Clan Keith Connection to Robert Burns

Although Robert Burns is remembered most for his association with Ayrshire in the South West of Scotland he is bound by ties of ancestry to the North East, to the Keiths Marischal and to Dunnottar and Fetteresso.

Burns Night, the anniversary of the birth of the poet is celebrated annually on 25 January in a tradition from one first held in 1801 five years after his death, still continues to this day. Burns is one of Scotland’s most important literary figures, best known for his songs and poetry.

In his autobiographical letter to Dr Moore of 2 August 1787, the poet wrote, ” My ancestors rented lands off the noble Keiths Marischal, and had the honour of sharing their fate. I mention this because it threw my father on the world at large. They followed boldly where their leaders led, and welcomed ruin and shook hands with infamy, for what they believed to be the cause of their God and their king.”

This refers to the poet’s grandfather and grand uncle renting farms on the estate of the Earl Marischal (at Clochnahill, in Dunnottar Parish, and at Elf hill, in the parish of Fetteresso) and to their rising in rebellion in 1715 with their landlord. It is also believed that the poet’s father followed Prince Charles Stewart in his invasion of England in 1745, but turned back before the Jacobite army reached Carlisle.

George Keith, 10th Earl Marischal, landlord of the brothers Burnes proclaimed James Stewart as King on 28 September 1715 at the head of his retainers in Aberdeen. He later commanded 180 of his tenants in two squadrons of cavalry at the battle of Sheriffmuir. That he was accompanied to Aberdeen and Sheriffmuir by the brothers Burnes, is nearly certain.

They kept their farms long after the Earl suffered attainder, forfeiture and exile.

Isabella Keith (1695-1752), wife of Robert Burnes, the poet’s grandfather, was mother of three sons who reached adulthood; the third was the poet’s father William Burness. Isabella’s father Alexander Keith was a descendant of the 2nd Earl Marischal by his fourth son John Keith of Craig. The Keith of Craig line was extinguished in 1795. So the poet was distant kin to the Earl Marischal