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Scone's Scottish and Celtic Internet Book

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Scottish History and Culture

The Grand Marischals
of Clan Keith

presented by Sconemac,,

"another page in my book"

I am dedicating this Clan Keith history and page to my mother, Anne Marshall MacCorkill Gunn. She was a beautiful red-haired lassie and her ancestry from the Moray district, Scotland. She was beautiful, red haired, pale skined, greeneyed, with a beautiful heart. She was filled with kindness and love, which she shared with her family, unconditionally during her entire life. Died June 11, 1982.


The Keiths were one of the most ancient and powerful of the Celtic families. The earliest record is one Hervey Keith who was Marischal in the reign of Malcolm IV in the 12th century.

At Bannockburn in 1314, Sir Robert Keith the Marischal, led the Scots cavalry of ponies successfully against the great shire horses of the English. His great-grandson, Sir William founded Dunnottar Castle on the headland precipice south of Stonehaven. The family continued to grow in wealth and importance and in 1458 the hereditary office of Marischal was made into an Earldom, the 2nd Lord then became Earl Marischal.

By the 16th century the Keiths were so powerful that it was said that the Earl could travel from Berwick to John O' Groats stopping each night on his own property.

The 4th Earl entertained Mary Queen of Scots at the castle and her son James VI held a Privy Council there and appointed the 5th Earl to stand as proxy for him at his marriage to Anne of Denmark, he also founded Marischal College, Aberdeen in 1593.

The 9th and last Earl Marischal and his brother were ardent Jacobites and fought with the Stewarts in 1715. They had to escape after defeat to the continent where James became a Field Marshall for Fredrick the Great.

The Keiths were also involved in feuds especially after they took possession of the lands in Caithness, with their neighbours there, the Gunns. In the 15th century in an attempt at reconciliation, the two clans planned to meet with twelve clansmen each. However the Keiths arrived with two men on each horse and attacked the Gunns while they were at prayer. The Gunns retaliated when they slaughtered Keith of Ackergill and his ten of his men at Drummoy. (In 1978, the Chief of Clan Keith and the Commander of Clan Gunn signed a peace treaty at the site of the Chapel of St. Tayrs, ending the feud between the two clans which began in 1478).

Upon the death of George, 9th Earl in 1778 the forfeited estates passed to Lord Falconer. In 1919 Dunnottar was purchased by Viscountess Cowdray who repaired the ruins which are now open to the public.

Thanks to James Pringle Weavers for the following information:

KEITH: Though now mainly associated with North-east Scotland and Caithness, the origin of the Keiths in Scotland was in East Lothian. Here, the lands of Keith Hervei were named after Herveius, who lived in the reign of David I (1124-53). His son was Kings Marshall under Malcolm IV, and William I. His descendant was one of four Deputy Wardens of Scotland appointed by King Edward I but, in 1308, he joined King Robert I (Bruce) and commanded the Scottish cavalry at Bannockburn. Bruce granted him the Royal Forest of Kintore - where he built Hallforest Castle, and he was rewarded with other forfeited Comyn lands in Buchan.

Marriage brought them further lands in Kincardine where three generations later his descendant, Sir William, built the great fortress of Dunnottar. Sir William's son was created Lord Keith, and the 2nd Lord became 'Earl Marischal' in 1428.

A son married the heiress of the Cheynes of Ackergill in Caithness during the 14th century, and the feud began with the Gunns which lasted for centuries.

In 1464, in an attempt to resolve their differences, a meeting was agreed with the Gunns where only twelve horses from each side would attend. The wily Keiths turned up with two men on each horse and slaughtered their rivals.

The standard of the 2nd Earl who fought at Flodden in 1513, is preserved in the Advocates' Library in Edinburgh, and it was the 7th of that title who, though a Covenanter by sympathy, rescued the Scottish Regalia in 1651 and carried them to safety in his stronghold of Dunnottar.

His Royalist brother was created Earl of Kintore in 1677. The failure of the Jacobite Risings of 1715 and 1719 caused George, the 10th and last Earl Marischal, to flee to the Continent where he became a Marshal in the service of the Russian Tsar Frederick the Great.

My mother teasingly said that the Keith's won by marrying Gunn men, which she did. They had a long 52 year marriage, and they never had a feud......Scone


More Keith History

William and Graham

William Keith, the seventh Earl Marischal, was a Covenanter. These were the people who signed the National Covenant for Religious Freedom which was a protest against the way that royalty was dictating which religions should be followed.

He was part of James Graham's (the first Marquis of Montrose) Covenanting army of 1639 which successfully won a skirmish at Megray Mill, just North of Stonehaven, and took Aberdeen for the Covenanters.

Graham turned out to be more a Royalist than a Covenanter for when Cromwell began to endanger the existence of the royal family, he dramatically changed sides to command the King's army in Scotland.

Years later, when Graham tried to sway his old friend away from his beliefs, William had become a virtual recluse shutting himself away in Dunnottar and abandoning his tenants. Staying with the Earl was a notorious religious zealot, Andrew Cant, who must have persuaded the Earl to ignore Montrose's pleadings for a meeting. On several occasions Montrose sent envoys to the gates of Dunnottar but they were all refused entry. These dismissals offended Montrose to such extent that he set fire to every house, barn and stable in the baronies of Dunnottar. His actions culminated in the sacking of Stonehaven when he plundered cattle, grain, horses and sheep and then set fire to everything, except the house he was staying in, including a ship and fishing boats in the harbour. The population of Stonehaven was left, virtually, homeless and with no food or livestock.

He must have thought that "revenge was sweet" for William's insult but it is a bitter irony, in that, the next time he was in Stonehaven it was as a hunted fugitive, after the defeat of the Royalist armies, stealing aboard a ship for Norway and exile.

Nancy MacCorkill, F.S.A. Scot USA
Author, Poet,
Historian of the Ancient Clans of Scotland

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