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James Keith was a Scottish mercenary in the service of Russia and Prussia.

James Francis Edward Keith (June 11, 1696 – October 14, 1758) was a Scottish soldier and Prussian field marshal.

He was the second son of William, 9th Earl Marischal of Scotland, and was born at the castle of Inverugie near Peterhead. Through his careful education under the historian Robert Keith, and subsequently at the University of Edinburgh in preparation for the legal profession, he acquired that taste for literature which afterwards secured him the esteem of the most distinguished savants of Europe, but at an early period his preference for a soldier's career was decided. The rising of 1715, in which he displayed qualities that gave some augury of his future eminence, compelled him to seek safety on the Continent.

After spending two years in Paris, chiefly at the university, he in 1719 he took part in abortive risings in support of James Stuart, son of the deposed King James VII and pretender to the Scottish throne.[1] He then passed some time at Paris and Madrid in obscurity and poverty, but eventually obtained a colonelcy in the Spanish army, and, it is said, took part in the Siege of Gibraltar (1726-1727).

Finding his Protestantism a barrier to promotion, he obtained from the King of Spain a recommendation to Peter II of Russia, from whom he received (1728) the command of a regiment of the guards. He displayed in numerous campaigns the calm, intelligent and watchful valour which was his chief characteristic, obtaining the rank of general of infantry and the reputation of being one of the ablest officers in the Russian service as well as a capable and liberal civil administrator.

In the Russo-Swedish War (1741–1743), Keith was briefly de-facto ruler of Finland, where he met the love of his life, a prisoner of war many years his junior named Eva Methens.[1]

Judging, however, that his rewards were not commensurate with his merits, he in 1747 offered his services to Frederick II of Prussia, who at once gave him the rank of field marshal, in 1749 made him governor of Berlin, and soon came to cherish towards him, as towards his brother, the 10th Earl Marischal, a strong personal regard.

In 1756, the Seven Years' War broke out. Keith was employed in high command from the first, and added to his Russian reputation on every occasion by resolution and promptitude of action, not less than by care and skill. In 1756, he commanded the troops covering the investment of Pirna, and distinguished himself at Lobositz. In 1757, he commanded at the siege of Prague and later in this same campaign he defended Leipzig against a greatly superior force, was present at Rossbach, and, while the king was fighting the campaign of Leuthen, conducted a foray into Bohemia.

In 1758, he took a prominent part in the unsuccessful Moravian campaign, after which he withdrew from the army to restore his broken health. He returned in time for the autumn campaign in the Lausitz, and was killed on 14 October 1758 at Hochkirch. His body was honourably buried on the field by Marshal Daun and General Lacy, the son of his old commander in Russia, and was shortly afterwards transferred by Frederick to the garrison church of Berlin.

Keith died unmarried, but had several children by his mistress, Eva Methens, a Swedish prisoner captured by him in the Russo-Swedish War (1741–1743).

Many memorials were erected to him by the king, Prince Henry, and others. In 1889, the 22nd Infantry Regiment (1st Upper Silesian) was named after him. Hochkirch plans to erect a stone tablet inscribed to Keith outside its church, to stand with others dedicated to the victims of Prussia's defeat by Austria on October 14, 1758.[1]

See also

References

Further reading

  • Sam Coull: Nothing but my sword: the life of Field Marshall James Francis Edward Keith. Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2000 ISBN 1-84158-024-4
  • KA Varnhagen von Ense: Leben des Feldmarschalls Jakob Keith. Berlin, 1844
  • James Keith: A Fragment of a Memoir of Field-Marshal James Keith, written by Himself, 1714-1734; edited by Thomas Constable for the Spalding Club. Edinburgh, 1843
  • -- von Paczyński-Tenczyn: Lebensbeschreibung des General-Feldmarschalls Keith. Berlin, 1889 (with a second ed. (Berlin, 1896) on the occasion of the bicentenary of Keith's birth)
  • Peter Buchan, An historical and authentic account of the ancient and noble family of Keith, Earls Marischal of Scotland, from their origin in Germany down to 1778, including a narrative of the military achievements of James Francis Edward Keith, Field-Marshal in Prussia .... Peterhead, 1820
  • Peterheadian (i.e., Norman N. Maclean): Memoir of Marshal Keith, with a sketch of the Keith family. Peterhead, 1869
  • C. F. Pauli: Leben grosser Helden des gegenwärtigen Krieges. Thl. 4. Halle, 17--
  • J.-H. Formey: A discourse on the death of Marshall Keith, read before the Royal Academy of Sciences at Berlin, translated from the French original. Edinburgh, 1764
  • Anon: An Elegy on the universally lamented death of his excellency James-Francis-Edward Keith, Field Marshal in the armies of the King of Prussia, &c. &c. &c. n.p., ca. 1758

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

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