Field Marshal James Francis Edward Keith lived from 11 June 1696 to 14 October 1758. He was a soldier who rose to become a Field Marshal in the Prussian army. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
James Keith was the second son of William Keith, 9th Earl Marischal of Scotland, and was born at Inverugie Castle near Peterhead. He studied law at the University of Edinburgh, but then became involved on the Jacobite side in the 1715 uprising, and afterwards fled to exile in France. Keith spent two years studying at the University of Paris before becoming involved in the abortive Jacobite uprising of 1719. He then seems to have spent time in Paris and Madrid, ending up as an officer in the Spanish Army and taking part in the unsuccessful Spanish siege of Gibraltar in 1726-7.
As a Protestant, Keith's prospects in the Catholic Spanish army were not good, so he obtained a recommendation from the King of Spain to Peter II of Russia. In 1728 he was appointed colonel of a guards regiment in the Russian army. Keith fought with distinction in the Russo-Swedish War from 1741 to 1743, briefly becoming the effective ruler of Finland, where he met the love of his life, Eva Mertens, a Swedish prisoner-of-war. The two never married, but went on to have several children together.
In 1747, Keith offered his services to Frederick the Great of Prussia, who accepted him into the Prussian army with the rank of Field Marshal. In 1749 Keith was made governor of Berlin. In 1756, Prussia became involved in the Seven Years' War. Keith again distinguished himself as a highly capable senior officer, taking part during 1756/7 in the Battle of Lobositz, the Battle of Rossbach, the Battle of Leuthen, the siege of Prague and the defence of Leipzig. In 1758 Keith played a leading role in the unsuccessful Prussian campaign in Moravia. On 14 October 1758, 31,000 Prussian troops met 80,000 Austrians at the Battle of Hochkirch, a little east of Bautzen in Saxony. The battle proved to be one of Frederick the Great's worst defeats. Among the 9,000 Prussian dead was Field Marshal Keith.
James Keith was buried in Berlin. He is remembered in his home town of Peterhead by a prominent statue, whose plinth notes it to be the Gift of William 1st, King of Prussia, to the Town of Peterhead, 23rd August 1868.