Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Let folk say what they please!

That was the gist of the motto of the Earls Marischal, the Keith family, the full version being Ne'er ye mind fit folk say, dee ye weel and lat them say.  Only, that is a variant of the motto displayed in Marischal College's Mitchell Hall.  George Keith, the Protestant 5th earl, founded the college in 1593 as a rival to Catholic noble, Alexander Fraser's university college in Fraserburgh, founded but a year before.  George and his uncle, William Keith, the 4th earl, had basically stitched up a whole list of monastic properties between them, including the Earl's Hall in Castlegate which had been the Abbot of Deer's house.  Greyfriars was where Marischal was built; the Blackfriars/Dominicans' old estate was also claimed by the Keiths.

The family appear to have Anglo-Norman origins as many of the 13th century nobles did.  One Harvey de Keth saved the life of William the Lion, King of Scots and was awarded the title of "Great Marischal", the duties of which included being the royal bodyguard at court, and keeper of the royal regalia.  Their earldom was awarded in 1458.  They married into another settled Anglo-Norman family, the Cheynes of Inverugie, which allowed them to own both Ravenscraig and Inverugie castles situated on the river which flowed into Peterhead, one of the Keiths' major seats of power.  That allied them to Bishop Henry Cheyne of St Machar - the priest whose support for the usurped John Balliol and the Comyns brought him into conflict with Robert the Bruce.  Henry's brother, Reginald, was the one who invited the Carmelites to come to Aberdeen in 1270.  So they were well-connected even then!

After the Reformation church lands were fair game for any noble of the old or new religions; William Keith was smart, he, with royal favour, had his son Robert created "Commendator of Deer" - this meant that he was the postulant bishop - a trainee - even though he probably had no intention of following a religious life when his Dad was a Protestant!  By the time poor Mary, Queen of Scots had lost her life and her son James, VI of Scotland was on the throne, being a Catholic was very unwise.  The Keiths ingratiated themselves to the new king, and in a smart deal, resigned the lands of Deer to the crown in exchange for two things - for Robert, the Lordship of Altrie, and for his cousin George, who would be William's heir, a burgh of barony which included all the lands which belonged to the Abbey of Deer and the town of Peterhead.

Talk about sticking two fingers up at everyone else! No wonder they had such a motto!

Now the oddity in today's blog post is the fact that the version of the motto I quoted earlier is etched into a block on a wall in Jackson Terrace.  There is no earthly reason why it should be there! The land where these Victorian tenements stand was empty waste ground until at least the 1800s.  King Street wasn't started until 1808!  Where did this block come from? And why did it end up in a tenement building which backed onto the old King Street school?  If anyone has any ideas, let me know!!

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