KEITH, William (c. 1664-1712)

KEITH, William (c. 1664–1712)

suc. fa. Mar. 1694 as 8th Earl MARISCHAL [S]

RP [S] 1710-27 May 1712

First sat 18 Dec. 1710; last sat 15 May 1712

b. c.1664, o.s. of George Keith, 7th Earl Marischal [S], and Mary, da. of George Hay, 2nd earl of Kinnoull [S]. m. c.1690, Mary (d.1729), da. of James Drummond, 4th earl of Perth [S], 2s. 2da.1 d. 27 May 1712.

Earl Marischal [S] (hered.) 1694-d.; PC [S] 1701–2.

Sheriff, Kincardine; commr. justiciary, Highlands, 1702.2

Chan., Marischal Coll. and Univ. Aberdeen 1694-d.3

Associated with: Inverugie Castle, Aberdeen.

Likenesses: oil on canvas by John Closterman, bef. 1711, sold at Christie’s 7-8 July 2010.

Enemies and friends alike paid tribute to Marischal’s vigour, his abilities as an orator, and his fidelity to principle, but at the same time acknowledged the waywardness of character and addiction to pleasure which impaired his capacity for decisive action and ultimately destroyed his health. To Gilbert Burnet, bishop of Salisbury, (in a character sketch incorporated by Spring Macky into the published edition of John Macky’s ‘Characters’) he was

very wild, inconstant and passionate; does everything by starts, hath abundance of flashy wit; and by reason of his quality, hath good interest in the country; all courts endeavour to have him on their side, for he gives himself liberty of talking, when he is not pleased with the government. .... he is a thorough libertine, yet sets up mightily for episcopacy; a hard drinker.’4

A similarly mixed assessment came from the more sympathetic pen of George Lockhart, for whom Marischal was a ‘worthy Scots patriot’ who had shown ‘zeal for [his] country’s service’ by opposing the Union. He

was master of a quick and lively spirit, a great vivacity of wit, an undaunted courage, and, in short, a soul capable of doing great things; but his misfortune was, he could not seriously apply himself to business, being loose and irregular in his measures, and too bent upon pleasures.5

Even his wife complained that she could not get him to concentrate on either public or private affairs, to the detriment of his family’s interests.6

The Keith family had a long tradition of loyal service to the crown. Hereditary Earl Marischals (marshals) of Scotland since the twelfth century, they had been raised to the peerage in the mid-fifteenth century. Keith’s uncle and father, in turn the 6th and 7th earls, had both fought for the Stuarts in the wars of the 1640s and 1650s. His father had taken the Covenant in 1637, but was later an Engager, fighting for Charles II at Worcester in 1651. After the Restoration he had enhanced his royalist credentials by marrying the daughter of 2nd earl of Kinnoull. She was later present at the birth of the prince of Wales in 1688 and gave a deposition that the birth was genuine. However, the earl himself, despite having commanded a regiment in Scotland under James II, readily accepted the Revolution. He was given a commission by William III to garrison one of his castles, and was named to the Scottish Privy Council in May 1689.7 A year later, however, William dismissed him from the council and further stopped the valuable pension of £500 p.a. which the family had enjoyed since the time of King James VI and I.8

The ill treatment meted out to his father did nothing to improve the disposition of the 8th earl towards the Williamite regime once he inherited the title in March 1694. He grew up to be a strong Episcopalian and Jacobite, predilections which were intensified by his marriage in about 1690 to Lady Mary Drummond, the wedding taking place during her father’s imprisonment by William III and before he joined James II in exile. From the time Marischal took his seat in the Scottish Parliament in 1698, he was a consistent opponent of government. His kinsman James Douglas, 2nd duke of Queensberry [S], laboured for some years under the mistaken impression that he could bring Marischal over to administration, even obtaining for him in 1701 a place on the Scottish Privy Council and in 1702 the temporary restoration of his father’s pension.9 Following Queen Anne’s accession Marischal was one of the ‘cavalier’ lords who followed James Hamilton, 4th duke of Hamilton [S], in seceding from the Scottish Parliament in protest at the failure to call a new election. He later accompanied Hamilton in May 1702 to London to request a dissolution.10 Upon his return to Edinburgh at the end of the month a newsletter reckoned him as one of ‘our great men that were in the last reign reckoned of the country party’, along with Hamilton and John Hay, 2nd marquess of Tweeddale [S].11 In the following year, remaining ‘in Hamilton’s interest’, he found himself approached by James Ogilvy, earl of Seafield [S], who was seeking to broker a coalition between Hamilton and Queensberry. Marischal declared himself willing to do whatever the queen might ask of him, but was reluctant to ask for any particular office.12 It was proposed that his father’s pension be restored, ‘on positive assurance … of adherence to her Majesty’s measures’, but this did not materialize.13 He remained a vocal member of the country opposition, and was described in 1705 as one of the ‘chief heads of the discontented party in Scotland’, ‘the mouth of the country party’, and ‘next to Hamilton the Hector of the House’. He spoke frequently against the Presbyterian Kirk, against settling the succession in the house of Hanover, and against truckling to the English over matters of trade and commerce.14

Marischal had been in direct contact with the Jacobite court in 1704, writing to James II’s widowed queen to pledge his ‘inviolable services’. But although he insisted that her son’s supporters in Scotland ‘augment in number daily, and desire, with impatience, to have an opportunity to give proofs of their loyalty’, he noted the lack of arms and money at their disposal. These necessities, and foreign troops, he argued, would be required to do the exiled king’s business.15 In the meantime, he believed that the Scottish parliament could be kept from settling the succession in the house of Hanover, and he for his own part worked to prevent it.16 When the Jacobite agent, Colonel Nathaniel Hooke, came to Scotland in the summer of 1705 he naturally turned to Marischal for help, presenting a warrant from James which admitted Marischal to the Order of the Thistle.17 Marischal claimed to have six hundred armed followers ready to rise, and according to Hooke, Marischal and his nephew, Charles Hay, 13th earl of Erroll [S], had presented Hamilton with an ultimatum, that they would abandon him if he did not grasp the opportunity for restoring the Stuart line. At the same time, when asked by Hooke to travel back to France, Marischal would not give a direct answer, but played for time.18

Marischal was a staunch opponent of the Union in the Scottish parliamentary session of 1706-7. He led the opposition to the second article, which settled the succession, and strongly protested against the 22nd article, trying in vain to preserve the rights and privileges of his own hereditary office of marshal. During the proceedings he and other Jacobites argued consistently for the imposition of limitations on the monarchy, presumably for tactical reasons to ‘clog’ the bill ratifying the treaty.19

Hooke’s second embassy in 1707 involved further meetings with Marischal, some at Inverugie Castle and some in London, at which the earl again professed loyalty. It is at this point that we hear for the first time of Marischal falling seriously ill, possibly a consequence of his penchant for heavy drinking. 20 According to Lockhart, Marischal and others who dealt with Hooke (including Hamilton and Erroll) found themselves denounced as ‘cowards and lukewarm’ by those more impatient for action.21 Despite his promises to Hooke, Marischal failed the Jacobite cause in 1708, when a French naval squadron attempted to land 6,000 troops on the north-east coast of Scotland. He had been busy making preparations for a rising in support of the invasion, but, as Lockhart reported, he ‘omitted to answer the signal of a ship which was sent by agreement to the coast near his house’, and as a result the landing was aborted. 22 Marischal then surrendered himself to government, and after a period of confinement in Edinburgh Castle, where he suffered a head wound when Erroll threw a bottle at him during a quarrel, was conveyed under guard to London to be tried for taking part in the failed rebellion.23

While Marischal was en route to the English capital, Hamilton, in order to procure his own release, made his unlikely alliance with the Junto and Squadrone for the forthcoming election of the representative peers. Hamilton and his brother George Hamilton, earl of Orkney [S], on their journey back to Scotland in order to muster support for their new allies, were able to meet Marischal and several other prisoners on the road to London. Orkney found Marischal ‘extremely surprised’ at Hamilton’s new alliance. Orkney was also ‘extremely vexed’ that before leaving Scotland Marischal had assigned his proxy to the official who had supervised his arrest and confinement in Edinburgh Castle, the commander-in-chief in Scotland, David Melville, 5th earl of Leven [S]. On the Hamilton brothers’ strenuous urging, Marischal agreed to cancel that proxy and reassign it to the duke. Hamilton, writing to his Junto ally Charles Spencer, 3rd earl of Sunderland, attributed this misdirected proxy to the fact that Marischal and his colleagues had been ‘most grossly imposed upon and have had a thousand lies told them’ by the court party. He was insistent that Marischal and other prisoners be released so they could travel back to Edinburgh in time to vote for the Hamilton-Squadrone ticket.24 Marischal himself did not get back in time to take part in the elections of 17 June 1708, but Hamilton used his proxy to vote for the Squadrone slate of candidates. Acknowledging the importance of Marischal’s contribution, Hamilton requested Sunderland’s protection for the earl, since ‘he allowed me to make use of his proxy notwithstanding of his not being of our sixteen, though I had promised it’25 At the same time, Marischal exploited his territorial influence and his office as hereditary sheriff of Kincardineshire to secure the return to the Commons of the Episcopalian crypto-Jacobite Sir David Ramsay, 4th bt.26

Two years later, on 10 Nov. 1710, Marischal was himself elected a representative peer in the elections at Edinburgh, at which he was this time present. His inclusion on the government list for that election had been agreed in advance by Hamilton (his principal sponsor), together with John Campbell, 2nd duke of Argyll [S], and John Erskine, 22nd earl of Mar [S].27 Richard Dongworth, chaplain to the duchess of Buccleuch, listed him as an ‘Episcopal Tory’ and gave the annual value of his estate at ‘not £2,000 and encumbered’. 28 To Daniel Defoe, moreover, Marischal was one of several elected peers who were all ‘professed Jacobites ... known to aim in all they do at the Pretender’.29 Another analysis of the representative peers drawn up shortly after the election also classed him as a ‘Jacobite’. Marischal first took his seat in the new Parliament on 18 Dec. 1710, almost a month into proceedings. He swore the requisite oaths that day, at the same time as John Murray, duke of Atholl [S], and these two Scottish peers in January 1711 ‘were very earnest to complain of the hard usage of themselves and other prisoners’ arrested in 1708. They went to the queen and ‘proposed that there might be enquiry made by Parliament who were informers against the lords and others who were carried prisoners from Scotland to London on pretence of a plot against the government’, but were dissuaded from taking the matter further.30 Marischal attended a committee of the whole on 9 Jan. 1711 on the conduct of the war in Spain in 1707, at which the successful passage of a motion that Charles Mordaunt, 3rd earl of Peterborough, had ‘given a very faithful, just and honourable account of the Councils of War in Valencia’ was attributed to the votes of the Scottish peers.31 Three days later he was present again when the committee resolved that the defeats at Almanza and Toulon in 1707 had been caused by the actions of the Whig ministry, and that advice given at the time by Peterborough would have prevented these setbacks had it been followed. Both resolutions were accepted, again with ‘all the Scots’ voting in favour.32

Marischal’s relatively low attendance – he came to just under a half of the sitting days of the 1710-11 session – and infrequent committee appointments may possibly be attributed to bouts of ill health induced by heavy drinking. For from the winter of 1710-11 he associated regularly with William Johnstone, marquess of Annandale [S], William Livingston, 3rd Viscount Kilsyth [S], John Elphinstone, 4th Lord Balmerinoch [S], and others in convivial gatherings recorded in the diary of the English Whig peer Charles Bennet, 2nd Baron Ossulston (later earl of Tankerville).33 On 5 Feb. 1711 Marischal, Annandale, Kilsyth, and Balmerinoch, along with Alexander Montgomerie, 9th earl of Eglinton, were the five Scottish representative peers (out of 13 recorded as present that day) who registered their dissent from the rejection of the bill to repeal the General Naturalization Act. George Baillie reported to his wife that when the appeal of the Episcopal minister James Greenshields against the judgment of the Edinburgh magistrates was considered on 1 Mar., 12 of the 16 Scottish representative peers present that day, including Marischal and the other protesters of 5 Feb., voted to defeat a motion to delay proceedings through an adjournment.34 Within a year one of Marischal’s own chaplains, an Episcopalian clergyman named Patrick Dumbreck, sought to take advantage of that judgment to set up a ‘meeting house’ in Marischal’s mansion in the city of Aberdeen, in which he ‘reads the English prayer book’, a provocation which brought Dumbreck and his patron into direct conflict with the synod of Angus and attracted the attention of the town magistrates.35 On 9 Mar., in the aftermath of the attempt on the life of Robert Harley, later earl of Oxford, Marischal was named as one of the managers for a conference dealing with the safety of the queen’s person. He received the proxy of Other Windsor, 2nd earl of Plymouth, on 17 May, which he retained until his last day in the session, 12 June, the day of prorogation. 

Marischal took the opportunity in 1711 to approach Oxford (as Harley became in May), with whom his mother’s family were closely connected, to request a troop of dragoons for one of his sons. ‘As to my own circumstances’, he added,

I came with great pleasure to serve the queen’s interest in Parliament notwithstanding difficulties from my health and my affairs. The session has been long and my expense much greater than I expected. If your lordship’s kindness represent the difficulty of this case to the queen, I doubt not her goodness will make it as easy to me as possible. As to serving the queen in any post or capacity, I leave that to the queen’s goodness and wisdom and your lordship’s friendship. I doubt not that the losses of my family by the Union will be considered. The most essential parts of my office of Earl Marischal rendered impracticable; its dignity, power and figure as well as profits in effect extinguished. I cannot but hope to receive some proportionable equivalent.36

Marischal was forecast as a supporter of the Oxford ministry for the following session of 1711-12, but his arrival in time for the opening of the session was delayed by illness.37 His proxy with Hugh Campbell, 3rd earl of Loudoun [S], was registered on 8 Dec. 1711, but Loudoun does not appear to have used this at the time of the vote on Hamilton’s right to sit under his British title of duke of Brandon, for Baillie later placed Marischal among the six representative peers whose absence on 20 Dec. ensured the failure of Hamilton’s claim.38 Marischal first appeared on 15 Feb. 1712, but it was not long before he fell ill once again, and his presence was recorded only 15 more times before his last sitting on 15 May. Two days later his proxy was registered with his friend Kilsyth, on 21 May he was said to be ‘so ill that he cannot live many days’, and on the 27th he died in London. 39 His place among the Scottish representative peers was taken by the 4th earl of Findlater (as Seafield had become), who resumed his seat, having first sat there as a representative peer throughout 1707-10, at the prorogation of 13 Jan. 1713.

After Marischal’s death, his widowed countess sought help from Harley for her two sons.40 The elder, George Keith, 9th Earl Marischal [S], had seen considerable military service and in 1714 was finally given a guards troop. Both he and his brother participated in the ’Fifteen, the earl commanding a wing of the Jacobite army at Sheriffmuir. Both were attainted, and what was left of the family estates forfeited.


  • 1 Douglas, Scots Peerage, vi. 61-62, which misidentifies him as the 9th Earl Marischal.
  • 2 CSP Dom. 1702–3, p. 353.
  • 3 Officers of the Marischal Coll. and Univ. of Aberdeen, 6.
  • 4 Macky Mems. 214.
  • 5 Lockhart Pprs. i. 138-9.
  • 6 Hooke Corresp. (Roxburghe Club), 287-8.
  • 7 CSP Dom. 1687–9, p. 327; CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 109.
  • 8 HMC Portland, x. 480.
  • 9 Douglas, Scots Peerage, vi. 61; NAS, GD 406/1/4672; P.W.J. Riley, K. Wm. and Scot. Politicians, 142, 148, 153-4; HMC Portland, x. 480.
  • 10 Lockhart Pprs. 43; HMC Portland, iv. 37.
  • 11 Add. 70073-4, newsletter of 30 May 1702.
  • 12 Seafield Letters, 2; Seafield Corresp. 359.
  • 13 HMC Laing, ii. 246.
  • 14 HMC Portland, iv. 202, 226, 233, 242, 276.
  • 15 Macpherson, Orig. Pprs. i. 680-1.
  • 16 Hooke Corresp. 377; Seafield Letters, 54.
  • 17 HMC Stuart, i. 200, 218.
  • 18 Hooke Corresp. 332-3, 391, 395.
  • 19 P.W.J. Riley, Union, 332; A.I. Macinnes, Union and Empire, 305.
  • 20 Col. Hooke’s Negotiations in Scotland in 1707 (1760), 16, 69, 124, 172, 173, 180; HMC Portland, iv. 460.
  • 21 Lockhart Mems. 217; Hooke Corresp. 332–3.
  • 22 J.S. Gibson, Playing the Scottish Card, 114, 128, 230-1.
  • 23 Marlborough-Godolphin Corresp. ii, 945; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 291, 301; Seafield Corresp. 471, 473, 475.
  • 24 Add. 61628, ff. 86-89, 154-6.
  • 25 NLS, ms 1026, ff. 7-8, 33, 39-40; Add. 61628, ff. 102-7, 114-17.
  • 26 HP Commons, 1690–1715, ii. 858.
  • 27 D. Szechi, Jacobitism and Tory Pols. 204; NLS, ms 1026, ff. 7-8, 62-5.
  • 28 SHR, lx. 62.
  • 29 HMC Portland, iv. 630-1.
  • 30 Scot. Hist. Soc. Misc. xii. 123; NLS, Advocates’ mss, Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto, 5, f. 114.
  • 31 Haddington mss, Mellerstain Letters, 3, George Baillie to his wife, 11 Jan. 1711.
  • 32 Ibid. Baillie to his wife, 13 Jan. 1711.
  • 33 SHR, lxxi. 114-16, 121-8; TNA, C 104/113 pt 2 (Ossulston’s diary), 24 Jan. 1711 et seq.; Scot. Hist. Soc. Misc. xii. 125, 133.
  • 34 Haddington mss, Mellerstain Letters, 3, Baillie to his wife, 3 Mar. 1711.
  • 35 HMC Portland, x. 393-8.
  • 36 Ibid. x. 193.
  • 37 Ibid. v. 107, 115.
  • 38 NAS, GD 220/5/256/24; Haddington mss, Mellerstain Letters, 4, Baillie to his wife, 20 Dec. 1711, duke of Montrose [S] to Baillie, 31 Dec. 1711.
  • 39 HMC Portland, x. 266.
  • 40 Add. 70245, 9th Earl Marischal [S] to Oxford, 29 Aug. 1712.