History and historiography

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Despite a chequered career in the service of six European monarchs (four of them Russian) and a military reputation that merited Frederick the Great of Prussia’s glowing comparison to Prince Eugene, Lacy has not merited a biography in either Russian or English. A number of possible reasons can be proffered for this major lacuna in the political and military history of early imperial Russia, early modern Europe and the Irish military diaspora. Historians and chroniclers of Imperial Russia tended to focus on Pyotr Rumyantsev, Alexander Suvorov, Mikhail Kutuzov, the charismatic Pyotr Bagration—hero of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace (1869)—and other Russian-born generals. Simon Dickson recently claimed that to enter into the era of the palace revolutions is to stumble into a black hole. Furthermore, historians of the Irish military diaspora have tended to prioritise the study of Irishmen in the French, Spanish and, more recently, the imperial service. Nevertheless, recent work by Dmitry Fedosov, Steve Murdoch, David Worthington and Rebecca Wills on Scottish and Irish soldiers in the Baltic, Poland-Lithuania and early Romanov Russia have shed light on military, socio-economic and mercantile networks in northern Europe, providing the impetus for more expansive biographical research and historical investigation.

A study of Lacy’s long military and political career and his links with his son Franz Moritz Lacy, count of the Holy Roman Empire, his nephew George Browne, a successor as governor of Livonia, John Delap, the Kerry-born lieutenant of Peter the Great’s flagship Ekaterina, Sir Charles Wogan, ‘the Irish Don Quixote’, James Butler, 2nd duke of Ormonde, Sir Daniel O’Brien, Jacobite envoy to St Petersburg, Thomas Arthur Lally, hero of Fontenoy, and Count John O’Rourke, Jacobite representative to the Holy Roman Emperor, would do much to uncover the often clandestine careers of Irish exiles in central and northern Europe in the eighteenth century. Indeed, Lacy’s Jacobite background and chequered martial and political career provide a fascinating microcosm of the complex, interconnected struggles for hegemony between Irish Catholics and Protestants, Hanoverian and Stuart royalists and Russo-Swedish, Franco-British and Austro-Prussian imperialists. His career followed a broad trajectory from the west of Ireland, through France, Italy, central and eastern Europe, the Baltic states, Poland-Lithuania and Imperial Russia, providing a fitting testimony to the mobility and political and cultural fluidity of the Irish in eighteenth-century Europe. It also sheds valuable light on the vagaries of the exiled Jacobite, in particular the need to balance loyalty to the Stuarts with political and military duty to the Bourbons, Habsburgs and Romanovs. Recent biographies of Peter the Great by Paul A. Bushkovitch (2001) and Simon Dickson (1999), as well as Simon Seabag Montefiore’s Prince of princes: the life of Potemkin (2001), would suggest that the newly rehabilitated historical biography can be effectively deployed in raising and answering some key questions on the military history of imperial Russia and eighteenth-century Europe, not least the leading role played therein by Irish military exiles.

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