At the death of Queen Anne, leaving no lineal heir, the English (wanting a protestant on the throne) passed over the claim of James Edward Stewart (who was catholic), and installed kinsmen William and Mary of Hanover. Stewart then sought to establish his claim to the thrones of both Scotland and England, by force of arms. This cause was supported by many, but not all, of the Scottish clans, including the Keiths. James (also called “Jacob”) and the Jacobites came to ruin with their defeat at the Battle of Sheriffmuir, in 1715. The English monarch by this time, George I, then imposed stringent punishment for supporters of James “the pretender”. Against Keith Marischal, his close associates, and other noblemen leaders, the king issued a “writ of attainder”, wherein a deadline was established for them to come forward and be tried on charges of high treason. George Keith, 9th Earl Marischal, along with his brother and many of the clan, made their way out of English reach. Some came to America; others escaped to Ireland; still others, including the two Keith brothers and James Stuart, crossed the channel to Europe.
It was a rare time of peace between England and her protestant neighbors, Initially, only the catholic countries were disposed to shelter Scotland’s displaced noblemen. Spain was soon persuaded to support James Stewart in another attempt at the English throne, and the Keith brothers then served in the Spanish army. This attempt also failed. Subsequent intrigues by James Stewart and his son, Bonnie Prince Charlie, were to proceeded without the support of the Keiths. Even so, the Earl continued to wield influence with many who had stayed in the homeland, and he remained a factor in Scottish affairs until his death. He established himself, over the years, in high favor with most of royal courts on the continent. At the same time, James became renowned as a military leader and held high positions in the armies of Spain, Russia, and Frederick the Great of Germany.
The painting, represented at left, is of George Keith in his younger years. In a painting, “The Flute Concert”, by Adolph van Menzel the old Earl, still bewigged, is depicted at the far left side of it, as an admiring audience listens to Frederick the Great playing flute (see at right).
At the time of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s attempt to gain the Scottish throne, in 1745, the Earl was in France, and did not participate in this last adventure. Soon afterward, he joined his brother in Prussia, and there became fast friends with King Frederick, and was made Governor of the principalities of Neufchatel and Vallengin. With his extensive European connections, George was able to establish a mediation with the English crown, and to regain some of his old family properties. Late in life, he returned to Scotland and his old home, but before arriving at the place, he was apprised of Dunnotars’s deteriorated condition and immediately turned back to town. While in Scotland, George received a letter from Frederick the Great, which said, in part: “I must have recourse to your friendship, to bring you to him who esteems and loves you.” It has been written in several histories that Keith is the only man Frederick ever loved. However, it remains unclear just which of the brothers this refers to, in that he was very close to both George and James, the Field Marshal.
George, 9th Earl Marischal, died in Berlin in 1778, leaving no heirs. His titles were restored by the English, in 1782, and immediately claimed by George Keith, descendant of Sir Robert Keith, Great Marischal during the reign of James II, and father of first Earl Marischal. The claimed descendancy was examined by the proper authorities, and appeared correct, but George was never confirmed in the titles. Chiefship of the clan fell to its next-ranking noble, the Earl of Kintore
James Francis Edward Keith was born at the castle of Inverugie in 1696, second son of William, 8th Earl Marischal. He was well educated by the age of 19, at which time the Stewart affair drew him into military life. Along with his brother, the Earl, James escaped to Europe after the loss at Sheriffmuir. From that time his exploits made him perhaps the most chronicled of all the Keiths. A painting of him, done by Belle in about 1724 (collection of the University of Edinburgh), depicts a particularly handsome fellow, and is seen at right.
In that catholic Spain was the only country the exiled Scottish king could entice into opposing English interests, that’s where James and George first found employment. During Spain’s meek military ventures launched against England, James was made a Colonel in the Spanish army, but his being protestant made further advancement a scant prospect. Thus, he removed to Petersburg, Russia in 1729, and was given a Brevet as Major-general. He soon established a close friendship with Peter II, and was advanced to Lieutenant-Colonel. Princes Anne Ivanowna became empress (1730) and continued James in his rank, under General Lascy (also a Scot).
War obligingly followed. In 1733, when Poland’s Augustus fought against Stanislaus, the Russian army pursued the latter all the way through Prussia. For his role in conquering the town of Dantzick, James Keith was advanced to the rank of Lieutenant-General (1734). He was wounded at Ockzakow (fighting against the Tartars & Turks) in 1737, and later went to France (1739) to restore his health. In Feb 1740, the Russian Czarena sent James on a mission to England, and he was received graciously by George II. For his good service, Anne of Russia made James Keith the governor of the Ukraine (March 1740). Soon, while Russia was warring with Sweden, Elizabeth (daughter of Peter the great) assumed the throne, keeping James in all his titles. When Swedish war concluded (1743), Keith then led Russian forces against Denmark, and concluded a good treaty. In 1745, he was commander in chief of the Russian army opposing Prussia.
Peace being again broke out, in late 1745, James resigned from the Russian service and removed to join his brother, the Earl, in Berlin. He spoke fluently in English, French, Spanish, Russian, Swedish and Latin, and read in Greek. In Prussia, he was made Field Marshal, and later (1749) governor of Berlin, receiving the Order of the Black Eagle. He fought beside Frederick the Great in Saxony and Bohemia, in 1756, defeating the French at Roseback and the Austrians in Salesia. James Keith was killed on October 11, 1759 (according to Buchan), in a battle between the towns of Bautzen and Hochkirck. Though buried with his fallen troops, orders came for the body’s retrieval. He was again interred in Berlin on 3 Feb 1759, amid “pomp and solemnity”.
A statue of this heroic figure was commissioned, and it now stands in the square at Peterhead, Scotland. The inscription reads: “Field Marshall Keith, Born at Inverugie 1696, Killed at the battle of Hochkirch, 14 October, 1758, The Gift of William I, King of Prussia, to the Town of Peterhead, 23 August, 1868.”
Writing of the Marshal, James Keith, Buchan says: …”he lived a bachelor, and did not run the risk of transmitting his great name to heirs that might be incapable of supporting it worthily.” In spite of this, it is fairly established that James (called Jacob in Germany) had several children, by a mistress called Eva Mathen. Apparently there was some friction between Eva and George Keith. As a result, the Earl obscured any reference to Eva and the children he may have possessed in his extensive correspondence with his brother. Scant record is available in English, but German literature occasionally refers to the family life of James and Eva. This literature, is not sufficiently descriptive, so far as I can tell, to reveal names of the children involved. Some in America have claimed descendancy from the Field Marshal, but the proofs remain too thin for full acceptance at this time.
For related topics, see the following pages in this web site:
- “Keith, Great Marischals of Scotland” – illustrates those noble arms.
- “Attained Noblemen of Scotland” – those punished for with the Keiths.
- “Succession of the Keiths” – those who served as Great Marischal.
- “Chief of the Clan, The Earl of Kintore” – article and illustration.
- “Notes on Heraldry” – discusses proprieties of the systems of Heraldry.
- “Understanding the Coat of Arms” – the art of blazon. (illustrations)
- “Keith Arms” adds to the discussion of arms. (illustrations).