Born c.1580 Died 1661
Alexander Leslie was the son of George Leslie, captain of Blair-in-Athol, and a member of the family of Leslie of Balquhain. After a scanty education he sought his fortune abroad, and became a soldier, first under Sir Horace Vere in the Low Countries, and afterwards (1605) under Charles IX and Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, in whose. service he remained for many years and fought in many campaigns with honour. In 1626 Leslie had risen by merit to the rank of lieutenant-general, and had been knighted by Gustavus. In 1628 he distinguished himself by his constancy and energy in the defence of Stralsund against Wallenstein, and in 1630 seized the island of Rugen in the name of the king of Sweden.
In the same year he returned to Scotland to assist in recruiting and organizing the corps of Scottish volunteers which James, 3rd marquis of Hamilton, brought over to Gustavus in 1631. Leslie received a severe wound in the following winter, but was able nevertheless to be present at Gustavus's last battle at Lutzen. Like many others of the soldiers of fortune who served under Gustavus, Leslie cherished his old commander's memory to the day of his death, and he kept with particular care a jewel and miniature presented to him by the king. He continued as a general officer in the Swedish army for some years, was promoted in 1636 to the rank of field marshal, and continued in the field until 1638, when events recalled him to his own country. He had married long before this — in 1637 his eldest son was made a colonel in the Swedish army — and he had managed to keep in touch with Scottish affairs.
As the foremost Scottish soldier of his day he was naturally nominated to command the Scottish army in the impending war with England, a post which, resigning his Swedish command, he accepted with a glad heart, for he was an ardent Covenanter and had caused "a great number of our commanders in Germany subscryve our covenant" (Baillie's Letters). On leaving Sweden he brought back his arrears of pay in the form of cannon and muskets for his new army. For some months he busied himself with the organization and training of the new levies, and with inducing Scottish officers abroad to do their duty to their country by returning to lead them. Diminutive in size and somewhat deformed in person as he was, his reputation and his shrewdness and simple tact, combined with the respect for his office of lord general that he enforced on all ranks, brought even the unruly nobles to subordination. He had by now amassed a considerable fortune and was able to live in a manner befitting a commander-in-chief, even when in the field.
One of his first exploits was to take the castle of Edinburgh by surprise, without the loss of a man. He commanded the Scottish army at Dunse Law in May of that year, and in 1640 he invaded England, and defeated the king's troops at Newburn on the Tyne, which gave him possession of Newcastle and of the open country as far as the Tees. At the treaty with the king at Ripon, Leslie was one of the commissioners of the Scottish parliament, and when Charles visited Edinburgh Leslie entertained him magnificently and accompanied him when he drove through the streets. His affirmations of loyalty to the crown, which later events caused to be remembered against him, were sincere enough, but the complicated politics of the time made it difficult for Leslie, the lord general of the Scottish army, to maintain a perfectly consistent attitude. However, his influence was exercised chiefly to put an end to, even to hush up, the troubles, and he is found, now giving a private warning to plotters against the king to enable them to escape, now guarding the Scottish parliament against a royalist coup d'etat, and now securing for an old comrade of the German wars, Patrick Ruthven, Lord Ettrick, indemnity for having held Edinburgh Castle for the king against the parliament.
Charles created him, by patent dated Holyrood, October 11, 1641, Earl of Leven and Lord Balgonie, and made him captain of Edinburgh Castle and a privy councillor. The parliament recognized his services by a grant, and, on his resigning the lord generalship, appointed him commander of the permanent forces. A little later, Leven, who was a member of the committee of the estates which exercised executive powers during the recess of parliament, used his great influence in support of a proposal to raise a Scottish army to help the elector palatine in Germany, but the Ulster massacres gave this force, when raised, a fresh direction and Leven himself accompanied it to Ireland as lord general. He did not remain there long, for the Great Rebellion had begun in England, and negotiations were opened between the English and the Scottish parliaments for mutual armed assistance. Leven accepted the command of the new forces raised for the invasion of England, and was in consequence freely accused of having broken his personal oath to Charles, but he could hardly have acted otherwise than he did, and at that time, and so far as the Scots were concerned, to the end of the struggle, the parliaments were in arms, professedly and to some extent actually, to rescue his majesty from the influence of evil counsellors.
The military operations preceding Marston Moor are described under Great Rebellion, and the battle itself under its own heading. Leven's great reputation, wisdom and tact made him an ideal commander for the allied army formed by the junction of Leven's, Fairfax's and Manchester's in Yorkshire. After the battle the allied forces separated, Leven bringing the siege of Newcastle to an end by storming it. In 1645 the Scots were less successful, though their operations ranged from Westmorland to Hereford, and Leven himself had many administrative and political difficulties to contend with. These difficulties became more pronounced when in 1646 Charles took refuge with the Scottish army. The king remained with Leven until he was handed over to the English parliament in 1647, and Leven constantly urged him to take the covenant and to make peace. Presbyterians and Independents had now parted, and with no more concession than the guarantee of the covenant the Scottish and English Presbyterians were ready to lay down their arms, or to turn them against the 'sectaries'.
Leven was now old and infirm, and though retained as nominal commander-in-chief saw no further active service. He acted with Argyll and the 'godly' party in the discussions preceding the second invasion of England, and remained at his post as long as possible in the hope of preventing the Scots becoming merely a royalist instrument for the conquest of the English Independents. But he was induced in the end to resign, though he was appointed lord general of all new forces that might be raised for the defence of Scotland. The occasion soon came, for Cromwell annihilated the Scottish invaders at Preston and Uttoxeter, and thereupon Argyll assumed political and Leven military control at Edinburgh. But he was now over seventy years of age, and willingly resigned the effective command to his subordinate David Leslie (see Lord Newark), in whom he had entire confidence.
After the execution of Charles I the war broke out afresh, and this time the 'godly' party acted with the royalists. In the new war, and in the disastrous campaign of Dunbar, Leven took but a nominal part, though attempts were afterwards made to hold him responsible. But once more the parliament refused to accept his resignation. Leven at last fell into the hands of a party of English dragoons in August 1651, and with some others was sent to London. He remained incarcerated in the Tower for some time, till released on finding securities for £20,000, upon which he retired to his residence in Northumberland. While on a visit to London he was again arrested, for a technical breach of his engagement, but by the intercession of the queen of Sweden he obtained his liberty. He was freed from his engagements in 1654, and retired to his seat at Balgonie in Fifeshire, where he died at an advanced age in 1661. He acquired considerable landed property, particularly Inchmartin in the Carse of Gowrie, which he called Inchleslie.
Being the entry for LEVEN, ALEXANDER LESLIE, 1ST EARL OF in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.