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Historic Earls and Earldoms of Scotland
Chapter V - Keiths, Great Marischals of Scotland, and Earl Marischals
Section VI


In 1736 a war arose between Russia and the Porte, owing to the incessant raids and ravages of the Turks and Tartars into Russian territories. In the end of March, General Munich, with a strong Russian force, was before Asoph. The Tartars advanced to relieve it, but Munich marched to meet them. Another large army, under the command of Lacy and General Keith, reached Asoph on the 4th of May; the Siege was vigorously pushed on, and the place surrendered on the 20th of June. Munich defeated the Tartars in several battles, and advanced into Crim-Tartary. In this region he had many skirmishes, and took a number of strong positions.

Afterward he returned to the Ukraine, and placed his army in winter quarters along the Dnieper. Munich then left to General Keith the chief command of all the Russian forces in the Ukraine, and proceeded himself to St Petersburg. Thus Keith was entrusted with very difficult service, which showed the implicit confidence placed in his abilities. He had to preserve the troops from a contagious malady, to protect them from the continual raids of the Turks and Tartars, and also to prepare everything for the campaign in the succeeding spring. Keith performed his difficult work effectively, and had everything ready for the opening of the campaign of 1737, much earlier than usual.

Munich, the Commander-in-Chief, joined the army in March. He resolved to fight the Turks himself, and General Keith accompanied him; while General Lacy was to handle the Tartars. Munich crossed the Dnieper early in May, and the Hypanis on the 20th of June, and advanced upon Ockakow, in which there was a garrison of 20,000 men. It was invested on the 30th of June; the approaches were pushed on with the utmost vigour, and the town was taken by assault on the 2nd of July. In this action General Keith distinguished himself, and was severely wounded. This disabled him from serving in the army for a considerable time.

General Keith's health was for a time broken by his wounds, and in the hope of restoring it, he went to France. But he was charged with the management of some State affairs, relating to the war between Russia and Sweden. He had also orders (as soon as his health permitted) to proceed to England and conduct important State affairs. He arrived at London in February, 1740, and on the 15th he was presented to His Majesty, George II., who received him very graciously. He was no longer regarded as a Scottish rebel. He was received as a great general, and as the Minister of a great Power. On the 14th of May he had his audience of leave, and he left London on the 18th, and thence proceeded directly to St Petersburg.

While Keith was in London, peace was concluded between Russia and Turkey. This event was celebrated in St Petersburg on the 25th of February, 1740. The Empress gave presents to all the great officers, and General Keith, though absent, was not forgotten. He received a gold-hilted sword valued at £1500 sterling. Yet his services were not considered adequately rewarded, and he was appointed Governor of Ukraine. In July he left St Petersburg, and proceeded to the province entrusted to his charge.

On the 28th of October, 1740, the Empress Anne died. The Government then fell into the hands of Biron, but General Keith declined to recognise his authority. The governor of the Ukraine was beloved by a numerous people, and it would have been difficult to reduce him by force. Biron’s rule, however, only continued 22 days. Then the mother of the young Emperor took the administration into her own hands as Regent; and presented to Keith another sword more valuable than the former one.

In 1741 war broke out between Russia and Sweden. In August, Field-Marshal Lacy appeared before Wyburg with an army of 80,000 men; and among the ablest generals in the army was Keith. A strong body of the Russian army, under Wrangel, advanced to attack the Swedish van, and on the 3rd of September a battle ensued. The Swedes fought bravely, but the Russians defeated them. General Keith was much admired for his conduct and courage in this battle; and his annual income was increased by the Government.

After the battle, Lacy took Williamstraud, and than returned to the camp at Wyburg. Afterward he marched the greater part of the army to the vicinity of St Petersburg, leaving General Keith before Wyburg with the rest of the troops, and Generals Stoffel and Fermor under him. This showed the confidence which Marshal Lacy had of the military abilities of General Keith.

Meantime there was a revolution in St Petersburg. On the 25th of November, 1741, Elizabeth, a daughter of Peter the Great, mounted the Throne. General Keith immediately recognised the new Empress, and took the oath of allegiance.

General Keith was engaged in several other battles against the Swedes. But, on the 7th of July, 1743, peace was concluded between Russia and Sweden.

But Denmark threatened war against Sweden, and the Swedish King demanded aid from Russia. The Empress Elizabeth granted 10,000 men, and gave the command of them to General Keith. He embarked in Finland with his force, and appeared before Stockholm in October, 1744, and was treated with much distinction. He was then acting as Commander-in-Chief of the Russian forces, and as plenipotentiary for his Sovereign at the Court of Sweden. "He acquitted himself in each of these characters entirely to the satisfaction of both Courts." He was highly esteemed by the King of Sweden; and on New Year’s Day His Majesty presented to him a very fine sword. After he had brought all the affairs entrusted to him, to a satisfactory issue, and had his audience of leave on the 23rd of June, 1745, he received another sword, the prince’s portrait, and £1,000 sterling. The Russian troops commenced their march homeward on the 2nd of August, and, on arriving at St Petersburg, the Empress gave an exceedingly gracious reception to her General and Ambassador.

In 1747 Earl Marischal, visited his brother in Russia, and they then resolved to spend the remainder of their lives together as far as possible. Accordingly General Keith asked his dismission, and obtained it. He left St Petersburg, passed through Copenhagen, and arrived at Berlin. As stated in a preceding section, his brother, Earl Marischal, was at this time in Prussia.

At his first interview with Frederick the Great, His Majesty quickly realised the great abilities of General Keith. The King immediately seized the opportunity of gaining him to his service On the 18th of September, 1747, the King made him Field-Marshal; in October, 1749, he appointed him Governor of Berlin, and conferred on him the Order of the Black Eagle. The Marshal’s income then was 12,000 crowns—£2,400 sterling.

The Marshal was much esteemed and greatly admired in Berlin. The Royal Academy of Berlin enrolled his name in the list of its honorary members. Thus he enjoyed a few years of quiet life, almost the only ones throughout his illustrious career.

In August, 1756, the King of Prussia took possession of Saxony, and Marshal Keith accompanied him. The column which Keith commanded joined the other divisions of the army before Pirna; thence they advanced into Bohemia. Keith reached the camp at Aussig on the 19th of September, and took the command-in-chief. The King arrived on the 28th, and the Battle of Lowositz was fought on the 1st of October, in which Marischal Keith was by the King’s side. The King returned to Saxony on the 13th of October, and Keith retained the chief command in Bohemia.

On receiving orders from the King, Keith marched the army back into Saxony, and on the 23rd of October, joined the King at Linay. The army was then placed in winter quarters.

In the campaign of 1757, the Prussians advanced into Bohemia through four different passes. Marshal Keith was with the King, and after various marches, the army reached the White Mountains before Prague. On the 6th of May, a great battle was fought under the walls of Prague. The Prussians gained a complete victory, and the vanquished Austrians fled into the city. Prague was besieged. But strong and desperate sallies were made against the besiegers. On the night, between the 23rd and 24th of May, a strong and furious attack was made on the quarter where Marshal Keith commanded. The engagement was fiercely contested for several hours, but at last the enemy was driven back to within 300 yards of the fortifications. It was mainly by the admirable command and valour of Keith that the victory was won.

The siege was continued, though there was little hope of taking a city so well fortified, and defended by a force of 40,000 men. A retreat was resolved on, which Marshal Keith successfully executed, in spite of the attempts of the enemy to harass him, without losing any of his men. On the 22nd of June he reached Baden, thence he marched into Saxony, and joined the King on the 12th of August in Lusatia.

A French army was approaching Saxony, and the King advanced to cover it, and Marshal Keith accompanied him. They had a comparatively small army, while French and Austrian armies were in the field against them. Marshal Keith marched to Leipsic, carefully observing the movements of an army greatly superior in numbers to his. Having received reinforcements, he continued to advance, and joined the King at Roseback on the 3rd of November. On the 5th a great battle was fought, in which the Prussians—numbering about 20,000 men, under the command of the King and Marshal Keith, completely defeated the combined armies of the French and Austrians—numbering 60,000 men. Many of the French and Austrians were slain.

In the beginning of 1758, the King conferred with Marshal Keith touching the operations of the ensuing campaign. Keith took part in this campaign until he was attacked by sickness. When partly recovered, he joined the King at Breslau, and shortly after the King defeated the Russians.

The Prussians were encamped between Bantzen and Hochkirchen. On the night of the 14th of October, the Austrians, under the command of Marshal Daun, surprised the Prussians in the quarter where Marshal Keith commanded. The noise of the cannon alarmed Keith, who instantly mounted his horse and hastened where his presence was most necessary—in the midst of danger. The battle raged with terrible fury. Marshal Keith received two wounds in the groin, and a cannon ball brought down his horse. Efforts were made to place him again on horseback, but he fell down among the hands of these who were assisting him, and expired on the battlefield. General Lacy descried the body of the Marshal in the midst of the slain, and it was interred on the field with military honours. Afterward the King had his remains disinterred and conveyed to Berlin, where, on the 3rd of February, 1759, new obsequies were performed, amid great funeral pomp and solemnity.

A fine statue of the Field-Marshal was erected in Berlin. Some years after his death, a monument was erected to his memory in the churchyard of Hochkirchen, by Sir Robert Murray Keith.

Although it was chiefly in military affairs that Field-Marshal Keith excelled, yet, in many other respects he was a very accomplished gentleman. "He spoke English, French, Spanish, Russian, Swedish, and Latin, and was able to read the Greek authors. . . He had seen all the Courts of Europe, great and small, from that of Avignon, to the residence of the Khan of Tartary, and accommodated himself to every place, as if it had been his native country. . But that which ought to render his memory for ever precious is that he was a hero extremely humane; never omitting to do anything in his power that might soften and alleviate the calamities of war, lessen the number of its miseries, and in some measure relieve those whom it had rendered wretched." Amen.

Resuming the sketch of Earl Marischal’s life abroad. In 1751 Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, appointed him Ambassador to France. In 1752 he received from the King the Order of the Black Eagle, and was appointed Governor of the principality of Neufchatel, in Switzerland. He was appointed Ambassador from Prussia to Spain in 1759. When at the Spanish Court he discovered the secret of "The Family Compact," by which the branches of the House of Bourbon bound themselves to assist and defend each other to the utmost of their power. He communicated this intelligence to the British Cabinet, and shortly after left Spain and returned to Prussia.

On the 29th of May, 1759, the Marischal received a pardon from George II. The same year an Act of Parliament was passed to enable him to inherit any estates that might devolve to him. His own estates had been sold, but the Government gave him an equivalent of over £3000.

The Marischal arrived at London in June, 1760, and on the 15th he was presented to His Majesty George II., who graciously received him. He visited Scotland. On arriving at Peterhead he proceeded to the Bridge of Inverugie, but could go no further, and sent his secretary to examine the state of the castle, who found it to be in ruins. The recollections of his childhood and youth overpowered the brave man, and he wept over the ruins of his once stately residence.

On the death of the fourth Earl of Kintore, and the failure of male issue in 1761, Earl Marischal became heir to the estates of the earldom. He stayed for some time in Scotland, but was back to Prussia in 1762. He again returned to Scotland in August, 1763, and repurchased some of his estates with the intention of settling in his native land. But Frederick the Great was extremely anxious that Keith would return to Prussia. Accordingly, on the 15th of May, 1764, the silver plate belonging to Earl Marischal at Keithhall — consisting of household utensils and articles, were packed up, to be sent to Hamburg by his orders, and the Marischal himself returned to Prussia. He was greatly esteemed by Frederick the Great, and spent the evening of his days in peace and comfort. On the 28th of May, 1778, he died unmarried in his 86th year. Thus terminated the main lineal line of one of the oldest and most illustrious families of Scotland.

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