Keith, William (1617?-1661) (DNB00)

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KEITH, WILLIAM, seventh Earl Marischal (1617?–1661), was the eldest son of William, sixth earl Marischal [q. v.], by his wife, Lady Margaret Erskine, daughter of John, earl of Mar. In 1640 his age was about twenty-three (Spalding, Memorials, i. 267). He succeeded to the earldom on the death of his father, 28 Oct. 1635. Although he wrote letters to Charles I apparently approving of the king's ecclesiastical policy, it became known in 1638 that his sympathies were with the covenanters. When the covenanting ministers in July of this year were refused permission to preach in the pulpits of the Aberdeen churches, they, with the Earl Marischal's consent, preached after the termination of the usual Sunday services in the Earl Marischal's close. On 22 Sept. he signed, with the other lords of the privy council, the letter expressing satisfaction with the king's concessions (Balfour, Annals, ii. 287; Spalding, Memorials, i. 107; Gordon, Scots Affairs, i. 110), but when these concessions were found to be illusory he took his stand with the covenanting party. Although moderate and pacific, he remained constant to his party. It was chiefly through his influence in Aberdeenshire and the north of Scotland that the influence of Huntly, the mainstay of Charles I in these districts, was neutralised. The power of these two great nobles was pretty equally balanced. When the Marquis of Huntly in the beginning of 1639 decided, at the instance of the government, to take up his residence in Aberdeen to watch the movements of the covenanters, he applied to the Earl Marischal for permission to reside in his house, but was refused (Spalding, i. 134). The Earl Marischal, when on 2 Feb. he rode through Aberdeen with his household from Inverugie to take up his residence at Dunnottar, ‘would not salute the marquis’ (ib. p. 135). Though the Earl Marischal stayed at Dunnottar, his men, tenants, and servants of Buchan and Mar took part in the first raid of Turriff in February (ib. p. 136). After Huntly dissolved his forces, the covenanters' committee on their way south rode on 15 Feb. to Dunnottar, and were cordially welcomed by the earl, who now declared himself plainly to be a covenanter (ib. p. 138). From this time he was the recognised head of the covenanting party in the north, the estates being, in regard to almost all their proceedings in Aberdeenshire and surrounding districts, guided chiefly by his advice. On the 27th he began to muster his tenants and servants within his baronies and lands of Kintore and Skene, enrolling their names so strictly that scarce any men were left to hold the plough (ib. p. 141). Montrose, with whom the Earl Marischal was required to co-operate, was approaching. Huntly sent two commissioners to treat with Montrose, and directed them also on the way to confer with the Earl Marischal. Their representations were ineffectual, and on 29 March the covenanting army under Montrose, reinforced by the followers of the Earl Marischal, who himself carried one of the five ensigns or colours, arrived at Aberdeen. Huntly on 13 April was invited to the Earl Marischal's house for a conference with Montrose, and taken prisoner to Edinburgh. The Earl Marischal and others of the covenanting committee then held a meeting at Monymusk, where, learn- ing that the Gordons had taken up arms, they adjourned the meeting to Turriff on the 26th, hoping for support from Caithness and the other more northern districts. On the 24th they, however, met at Kintore and decided to proceed to Aberdeen. There they arrived next day with a force in all of about three thousand, when the Earl Marischal, having seized the keys of the city, assumed the functions of governor. Meantime, on the 26th, a number of the covenanting gentry from the north had assembled at Turriff, and not finding the Earl Marischal had dissolved their forces (ib. p. 175). Hesitating to take any active steps against the Gordons, the Earl Marischal and the other noblemen in Aberdeen now adjourned the committee meeting to Turriff on 20 May, and the earl retired to his stronghold of Dunnottar (ib. p. 175). About two thousand covenanters assembled there in readiness for the meeting at Turriff as early as the 13th. Marischal was still absent when, early on the morning of the 14th, they were surprised and routed by a strong force of the Gordons. ‘This,’ says Gordon, ‘was known afterwards commonly by the name of the Trott of Turriff in derision’ (Scots Affairs, ii. 259; also Spalding, i. 186). Learning that Marischal was raising a force against them, the Gordons on 17 May sent two commissioners to sound his intentions (Spalding, i. 189). Marischal temporised, and replied to two other intending peacemakers ‘that for himself he was Huntly's friend, and would do no wrong to any of his followers further than his faith to the covenant obliged him’ (ib. p. 189; Gordon, ii. 261). The Gordons understood that he would remain quiet so long as they refrained from attacking him or his dependents. They therefore dispersed their forces on 20 May, their principal leaders with about thirty horse retiring to Aberdeen. On learning this Marischal collected suddenly about eight hundred horse and foot with the intention of surprising them. They escaped, but Marischal entered the city again, took possession of the keys, and quartered his men ‘through the haill houses therof.’ On the next day the forces of Marischal were reinforced by two thousand men, and on the 25th Montrose arrived from the south with about four thousand men and horse. Montrose soon afterwards marched into the Mearns, and Marischal retired to Dunnottar. Learning that Lord Aboyne with a strong royalist force had set out on 14 June for Stonehaven, Marischal brought some of the ordnance out of his castle, and with two thousand men posted himself so as to bar Aboyne's march south. As Aboyne's forces descended next day the Meagre Hill, Marischal's cannon began suddenly to play on them, when the highlanders at once fled, and Aboyne found it necessary to retire to Aberdeen. Montrose and Marischal now resolved to return to Aberdeen, while Aboyne met them in a position at the Bridge of Dee. On 19 June the attack on it was maintained without decisive result for the whole day, but on the 20th Montrose induced the defenders to withdraw troops by a feint of crossing at an impassable ford, and the bridge was carried (Spalding, i. 208–11; Gordon, ii. 275–80). The same night news reached Aberdeen of the pacification of Berwick, and all acts of hostility between the two parties at once ceased.

At the opening of parliament in Edinburgh in the following August, Marischal discharged his accustomed official functions (Balfour, ii. 359). At this parliament he was chosen a lord of the articles (ib. p. 360). On 2 March 1640 Marischal and Lord Fraser entered Aberdeen, and took measures for securing the subscription of the covenant. Marischal also destroyed a bond of allegiance to the king, signed by Lord Aboyne and the town of Aberdeen (Spalding, i. 253). While awaiting the arrival of Monro, the covenanting general, he made preparations for defence. His mother's efforts at this time to reclaim him to the king's party were defeated by the influence of his cousin Argyll (Gordon, iii. 160). On 5 May Marischal entered Aberdeen, enforced the signature of the covenant, and extorted by threats a sum of about six thousand merks from the magistrates (ib.) On the 23rd he appointed a nightly watch, and closed the ports (Spalding, i. 272). On the 28th he entered the city along with General Monro, escorted by a hundred musketeers and pikemen from the Bridge of Dee (ib. p. 277). On 2 June they marched out together to besiege the castle of Drum, but before it surrendered Marischal, leaving Monro there, went to Dunnottar (ib. p. 281). On the 5th he and Monro again entered Aberdeen with a strong force, but vacated it on the 13th, after extorting a heavy fine. Marischal then disbanded his forces (ib. p. 288), and shortly afterwards proceeded south to attend the meeting of parliament in Edinburgh. On 2 July he returned to Aberdeen (ib. p. 295), and shortly afterwards accompanied Monro on a raid to Strathbogie. They felled the finest trees in the policies to provide huts, obtained the keys of the castle from the Marchioness of Huntly, and began to ‘bake, brew, and mak reddie good cheer’ (ib. p. 298). Huntly and his sons being absent, Marischal induced most of the gentry to undertake ser- vice with the covenanters. On 15 July he also compelled the men of Aberdeen to subscribe a bond promising to pay a tithe of their yearly rent towards the ‘common charges’ (ib. p. 302). He compelled 140 men of the city of Aberdeen to join a regiment for the use of General Leslie for his English expedition (ib. i. 314; Gordon, iii. 255). Marischal was present at the meeting of parliament held at Edinburgh on 25 May 1641 (Balfour, iii. 2). On 10 Aug. he was ordered by the house to proceed with the Earl of Argyll and Lord Almond to greet the king on his way north (ib. p. 34). At this parliament it was, after long discussion, agreed that the macers were only to wait at the door, while the Marischal's men were to be reduced from five to one ‘allenerly,’ and he to sit at the bar. The Marischal's men within the doors of the house were to summon the macers when needed (ib. p. 57). On 17 Sept. Marischal was nominated to be of the privy council (ib. p. 66), and on 3 Nov. the nomination was confirmed by the estates (ib. p. 149).

Marischal's name appears first among the subscribers to the band of Cumbernauld in January 1641, but his adherence to Montrose was only temporary, and he never took any decisive step against the covenanters. On 31 Oct. 1643 he attended the meeting of the covenanters' committee in the north, when the question of the division of the shires of Mearns, Aberdeen, and Banff between him and Lord Gordon was discussed (Spalding, ii. 289). Marischal was again present at the meeting of 19 Dec., at which arrangements were finally completed for putting the northern shires in a posture of defence. He still, however, held back for some reason. In February he went south to lay his grievances before the committee of estates (ib. p. 317), and after his return in March he ceased to levy soldiers, but provisioned his stronghold of Dunnottar. Robert Baillie states that he remained at Dunnottar, being malcontent (Letters and Journals, ii. 234). In March he told Huntly that ‘he minded not to stir unless he were compelled thereto’ (Spalding, p. 331). He, however, attended a meeting of the Angus and Mearns committee, which decided to send commissioners to Huntly commanding him to disband his forces (ib. p. 336). Shortly afterwards he gave active support to Argyll against Huntly. His indecision at this time may be inferred from his declining to vote in the parliament in July on the motions imposing forfeiture of lands and life for ‘raising of armies and invading the kingdom, or holding houses against the estates of the country’ (Balfour, iii. 200). Nor did he at first join the rendezvous in September to oppose his old ally, Montrose. Montrose on his way north wrote to require his support; he returned an indefinite verbal reply, and forwarded Montrose's letter to the committee at Aberdeen (Spalding, p. 405). He remained inactive at Dunnottar till 10 Oct., when he attended a meeting of the committee at Aberdeen, at which an order was issued for a general rendezvous at the Bridge of Dee on the 14th (ib. p. 421). The order was almost completely ineffectual, and Marischal himself, on learning that Montrose had crossed the Dee again, left Aberdeen on 18 Oct. for Dunnottar (ib. p. 423). He made no active opposition to Montrose, but as he had given shelter at Dunnottar to several fugitives, Montrose on 15 March 1645 wrote to demand their surrender. On the advice of the ministers, seconded by his mother, Marischal declined to admit the messenger, and refused to return any answer. George Keith, Marischal's brother, conferred with Montrose at Stonehaven, but Montrose finally declared that if Marischal gave no direct assistance it would be at his own hazard. Marischal thereupon refused. His castle was practically impregnable, but Montrose burnt the stacked grain and outhouses round it, and set fire to the town of Stonehaven and the lands and houses of Cowie. The inhabitants implored the earl to give up the fugitives, but received no answer. When too late he is said to have deeply regretted his decision; but the counsel of the ministers kept his resolution firm. After the departure of Montrose to Kirriemuir, Marischal and others held a meeting of the committee at Aberdeen; but on learning of the approach of a force under Lord Gordon, Marischal retired to Dunnottar, and the council dispersed (ib. p. 465). In July he went south to Edinburgh to attend the meeting of parliament (Balfour, iii. 293), and at a subsequent parliament, convened at St. Andrews in August, his name was added to the commission for visitation of the universities (ib. p. 327).

In 1648 Marischal, with a troop of horse, joined the Duke of Hamilton's expedition to England, and was present at the rout of Preston, but escaped scatheless. In 1650 he entertained Charles at Dunnottar on his way to Worcester. On 20 Dec. 1650 he was chosen by parliament colonel of foot and horse for the shires of Aberdeen and Banff (ib. iv. 210), and on 6 June of the following year the regalia of Scotland were deposited in his castle at Dunnottar. While attending a committee of the estates at Alyth on 26 Aug. of the same year he was, with other mem- bers of the committee, taken prisoner and sent to the Tower, to which he was committed on 29 Sept. He declared that he had never ‘been in arms against the state’ (Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser. 1654, p. 163). Nevertheless, he was excluded from Cromwell's Act of Grace, and, although more than once he petitioned for an examination, which he stated would infallibly establish his innocence, he was retained a prisoner till the Restoration. He was, however, by no means rigorously dealt with while in confinement, being allowed a servant, and occasionally having the liberty of the Tower. On 13 April 1652 he agreed to give orders for the deliverance up of Dunnottar Castle, on condition that a fit place of residence was provided for his wife and family (ib. 1651–2, p. 231). On 21 Dec. 1655 he petitioned for release, stating his willingness to give assurance for his good behaviour (ib. 1655–6, p. 36), and although this was refused, he obtained liberty of one month for the sake of the recovery of his health, the period being also extended more than once. In 1656 the yearly value of his estate was stated at 2,409l. 19s. 6d., and his debts at 58,948l. 14s. 9d. (ib. p. 362). After the Restoration he was sworn a privy councillor and appointed keeper of the privy seal of Scotland. He died in 1661. By his first wife, Lady Elizabeth Seton, daughter of George, earl of Winton, he had a son, William, lord Keith, who died in infancy, and four daughters: Mary, married first to Sir James Hope of Hope, and secondly to Sir Archibald Murray of Blackbarony; Elizabeth, to Robert, second viscount Arbuthnot; Jean, to George, third lord Banff; and Isabel, to Sir Edward Turner, bart. By his second wife, Lady Jean Douglas, eldest daughter of Robert, earl of Morton, he had no issue.

[Spalding's Memorialls of the Trubles (Spalding Club); Gordon's Scots Affairs (Spalding Club); Sir James Balfour's Annals; Robert Baillie's Letters and Journals (Bannatyne Club); Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser., during the Commonwealth; Peter Buchan's Ancient and Noble House of Keith; Douglas's Scottish Peerage (Wood), ii. 194–5; Gardiner's Hist. vol. ix.]

T. F. H.