Sir Robert Keith
Sir Robert Keith (d. Aug 11, 1332AD) was the Great Marischal of Scotland and the Justiciar (judge) of the whole country beyond the River Forth. His family took the name Keith from their Barony in Keith, East Lothian where they held extensive land.
Robert Keith was captured by the English in the summer of 1300 AD, when the Comyn Lords of Badenoch and Buchan were defeated by the English army at the River Cree. After securing his freedom he became one of ten “representative Scots” at an English parliament in 1305, he returned to Scotland in 1307. He then swore his allegiance to The Bruce leading to other Eastern Lords following his example.
The Northern Assault
After swearing to be King Robert’s supporter he was included in the army that would march north to deal with the Comyn forces, still extant in the north of the realm. This would culminate in the Battle of Inverurie (also known as the battle of Barra), where the eventual “Harrying of Buchan” broke the northern rebels. For his actions Sir Robert Keith was awarded his share of Buchan land and Hall Forest in Aberdeenshire.
Having proved himself a highly skilled cavalry commander in the years preceding Bannockburn, Robert Keith was given control of the Scots cavalry. These were not heavily armoured knights on great warhorses, such as the English possessed, but light cavalry used mainly for scouting who would usually dismount before attacking. On the day before the battle Keith’s cavalry, with Sir James Douglas, rode south to scout the English ranks, returning with word that they would be in position the following day. On the day of battle the English heavy cavalry (over 2000 strong) expected no resistance at all from the 500 Scots horsemen and they were right! King Robert had no intention of wasting his only cavalry by attacking five times their numbers in a massed charge. Relying on his infantry to destroy the English knights, he sent Keith’s Hobelars (light cavalry) to attack the real threat to Scotland’s freedom; the English army’s feared archers. These archers with their huge longbows would later crush the best armies of Europe and would rule the battlefield until guns were developed, but not this day.
Sir Robert Keith led his men around the right of the battlefield and, while the archers began to open fire on the Scots schiltrons, he charged into their flank. Without the usual defences, such as spears dug into the ground or infantry to protect them, the archers crumbled with little loss of life to Keith’s cavalry.
After Bannockburn, Sir Robert threw himself into his role as Marischal and Justiciar, dispensing the Kings laws and signing the official policies to ensure Scotland’s future.
Sir Robert Keith was one of the Scottish magnates who in 1320 signed the famous letter to the Pope vindicating the independence of Scotland. He was one of the commissioners to treat for a peace with England in 1323; and he was also appointed, along with other great nobles, to ratify an alliance with the French king, Charles le Bel. He received from King Robert a charter of the lands of Keith and the office of Great Marischal of Scotland, to himself and heirs bearing the name and coat of arms of Keith. Sir Robert fell at the fatal battle of Dupplin, 11th August, 1332.