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The Keiths Of Scotland

Keith is the name of an old Scottish family which derived its name from the barony of Keith in East Lothian, said to have been granted by Malcolm II., king of Scotland, to a member of the house for services against the Danes. The office of great marishal of Scotland, afterwards hereditary in the Keith family, may have been conferred at the same time; for it was confirmed, together with possession of the lands of Keith, to Sir Robert Keith by a charter of King Robert Bruce, and appears to have been held as annexed to the land by the tenure of grand serjeanty. Sir Robert Keith commanded the Scottish horse at Bannockburn, and was killed at the battle of Neville's ross in 1346.

At the close of the 14th century Sir William Keith, by exchange of lands with Lord Lindsay, obtained the crag of Dunnottar in Kincardineshire, where he built the castle of Dunnottar, which became the stronghold of his descendants. He died about 1407. In 1430 a later Sir William Keith was created Lord Keith, and a few years afterwards earl marishal, and these titles remained in the family till 1716.

William, fourth earl marishal (d. 1581), 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; he retired into private life at Dunnottar Castle about 1567, thereby gaining the sobriquet "William of the Tower." He was reputed to be the wealthiest man in Scotland.

His eldest daughter Anne married the regent Murray. His grandson George, 5th earl marishal (c. 1553-1623), was one of the most cultured men of his time. He was educated at King's College, Aberdeen, where he became a proficient classical scholar, afterwards studying divinity under Theodore Beza at Geneva. He was a firm Protestant, and took an active part in the affairs of the kirk. His high character and abilities procured him the appointment of special ambassador to Denmark to arrange the marriage of James VI. with the Princess Anne. He was subsequently employed on a number of important commissions; but he preferred literature to public affairs, and about 1620 he retired to Dunnottar, where he died in 1623. He is chiefly remembered as the founder in 1593 of the Marischal College in the university of Aberdeen, which he richly endowed. From an uncle he inherited the title of Lord Altrie about 1590. William, 7th earl marishal (c. 1617-1661), took a prominent part in the Civil War, being at first a leader of the covenanting party in north-east Scotland, and the most powerful opponent of the marquess of Huntly. He co-operated with Montrose in Aberdeenshire and neighbouring counties against the Gordons. With Montrose he signed the Bond of Cumbernauld in August 1640, but took no active steps against the popular party till 1648, when he joined the duke of Hamilton in his invasion of England, escaping from the rout at Preston. In 1650 Charles II. was entertained by the marishal at Dunnottar; and in 1651 the Scottish regalia were left for safe keeping in his castle. Taken prisoner in the same year, he was committed to the Tower and was excluded from Cromwell's Act of Grace. He was made a privy councillor at the Restoration and died in 1661.

Sir John Keith (d. 1714), brother of the 7th earl marishal, was, at the Restoration, given the hereditary office of knight marishal of Scotland, and in 1677 was created earl of Kintore, and Lord Keith of Inverurie and Keith-Hall, a reward for his share in preserving the regalia of Scotland, which wTere secretly conveyed from Dunnottar to another hiding-place, when the castle was besieged by Cromwell's troops, and which Sir John, perilously to himself, swore he had carried abroad and delivered to Charles II., thus preventing further search. From him are descended the earls of Kintore.

George Keith (c. 1693-1778), served under Marl-borough, and like his brother Francis, Marshal Keith, was a zealous Jacobite, taking part in the rising of 1715, after which he escaped to the continent. In the following year he was attainted, his estates and titles being forfeited to the Crown. He lived for many years in Spain, where he concerned himself with Jacobite intrigues, but he took no part in the rebellion of 1745, proceeding about that year to Prussia, where he became, like his brother, intimate with Frederick the Great. Frederick employed him in several diplomatic posts, and he is said to have conveyed valuable information to the earl of Chatham, as a reward for which he received a pardon from George II., and returned to Scotland in 1759. His heir male, on whom, but for the attainder of 1716, his titles would have devolved, was apparently his cousin Alexander Keith of Ravelston, to whom the attainted earl had sold the castle and lands of Dunnottar in 1766.

From Alexander Keith was descended, through the female line, Sir Patrick Keith Murray of Ochtertyre, who sold the estates of Dunnottar and Ravelston. After the attainder of 1716 the right of the Keiths of Ravelston to be recognized as the representatives of the earls marishal was disputed by Robert Keith (1681-1757), bishop of Fife, a member of another collateral branch of the family. The bishop was a writer of some repute, his chief work, The History of the Affairs of the Church and State of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1734), being of considerable value for the reigns of James V., James VI., and Mary Queen of Scots. He also published a Catalogue of the Bishops of Scotland and other less important historical and theological works.

Robert Keith (d. 1774), descended from a younger son of the and earl marishal, was British minister in Vienna in 1748, and subsequently held other important diplomatic appointments, being known to his numerous friends, among whom were the leading men of letters of his time, as "Ambassador Keith." His son, Sir Robert Murray Keith (1730-1795), was on Lord George Sackville's staff at the battle of Minden. He became colonel of a regiment (the 87th foot) known as Keith's Highlanders, who won distinction in the continental wars, but were disbanded in 1763; he was then employed in the diplomatic service, in which he achieved considerable success by his honesty, courage, and knowledge of languages. In 1781 he became lieutenant-general; in 1789. he was made a privy councillor.

From the Keith family through the female line was descended George Keith Elphinstone, Baron Keith of Stonehaven, Marishal and afterwards Viscount Keith (q.v.), whose titles became extinct at the death of his daughter Margaret, Baroness Keith, in 1867.



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