Lacy, Peter (DNB00)


LACY, PETER, Count Lacy (1678–1751), Russian field-marshal, a kinsman of Colonel Pierre Lacy of Bruff, co. Limerick, who claimed descent from Hugh de Lacy (d. 1186) [q.v.], is said to have been second son of Peter Lacy and his wife, Maria Courtenay, and grandson of John Lacy of Ballingarry, co. Limerick. He was born at Killedy or Killaedy, in that county, on 29 Sept. (O.S.) 1678. At the age of thirteen he served King James II at the defence of Limerick, as an ensign in the Prince of Wales's regiment of Irish foot, of which his uncle, Quatermaster-general and brigadier James Lacy, was colonel. He left Ireland with Sarsfield's troops after the capitulation, landed at Brest in January 1692, and proceeded to Nantes to join the regiment of Athlone of the Irish brigade, in the service of France, in which he was appointed ensign (see O'Callaghan, pp. 135-9, for the history of the corps). His father, who was afterwards a captain in King James's Irish guards, and two other sons, are said to have left Ireland about the same time, and all to have fallen in the service of France. Young Peter Lacy marched with his regiment to Piedmont, joined the army under the Marquis de Catinat, and fought at Marsaglia or Val de Marseilles on 4 Oct. 1693, where his uncle, James Lacy, was mortally wounded (cf. ib. pp. 176–8), and in the subsequent campaigns in Italy in 1693–6. In 1697 he accompanied his regiment to the Rhine; but the peace of Ryswick led to the disbanding of Athlone and other Irish regiments. Disappointed of employment in Hungary against the Turks, Lacy entered as a lieutenant in the Polish service under Marshal the Duc de Croy, by whom he was presented to the czar, Peter the Great (D'Alton). The czar selected Lacy as one of a hundred foreign officers to be employed in training the Russian troops, and appointed him captain in the infantry regiment of Colonel Bruce. He served against the Swedes in Livonia and Ingria (a Russo-Finnish province, now part of the government of St. Petersburg), and after the fall of Jamburg was appointed to command a company called the Grand Musketeers, composed of one hundred Russian nobles armed and horsed at their own expense. When attending the czar in Poland in 1705, he was made major of the regiment of Schemeritoff, with which he served against the Swedes under Lewenhaupt, and in 1706 lieutenant-colonel of the regiment of Polotsk, where he was appointed to train and instruct three regiments. In 1707 he greatly distinguished himself at the siege of Bucko in Poland. In 1708 he was made colonel of the regiment of Siberia, and repeatedly distinguished himself in the operations against Charles XII and his ally, Mazeppa, on the Dnieper, particularly at the seizure of Rumna in December of that year. The following year the czar gave him a regiment of grenadiers. At the battle of Pultowa Lacy commanded a brigade of the right wing, although he did not attain the rank of brigadier until four years later. According to Russian authorities, the success of the day was largely due to an order issued by the czar at Lacy's suggestion, directing the troops to reserve their fire for close quarters. From 1709 to 1721 Lacy was frequently engaged against the Danes, Swedes, and Turks. He became a brigadier-general in August 1712, major-general the month after, and lieutenant-general in July 1720. He signalised himself in the war of 1720–1 by his many successful descents on the Swedish coast, in one of which he anchored with 130 galleys, and encamped his advance-guard on shore within twelve miles of Stockholm (cf. Schuyler, ii. 517). In 1723 Lacy was summoned to St. Petersburg to take his seat at the council of war, and at the coronation of the Czarina Anne the year after, he rode behind the imperial carriage, throwing gold and silver coins among the populace. In 1725 he was made a knight of the Alexander Nevsky order, and was appointed commander-in-chief in St. Petersburg, Ingria, and Novogorod, to which the governments of Esthonia and Courland were added the year after. In 1727, when Maurice de Saxe (afterwards the famous marshal) was, in opposition to the court of St. Petersburg, made Duke of Courland, Lacy was sent to expel him from the duchy, and was afterwards appointed governor of Livonia and Esthonia. In 1733 he was engaged with Marshal Münnich in establishing Augustus of Saxony on the throne of Poland, in opposition to the deposed Stanislas. On the fall of Danzig, after a siege of 135 days in open trenches, during which the Russians lost eight thousand men, including two hundred officers, Lacy received from Augustus the order of the White Eagle, and his portrait set in brilliants. Lacy remained in Poland until the victory of Busawitza, where, with fifteen hundred dragoons, eighty hussars, and five hundred Cossacks, he put to rout twenty thousand Stanislasites, and the surrender of the rest of the Poles under Czerski, in April 1735, decided the contest in favour of Angustus. After a brilliant reception at Warsaw, Lacy was detached with a contingent of fifteen thousand (subsequently reduced to ten thousand) Russian troops, to join the imperialist forces collected near Mannheim, under Prince Eugene, in consequence of the declaration of war between Austria and France. Peace between Austria and France being agreed upon, Lacy repaired early in 1736 to Vienna, and on his way thence to St. Petersburg met a courier bearing his patent as a Russian field-marshal.

War having been declared against Turkey, Lacy was sent to reduce Azov. During the months of May and June 1736 Lacy carried on the approaches against Azov by sap, the Turkish garrison making repeated sallies, during one of which Lacy was wounded. At the beginning of July, the town being a heap of ruins from the Russian shells, and provisions running short, the Turkish bashaw capitulated, marching out with 3,463 men, and leaving behind some three hundred pieces of ordnance and 291 Christian captives, who were set at liberty. Lacy then marched to assist Münnich on his return from a disastrous expedition in the Crimea, and afterwards, with his own troops and the remnant of Münnich's force, went into winter quarters in the Ukraine. In 1737 Lacy was appointed to command a fresh expedition into the Crimea. With forty thousand men he unexpectedly crossed an arm of the sea at Arabat, stormed and blew up the Tartar lines at Perecop, and by the end of September returned to the Ukraine, having, ‘without knowing why he was sent into the Crimea, conducted the campaign with great glory to himself and very little sickness to the army.’ When Münnich was acting against the Turks the year after, Lacy was again sent to the Crimea with a force, inclusive of Cossacks, not exceeding thirty-six thousand men. With this he captured Kaffa, the stronghold of the Crimea; but finding the interior of the country too impoverished to support his troops, and a naval armament on the Sea of Azov, which was to co-operate with him, having been destroyed by a great storm, he returned to Perecop, razed the lines there, and went into winter quarters early. In 1739 his troops were kept in reserve in the Ukraine, in consequence of war with Sweden. Complaints against Münnich's severities and mismanagement were now so loud that the czarina asked Lacy to undertake the investigation of his colleague's conduct. Lacy declined the invidious task; but Münnich appears to have accused him of detraction, and a violent scene ensued, in which the marshals drew on each other, but were separated by Lewenhaupt, who threatened them both with arrest by order of the empress. In 1741 Lacy was appointed to command against the Swedes in Finland, with James Francis Edward Keith [q. v.] as his second in command. The event of the year was the capture in September of the important Swedish post of Wilmanstränd. Administrative difficulties stopped the enterprise, and Lacy returned to St. Petersburg, where he entertained at his palace the Swedish commander, Von Wrangel, who had been wounded and taken prisoner.

Lacy is said to have taken no part in the intrigues which raised Elizabeth to the throne in December 1741, but was confirmed in his rank and offices. His promptitude in suppressing a dangerous mutiny in the Russian guards on Easter Sunday 1742, when the foreign officers were savagely ill-treated by the mutineers, was said ‘to have saved St. Petersburg, and perhaps the empire.’ Towards the end of May 1742 Lacy reviewed at Viborg an army of thirty-five thousand to thirty-six thousand men, to be employed against the Swedes in Finland. In June the troops entered Finland, traversing a country having ‘the worst roads in the universe,’ where in many places two hundred men posted behind an abattis might stop an army. On 10 July, the name-day of the Grand-duke Peter (afterwards Peter III), a solemn Te Deum was sung in the Russian camp, to celebrate the capture of Fredericsham, the only fortified place in Finland, without the loss of a man. Orders were then sent to conclude the campaign; but Lacy, after calling a council of war, pushed on to Helsingfors, where a Swedish army of seventeen thousand men capitulated. The operations of the following year were carried on by galleys, supported by a squadron of larger vessels under Admiral Golowin. On 14 May 1743 the army embarked. High mass according to the Greek ritual was celebrated with such pomp on board Lacy's galley, which was attended by the czarina in person, who presented Lacy with a ring of great value and a golden cross. After delays occasioned by the ice and head-winds, Lacy, who appears to have been desirous to win a victory by sea, sent orders to Admiral Golowin to attack the Swedish fleet at Hango. Lacy manœuvred his galleys very skilfully, and got the weather-gauge of the enemy, but a fog favoured the escape of the Swedes. On 23 July Keith, who was in command of a separate squadron, joined Lacy, and preparations were made for a descent in the neighbourhood of Stockholm, when the treaty of Abo put an end to the war. In September the czarina sent her own yacht to bring Lacy to St. Petersburg, and great rejoicings were held. Lacy, after more than fifty years' campaigning, now retired to his estates in Livonia, of which province he was governor, and there resided until his death on 11 May 1751 (30 April Russian style), at the age of seventy-three. He left a fortune equivalent to 60,000l., and large estates, acquired, his will states, ‘through long and hard service, and with much danger and uneasiness.’ Lacy was in person tall and well made. He was cool in judgment, ready in resource, prompt and decided in action. Frederick the Great called him the ‘Prince Eugene of Muscovy.’ He was much esteemed in the army for his soldierly example and his unremitting care of his troops. To him belongs in a very large degree the credit of having converted the Russians from the worst into some of the best troops in Europe. A division of the Russian army was in 1891 named after him.

Lacy married the Countess Martha Feuchen de Loeser, by whom he had five daughters, married respectively to Major-general Boye, the privy councillor Lieven, Generals Stuart, Browne, and Von Witter, and two sons, the elder of whom was at one time an officer of cuirassiers in the Polish-Saxon service, royal chamberlain, and a count of the holy Roman empire. The younger was the famous Austrian field-marshal, Maurice Francis Lacy (Lasey), who was born in St. Petersburg in 1725, and at the age of twelve was placed by his father in the Austrian army, in the regiment of his kinsman, Ulysses Maximilian, count Brown [q. v.], with whom he made the campaign in Italy in 1747. He was favourably noticed by Daun, and served with great distinction in the seven years' war. In a family manuscript dated Vienna, 30 Nov. 1800, the emperor wrote to him, ‘You created my army.’ Frederick the Great also said of him: ‘I admire the disposition of Lacy (Lasey), but tremble at the onset of Loudon.’ Maurice Francis Lacy died at Vienna on 28 Nov. 1801 (see N. Deutsche Biog. vol. xxii.) A Count Lacy, who was a Russian major-general under Field-marshal Peter Lacy in the Finland war of 1741–3, and the Austrian general, Count Maurice Tanner Lacy, who died in 1819, are believed to have belonged to the same family as Peter, count Lacy. The Russian general, Maurice Lacy or De Lacy [q. v.] of Grodno, also belonged to the family.

[O'Callaghan's Hist. of the Irish Brigades in the Service of France, Glasgow, 1870, pp. 481–99, embody researches in the Lacy Family Papers (including some diaries of Field-marshal Peter Lacy and a copy of his will), then in possession of Richard MacNamara, esq., solicitor, 31 North Great George Street, Dublin. Confusion of christian names renders it utterly impossible to identify with certainty the immediate ancestors of Peter Lacy (cf. the notices of Colonel John Lacy and Colonel Pierce Lacy in D'Alton's Illustrations of King James's Army Lists, Dublin, 2nd edit. 1861, ii. 388–94; in Hist. MSS. Comm. 10th Rep. iii. 270–1, and in Ferrar and Lenihan's histories of Limerick). A useful summary of the campaigns in which Peter Lacy figured is furnished in Cust's Annals of the Wars of the Eighteenth Century, London, 1866. Some account of the Russian army in Lacy's time will be found in Schuyler's Peter the Great, London, 1886, vol. i. Notices of Peter, count Lacy, occur in Hist. MSS. Comm. 9th Rep. pt. ii. 10th Rep. pt. i. pp. 166, 188, 193, 268.]

H. M. C.