From the Book of Eminent Burgesses of Dundee 1513 to 1885.

George Keith, Earl Marischal - 5th March 1587



The name of GEORGE KEITH, fifth EARL MARISCHAL, is one of the most memorable of the time in which he flourished. He was the eldest son of WILLIAM, LORD KEITH, and of LADY ELIZABETH HAY, daughter of the sixth EARL OF ERROL, was born in 1553, and succeeded his grandfather as fifth EARL MARISCHAL, on 7th October, 1581, his father having expired before that time. The family from which he was descended had held the dignified post of Great Marischal of Scotland from the time, it is said, that MALCOLM II. invested their ancestor with the office in 1010; and the EARL whose Name appears here on the Burgess Roll of Dundee was the seventeenth in direct descent from that remote dignitary. When he succeeded to the estate, on the death of his grandfather, he was said to be the wealthiest man in Scotland; and as he had resided for several years abroad, and had spent the early period of his life in companionship with many of the most learned men of his time, he had also the more durable reputation of being It an unusually learned and accomplished young man."Whilst at Geneva, he had been the pupil of the eminent THEODORE BEZA, and had profited by his acquaintance with the most eminent Scotsmen of that learned time. In 1582 and 1583 he sat as a Member of the Conventions of Estates, and took part in the principal General Assemblies of the Kirk; but he had succeeded in keeping himself aloof from the two great parties of Lennox and Ruthven, which then contended for supremacy.

When GEORGE, EARL MARISCHAL, came to his title, the nobles of Scotland were seriously divided by private feuds, as well as political factious, and it was with difficulty that the young EARL could decide upon the best course to be pursued. His liberal education made him incline towards union rather than division, and it was therefore with much pleasure that he took part in a famous historical scene enacted in Edinburgh two months after his enrolment as Burgess of Dundee. On the 14th of May the KING endeavoured to reconcile the noblemen who were then opposed to each other, by inviting them to a magnificent banquet, which is thus described by CALDER WOOD:
"Upon Monday, the 15th of May, after supper, the KING came from the Palace of Halyroodhous to the Castell of Edinburgh; from that to the Tolbuith, and relieved the prisoners warded for debt; from thence to the Mercat Croce, where a long table was set furnished with bread, wyne, and sweetmeates. The Croce was covered with tapestrie, and upon it the trumpeters blowing and the musicians singing. The KING, in presence of the multitude, dranke to the nobilitie, and every lord dranke to another. The gibbets at the Croce were broken down with the fire balls and fire speares; the glasses, with wyne and sweetmeates, were cast abrod in the streets, and from the fore staires. They went back to the Palace in the same order as they came up the KING, with my LORD HAMMILTON on the right hand and the SECRETAR on the left; the DUKE (OF LENNOX) and LORD CLAUD (HAMILTON) in othris hands before the KING; ANGUS and MONTROSE in hands, HUNTLY and MARSHALL, CRAWFURD and the MASTER OF GLAMES, likewise. In the meantyrne the cannons of the Castell thundered."

In this memorable procession there were no less than four Burgesses of Dundee, all of the foremost rank; though the EARL MARISCHAL the latest on the Roll was the possessor of the greatest landed estates. "LORD MARISCHAL," it is said, "could enter Scotland at Berwick, and travel, in the leisurely style of those days, through the country to John o' Groat's House, and never need to take a meal or a night's rest off his own lands" (Domestic Annals of Scotland, L, p. 210). It was this wise and opulent nobleman that JAMES VI. Sent to Denmark in 1589 for the purpose of negotiating the marriage of the KING OF SCOTLAND with the PRINCESS ANNE. ROBERT KEITH, uncle of the EARL MARISCHAL, had obtained the valuable lands of the Abbey of Deer, Aberdeenshire, with the title of LORD ALTRIE, in life rent to himself, and in fee to his nephew, the EARL; and when LORD ALTRIE died, without male issue, in 1593, the EARL MARISCHAL entered into possession of the estates. His literary tastes led him at this time to devote a large portion of his immense wealth to the founding of Marischal College, Aberdeen, which still remains as a lasting monument displaying his love of letters. The charter of foundation was dated 2nd April, 1593. The EARL was appointed Royal Commissioner to the Scottish Parliament in 1609, and took a most active share in the government of the kingdom, from the time of his first appearance in the Privy Council, in 1583, till the close of his life, in 1623.

GEORGE, EARL MARISCHAL, was twice married; his first wife being MARGARET (ob. 1598), daughter of ALEXANDER, fifth LORD HOME, by whom he had one son, WILLIAM, his successor, and two daughters. His second wife was MARGARET, daughter of JAMES, sixth LORD OGILVY of Airlie, who had two sons, JAMES KEITH of Benholm and JOHN KEITH. The treatment which the EARL MARISCHAL received at the hands of LADY MARGARET OGILVY, his second wife, is shown by a curious document preserved in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh (Analecta Scotica, L, p. 171). It is in the form of a Royal Warrant, by JAMES VI., in favour of WILLIAM, sixth EARL MARISCHAL, dated 22nd August, 1624, and addressed to the Chancellor, SIR GEORGE HAY of Kinfauns, and the Privy Council, and is in these terms:

Right trustie, and right weil belouit counsellor, Right trustie and weil belouit coosenis and counsellors, and right trustie and weil belouit counsyllors, We greet you weill. Whereas upon our certane knowledge of the unkynde, ingrate, and insolent behavior of the late erle merchellis wyfe to hir lord and husband, who, with hir sone benholm, the laird thorntoun, and utheris, besyde other indignities, had in a thifteous manner robbed the said erle of wryttis, money, plate, furniture of his house. . . . We out of the regarde we had to the memorie of that man, who had alwayes to oure contentment served ws at home and abroade in greatest charges, and to prevent heirefter in otheris the following of so euill a precedent, wer pleasit to recommend to you that business: And becaus a great pairt thairof wes clandestine and night worke, we willed you to call before you and examine sik persones as the erle marschall and our advocat suld give up to you: And whereas we ar informed that in a later letter under our hand we have schawin to you that it wes not oure pleasure nor meaning in ony former letteris to hurt the said lady marsehell or ony other persone ; These ar now expreshe to mak it knowin to you that we nether gave directioun to insert ony sik clause in oure letteris, nether at the putting of oure hand to the samen did tak head thairto, nor never meant ony sik favour to hir who hath so ill deserved of one, for whose sake we wer only to respect hir: And to will and requyre you to proceid in the said action according to the tenour of oure first letteris against all persones persewed for the saidis factis, as ye will schaw your readdines to obey our commandementis, and zeal to sic sik barbarous deidis condignelie punisched. Gewin at our court of Hanwell, the twentic twa day of August the yeir of god IM.vic and twenty foure yeiris."

This unique document not only proves that the KING held GEORGE, EARL MARISHAL, in high respect, but also shows the nefarious arts practised upon the Monarch in his declining years, in procuring his signature to warrants which he had not perused. Besides the portrait of this eminent Burgess of Dundee which is preserved in Marischal College, Aberdeen, there is a very interesting bust portrait of him at Craufurd. Priory, Fife, which bears the following inscription:¬GEORGE, V. EARL MARISCHALL of Scotland, Founder of Marischall College; ob. 1623. Aetat 70."



Iain D. McIntosh, Friends of Dundee City Archives