George Keith (1553 - 1623)

George Keith (1553 - 1623)

By Charlie Sands on 23/05/2023

George Keith was born in about 1553, possibly at Dunnottar.  He was descended from Harvey de Keith, who had been appointed Marischal of Scotland by Malcolm IV and William I, and had been confirmed in that office by Robert the Bruce. He became earl in 1581 on the death of his grandfather.

Along with his brother Robert, he founded the town of Peterhead.  He built the harbour there, as well as the one at Stonehaven. Described as headstrong and intractable, Geroge Keith was involved in several feuds and duels.

A strong supporter of James VI, in 1589 he was sent as ambassador to Denmark to negotiate the king’s marriage to Anne of Denmark. As the king’s proxy, he sat on Anne’s bed for the wedding ceremony in Kronborg and had brought a jewel to give to her. On the return voyage, the queen’s fleet was  driven back to Kristiansand and she stayed in Oslo. James VI sailed there from Leith.  It was a costly trip for George Keith, but – to the ire of the church – he was later rewarded with the lordship of the disestablished Deer Abbey near Mintlaw. 

The Earl Marischal had been educated at Kings College in Aberdeen, and in Paris.  He is perhaps best known as the founder in 1593 of Marischal College in Aberdeen and his endowments continued to support the Principal, three professors and several staff.  As Archibald Watt commented in his book, A Goodly Heritage, “Aberdeen is therefore indebted to the Mearns for her university.”

In 1609, George Keith was appointed as Lord High Commissioner, the king’s personal representative to the Parliament of Scotland.

Dunnottar Castle was refurbished and extended into a ‘palace’ fitting for the great nobleman he had become.  The dower house at Fetteresso was enlarged, and he also built the ‘Marischal Aisle’ at Dunnottar church, the family burial place.Married twice and with at least 7 children, George Keith died in 1623 at Dunnottar Castle.

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