Origins of the Name

A Scottish warrior slew the Danish General Camus at the Battle of Barrie in 1010 for which King Mel 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. Mel 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.

Wars of Scottish Independence

The office of Earl Marischal and later Knight Marischal of Scotland, was hereditary in the Keith family until the 18th.c. 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 the Scottish horse at Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 and was killed at the Battle of Dupplin Moor. His grandson, also 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 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.

15th Century & Clan Conflicts

The Clan Keith were often at feud with the neighbouring Clan Irvine. Both clans invaded each others’ lands. In 1402 the Clan Irvine are said to have attacked and defeated an invading war party of the Clan Keith in what was known as the Battle of Drumoak.

In 1430 a later Sir William Keith was created Lord Keith, and a few years afterwards Earl Marischal, and these titles remained in the family until 1716.

Battle of Blare Tannie, 1464, Fought between the Clan Keith, assisted by the Clan MacKay against the Clan Gunn. The inhabitants of Caithness assembled an army and met the MacKays and Keiths at a place in Caithness called Blair-tannie. There ensued a cruel fight, with slaughter on either side. In the end the Keiths and MacKays had the victory by means chiefly of John Mor MacIan-Riabhaich (an Assynt man), who was very famous in these countries for his manhood shown at this conflict. Two chieftains and leaders of the inhabitants of Caithness were slain. Angus MacKay would later be defeated by Clan Ross.

Battle of Champions, 1478, Fought between twelve men of the Clan Gunn and twenty four men of the Clan Keith where the chief of Clan Gunn was killed. The chief of the Clan Keith was also soon after killed by the Gunns in a revenge attack.

16th Century & Clan Conflicts

In 1571 the Clan Keith joined forces with the Clan Forbes in their feud against the Clan Gordon. The Forbes were also joined by Clan Fraser and Clan Crichton. The Gordons were also joined by Clan Leslie, Clan Irvine and Clan Seton. The feud between the Gordons and Forbes which had gone on for centuries culminated in two full scale battles: The Battle of Tillieangus and the Battle of Craibstone. It was at the Battle of Tillieangus that the 6th Lord Forbes’s youngest son known as Black Aurther Forbes was killed. Legend has it that “he stooped down to quench his thirst and one of the Gordons gave him his death blow through an open joint in his armour“.

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.

17th Century & Civil War

George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal 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 Keith, 7th Earl Marischal (c. 1617-1661), took a prominent part in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, being at first a leader of the covenanting party in northeast Scotland, and the most powerful opponent of the Clan Gordon and the Marquess of Huntly. He cooperated with James Graham the 1st Marquess of 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 Marischal at Dunnottar; and in 1651 the Scottish regalia were left for safe keeping in his castle. In 1651 the Royalists at the Battle of Worcester were commanded by Colonel Keith. Taken prisoner, he was committed to the Tower of London and was excluded from Oliver Cromwell’s Act of Grace. He was made a privy councillor at the Restoration and died in 1661.

Sir John Keith (died 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.

18th Century & Jacobite Uprisings

George Keith, 10th Earl Marischal (c. 1693-1778), served under Marlborough, 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.

Francis’s brother George Keith the Earl Marischal took over as chief of Clan Keith and he led the clan when they fought at the Battle of Glenshiel in 1719. George escaped the gallows by fleeing with the Jacobites, and was exiled to Prussia, where he met up with his brother Francis Keith who wrote a narration of the battle.

In the following year Francis 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 George Keith, 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 (16811757), 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 (Edinburgh, 1755) and other less important historical and theological works.

Robert Keith (died 1774), descended from a younger son of the family, 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 (17301795), 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.

19th Century

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

Clan Chief

The current Chief of Clan Keith is James William Falconer Keith, 14th Earl of Kintore

Clan Castles

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.

Clan Profile

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

Thomas Dickson of Hazelside and Symington (1247-1307) and his Dickson descendants from the Keiths

In about 1306, Thomas Dickson, the Laird of Symington and Hazelside, had the barony of Symundstun, now Symington, conveyed to him as Thomas filius Ricardi, the barony of Symundstun, now Symington, in the county of Lanark, and also, he was created Hereditary Castellan or Governor of Douglas Castle by King Robert the Bruce. As such he resided in his own house except in case of war, when he left his house in charge of his dependents and himself took command of Douglas Castle. Hazelside was 10 miles from Douglas Castle in Douglasdale, Lanarkshire.

This Thomas, the first Dickson on record, moreover, was evidently a person of very good standing, such as a grandson of the Earl Marischal might be expected to be, a man of wealth as well as influence, and was also a clansman of the Douglas. Two of the oldest Scottish Historians recount his deeds, Archdeacon Barbour who wrote in 1375, and Blind Harry, or Henry the Minstrel, whose metrical history was written about 1381.

There are some who speak slightingly of the bard, but Major, who was born in 1405, says he was living about that time and that he recited his compositions in the presence of princes or men of the highest rank (coram principibus), and Chalmers in his Caledonia, says “Blind Harrie, whom the Scottish Historians generally follow but dare not quote. Blind Harrie is, however, supported bt the Tower Records”.

In 1295 when Douglas wished to recover his castle of Sanquhar, he applied to Thomas Dickson who was “born to himself”, i.e. relation or clansman by birth, and addresses him as “Dear Friend”, and relied so much upon him that he afterward selected him to pass through the enemy’s camp of some three thousand men to bear a message to Wallace; while Barbour says he was rich in moveables and cattle, and had many friends, besides which his house could not have been a small one as it contained a private chamber where he not only concealed Douglas but also brought persons to see him without attracting notice, and the space for such a secret apartment could not have been taken out of a small house without being perceived. This Thomas Dickson also served William the Hardy’s son, James Douglas, “The Good Sir James” with the recapture of Douglas Castle in 1307.

The Good Sir James (or “Black Douglas”) And His Connection With Thomas Dickson

William the Hardy’s son, James Douglas, “The Good Sir James”, was the first to take the epithet “Black”. Douglas was set to share in Bruce’s early misfortunes, being present at the defeats at Methven and Dalrigh. But for both men these setbacks were to provide a valuable lesson in tactics: limitations in both resources and equipment meant that the Scots would always be a disadvantage in conventional Medieval warfare. By the time the war was renewed in the spring of 1307 they had learnt the value of guerrilla warfare known at the time as ’secret war’ using fast moving, lightly equipped and agile forces to maximum effect against an enemy often locked in to static defensive positions. His actions for most of 1307 and early 1308 were local rather than national in nature, confined for the most part to his native Douglasdale.

Nevertheless, he was soon to create a formidable reputation for himself as a soldier and a tactician. While Bruce was campaigning in the north against his domestic enemies, Douglas used the cover of Selkirk Forest to mount highly effective mobile attacks against the enemy. He also showed himself to be utterly ruthless, particularly in his relentless attacks on the English garrison in his own Douglas Castle, the most famous of which quickly passed into popular history. Barbour dates this incident to Palm Sunday 1307, which fell on 19th March. Thomas Dickson (1247-1307) the Laird of Symington and Hazelside, Lanarkshire, Baron of Symington, and Governor of Douglas Castle, the son of Richard or Dick de Keith, who was a son of Hervey de Keith, Great Marischal of Scotland, who died in 1249, and Margaret his wife, the daughter of the 3rd Lord Douglas. Their grandson Thomas was born in 1247, he was second cousin of William 7th Lord Douglas, father of the good Sir James Douglas, eighth Lord, to whom Dickson was certainly a trusty friend.

In the recovery of Douglas Castle, Thomas Dickson and his small troop were hidden until the morning of Palm Sunday, when the garrison left the battlements to attend the local church. Gathering local support he entered the church and the war-cry ‘Douglas!’ ‘Douglas!’ went up for the first time. Some of the English soldiers were killed and others taken prisoner. Thomas Dickson was killed fighting several English in St Bride’s Kirk, on 19th March 1307, and was buried in an elaborate tomb close to St Brides in the churchyard. His descendants bare the Keith Arms of “Pallets Gules” with the Douglas “Mullets Argent” to shew their descent from the Keith and Douglas families, with the motto ‘Fortes Fortuna Juvat’. His eldest son and heir was Thomas Dickson there were other sons also. From Thomas Dickson of Hazelside and Symington (1247-1307) descends the Dickson Clan/Family, many have been illustrious especially in the armed services and descendants are to be found in America, Australia, Canada, England, France, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, and Sweden.

The Dickson Coat of Arms

Family Motto: “Fortes Fortuna Juvat” (Fortune Favours the Brave)

Early Family Arms: ‘ Three Pallets Gules with Three Mullets Argent ‘

Crest: ‘A sword in bend proper’

Clan Septs and Tartans

The same sett is used in dark (Modern) and light (Ancient) colours.


























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