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A Highlander and his Books

A Review of Sam Coull’s


By Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Atlanta, GA, USA

Nothing but my SwordIf you are interested in a Jacobite who fought and gave his all in the ’15 and who went on to become a leading Russian General fighting major campaigns in Poland and the Ottoman Empire while being sought by an Empress who lusted after him as a lover, then welcome to NOTHING BUT MY SWORD. This is a 220-page book of dynamite!

Fleeing from the Russian Empress Elizabeth, this valiant soldier and leader of military men ended up in the services of Frederick the Great. Sam Coull brings to the literary world the untold story of a man of great courage, and Coull wants the world to know that here is one of Scotland’s “greatest soldiers and greatest men”. Little heard of, thus not well known, when you finish this book, you will agree with the author on both points. Welcome to the fighting world of Field Marshal James Francis Edward Keith!

You will find a statue of Keith, younger brother to the Earl Marischal, in the town of Peterhead, Scotland. It is a replica of one created for Wilhelm I of Prussia by the artist Taesart. “The original stands in Berlin…and Wilhelm gifted this copy to Peterhead upon request from the town’s magistrates.” While local citizens today hardly acknowledge the statue of Keith, Coull points out that it is not unusual to see groups of Polish and Russian seamen talking among themselves while gathered at the foot of the statue. Yes, they know more about Keith than the locals. Ask a new citizen about the history of America, and you’ll probably learn more American history than you’ve learned since high school.

I mentioned the word “Jacobite” in the first sentence. I went back and scanned the book and found the word on almost every page of the first 86. After all, note the full name of Field Marshal Keith - it is Jacobite to the core. His family literally lost it all in support of the Jacobite cause. Had his brother, the Earl Marischal, given his support to Bonnie Prince Charlie, there is speculation on my part that Field Marshal Keith would have been head of “Charlie’s army” and the outcome of the ’45 might have been different. After all, the greatest general in Europe at that time was a man who had nothing to offer the world but his sword. But what a mighty sword it was, and the size of the various battles during the ’45 were miniscule compared to the battles led by this great warrior in the service of the mightiest kings in Europe.

As the old saying goes, “Those that live by the sword shall die by the sword,” and the death of Keith was no different.  Cornered by a monumental blunder committed by King Frederick at the Battle of Hochkirch, Keith told the King to his face that “the Austrian generals deserve to be hanged if they don’t attack us here.” It was a mistake very similar to the one committed by Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden - being caught defending a patch of ground that was not defendable.

Separated by only a half mile, the Prussians numbered 40,000 and the Austrians 90,000.  Awakened at 6:30 a.m. to be told of the losses, General Keith did what he had done so many times as a soldier. He mounted his horse and ordered every man to follow him as he charged into battle. Initially successful in recapturing the battery, the old war horse was eventually forced back. Sometime later, Keith, having taken two bullets in his right side and finding himself surrounded by enemy troops, led a bayonet-fighting retreat only to take a fatal bullet and fall from his horse into the arms of an English soldier, John Tebay, his groom.

It is said that the Croats stripped the dead of anything of value and, as the author vividly points out, a stripped Field Marshal looked no different than his soldiersThe son of an old friend fighting on the other side eventually identified the man he had known as a mere lad, and Keith was buried with full military honors at Hochkirch. King Frederick had Keith’s body exhumed four months later and interred in Berlin, his final resting place. Over 25 years later, a statue to Keith’s honor was unveiled on the Wilhelmplatz in Berlin. In 1789, Wilhelm awarded Keith’s name to the First Upper Silesian Regiment, and a soldier can only go higher if he goes to heaven!

I digress to say that Wilhelm, while fighting for his life in a tactical withdrawal from Hochkirch, still found time to write Keith’s brother, the Marischal, regarding his brother’s death. There must have been a mighty bond between the two men as Wilhelm continued to heap honors on Keith over a quarter of a century after his death.

Finally, for any professed modern Jacobite worth his or her salt, (you can spot them at the various Scottish Highland Games wearing their white cockades and adorning the windshields and bumpers of their automobiles with “ECOSSE” signs), please do yourself a favor and check out the Appendix of this book. It is entitled “The Last Earl Marischal and the Jacobite Cause”. Here you will find papers in his own words from the Marischal regarding his position on the ‘45. Do yourself a favor and read them if you’ve not already done so. It may open a window for you.           Many thanks to my friend, Clan Keith’s George Newberry, for recommending this book to me a few months back.  [ISBN 1-84158-024-4]    (1/5/04) 

Return to February/March 2004 Index Page  |  Visit Frank Shaw's Page


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