The office of Marischal was created to look after the Royal Regalia, that is, the Scottish Crown Jewels, the Crown, the Sceptre and the Sword of State, and also to perform the function of King’s bodyguard. The position was raised into the Peerage as Earl Marischal. The position was hereditary to the Keith family from ancient times, these being descendants of an ancient non-Pictish tribe, the Caitt, that had inhabited the far north of Scotland, giving their name to Caithness. This tribe or clan had gradually moved south, and were granted lands in East Lothian by Malcolm II.


Marischals of Scotland


1st Marischal, Hervey de Keith, b.?, a.?, d.b.1196


Son of Hervelus of Keith, later Keith Marischal, who had obtained the lands of Keith in East Lothian. He held the position of King’s Marischal under King’s Malcolm IV and William I, and the title became hereditary from this time.


2nd Marischal, Philip de Keith, b.?, a.c.1196, d.c.1225


Grandson of the 1st Marschal and son of Malcolm de Keith. By his marriage to Eda, heiress of Fraser, he obtained the lands of Hundeby that were merged with his own to create the barony of Keith.


3rd Marischal, Hervey de Keith, b.?, a.c.1225, d.c.1250


Son of the 2nd Marischal.


4th Marischal, John de Keith, b.?, a.c.1250, d.c.1270


Son of the 3rd Marischal.


5th Marischal, William de Keith, b.?, a.c.1270, d.c.1293


Son of the 4th Marischal and Margaret Comyn, daughter of William Comyn, Earl of Buchan.


6th Marischal, Robert Keith, b.?, a.c.1293, d.1332


Son of the 5th Marischal and Barbara de Seton. He was Justiciar of the North in 1300 and aided in the government of the country after the death of Wallace. He became a supporter of Robert Bruce and fought against the Comyn and Inverurie, after which he was made Sheriff of Aberdeen. He commanded a troop of Scottish cavalry at the Battle of Bannockburn, and was responsible for driving the English bowmen from the field. He was a signatory of the Declaration of Arbroath and acted as a Commissioner to broker peace with the English in 1323. He died at the Battle of Dupplin Moor.


7th Marischal, Robert Keith, b.?, a.1332, d.1346


Grandson of the 6th Marischal and Barbara Douglas, and son of John Keith (b.?, d.1324). He died at the Battle of Neville’s Cross.


8th Marischal, Edward Keith, b.?, a.1346, d.b.1351


Younger brother of the 6th Marischal. Edward’s younger son, John Keith, was the ancestor of the Keiths of Inverugie, a branch that married back into the main line some 200 years later.


9th Marischal, William Keith, b.?, a.c.1350, d.b.1410


Son of the 8th Marishal and Isabella, heiress of Synton. He was Commissioner to the England on a number of occasions, and officiated at the Coronation of Robert II. He obtained the lands of Dunnottar in Kincardineshire and determined to construct a magnificent fortress on the dramatic promontory. However he fell foul of the Bishop of St Andrews, who had wanted to build a church on the site, and who subsequently ex-communicated Sir William in a fit of pique. The Marischal appealed to Pope Benedict XIII, who decided in his favour, on payment of a tribute to the Church. The famous castle is unfortunately now a ruin, but for hundreds of years dominated the surrounding area. Keith also obtained substantial estates by way of his wife Margaret Fraser, heiress of Sir John Fraser, eldest son of Alexander Fraser, former High Chamberlain of Scotland. His daughter Muriella Keith (b.?, d.1449) became the second wife of Robert, 1st Duke of Albany.


10th Marischal, Robert Keith, b.?, a.b.1410, d.b.1430


Son of the 9th Marischal and Margaret Fraser, daughter of Sir John Fraser and grand-daughter of Alexander Fraser, the former High Chamberlain of Scotland.


11th Marischal, William Keith, b.?, a.b.1430, d.b.1476


Son of the 10th Marischal. He was instrumental in maintaining peace in the country during the minority of James II and was recognised for this service by being raised to the Peerage as 1st Lord Keith in 1451, and then further as 1st Earl Marischal.



Earl Marischals of Scotland (1457)


1st Earl Marischal, William Keith, as above


N.B. The numbering is not always consistent across the sources, and some give the next holder as the first Earl.


2nd Earl Marischal, William Keith, b.?, a.1475, d.1482-1483


Son of the 1st Earl Marischal and (possibly) Mary Hamilton, daughter of Sir James Hamilton of Cadzow. Another possible candidate is Marjorie Fraser.


3rd Earl Marischal, William Keith, b.?, a.c.1483, d.c.1527


Son of the 2nd Marischal and Mariota Erskine, daughter of Thomas Erskine, 2nd Lord Erskine (for whom see the earls of Mar). His two sons, Robert and William, and many more prominent members of the Keith family, died defending the King at Flodden. He was a supporter of the Regent, Albany, and was made co-Guardian of the infant King James V.


4th Earl Marischal, William Keith, b.?, a.1530, d.1581


Grandson of the 3rd Earl Marischal and Lady Elizabeth Gordon, daughter of George Gordon, 2nd Earl of Huntly, and son of Robert Keith, Lord Keith (b.?, d.1525), and Lady Elizabeth Douglas (b.?, d.1527), daughter of John Douglas, 2nd Earl of Morton. He accompanied James V on his visit to France to marry Princess Magdalene in 1536, and was made an Extraordinary Lord of Session in 1541. In 1543 he was made a Privy Counsellor, and he was present at the Battle of Pinkie in 1547. He was a supporter of the Reformation and was actively involved in shaping Protestantism in Scotland. After Queen Mary was imprisoned in Lochleven Castle, he retired to Dunnottar and took no further part in affairs of state. His younger son Robert Keith (b.c.1529, d.1596) was known as the Commendator of Deer, with another Robert Keith, the 3rd Earl’s younger brother having been the last Abbot of Deer. The younger Robert raised the abbey lands into a temporal lordship under the title of 1st Lord Altrie, with remainder to his nephew, the 5th Earl.


5th Earl Marischal, George Keith, b.1553, a.1581, d.1623


Grandson of the 4th Earl Marischal and Margaret Keith, daughter of Sir William Keith of Inverugie, and son of William Keith, Master of Keith (b.?, d.1580), and Lady Elizabeth Hay, daughter of George Hay, 7th Earl of Erroll. In his youth, he was educated first at King’s College Aberdeen and then in France and Geneva, where his younger brother William was killed during civil unrest, after which he continued his travels in Italy and Germany. An influential noble, he was made a Privy Counsellor in 1582 and in 1589 he was sent as a Commissioner to Denmark to arrange the marriage of James VI to Princess Anne, daughter of King Frederick II of Denmark. He was also a Royal Commissioner to the Scottish Parliament in 1609. In 1593 he established Marischal College in Aberdeen, which would eventually merge with King’s College to become the University of Aberdeen in 1858.


6th Earl Marischal, William Keith, b.c.1585, a.1623, d.1635


Son of the 5th Earl Marischal and Margaret Home (b.1565, d.1598), daughter of Alexander Home, 5th Lord Home. He was made a Privy Counsellor in 1625. His youngest son, John Keith, became 1st Earl of Kintore.


7th Earl Marischal, William Keith, b.1614, a.1635, d.1670-1671


Son of the 6th Earl Marischal and Lady Mary Erskine, daughter of John Erskine, 2nd and 18th Earl of Mar. He was a Covenanter, and twice marched on Aberdeen alongside the Young Montrose, but was against the extreme views of Argyll, although he refused to join Montrose in switching sides, earning that man’s enmity. He was made a Privy Counsellor in 1641. In 1645, Montrose besieged Dunnottar Castle when Keith refused to hand over some prominent Covenanters who had taken refuge with him. In 1648, with the Covenanters now in support of the King against the English Parliamentarians, he joined the Duke of Hamilton in his expedition into England that ended in defeat at the Battle of Preston. In 1651, he was arrested by Cromwell and sent to the Tower of London, where he remained until the Restoration. He married Elizabeth Seton (b.1621, d.1650), daughter of George Seton, 3rd Earl of Winton, but their only son died in infancy.


8th Earl Marischal, George Keith, b.?, a.1670-1671, d.1694


Younger brother of the 7th Earl Marischal. He fought in the French Army, reaching the rank of Colonel. During the Civil Wars he was initially neutral, but later joined the ill-fated Engagement into England, where he commanded a regiment, fighting at the Battle of Preston in 1648 and at Worcester in 1649, where he was taken prisoner. On his release he detached himself from politics, and was a neutral at the Revolution.


9th Earl Marischal, William Keith, b.c.1664, a.1694, d.1712


Son of the 8th Earl Marischal and Lady Mary Hay (b.?, d.c.1667), daughter of George Hay, 2nd Earl of Kinnoull. He was an opponent of the Union, and is noted for his extravagant lifestyle which drained his estates.


10th Earl Marischal, George Keith, b.1692, a.1712, d.1778


Son of the 9th Earl Marischal and Lady Mary Drummond, daughter of James Drummond, 4th Earl of Perth. His inheritance was greatly reduced by his father’s largesse. A Roman Catholic, he was alienated from Government and took part in the Jacobite rebellion of 1715 alongside his brother James Keith. After the Battle of Sheriffmuir, he joined the Old Pretender in exile, his titles were attainted and his estates forfeit to the Crown. In 1719 he made another attempt to restore the Stewarts, landing in the Highlands with the Marquess of Tullibardine and the Earl of Seaforth with Spanish troops, and being joined by some Highlanders. However, they were attacked in Glenshiel and, although holding their ground, the Highlanders deserted in the night, leaving the Spanish troops with no alternative but to surrender, with the Jacobite nobles leaving again for Europe. In exile, he performed statesman-like functions on behalf of various heads of state, and he was eventually reconciled with the British monarchy, meeting George II and George III, even allowed, by Act of Parliament, to inherit estates that might have come to him. In fact in 1761, with the death of the 4th Earl of Kintore, the properties pertaining to that title came to him, and he was encouraged to settle in Scotland. However, the losses that he had been subject to, and the lack of close friends, encouraged him to accept an offer from Frederick of Prussia to join him in Potsdam, where he died of old age, unmarried, but a confidante of kings and philosophers. The earldom of Kintore was reclaimed by a great-grandson of the 2nd Earl of Kintore.


(Last updated: 14/08/2009)