George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal, lived from about 1553 to 5 April 1623. He was an influential Scottish nobleman who founded Marischal College, Aberdeen. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
George Keith was the oldest son of William, Lord Keith, who himself was the oldest son of William Keith, 4th Earl Marischal. The office of "Marischal of Scotland" had been held by the senior member of the Keith family since Hervey de Keith, who held the office of Marischal under Malcolm IV and William I. It was later confirmed as "Great Marischal of Scotland" by Robert the Bruce. In 1458 the title was converted into the more standard "Earl Marischal".
George Keith became 5th Earl Marischal on the death of his grandfather in 1581. He became a strong supporter and trusted adviser of James VI. In 1589 he was sent as Ambassador to Denmark to negotiate the marriage of King James VI of Scotland to Anne of Denmark.
He also continued to actively manage his estates in Aberdeenshire, from 1587 founding the town of Peterhead with his brother Robert. George Keith is perhaps best remembered, however, as the founder in 1593 of Marischal College in Aberdeen. In the aftermath of the Reformation of 1560, King's College, Aberdeen, despite having been subjected to religious purges, remained a deeply conservative establishment. Keith felt Aberdeen needed something different and established a much more outward looking university in the heart of the growing city centre. The result was that at the end of the 1500s, Aberdeen alone had as many universities as there were in the whole of England: and there were three more elsewhere in Scotland, the Universities of St Andrews, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
In 1609 George Keith was appointed to the position of Lord High Commissioner to the Parliament of Scotland, acting as the King's personal representative to the Scottish Parliament.
Keith was married twice. With his first wife, Margaret, the daughter of Alexander Home, 5th Lord Home, he had a son William, who later became 6th Earl Marischal and two daughters. His second wife was another Margaret, the daughter of James Ogilvy, 6th Lord Ogilvy of Airlie. They had two sons together. George Keith died in 1623 at Dunnottar Castle, the stronghold given to the Keith family by James V in 1531.