Clan Keith History
In 1010, at the Battle of Barrie, the Danish General Camus was despatched to Valhalla by a Chatti warrior. Malcolm II pushed his hand into Camus and drew three bloody fingers down the warrior’s shield. “Camus Slayer” became his name. In 1018 Malcolm won Lothian in the Battle of Chathem and let the lands of Keth to Camus Slayer. His descendants took the area’s name as their own. The Keiths remember their progenitor with three lines down the chief’s coat of arms.
In 1150 a Norman called Hervey won the hand of the Keth heiress and the lands were given to them in a charter by David I. In a charter of 1176, Hervey’s son was named “Marischal of the King of Scots”. This position made the King’s safety and regalia his responsibility and was later to become hereditary.
Sir Robert de Keth was a close friend of Robert the Bruce and was given Halforest by him in 1308. The Marischal built himself a castle in the forest. His greatest hour was at the Battle of Bannockburn where he commanded the small cavalry of ponies against England’s Shire horses and still managed to scatter their archers.
Marriage brought the Keiths huge land acquisition such as estates at Inverugie, Buchan and Kincardine.
Despite their immense properties they are not remembered as neighbourly, continually encroaching upon the lands of others like the Gunns. The families’ long feuding brought out the worst in the Keiths, such as the slaughter at Helen Gunn’s wedding, followed by her abduction and suicide. Another infamous moment was the treachery at the Chapel of St Tears in 1464, where they betrayed the trust of the Gunns and slaughtered again.
In 1458 the 3rd Lord Keith was created Earl Marischal.
The 5th Earl was the richest nobleman in Scotland.
While the 7th Earl was imprisoned by the English the Keiths dutifully hid the Scottish crown jewels and other regalia across their lands until the Restoration.
Fleeing after the failed Rising of 1715, the 9th earl and his brother James, their lands forfeited, went to Europe and made the Keith name famous across the world. The Earl became the closest friend of Frederick the Great, while his brother became his mightiest Field-Marshal. The Earl received the Black Eagle, the highest Prussian order. James was given the Russian Imperial Order of St Andrew by the Tsarina.
The present Earl lives at Keith Hall in Aberdeenshire.
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