The surname is of territorial origin and taken from the lands of Keith in East Lothian, although tradition has it that the Keiths descend from the Catti, a Germanic tribe, one of whose number emigrated to Scotland and gained favour with Malcolm II. For slaying the Danish General Camus at the Battle of Barrie in 1010, Robert, Chief of the Catti, was appointed Marischal of the Kingdom and Custodian of the Royal Regalia with responsibility for the Monarch's safety within Parliament.
A Charter for the lands of Keth or Keith in Lothian was granted by David I in 1150, and, in 1308, Robert the Bruce granted Halforest in Aberdeenshire to Sir Robert de Keth, who later served as his Cavalry Commander at the Battle of Bannockburn. By a Charter from Robert I in 1324, the office of Marischal was made hereditary. When Edward Balliol later attempted to seize the Scottish throne, the young David II was escorted to safety by Sir Robert the Marishchal. Sir Robert was killed at the Battle of Neville's Cross in 1346.
Through marriage to the heiress of Sir Alexander Fraser in the 14th century, the Keiths acquired estates in Buchan, Kincardine and Lothian. In 1458, Lord Keith was created Earl Marischal. The 4th Earl Marischal founded Marischal college in Aberdeen. George, 5th Earl Marischal, was Ambassador to Denmark and negotiated the marriage between James VI and Anne of Denmark.
A staunch Royalist, the 7th Earl Marischal was held captive in the Tower of London until after the Restoration. The Family supported the Jacobites during the 1745 Uprising and their lands were forfeit as a result. Thereafter, they transferred their activities to Continental Europe.
Robert Keith (1681-1756) was tutor to the 10th Earl Marischal and his brother James. He wrote History of the Affairs of Church and State in Scotland (1734) and the Catalogue of Scottish Bishops (1755). Sir John Keith (d.1714), a younger son of the 5th Earl Marischal, held Dunottar Castle against the army of Oliver Cromwell. Following the restoration, he was created Earl of Kintore. Field Marshall James Keith (1696-1758) was the younger brother of the 10th Earl Marischal. He served in armies in Spain, Russia and Prussia, was made a Marshal by Frederick the Great, and invested with the Russian Imperial Order of St Andrew. The 9th Earl of Kintore (1852-1930) was Governor General of South Australia from 1889 to 1895.
Keith House, East Lothian. One time seat of the earls Marischal. The timber used in its construction is said to have been a gift from the King of Denmark in the late 16th century. Ownership passed to the earls of Hopetoun.
Benholm Lodging, Aberdeen. Today known as Wallace Tower, this was built in 1616 by Sir Robert Keith, brother of the 5th Earl Marischal. It has been moved from its original site in Netherkirkgate to Tillydrone Avenue.
Peterhead, Aberdeenshire. This town was founded in 1593 by the 5th Earl Marischal. The statue which stands in front of the Town House is of James Keith, brother of the 10th Earl Marischal who became a Marshall in the army of Frederick the Great.
Inverugie Castle, north of Peterhead, Aberdeenshire. Now a ruin, this is the 16th century birthplace of Marshall James Keith.
Keith Hall, Inverurie, Aberdeenshire. Earlier called Caskieben. Built in the 16th century, it was purchased from the Johnston family by John Keith, Earl of Kintore.
Royal Forest of Kintore, This was granted to Sir Robert Keith in 1309. Keith Castle which stands here was built for Sir Robert Keith and is now a ruin.
Dunnottar Castle, south of Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire. The oldest part of this ancient fortified site dates from the 14th century. Scotland's Regalia was brought here for safekeeping in 1651. When the castle was besieged by the English, the Regalia was smuggled to the nearby church of Kineff. Today Dunnottar Castle is managed by Historic Scotland.
Surname distribution in Scotland: The highest concentrations of the Keith name occur in Aberdeenshire (includes all of the historic counties of Aberdeenshire, Kincardineshire and part of Banffshire), Aberdeen City, Moray (including most of historic Banffshire) and Shetland (Zetland).
Associated family names (Septs): Austin, Dickison, Dickson, Dixon, Dixson, Falconer, Harvey, Haxton, Hervey, Hurrie, Hurry,
Motto: Veritas Vincit (Truth Conquers)
Lands: Aberdeenshire, Caithness
Origin of Name: Place name, Banffshire
Clan Chief: The Rt. Hon. The Earl of Kintore