The surname is derived from a number of placenames in Scotland which in turn were from the Brittonic word "coed" meaning "wood". The name appears in a number of locations in Scotland, the earliest being a Norman adventurer, Hervey Keith who married an heiress of the warrior Marbhachair. Hervey was granted the lands of "Keth" from King David I around 1150. His son became Marischal (in charge of the horses) of the King of Scots. Sir Robert de Keth led the Scots cavalry at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 but died later at the Battle of Durham in 1346. The Keiths were made Hereditary Great Marischal by Robert the Bruce>, a rank they held until 1715.
The 3rd Lord Keith was given the title Earl Marischal and the 4th Earl founded Marischal College in Aberdeen.
As leaders of the Scots cavalry, the Keiths were involved in most of the major battles over the centuries. Lord Keith survived the slaughter of the Battle of Flodden in 1513 and his standard from that battle has survived to this day.
While the Keiths were associated with north-east Scotland, (they built Dunnottar Castle> on its cliff-top, south of Stonehaven) a marriage to the heiress of Ackergill resulted in a move to Caithness, where they became involved in a long and bloody feud with the clan Gunn>.
Support for King Charles II in the Civil War led to the 7th Earl being imprisoned in the Tower of London. But on the Restoration, he was made Lord Privy Seal and his brother was created Earl of Kintore for his role in hiding the Scottish crown jewels from Cromwell - they had been smuggled out of Dunnottar Castle and hidden in a nearby church.
The 9th Earl led the Jacobite cavalry at the Battle of Sheriffmuir> in 1715 and his younger brother fought on the continent in Spain and Russia . He died fighting for Frederick the Great in Prussia during the Seven Years War. The Keiths also supported the 1745 Jacobite Uprising - and forfeited lands, castles and titles as a result.
The Earls of Kintore still live at Keith Hall in Aberdeenshire.
The Keith clan motto is "Veritas Vincit" which means "Truth conquers".
Surnames regarded as septs (sub-branch) of the Keith clan include Austin, Dickson, Dixon, Harvey, MacKeith and Marshall.
There are Keith clan Web sites here and >here as well as here> and here.
Return to Index of Clans/Family Histories.
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