The Complete History of Clan Keith: Origins, Castles and Stories

Article by: Aly Wight


Time to read 6 min

Looking for an introduction to the history of Clan Keith? Want to see some stunning photography of the landscapes and castles they inhabited? Then we've got you covered!

This post will guide you through the basics and set you on the path to understanding Clan Keith's rich heritage.

Do You Belong To The Scottish Clan Keith?

If your surname is Keith or you know of a Keith in your family tree, then you're in! But did you know there are also many other Scottish family names that are historic septs (families that associated themselves with a larger clan)? Below is a list of the names that are associated with Clan Keith.

Septs (associated names) of Keith

Keith Identity

With admissions out of the way here are a few important features of Keith identity you'll want to know...

What Is The Clan Keith Motto?

The Keith motto is "Veritas vincit" which means "Truth conquers"

What Is The Clan Keith War Cry?

The war cry of Clan Keith is "A Keith, Veritas Vincit"

What Is The Clan Keith Crest?

The Clan Keith crest features a stag's head contained by a crown. This stag's head is argent, or silver in colour. Above the head is the clan's motto, "Veritas Vincit," The overall design is bold and symbolises their devotion and closeness to the Scottish Crown. 

The Clan Keith crest is an important part of the identity and history of Clan Keith
Image from Wikipedia

What Is The Clan Keith Tartan?

The Clan Keith tartan, known as "Keith and Austin," showcases a distinct pattern primarily in black and green. This tartan, historically linked to both the Keiths and the Scottish Austins, reflects a deep-rooted association between the two families. The design and naming of the tartan likely originated with an Austin and was then adopted by the Keiths, symbolising their alliance.

The Clan Keith tartan is an important part of the identity and history of Clan Keith
Image from Wikipedia

What Is The Clan Keith Plant Badge?

The Clan Keith plant badge is the white rose. Plant badges, often worn by members of Scottish clans as a symbol of their identity and allegiance, are typically derived from plants or flowers associated with the clan's lands or history.

The Keith Campbell plant badge is an important part of the identity and history of Clan Keith

What Are Clan Keith's Scottish Origins?

The name "Keith" likely originates from the lands of Keith in East Lothian.One legend suggests their descent from the Catti, Germanic tribespeople who settled in Scotland in the early 11th century. A warrior from this group famously slew a Danish leader at the Battle of Barrie in 1010, earning favor and lands from King Malcolm II after his victory at the Battle of Carham in 1018. Another origin story posits a Norman adventurer named Hervey as the progenitor, who married a local heiress and acquired the lands in the mid-12th century.

Where Are Clan Keith's Lands In Scotland?

Clan Keith's primary stronghold was Dunnottar Castle, strategically located on a rocky promontory on the northeast coast of Scotland, near Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire. From this formidable base, the Keiths exerted their influence across the region, particularly in areas such as Kincardineshire and parts of Banffshire.

Clan Keith Through History

Rise to Prominence and Royal Connections

The Keiths rose to prominence as powerful landholders, extending from East Lothian to Caithness. They were made Marischals of Scotland, a role involving the protection of the Scottish crown and overseeing royal ceremonies. This position was highlighted when Sir Robert Keith, a key supporter of Robert the Bruce, commanded the Scottish cavalry at the Battle of Bannockburn and later received the royal forest of Halforest in Aberdeenshire.

Strategic Marriages and Expansion

The Keiths significantly enhanced their power through strategic marriages. They acquired vast estates in Buchan, Kincardine, and Lothian. Marriages to the heirs of influential families such as the Frasers, Cheynes, and Sinclairs further consolidated their wealth and territorial reach.

Cultural and Educational Contributions

The Keiths were also notable for their contributions to education and culture. The fourth Earl Marischal founded Marischal College in Aberdeen, enriching it with lands and promoting innovative teaching methods. This institution remains a part of the University of Aberdeen today.

Jacobite Cause and European Heroics

Despite their prominence, the Keiths faced periods of turmoil. Their loyalty to the Jacobite cause led to the forfeiture of their lands and titles after the unsuccessful uprisings. Many family members were involved in significant European conflicts, and their international engagements included military and diplomatic roles:

George Keith, the fifth Earl Marischal , played a key role in diplomatic circles. He notably negotiated the marriage between King James VI of Scotland and Princess Anne of Denmark. This marriage strengthened the alliance between Scotland and Denmark.

James Keith , the brother of the tenth Earl Marischal, had a remarkable military career in Europe. After the Jacobite Rising of 1715, he fled to the continent. He served in the Russian military and later became a Field Marshal in the Prussian army under Frederick the Great. He was awarded Prussia's highest military honor, the Order of the Black Eagle. James Keith died in 1758 at the Battle of Hochkirch.

What Clan Keith Castles Are In Scotland?

Dunnotter Castle

Dunnotter Castlesits dramatically on a rocky headland on the Aberdeenshire coast. It was the key stronghold of Clan Keith. From here the Keiths, as the Great Marischals of Scotland, played a crucial role in Scottish history, famously and heroically hiding the Scottish Crown Jewels from Oliver Cromwell's army within the castle's robust walls. The castle has a unique charm and is one of the most popular castles in Scotland to visit today.

Aboyne Castle

Aboyne Castle, located in Aberdeenshire, passed between various clans and was briefly connected to Clan Keith, acquired by Sir William de Keith in the 14th century. It is a beautifully preserved and picturesque castle that speaks of the status and influence that Clan Keith had throughout the region.

Other Keith Castles

East Lothian

  • Keith Marischal House : Located three miles south of Pencaitland, this L-plan tower house dates back to the sixteenth century. It stands on the site of an earlier fourteenth-century castle built by the Keiths.


  • Keith Hall : Formerly known as Caskieben, this Z-plan tower house is the current seat of the chief of Clan Keith. Its foundations date from the sixteenth century.

  • Fetteresso Castle : Originally held by Clan Strachan, this castle came under the control of the Keith chiefs, the Earls Marischal, in the early 14th century.


  • Ackergill Tower: Situated a few miles north of Wick, this impressive tower and mansion date from the fifteenth century. Initially held by the Cheynes, it passed to the Keith Earls Marischal around 1350. The tower is noted for its five-storey structure and was a focal point in the long-standing feud between the Keiths and Clan Gunn. In 1556, it was besieged by the Clan Sinclair, and eventually sold to them in 1612.

Do Clan Keith Exist Today?

Yes, Clan Keith continues to thrive and maintain its strong sense of identity to this day. If you're in the USA the Clan Keith Society serves as a wealth of information on the history, genealogy, and Clan social events.

Clan Keith Wall Prints By Clanscape

Did you know, here at Clanscape, you can buy stunning wall prints of Clan Keith Castles and landscapes in Scotland? They make perfect gifts for Clan Keith enthusiasts and are a beautifully visual way of celebrating your Scottish Heritage and immersing yourself in the history of Clan Keith.

We also feature 100+ other Scottish clans and surnames in our collection of 200+ landscape photography wall prints, so check out our print store to see the full collection.

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