Re­call­ing the Scot who ruled Ber­lin

The Washington Times Weekly - - Page Two -

HOCHKIRCH, Ger­many, Oct 29 (Reuters) — He once gov­erned Ukraine and Ber­lin, con­trolled Fin­land, and might have changed Bri­tish his­tory — but is lit­tle known in his na­tive Scot­land.

The late James Keith, a com­mit­ted freema­son and rebel ex­ile, is a forgotten hero from Ger­many’s Prus­sian past whose life re­veals a lost net­work of con­nec­tions across 18th-cen­tury Europe that some say mod­ern Ger­many should re­vive.

His death 250 years ago fight­ing for Fred­er­ick the Great’s Prus­sia is to be marked next year with a sim­ple mon­u­ment in the vil­lage where he was killed.

Field mar­shal Keith may be ob­scure now, but he was larger than life. He fought a slew of con­ti­nen­tal wars, gov­erned re­gions that dwarfed his home­land and evaded the clutches of a Rus­sian em­press be­fore fate fi­nally caught up with him at the east­ern vil­lage of Hochkirch in the Seven Years War.

“Keith may not have been so im­por­tant to Scot­land, but he was to Prus­sia,” said Ruedi­ger Bayer, a lo­cal ex­pert on Keith and driv­ing force be­hind the me­mo­rial. “He was a sol­dier of great hu­man­ity and ex­cep­tion­ally con­sci­en­tious for his era.”

The mon­u­ment comes as pub­lic in­ter­est is grow­ing in Ger­many in its Prus­sian his­tory, par­tic­u­larly in the east where much study of the na­tion’s com­plex past was ne­glected un­der the for­mer com­mu­nist ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Keith’s role has a wider sig­nif­i­cance to Ger­many to­day, said Juer­gen Luh, a his­to­rian at the Prus­sian Palaces and Gar­dens Foun­da­tion for Ber­lin and Bran­den­burg: many of Prus­sia’s links across Europe have been forgotten since the rise of na­tion­al­ism and the Nazis.

“We must get back to ex­am­in­ing the cul­tural ex­change, and stress our com­mon ties,” he said. “West Ger­many tended to avoid in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics and fo­cus on fi­nance. But now Ger­many must take re­spon­si­bil­ity again, both in Europe and in NATO.” En­light­ened

A na­tive of Peter­head, Keith was a Ja­co­bite out­law — he took part in abortive ris­ings in sup­port of James Stu­art, son of the de­posed King James II and pre­tender to the Bri­tish throne.

Made gov­er­nor of Ber­lin, he be­came one of Fred­er­ick’s most in­flu­en­tial gen­er­als in a con­flict that was cen­tral to Prus­sia’s rise as Euro­pean power. This helped lay the founda- tions for the cre­ation of a united Ger­many in 1871.

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 Oct. 14, 1758.

“Peo­ple want to put the events into per­spec­tive. A me­mo­rial helps keep de­bate alive,” said Kathrin Mit­tasch of Hochkirch’s cul­tural his­tory as­so­ci­a­tion. “More and more peo­ple are com­ing to our lec­tures be­cause they want to know about the past.”

When Keith ar­rived in Prus­sia, he had spent over 30 years in ex­ile fight­ing first for Spain and then Rus­sia.

He rose through the ranks to be­came gov­er­nor of Ukraine in 174041 and records show his ad­min­is­tra­tion was en­light­ened, said Steve Mur­doch, a his­to­rian at the Univer­sity of St An­drews.

“The Ukraini­ans said they wished they’d never met him, be­cause they’d never have known how bad they’d had it be­fore — and that once he’d been made gov­er­nor, he should never have been taken away from them,” he said.

In the Russo-Swedish War of 1741-43, Keith was briefly de-facto ruler of Fin­land, where he met the love of his life, a pris­oner of war many years his ju­nior called Eva Mertens.

Less is known about his rule in Fin­land, but re­cent re­search by Fin­nish his­to­rian Atina Ni­hti­nen said it was “par­tic­u­larly suc­cess­ful” and showed un­usual sen­si­tiv­ity to­wards the lo­cals. Al­ways broke

Th­ese ad­min­is­tra­tive skills re- flected Keith’s wider qual­i­ties, said his bi­og­ra­pher Sam Coull, an­other Peter­head lo­cal. Un­til Coull’s “Noth­ing but my Sword” ap­peared in 2000, no books had been pub­lished about Keith in years.

“James Keith em­bod­ied the very best of hu­man na­ture. He was gen­er­ous to a fault; he gave you the last thing he had. That’s why he was al­ways broke. He couldn’t hold on to money,” he said.

Keith later fell from fa­vor in Rus­sia, hav­ing re­jected the ad­vances of the new Tsa­rina El­iz­a­beth, which in 1747 prompted her en­emy Fred­er­ick to re­cruit him and his brother, a fel­low Ja­co­bite.

“Keith and his brother Ge­orge brought a broader ex­pe­ri­ence of world af­fairs, and a sense of the ur­bane and the non-Prus­sian to Prus­sia,” said his­to­rian Luh.

But his ar­dor for the cause waned over time. In the end, said Luh, the Keith brothers were in­stru­men­tal in press­ing Fred­er­ick to ally with Bri­tain be­fore the Seven Years War: that pit­ted Bri­tain, Prus­sia and Hanover against Aus­tria, France, Rus­sia, Swe­den and Sax­ony.

Renowned for his lo­gis­ti­cal skills and ex­pert plan­ning, Keith was not afraid to con­tra­dict the Prus­sian monarch, which en­cour­aged his other gen­er­als to think in­de­pen­dently and helped Prus­sia’s suc­cess­ful pros­e­cu­tion of the war, Luh said.

“Oth­er­wise the king would al­ways have tried to go over the gen­er­als’ heads — which usu­ally did not end well,” he said.

Yet his bi­og­ra­pher be­lieves Keith could have left a very dif­fer­ent mark on his­tory.

Be­fore he left Rus­sia, Ja­co­bite lead­ers asked the Tsa­rina to let Keith lead their forces in the 1745 re­bel­lion fronted by Bon­nie Prince Char­lie, son of James Stu­art. She re­fused.

In the end, the Ja­co­bite army pen­e­trated deep into Eng­land, spread­ing panic, be­fore the Prince’s rebel ad­vi­sors urged them to re­treat from the English town of Derby.

Coull be­lieves Keith would not have turned back.

“When (gov­ern­ment) troops were head­ing up the east coast, Keith would have been swing­ing down from Derby to en­ter Lon­don. And that would have been it,” he said. “You wouldn’t have Hanove­ri­ans or Wind­sors on the throne of Bri­tain to­day.”

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