Keith, George (1693?-1778) (DNB00)

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KEITH, GEORGE, tenth Earl Marischal (1693?–1778), was eldest son of William, ninth earl Marischal, by Lady Mary Drummond, eldest daughter of the fourth earl of Perth, high chancellor of Scotland. He is stated in the preface to the ‘Memoirs of Marshal Keith’ to have been born in 1689, but this is unlikely, since his age at his death is given as eighty-six. He succeeded to the earldom on the death of his father, 27 May 1712. At an early period of his life he served under Marlborough, and on 3 Feb. 1714 was appointed captain of the Scottish troop of horse grenadier guards. On the death of Queen Anne he was, according to one account, only prevented by the timidity of his fellow-Jacobites from proclaiming the Pretender at the head of his troops (Memoirs of Marshal Keith, p. x). Resigning, or having been deprived of, his commission, he returned to Scotland, meeting on his way north his younger brother, James Francis Edward Keith [q. v.], who was on his way to London, in hope of promotion, and whom he persuaded to return with him. He attended the meeting convened by Mar at Aboyne on 27 Aug. 1715, when it was resolved to take up arms on behalf of the chevalier, and at Sheriffmuir he held command of two squadrons of horse. The chevalier, after landing at Peterhead on 22 Dec., passed his second night in Scotland at the Earl Marischal's house at Newburgh, and afterwards proceeded south to the earl's mansion of Fetteresso, Kincardineshire, where he was met by Mar and Marischal, and constituted his first privy council. Along with Mar he accompanied the chevalier when he made his entry into Dundee. On the retreat of Mar before Argyll from Perth to Montrose, an arrangement, according to Mar, was made for Marischal to go to France along with him and the chevalier, but for some reason he failed to keep the appointment, and they sailed without him (Thornton, Stuart Dynasty, p. 422). After the dispersion of the highlanders he succeeded in making his escape to the continent. Shortly afterwards he was attainted, and his estates were forfeited to the crown. In 1719 he undertook the command of the smaller Spanish expedition on behalf of the chevalier, which landed in the island of Lewis. The intention was to surprise Inverness, but disputes between Marischal and Tullibardine occasioned a delay which proved fatal to the accomplishment of this purpose. After they had reached the mainland, they were attacked on 1 April by General Wightman, near the pass of Glenshiel; the highlanders dispersed to the mountains, and the Spaniards delivered themselves up. Marischal was severely wounded, but made his escape to the Western Isles, whence, after lying some months in concealment, he embarked in disguise for Spain. There he resided for a long time, chiefly at Valencia, continuing to correspond with the chevalier, and being concerned in various intrigues and negotiations for his restoration. In 1740 he was despatched by the chevalier to Madrid to endeavour to induce Spain to grant assistance towards a proposed expedition; and in 1744, when France meditated an attack on Great Britain, it was contemplated that he should again undertake the command of a small force to be landed in Scotland. The scheme proved abortive, and on account of some supposed slight Keith took no part in the expedition of 1745. He left Spain for Vienna, and shortly afterwards he went to live with his brother in Prussia. On 28 Aug. 1751 (Carlyle, Frederick, bk. xvi. chap. ix.) he left Potsdam to become Prussian ambassador at Paris. The appointment of a Jacobite and a fugitive from justice was naturally regarded as a deliberate affront in England, where the incident long continued to be a cause of ill-feeling. In 1752 he received from Frederick the order of the Black Eagle, and was made governor of Neufchatel. He was shortly afterwards succeeded as envoy at Paris by his own secretary of legation, Baron Knyphausen. On the death of his brother, Marshal Keith, at the battle of Hochkirch in 1758, Frederick sent him a letter of condolence, signing himself ‘your old friend till death.’ In 1759 he was sent as Prussian ambassador to Spain, whence ‘he has been supposed to have sent to that great statesman, the Earl of Chatham, the account of the family compact then settling between the two houses of Bourbon’ (ib. chap. xii.) Probably it was on this account that he received a pardon from George II on 29 May of this year. Thereupon he returned to Scotland, and an act having been passed by parliament in 1760 permitting him to inherit, notwithstanding his attainder, any estate that might descend to him, he, on the death of William, fourth earl of Kintore, in the following year succeeded to his estates. He had returned to his government in Neufchatel by April 1762 (Letter of Frederick, quoted in Carlyle), where shortly afterwards he entertained Rousseau, but in August 1763 he again left Potsdam for Scotland. His estate had been sold in 1720, and by an act of the English parliament he was granted in 1761, out of the principal sum and interest remaining due on the purchase, the sum of 3,618l., with interest from Whitsunday 1721. In 1764 he purchased part of the estates, with the intention of taking up his residence in Scotland, but in an urgent letter of entreaty for his return, dated 16 Feb. 1764, Frederick said, ‘If I had ships I would make a descent on Scotland to steal off my cher mylord, and bring him hither,’ and added: ‘I am yours with heart and soul. These are my titles, these are my rights; you shan't be forced in the matter of progeny here, neither priests nor attorneys shall meddle you; you shall live here in the bosom of friendship, liberty, and philosophy.’ The Earl Marischal could not resist a request preferred in such terms. Nor had he reason to regret compliance with it, for Frederick fulfilled his promises to the earl's full satisfaction. A villa cottage was built for him at Potsdam, where he resided, a trusted and esteemed friend of the king, till his death, 28 May 1778. He maintained a friendship with Voltaire, and on the occasion of one of the latter's feuds with Frederick wrote to Voltaire's niece, Mme. Denis, ‘Empêchez votre oncle de faire des folies; il les fait aussi bien que les vers.’ The Earl Marischal was not more noted for his eccentricities than for the simplicity of his manners and his warm and generous disposition. His kinsman, Sir Robert Murray Keith [q. v.], describes ‘his taste, his ideas, his manner of living’ as ‘a mixture of Aberdeenshire and the kingdom of Valencia,’ and affirms that he is really ‘persuaded he has a conscience that would gild the inside of a dungeon.’ Rousseau, in his ‘Confessions,’ gives some amusing examples of his eccentricities, but says: ‘When first I beheld this venerable man my first feeling was to grieve over his sunken and wasted frame; but when I raised my eyes on his noble features, so full of fire, and so expressive of truth, I was struck with admiration.’ A portrait of Keith by Placido Costanzi, painted at Rome in 1752, is in the National Portrait Gallery, London, and one by P. Parrocel in that at Edinburgh. The latter has been engraved in mezzotint by J. Simon.

[Memoirs of Marshal Keith (Spalding Club); Memoirs of Sir Robert Murray Keith; Lockhart Papers; Rousseau's Confessions; Carlyle's Frederick the Great; Tuttle's Prussia under Frederick the Great, ii. 149, 185, 197; D'Alembert's Eloge, 1779; Morley's Rousseau, ii. 77; Buchan's Hist. of the Keiths, Earls Marischal; Douglas's Scottish Peerage (Wood), ii. 197–8.]

T. F. H.