few generations, until William Keith, 4th Lord Marischal, was made an Earl. There followed a string of 10 Keiths in the title of Earl Marischal, until the title and many of the Keith lands and offices were snatched from this line for taking the Stewart's side in risings of the early 1700's.

Perhaps the best known of Keith armoral bearings is that of Keith-Marischal (represented at left). This blazon was borne by the ten Earls. The crowned battons, crossed behind the shield, signify the office of Great Marischal (which symbols replaced the axe, used in earlier times), Since George Keith, 10th Earl, died without children and without the title, these arms are extinct. The shield, however, continues on in Keith arms.

Meanwhile (in 1660), Sir John Keith, third son of William, 6th Earl Marischal) had been made Knight Marischal (for keeping royal honors from capture by Oliver Cromwell), and later (1677) was made Earl of Kintore. When George Keith, 10th Earl Marischal, was stripped of the old titles (by "writ of attainder"), the then Earl of Kintore was the highest ranking Keith remaining in Scotland. At Marischal's death, in 1778, Kentore became Chief of Clan Keith, a position still inherited through this family line.

    The succesion of titles can be confusing. It should be noted that titles were not always inherited in an orderly, father-to-son fashion. The 1st to the 16th generation in a long line of Keiths-Marischal were numbered as Knights. Several succeded their grandfathers; a few succeded their brothers. When the mentioned Sir Edward Keith (16th Knight Marischal) was made Lord Marischal, a new numbering begins -- Edward then being called 1st Lord. There were three more Lords Keith Marischal, and then William, 4th Lord Marischal was created Earl, and the numbering starts all over again. This William's son, also called William Keith, became 2nd Earl Marischal and was followed by 8 more Earls Marischal of the Keith family. In other words, for something like (but not precisely) 28 generations there were Keiths serving Scotland as Great Marischal--700 years of service. The office of Great Marischal remained constant, while the titles of Keith who held that office occasionally changed, along with the numbering of their generation of heirship in that title.

    Several accountings of the noble Keith families are detailed in authoratative books, such as: "An Historical and Authentic Account of the Ancient and Noble Family of Keith, Earls Marischal of Scotland, &c.", by P. Buchnan, 1820, London; and the two-volume "A System of Heraldry, Speculative and Practical..." by Alexander Nisbet, 1722 (reprinted in the 1984). In this latter work (vol II) is an accounting of the chain by which the title of Great Marischal passed down the generations.

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Succession of the Keiths:

Great Marischals of Scotland

(The following list is taken from Nisbit's book, A System of Heraldry. There are differing entries in other writings.)

1. Sir Robert, said to be a leader of the Catti tribe of northern Scotland, is credited with killing Camus, leader of a Danish army of invasion. For this, Robert was given by the king a Barony of Keith in East Lothian, the three red stripes which have ever since graced Keith arms, and other honors. He married Margaret, daughter of Simon FRAZIER of Tweedale. They had:

2. Sir Robert Keith (II) commanded part of the army at the battle of Culross, which the Scots lost, whereupon he went with Banquo and Macbeth and defeated the Norwegians in their camp. He married Elizabeth STRACHAN and had:

3. Sir Robert Keith (III) obtained land and honors from King Alexander I. He married Elizabeth, daughter of John CUMMING, and had:

4. Sir Patrick Keith married Margaret, daughter of the Earl of Marr, and had:

5. Sir William Keith, in 1133, with Earls of March, Montieth and Angus, defeated the English at Allerton. He married Elizabeth SEATON, daughter of the Earl of Winton's predecessor, and had:

6. Sir Robert Keith was with Gilchrist Earl of Angus in defeating Somerled Angus' rebellion against King Malcolm IV. He married Elisabeth, daughter of FRAZIER of Tweedale, and had:

7. Sir Henry Keith fought for William the Lion in defeating Henry II of England. He married Margaret, daughter of William DOUGLAS, and had:

8. Sir Robert Keith (Buchan records Henry's heir as Sir William) married Jean, daughter of the chief of GORDON, and was suceeded by:

9. Sir William Keith was with his cousin, the Earl of Buchan, in defeat of the rebellion of Gillespie, in time of King Alexander II. He married Agnes DUNBAR, daughter of the Earl of March, and had:

10. Sir Robert Keith went with King Alexander III in defeating an invasion by Alcho, King of Norway. He married Jean OGILVIE, and had:

11. Sir John Keith married Margaret CUMMING, daughter of the Earl of Buchan, and had:

12. Sir Robert Keith married Barbara SEATON and had a son, Robert, and two daughters. One daughter married William Lord DOUGLAS.

13. Sir Robert Keith married Barbara, daughter of the Chief of DOUGLAS, and had John (who died before his father, but left a son named Robert) and William (who accompanied King Robert's heart to the Holy Land). Sir Robert staunchly defended Scotland against the English in the time of John BALIOL, and supported Robert BRUCE. He was a principal in winning the battle of Inverury, and commanded 500 horse in victory at the 1314 Battle of Bannockburn. For his valuable service, Sir Robert was awarded a large part of the lands forfieted by his cousin, The Earl of Buchan, who had supported the English, and received a grant of the Royal Forest of Kintore. Was killed at the battle of Duplin (1332 a.d.).

14. Sir Robert Keith suceeded his grandfather in estates and titles. Carried on the fight against Baliol, and helped restore King David to the throne. He married Margaret, daughter of Gilbert Lord HAY, and had William, Edward and two daughters. One daughter married John MAITLAND; the other married each of two brothers who were successive Lairds of Drum-Irvine. The son, William, routed two English armies, taking their general prisoner (1337), and captured the town of Perth (1340), but was killed (leaving no children) at Durham, where King David II was taken prisoner by the English (1346).

15. Sir Edward Keith married Domina Isabella KEITH, and had Edward (who suceeded his father) and John. The second son, John, married Mary, sole daughter and heiress of Reynald CHEYNE (Laird of Inverugie, Strabock, & etc.), in 1380, and posessed the Tower of Ackergill. John's branch of the family carried arms as shown at right. It was John's son, Patrick Keith, who married a daughter of Lord Graham, and was ancestor of Sir William Keith, Baronet (and later Governor of Pennsylvania in early 1700's). Sir William's arms, however, varried greatly from those shown here.

16. Sir Edward Keith (II), 16th Knight Marischal, was created Lord Keith by King Robert STEWART II (c. 1380). He married D. M. M. (only her initials are known) and had William and Janet (who married Sir David HAMILTON, Duke of Hamilton).

17. William Keith, 2nd Lord Mariscahal, became renound under King David Bruce, and was one of the commissioners sent to England where peace was achieved. He married Margaret, daughter and heiress of Sir John FRAZIER of Cowie (niece to King Robert II), and had three sons and one daughter. John, the eldest son, was a man of great accomplishments, and married a sister of King Robert III, but he died before his father. The second son, Robert, married the heiress of TROUP, and also died before his father, his lands and titles passing to a son, John Keith (Robert's eldest son, William, succeded as Earl at his grandfather's death in 1412). The Earl's 3rd son was Alexander, knight of Grandholm. The daughter married Robert, Duke of Albany and brother of King Robert III, and was mother of John STEWART, Earl of Buchan.

18. William Keith, 3rd Lord Marischal, married Elizabeth LINDSAY, daughter of the Earl of Crawford, and had four sons: Robert, William (who suceeded his father), John and Alexander. Robert married Katherine, daughter of Lord SEATON, but died before his father, leaving only a daughter.

19. William Keith, 4th Lord Marischal, was created 1st Earl Marischal by King James II (in 1455). He married Margaret, daughter of James, 1st Lord HAMILTON, and had William and Janet (married John LESLIE, heir apparent to George, first Earl of Rothes).

20. William Keith, 2nd Earl Marischal, married Elizabeth, daughter of Alexander GORDON, 1st Earl of Huntly, and had several children. One son, Alexander, recieved estates at Pittendrum (1513), and was ancestor of Alexander Keith (Sheriff-Depute of Mearns), Robert Keith (Minister in Edinburgh), and Alexander Keith (noted writer of the mid-1700's). This William, 2nd Earl, had custody of young King James V in the 1520's, and was ever afterwards rewarded with lands and honors. William's eldest son, Robert, was at the battle of Flodden (where the dead included Sir William Keith of Inverugie, and Sir John Keith of Ludquhairn). This Robert Keith married Beatrix, daughter of John DOUGLAS (Earl of Morton) and died before his father, leaving sons: William, and Robert Abbot of Deer (whose shield is shown at right). Earl William's daughters were Elizabeth (married George, Earl of Huntly), Janet (m. George Lord GLAMMIS), and Agnes (m. Sir Archibald DOUGLAS of Glenbervie).

21. William Keith, 3rd Earl Marischal (known as "William of the Tower"), was chosen by Queen Mary as one of 12 peers to manage the kingdom in her absence. He married Margaret, daughter and heiress of Sir William Keith of Inverugie, and had two sons and two daughters (Buchan says he had 7 daughters). The eldest son (Buchan says youngest), William, married Elizabeth, daughter of George HAY of Errol (in 1543) but was killed in riot in Geneva (before his father's death) ...leaving a son, George, and daughters, Mary (married Sir Robert ARBUTHNOT), Barbara (m. Alexander FORBES of Pitsligo), and one more who m. William KEITH of Ludquhairn. The Earl's 2nd son, Robert Keith, commendator of Deer, received from King James the VI a temproral Lordship, Lord Altree (His shield is shown at right). This Robert had only one daughter, the peerage "failed", the estate falling to the family of Marischal (1551). The Earl's daughters were Anne (married 1st in 1562 to James, Earl of MURRAY, who was Queen Mary's brother; married 2nd to Colin, Earl of Argyle), and Lady Jean (some say Janet), who married John Lord GLAMMIS (ancestors of the present Queen Elizabeth of England). William died in 1581, succeded by a grandson.

22. George Keith, 4th Earl Marischal (pictured at right), studied in Geneva, and was very well traveled. In Germany he was received and treated as a kinsman by the Landgrave of Hesse, Prince of the Chatti. George was named ambsassador to Denmark in which office he accomplished the King's marriage with Queen Ann (1589) and brought her to Scotland. In 1593, he established Marischal College at Aberdeen, and in 1609 became High Commissioner or Viceroy to the Parliament of Scotland. George married 1st to Margaret, daughter of Alexander Lord HOME, and had William and Ann (married William Earl of Morton). He married 2nd to Margaret, daughter of James Lord OGILVIE, and had Sir Robert Keith of Benholm. He died at Dunnotter, in 1623.

23. William Keith, 5th Earl Marischal, served King Charles I in the Privy Council. He married Mary, daughter of John Erskine (Earl of Marr) and Mary Stewart, and had three sons and two daughters. The first two sons, William and George each served as Earls Marischal, and the third 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 5th Earl died in 1635.

24. William Keith, 6th Earl Marischal, supported the King in the civil wars, and was captured by the English. While William was kept in the Tower of London (for ten years), the youngest brother, John, gained honors and title of his own. After the Restoration, King Charles II made the Earl Lord Privy Seal, in which office he served until death in 1671. The Earl married 1st to Elizabeth, daughter of George Earl of Whinton, and had three daughters: Margaret (married 1st to Sir James HOPE of Hopeton, and 2nd to Sir Archibald MURRAY of Blackbarony), Mary (m. Robert Viscount of Arbuthnot), and Jean (m. George Lord Banff). The Earl m. 2nd to Anne, daughter of Robert Earl of Morton, but had no children.

25. George Keith, who had been a Colonel in France, followed his brother as 7th Earl Marischal. He married Mary HAY, daughter of the Earl of Kinoul, and had only one son, William. Earl George died at Inverugie in 1694.

26. William Keith, 8th Earl Marischal, married Mary, daughter of James DRUMMOND, Earl of Perth, and had George, James, Lady Mary (married John FLEMING, Earl of Wigton), and Lady Anne (m. Alexander Lord GAIRLIES, son of the Earl of Galloway). William opposed the union of Scotland and England, and died in 1712.

27. George Keith, 9th Earl Marischal, in youth 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 Stewart kings, the English revoked his titles and estates. Exiled to Europe, George and his brother 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 Stewarts, and had some of his family properties restored to him....including Dunnotar castle . The painting at right shows the Earl in his younger years. George died, childless, in 1778, and chiefship of Clan Keith then passed to the Earl of Kintore.

It should be noted that the above accounting of succession in the office of Great Marischal of Scotland is occasionally disputed in some if its aspects. Recording of the peerage of Scotland, it would seem, was not always done with a great deal of exactness. Never the less, the reader is introduced to a multitude of alliances formed by marriage of Keiths. The family names and titles appearing elsewhere in this web site may be made more intelligible in how they connect.


Majority of information obtained from Larry Keith and used by permission.