Keith Marischal

Keith Marischal

Keith Marischal is a Scottish Baronial Country house lying in the parish of Humbie, East Lothian, Scotland.The original building was an "L-shaped" Tower house, built long before 1589 when it was extended into a "U-shaped" courtyard house. In the nineteenth century the courtyard was filled in presenting the building one can see today.

Early and Mediæval

In legend the lands of Keith were granted to "Marbhachir Chamius" (or Camus Slayer), in recognition of his valour at the Battle of Barrie in 1010, the mythological ancestor of the Keith family. The lands of Keith were possessed in the reign of King David I by Simon Fraser of Keith, the first of that surname to appear on record in Scotland. Fraser was one of the Normans who accompanied King David II back to Scotland. Fraser was made Sheriff of Tweeddale. He is recorded in a charter gifting some lands and dedicating a church to the Tironensian Brothers at Kelso Abbey.

It is unclear however, how the policies at Keith were transferred to another Norman, Harvei the King's Marischal. It is likely that the lands formed part of a dowry. Harvei, certainly held the lands at Keith when he erected a Church there at the end of the twelfth century obeying a royal decree to that effect. Latterly Harvei's progeny took their name from their estate as was common at the time

Today's parish of Humbie was originally split into the divisions of "Keith Harvey" and "Keith Hundeby"((occasionally "Keith Symmars") and formed the major part of the estate of the Keiths, until they were granted the rock of Dunnottar in Aberdeenshire at the close of the fourteenth century. Harvei's son was made hereditary Marischal of Scotland in 1176.

16th and 17th Century

The house was built as an L plan tower before 1589 by George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal on the remainder of a previous construction which is heavily obscured, only just discernible in the massive thickness of the southern ground floor internally. Within the grounds, there is evidence of a Barmekin and earthworks in the adjoining cattle meadow which would indicate a mediæval or earlier settlement or castleton.

George, 5th Earl Marischal had stood proxy for King James VI during his marriage to Anne of Denmark in August 1589. The roof trusses of the tower are reputed to have been made from timber gifted to him by the Danish King Christian VI, for services rendered. King James went to Norway in November 1589 to collect his bride in person., returning the following spring. As they were entering the Firth of Forth a storm broke out, which threatened the royal flotilla. The superstitious James blamed the tempest on witchcraft, this led to the infamous North Berwick Witch trials. Although the coven was reputedly led by Francis Stewart, 1st Earl of Bothwell, one of the leading accused was Agnes Sampson. Sampson was known as the "Wise Wife of Keith" and lived at Nether Keith, some quarter of a mile from the house. Indeed one of the latest witch trials in Scotland took place at Humbie in 1678. [ Edinburgh university Witch trial database] The accused were held within the Chapel at Keith Marischal for the evening prior to their execution, which took place at "Dow Syke" (lit. dismal hollow) one mile to the south of the house

18th Century to the present

Its sale in the late seventeenth century to the Earls of Hopetoun, [ Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland,:A survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical Vol.IV, ed. Francis H. Groome. Thomas C. Jack, Edinburgh 1883 ] was to see much structural alteration to the building. The Hopes were originally an Edinburgh family with strong links to the law. During the Williamite Revolution the Keiths were attainted as Jacobites. The Earl Marischal was coerced into the redistribution of his properties, Keith Marischal included. The property was sold to either Sir Thomas Hope, 1st Baronet or his son Sir James Hope of Hopetoun. The Hope family were engaged in wholesale acquisition of the property of Jacobite sympathisers and eventually managed to amass massive estates in the Lothians over the course of the eighteenth century. it is they who carried out the quasi-symmetrical extension to the west of the house to construct a new wing, forming a courtyard house. The east wing being the original tower.

Before 1889, it was sold to the family of Patrick Fraser Tytler who hired the Edinburgh firm of Peddie and Kinnear to construct an extension that would fill in the courtyard and provide corridors in the building rather than the more archaic passage from room to room. It is at this time that the exterior was baronialised with "faux" turrets and crawstep gabling to complement those extant. In 1953 the property was acquired by the architect Sir Robert Hogg Matthew and is still in private hands.

Other Buildings

The ruined chapel that stands in the grounds of the House, is a scheduled ancient monument, which is of early Norman Gothic style. The structure is presumably that church that Harvey de Keith raised by decree of King David. There is a 19th c. plaque commemorating this on the chancel gable. Although unsympathetically restored and stabilised in that period as a folly, there is still a wealth of detail that points to its antiquity. These include a fine early seventeenth century monument to the Anderson family, spiro-form carvings on the exterior of the Ogee window of possible Rosicrucian significance, and the unidentified tombstone of a crusading knight. It is possible that this is a memorial to Sir William Keith, a companion of the Sir James Douglas on his campaign to take the heart of Robert the Bruce to the Holy Land. Upon the failure of that mission Keith brought back the heart of Bruce to Melrose Abbey, and the body of Douglas to St. Bride's Church, Douglas.


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