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The Prayer's Room, Keith Hall, Aberdeenshire.
The Earls Marischal & Barons Falconer:
Power and Polictical Influence in Scotland
The narrative of the Keith family in Scottish political and social history is one of power, influence and patriotism. For more than five centuries, the Keiths were distinguished for their judicial responsibilities as protectors of civil liberty and their diplomatic prowess. Though their support for the Jacobite cause and the ill-fated Stuart dynasty led to the diminishing of their estates, the name of Keith remains synonymous with the notion of an intrinsically Scottish nobility and valour.
The lineage of the Keith family extends as far back as the 12th century and the reign of King David I (1085-1153). Hervelus, called Keith-Hervelus, a land baron, owned half the lands of Keith in East Lothian and is generally thought of as the earliest recorded founder of the dynasty. The hereditary office of Marischal of Scotland, which entailed responsibility for the service and victualling arrangements in the king's hall, and judicial and ceremonial duties, was conferred upon him and Hervelus was known thereafter as Keith-Marischal.
Sir Robert Keith (d.1343) succeeded to the lands and office in 1293, and was captured following a skirmish in Galloway in 1300. He submitted in support of Edward I and became one of ten Scots chosen to represent Scotland in the English parliament held at Westminster in 1305. By 1308 however, he had returned to his native Scotland to aid the cause of Robert Bruce, commanding a cavalry of some five hundred men at Bannockburn. In the Perth parliament of 1320 Robert Bruce rewarded Keith with a substantial grant consisting of the forest of Kintore and lands in Buchan. The estates of the Keiths were further extended during the 14th century to include the barony and castle of Dunnottar, Kincardineshire.
The Earldom of Marischal was created in 1458 for William Keith (c.1425-1483) following his role as one of the guarantors of the 1457 truce with England. This elevation secured the Keith's status as loyal supporters of the crown and derived from their hereditary office, rather than from the granting of any Royal estates.
By the time of William, 4th Earl Marischal, the Keith family estates were so large that the earl was said to have been able to travel from Berwick to the Northern extremity of Scotland eating every meal and sleeping every night on his own land.
In true Keith family tradition, George, 5th Earl Marischal was one of the most influential and powerful men of his day in Scotland. In 1589 he was sent to Denmark as an ambassador to negotiate the marriage of James VI to Anne of Denmark and was the founder of Marischal College, Aberdeen in the year 1589.
William, 6th Earl Marischal succeeded to the estates in 1623 and thence by descent to his son William 7th Earl who died, passing the title of 8th Earl Marischal to his younger brother George. The issue of William, 9th Earl Marischal, were distinguished for their participation in the Jacobite rebellion and their service to Frederick II of Prussia. George, 10th Earl Marischal, was a central figure in the uprising of 1715 and served under Friedrich II as ambassador at Paris and Madrid, earning the Order of the Black Eagle as Governor of Neufchatel. His brother James was Field Marshall under Friederich II, and awarded the Orders of St. Andrew of Russia and the Black Eagle of Prussia. George, 10th and last Earl Marischal, lived much of his life in exile on the Continent and died in 1778.
Until 1662, and the marriage of John, youngest son of the 6th Earl Marischal, Dunnottar Castle had remained the principal seat of the Keith family. During the siege of Dunnottar in the winter of 1651-2, John played a crucial role in protecting the Scottish regalia from falling into the hands of Cromwell's soldiers. In a scheme devised by his mother, the young Keith acted as a decoy while the regalia was taken from the castle and hidden in Kinneff church. On the surrender of the castle, John told the soldiers that the regalia had been delivered to Charles II in France. In recognition of his loyalty, Keith was appointed Knight Marischal of Scotland and created 1st Earl of Kintore at the Restoration. In 1661 he purchased the chartered lands of Caskieben, Aberdeenshire, which he renamed Keith Hall.
William, 4th Earl of Kintore died in 1761 without issue, leaving the Earldom dormant until 1778 when the title and estates were conferred upon his nephew Anthony Adrian Falconer, 5th Earl of Kintore and Baron Falconer of Haulkertoun. His mother Katherine, daughter of William, 2nd Earl of Kintore had married David, 5th Lord Falconer of Haulkertoun in 1703, thus aligning the two distinguished Scottish lines of Keith and Falconer, the latter whose name originated from the family's early services as falconers and hawkers to the king.
This sporting tradition was upheld by Anthony Adrian, 7th Earl of Kintore who held meets of the Keith Hall Hunting Hounds and was known to have entertained sporting artist John Ferneley in 1824. His son William Adrian, Lord Inverurie died whilst hunting in December 1843. The Earldom of Kintore passed then to Francis Alexander, 8th Earl, and upon his death in 1880, to his eldest son Algernon Hawkins Thomand, 9th Earl of Kintore.
Algernon, 9th Earl of Kintore, K.T., P.C., G.C.M.G., was a prominent and celebrated politician, appointed First Government Whip in the House of Lords in 1885, and served as Governor of the Colony of South Australia between the years 1889 and 1895. He died at Keith Hall on the 3rd of March 1930 and was succeeded firstly by his son Arthur, and secondly by his daughter Ethel, heir presumptive to the Earldom of Kintore and Barony of Keith, and wife of John Lawrence, 1st Viscount Stonehaven. James William Falconer Keith is the present and 14th Earl of Kintore.
We are grateful to Director James Holloway and Senior Curator David A.H.B. Taylor of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, for their assistance with this catalogue.
J. Bulloch, 'George Jamesone: The Scottish van Dyck', Edinburgh, p.152.
Aberdeen Art Gallery, 1951, no. 53.