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Keith Family History & Ancestry

Family Crest Motto: VERITAS VINCIT (Truth conquers)

Let me share with you the fascinating history of your family, the Keiths. Your family name, Keith, originates from the lands of the same name in East Lothian. It derives from a Brythonic word meaning woodland or forest, which shares the same root as the Germanic word ‘Heath.’ The oldest known ancestor is Hervey de Keith, who was active during the reign of David I from 1159 to 1185. While Hervey’s origins remain unknown, his name suggests that he may have been a Norman or French knight. He held the esteemed position of marischal to the king, a royal office exclusively held by the Keiths until 1715. Originally, the marischal was responsible for the king’s horses, but the role evolved to encompass managing the royal cavalry, overseeing the king’s hall, administering military justice, and organizing tournaments. In later centuries, it became a ceremonial position, with the marischal maintaining order within the building where Parliament was held. During the Civil Wars of the 1640s, and possibly even earlier in Scottish history, the marischal also acted as the custodian of the royal regalia.

Although the family’s origins lie in Lothian, the Keiths gradually acquired lands in Caithness, the Mearns, Kintore, and Buchan. Their impressive portfolio included castles such as Inverugie, Ackergill, Fetteresso, and the renowned Dunnottar Castle, which became the principal seat of the earls. In 1458, the third Lord Keith was bestowed the title of Earl Marischal, becoming the only Scottish peer styled by his great office of state rather than being associated with a specific place. The fourth earl, William, embraced Protestantism at an early stage. His daughter, Annas Keith, stood as one of the most formidable Scotswomen of the sixteenth century and enjoyed a close friendship with Mary Queen of Scots. Annas married James Stewart, Earl of Moray, who later served as regent of Scotland for the young James VI. George, the fifth Earl Marischal, was Scotland’s wealthiest nobleman and founded Marischal College in Aberdeen in 1593.

During the tumultuous Civil Wars of the 1640s and 1650s, Dunnottar Castle became the last stronghold of the royalists in Scotland. The Keiths supported the Jacobite cause during the 1715 rebellion, which resulted in George Keith, the tenth earl, being forfeited and losing his lands, castles, and titles. However, he went on to enjoy a distinguished career in Prussia. The Keith-Falconer Earls of Kintore succeeded as chiefs of the family. Since then, the Keiths have achieved success not only in Scotland but also around the world. Prominent figures include Sir William Keith of Ludquharn (1680-1749), who served as the Governor of Pennsylvania and Delaware, as well as Algernon Keith-Falconer, the ninth Earl of Kintore (1852-1930), who held the position of Governor-General of South Australia.

The Keith family’s captivating journey, from their origins in East Lothian to their far-reaching influence and achievements, showcases their enduring legacy. As the hereditary marischals, their role as custodians of the king’s horses evolved into a prestigious position overseeing the royal cavalry and organizing tournaments. Their acquisition of lands, including the iconic Dunnottar Castle, further solidified their prominence in Scottish history. The Keiths’ association with notable figures, such as Annas Keith’s friendship with Mary Queen of Scots and George, the fifth Earl Marischal’s establishment of Marischal College, highlighted their cultural and intellectual contributions. Their loyalty to the Jacobite cause during the 1715 rebellion and their continued success in various fields demonstrated their resilience and adaptability. As the Keiths continue to make their mark both in Scotland and across the globe, their fascinating history continues to inspire admiration and pride in their esteemed heritage.

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Family Crest Motto: VERITAS VINCIT (Truth conquers)

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