Keith, William (d.1581) (DNB00)

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KEITH, WILLIAM, fourth Earl Marischal (d. 1581), was the eldest son of Robert, lord Keith (eldest son of William, third earl Marischal), by Lady Elizabeth Douglas, eldest daughter of John, second earl of Morton. His father having been slain at the battle of Flodden in 1513, he succeeded to the title on the death of his grandfather about 1530. On 27 Jan. 1531–2 he received a grant of lands, tenements, and crofts in Kincardine and adjoining hamlets. He accompanied James V in 1535 when he went to France to be married to Madeline, daughter of Francis I. On 2 July 1541 he was made an extraordinary lord of session. He was described by Sir Ralph Sadler in 1543 as ‘a goodly young gentleman,’ well inclined to the English king, ‘but not well willing to have the child’ (the young Princess Mary) ‘delivered out of the realm’ (State Papers, i. 99). By the parliament which met in March of this year he had been chosen a member of the privy council, and one of the keepers of the young queen (Acta Parl. Scot. ii. 414–15). In June of the following year he signed the agreement to support the authority of the queen-mother as regent against the Earl of Arran. Nevertheless he not only continued favourable to an English alliance, but at an early period manifested his sympathy with the principles of the reformers. He was present in 1544 at a sermon preached by George Wishart at Dundee after the inhibition of him ‘in the queen's and governor's name,’ and was so favourably impressed with his doctrine that he besought him ‘to have remained, or else to have gone with him in the country’ (Knox, i. 126). In the following year he was consulted in connection with the plot of King Henry of England for the murder of Cardinal Beaton, but he cautiously refused any direct approval. He was present at the battle of Pinkie in 1547. After a peace had been concluded with England he in September 1550 accompanied the queen-dowager on her visit to France. In September 1553 he was named a commissioner for the borders (Reg. P. C. Scotl. i. 150). ‘Allured’ by Glencairn, he attended ‘an exhortation’ of Knox in May 1556, in ‘the great lodging of the Bishop of Dunkeld’ at Edinburgh, and with certain others was so ‘well contented with it’ that he advised Knox to write to the queen regent ‘somewhat that might move her to hear the word of God’ (Knox, i. 252). But notwithstanding his apparent sympathy with the reformers, the earl manifested great caution in giving them practical aid, maintaining generally a position of neutrality during the whole crisis of the conflict. He accompanied the queen regent when she made her entry into Perth on 29 May 1559 (Calderwood, i. 560), but he nevertheless gave her no substantial support in her contest with the lords of the congregation. In 1560 he remained with her in the castle of Edinburgh, to which she had withdrawn on the arrival of the English forces. He was one of the noblemen called to speak with her on her deathbed (Knox, ii. 71), and she appointed him her executor-testamentary, but on the ground that he could not well perform the duties of the office ‘by reason of the frailty and weakness of his body’ he renounced it, expressing at the same time his willingness unofficially to do what he could to aid in the recovery of her debts (notarial instrument, 2 Oct. 1560, in Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep. p. 412). On 17 July 1560 he subscribed the confession of faith in the face of parliament, affirming that it was long since he had some favour to the truth, but praise be to God he had that day fully resolved (Calderwood, ii. 38). When urged to subscribe the contract with England he, however, according to Randolph, used ‘more delays than men judged he would’ (Cal. State Papers, For. Ser. 1560–1, entry 409), and Randolph also expressed the opinion that ‘he was too well schooled by Mr. James Makgill to do his country any good’ (ib. entry 454). On 27 Jan. 1560–1 the earl subscribed the ‘Book of Discipline’ (Knox, ii. 129). On the return of Queen Mary from France he was elected a member of the privy council (Reg. P. C. Scotl. i. 157). Constitutionally averse to extreme measures, he was one of those who opposed the proposal to deprive the queen of the mass (Knox, ii. 291). Nevertheless he continued to retain the confidence of the kirk, and took an active interest in its affairs. In 1563 he was appointed by the assembly one of a committee to revise the ‘Book of Discipline’ (Calderwood, ii. 247). But although a constant supporter of the principles of the Reformation, and the father-in-law of the regent Moray, he did not intermeddle in any of the plots of the day. About the time of the death of Darnley he practically withdrew from public life, spending his time in retirement at his stronghold of Dunnottar, whence he acquired the name of ‘William of the Tower.’ His place in the privy council was in his absence taken by his son William, master of Marischal. On 31 July 1576 the earl was summoned before the council to answer ‘for not keeping the points of the general band,’ but excused himself from appearing on account of his ‘present inability for travel’ (Reg. P. C. Scotl. ii. 548). He had the reputation of being the wealthiest man in Scotland, his yearly rental being estimated at two hundred and seventy thousand marks, while so widely was his property scattered that it is said he could journey from Berwick to the northern limits of the country, eating his meals and sleeping every night on his own estates. He died on 7 Oct. 1581. By his wife Margaret, daughter and coheiress (with her sister Elizabeth, wife of Lord Forbes) of Sir William Keith of Inverugie, Banffshire, he had two sons: William, lord Keith, master of Marischal, who predeceased him in August 1580, and Robert, lord Altree, and seven daughters, all married: (1) Anne, first to the regent Moray, and secondly to Colin, sixth earl of Argyll, (2) Elizabeth, to Sir Alexander Irvine of Drum, (3) Alison, to Alexander, lord Salton, (4) Mary, to Sir John Campbell of Calder, (5) Beatrice to John Allardice of Allardice, (6) Janet, to James Crichton of Frendraght, (7) Margaret, to Sir John Kennedy of Balquhan.

[Knox's Works, ed. Laing; Sadler's State Papers; Calderwood's History of the Church of Scotland; Cal. State Papers, Scott. Ser. and For. Ser. reign of Elizabeth; Peter Buchan's Ancient and Noble Family of Keith; Douglas's Scottish Peerage (Wood), ii. 191–3.]

T. F. H.