Keith, James

, field-marshal in the king of Prussia’s service, was born in 1696, and was the younger son of William Keith, earl marshal of Scotland. He had his grammar-learning under Thomas Ruddiman, author of the “Rudiments;” his academical, under bishop Keith and William IMeston, in the college of Aberdeen. He was designed by his friends for the profession of the law; but the bent of his genius inclined him to arms, with which they wisely complied. His first military services were employed while a youth of eighteen, in the rebellion of 1715. In this unhappy contest, through the instigation of the | counless his mother, who was a Roman catholic, he joined the Pretender’s party, and was at the battle of Sheriffmuir, in which he was wounded, yet able to make his escape to France. Here he applied to those branches of education, which are necessary to accomplish a soldier. He studied mathematics under M. de Maupertuis; and made such proficiency, that he was, by his recommendation, admitted a fellow of the royal academy of sciences at Paris. He afterwards travelled through Italy, Switzerland, and Portugal; with uncommon curiosity examined the several productions in architecture, painting, and sculpture; and surveyed the different fields where famous battles had been fought. In 1717, he had an opportunity of forming an acquaintance with Peter, czar of Muscovy, at Paris, who invited him to enter into the Russian service. This offer he declined, because the emperor was at that time at war with the king of Sweden, whose character Keith held in great veneration. He then left Paris, and went to Madrid; where, by the interest of the duke of Lyria, he obtained a commission in the Irish brigades, then commanded by the duke of Ormond. He afterwards accompanied the duke of Lyria, when he was sent ambassador extraordinary to Russia, and was recommended by him to the service of the czarina, who promoted him to the rank of lieutenant-general, and invested him with the order of the black eagle.

The Turks at this time invaded the Ukrain on the side of Russia, and the empress sent two numerous armies to repel the invaders; one of which marched for Oczakow, under the command of count Munich, which place was invested and taken by the valour and conduct of Keith, to whom the success was chiefly attributed. In the war with the Swedes, he had a command under marshal Lacey, at the battle of Willmanstrand; which he gained by fetching a compass about a hill, and attacking the Swedes in flunk, at a time when victory seemed to declare in their favour. He likewise, by a stratagem, retook from them the isles of Aland in the Baltic, which they had seized by treachery. Afterwards he had no inconsiderable share in the bringing about that extraordinary revolution, which raised the empress Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter, to the throne. He served the Russians in peace also by several embassies: but, finding the honours of that country no better than a splendid servitude, and not meeting with those rewards which his long and faithful services deserved, he left that | court for that of Prussia, where merit was better known, and better rewarded.

The king of Prussia received him with all possible marks of honour, made him governor of Berlin, and field marshal of the Prussian armies; to which places he annexed additional salaries. He likewise distinguished him so far by his confidence, as to travel with him in disguise over a great part of Germany, Poland, and Hungary. In business, he made him his chief counsellor; in his diversions, his constant companion. The king was much pleased with an amusement, which the marshal invented, in imitation of the game of chess. The marshal ordered several thousand small statues of men in armour to be cast by a founder: these he would set opposite to each other, and range them in battalia, in the same manner as if he had been drawing up an army: he would bring out a party from the wings or centre, and shew the advantage or disadvantage resulting from the several draughts which he made. In this manner the king and the marshal often amused themselves, and at the same time improved their military knowledge.

This brave and experienced general, after having greatly distinguished himself in the later memorable wars of that illustrious monarch, was killed in the unfortunate affair of Hohkerchen, Oct. 14, 1758, and was buried in the church of that place, the enemy joining in paying respect to his virtues. His character may be given in the few but comprehensive words of his brother, the late lord marshal of Scotland, who on being applied to by M. Formey, who wished to write his eloge, answered, “Probus vixit, fortis obiit.1

1 Memoirs of Field Marshal Keith, 1759, 8vo.