A Scottish warrior slew the Danish General Camus at the Battle of Barrie in 1010. For this, King Máel Coluim II of Scotland dipped three fingers into the blood of the slain and drew them down the shield of the warrior. Thereafter the warrior was named Marbhachir Chamius or Camus Slayer. Ever since then the Chief of the Clan Keith has borne the same mark of three red lines on his arm.
Máel Coluim’s victory at the Battle of Carham in 1018 brought him into outright possession of the lands of the Lothians and the Merse. The Keiths derive their name from the Barony of Keith, Humbie, East Lothian, said to have been granted by the king to Marbhachir Chamius for his valour.
The office of Earl Marischal and later Knight Marischal of Scotland was hereditary in the Keith family until the 18th century. It may have been conferred at the same time as the barony, since it was confirmed, together with possession of the lands of Keith, to Sir Robert Keith by a charter of King Robert the Bruce, and appears to have been held as annexed to the land by the tenure of grand serjeanty. Sir Robert Keith commanded Scottish light cavalry at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 and was killed at the Battle of Dupplin Moor. His grandson, also a Robert Keith, was killed at the Battle of Neville’s Cross 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 Dunnottar Castle, which became the stronghold of the Clan Keith. He died in about 1407. The castle is on a cliff-top south of Stonehaven.
The Battle of Champions (probably 1478) was fought between twelve men of the Clan Gunn and twenty four men of the Clan Keith. All the Gunns, including the chief of the clan, were killed. However, the chief of the Clan Keith was soon after killed by the Gunns in a revenge attack.
William, fourth Earl Marischal (died 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 Keith, 5th Earl Marischal (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. The 5th Earl was responsible for the tower house still extant on his ancestral lands at Keith Marischal.
Sir John Keith (d. 1714), brother of the 7th Earl Marischal, was, at the Restoration given the hereditary office of Knight Marischal 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 were 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, 10th Earl Marischal (c. 1693–1778), served under Marlborough, and like his brother James Francis Edward Keith (1696–1758), later a Prussian field marshal, was a zealous Jacobite. He inherited the title of Earl Marischal in 1712 and took over as chief of Clan Keith, but after taking part in the rising of 1715 had to escape to the continent. In the following year he was attainted, his estates and titles being forfeited to the Crown. Later he led the clan when they fought at the Battle of Glen Shiel in 1719. 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 Francis, 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.
George Keith died unmarried and without issue in 1778. 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. James Francis Edward Keith did have issue with his common law wife Eva Merthen, but the identity of the children remains a mystery to this day. One theory states that her heirs, the purported brother and sister of her second husband J. D. von Reichenbach, were in fact her children with James Keith.
The current Chief of Clan Keith is James William Falconer Keith, 14th Earl of Kintore (b. 1976).
- Keith Hall estate in Aberdeenshire is the current seat of the chief of Clan Keith.
- Dunnottar Castle became the seat of the chief of Clan Keith in 1639 but is now ruined.
- Fetteresso Castle passed from the Clan Strachan to the Clan Keith chief, Earl Marischal during the early 14th century.
- Mottos: Dexter, Quae amissa salva (What has been lost is safe), Sinister, Veritas vincit (Truth conquers), On compartment, Thay say: quhat they say: thay haif sayed: let thame say
- Slogan: A Keith, Veritas Vincit (also Truth Prevails)
- Plant Badge:White Rose
Austen, Austin, Cate, Cates, Dickson, Dixon, Dixson, Dick, Falconer, Faulkner, Harvey, Hackston, Haxton, Hervey, Hurrie, Hurry, Keath, Keech, Keeth, Keyth, Kite, Laird, Lumgair, MacKeith, Marshall, Ouston, Urie, Urry
Years Attended: 2011
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