Count Peter von Lacy, or Pyotr Petrovich Lacy (Russian: Пётр Петро́вич Ла́сси), as he was known in Russia (26 September 1678 – bef. 11 May 1751), was one of the most successful Russian imperial commanders before Rumyantsev and Suvorov. During a military career that spanned half a century, he professed to have been present at a total of 31 campaigns, 18 battles, and 18 sieges. He died at Riga, of which he for many years served as governor.
Peter Lacy was born as Pierce Edmond (de) Lacy on 26 September 1678 in Killeedy near Limerick into a noble Irish family. It is claimed that Peter's de Lacy family of Limerick descends from William Gorm de Lacy, the son of Hugh de Lacy, Lord of Meath (bef.1135–1186), and from thence back to the Norman soldier Walter de Lacy (–c.1085) who hailed from Lassy, Calvados.
In an autobiography preserved by his descendants, Count Peter claimed that his father Peter was the son of John Lacy of Ballingarry. Count Peter also claimed Pierce Oge de Lacy of Bruff as a kinsman. It appears that Count Peter's grandfather John Lacy of Ballingarry was of the House of Bruff, and possibly the brother of Pierce (Peter) Oge (the young) Lacy of Bruff (−1607, executed) celebrated from the wars against Elizabeth I, the son of Sir Hempon Pierce de Lacy, who maintained that he was 18th in direct descent from William Gorm de Lacy, son of Hugh de Lacy, Lord of Meath, and great-great-grandson of Walter I de Lacy (–c.1085), the Norman soldier. It also appears that his father's brother was Lieutenant-Colonel John Lacy of the House of Bruff, and that this was the uncle John with whom Count Peter served at the age of 13 in the defence of Limerick, who had rescued Count Peter by buying him off at the capitulation of Limerick, then fled overseas with Count Peter and the rest of his regiment (which included Count Peter's father and brother) to join the Irish Brigade in France, and who was killed in October 1693 while fighting with Count Peter in the battle of the "Val de Marseilles". Lieutenant-Colonel John Lacy of the House of Bruff who had resided in Killmallock had prior to 1647 been an officer in the time of Charles I of England, had fought in France and Flanders, and been a prisoner in England for 2 years. In 1647 he was the only Lacy to be a member of the Supreme Council of Confederate Catholics, and in 1651 he was excluded from amnesty after the 1st Siege of Limerick. He was Deputy Governor of Limerick 1685–86, and one of the representatives of Killmallock in the Parliament of Dublin in 1689.
Early career in Ireland and Western Europe
At the age of 13, during the Williamite war in Ireland Peter was attached to the Jacobite defence of Limerick against the Williamites with the rank of Lieutenant. The Flight of the Wild Geese followed, with Peter, his father and brother joining the Irish Brigade in France. After his relatives lost their lives fighting for Louis XIV in Italy, Peter was induced to seek his fortune elsewhere. After two years of service in the Austrian army, Lacy followed his commander, Charles Eugène de Croy, into the Russian service.
Service under Peter the Great
His first taste of land battle in Russia was the disastrous defeat at Narva, in which Lacy commanded a unit of musketeers, holding the rank of poruchik. During the Great Northern War he was seriously wounded on two occasions, gaining the rank of colonel in 1706. The following year he led a brigade at Poltava, in which battle he greatly distinguished himself. From this point began his fame as a soldier. His next active service, still under Prince Repnin, was the siege of Riga. Lacy was reputedly the first Russian officer to enter the capital of Livland and he was appointed the first Russian chatelain of Riga Castle in the aftermath.
In 1719 Apraksin's fleet landed Lacy with 5,000 infantry and 370 cavalry near Umeå in Sweden, where they proceeded to devastate a dozen iron foundries and a number of mills. Soon promoted general, he entered the Military Collegium (modelled by Peter I upon the Swedish administrative reforms introduced by Axel Oxenstierna) — as the Russian Ministry of Defense was then known – in 1723. Three years later, Lacy succeeded Repnin in command of the Russian forces quartered in Livland, and in 1729 he was appointed Governor of Riga. These positions brought him in contact with the Duchess of Courland, who before long ascended the Russian throne as Empress Anna. During her reign, Lacy's capacity for supreme command would never be doubted.
Service under Empress Anna
The War of the Polish Succession again called him into the field. In 1733, Lacy and Munnich expelled the Polish king, Stanisław Leszczyński, from Warsaw to Danzig, which was besieged by them in 1734. Thereupon the Irishman was commanded to march towards the Rhine and join his 13,500-strong contingent with the forces of Eugene of Savoy. To that end his corps advanced into Germany and, meeting the Austrians on 16 August, returned to winter quarters in Moravia with exemplary discipline.
Lacy had reached the rank of Field Marshal with the outbreak of the Russo-Turkish War, in which his success exceeded even the most unreasonable expectations. In 1736 he was in charge of the Don Army which took the key citadel of Azov, and in the next year his corps crossed the Syvash marshes into Crimea, where he fell upon the 15,000-strong Crimean army and routed them in two battles, on 12 and 14 June. In 1738, Lacy's corps again landed in Crimea and took the fortress of Çufut Qale near the Khan's capital, Bakhchisaray.
As soon as peace had been restored, Lacy was reinstated as the Governor of Livland, while Emperor Charles VI conferred on him the title of imperial count. His indifference to politics prevented his downfall following Anna's death, when other foreign commanders fell into disgrace and were expelled from active service.
Service under Empress Elizabeth
When the Russo-Swedish War broke out in 1741, the government of Anna Leopoldovna appointed him Commander-in-Chief as the most experienced among Russian generals. Lacy quickly struck against Finland and won his last brilliant victory at Lappeenranta (August 1741). The following year he rallied his forces and proceeded to capture Hamina, Porvoo and Hämeenlinna, by August encircling more than 17,000 Swedes near Helsinki and effectively bringing the hostilities to an end.
The war over, Lacy withdrew to Riga and resumed the command of the Russian forces stationed in Livland. He administered what is now Northern Latvia and Southern Estonia until his death before 11 May 1751 in Riga. His son Franz Moritz von Lacy had entered the Austrian service in 1743 and became one of the most successful imperial commanders of the 18th century.
Marriage and children
Count Peter married Estonian-Livonian noblewoman Maret Philippine ("Martha") von Funcken from Liezere, widow of the young Count Hannes Kristof Frölich (d 1710), and daughter of general Remmert von Funcken, lord of Liezere, and his second wife baroness Helena Üksküla. They had 5 daughters and 2 sons.
One son was Count Franz Moritz von Lacy, the famous Austrian Field Marshal who was also a Count of the Holy Roman Empire.
Nothing is known about the other, supposedly older, son and in some references he is incorrectly attributed with accolades that belong to his father Count Peter and/or his brother Count Franz.
|Ancestors of Peter Lacy|
- Order of St. Alexander Nevsky granted 1725 during Coronation ceremonies of the Czarina, Catherine I
- Order of the White Eagle (Poland)
- Radical general: Sir George de Lacy Evans, 1787-1870Spiers, Edward M., Radical general: Sir George de Lacy Evans, 1787–1870
- Some doubt is cast upon the authenticity of this claim in a closely reasoned article on the subject by N.J. Synnott (J.R.S.A.I. 1919), who suggested that the Limerick families may be Lees, a name of frequent occurrence in Limerick records from the 12th to the 15th century; he points out that in the 16th century the Lacys of Bruff and Bruee spelt their name Leash, as well as Lacy; and Leash, of course, is phonetically equivalent to the Irish form Leis. (In the Annals the name is de Lacy is written as de Leis in Irish.) Most Rev. Hugh Lacy, Bishop of Limerick from 1557 to 1581, is a case in point, as his name appears in records as Lacy alias Lees.Irish surname Lacy
- D'Alton, John, , Illustrations, historical and genealogical, of King James's Irish army list, 1689 (1855)
- Annals of the Four Misters, vol. III. p. 75