Author: Petr SandinPh.D. Senior Curator of the Royal Treasury, Stockholm
Young years of Charles XII
Charles XII was born in Stockholm in the royal castle "Three Crowns" on June 1, 1682. His parents were Charles XI and Ulrika Eleonora of Denmark. The solemn baptism of the baby took place on July 12. He was named Karl in honor of his father and grandfather, Charles X Gustav.
Charles XI, the prince's father, was a good monarch, carrying out successful internal reforms for the good of the kingdom. During the years of his reign (1672-1697), he limited the power of the highest aristocracy and became the autocratic ruler of Sweden, which at that time was one of the most powerful countries in Europe. He left as a legacy to his successor a well-organized state with reliable finances, a powerful army and relatively good social conditions.
Prince Carl spent the very first years of his life mostly at his mother's side; It was she who was involved in his early education. Ulrika Eleonora was a loving, kind mother. Contemporaries described her as an intelligent, sensible and, above all, deeply religious woman. She was quite a talented artist. Charity in its various forms occupied a huge place in her heart. In total, she gave birth to seven children. Four sons died at an early age, and only Karl and his sisters Hedwig Sophia and Ulrika Eleonora reached adulthood.
Karl's formal education began in 1686 when he was 4 years old, and the next year he received his own court and retinue. Two years later, when he was a little over 6 years old, he left his mother's apartments and settled in his own. Charles XI began to educate his son from 1689.
Charles XI carefully chose the people who were to supervise the prince's studies, which included, among others, theology, history, law, mathematics, foreign languages and, of course, the theory and practice of the art of war. Great attention was also paid to the study of the Swedish constitution, the judiciary and administrative organization. In addition, the curriculum included such practical subjects as dancing, horseback riding and fencing. The prince was taught as an axiom that the king rules by the right of the anointed of God and should govern his kingdom in accordance with the law of God and God's will.
Carl's beloved mother died when he was 11 years old. Four years later, in the spring of 1967, his father died and Carl became King of Sweden at the age of 15. At first, however, the reins of government of the kingdom were given to the regency council, which was headed by Charles's formidable paternal grandmother, Queen Dowager Hedwig Eleonora.
The Riksdag (a meeting of representatives of all the estates of the kingdom) was convened in Stockholm in early November 1697, and on November 24, the funeral of Charles XI finally took place. Three days later, the regency council transferred power to Charles XII, and on December 14 he was crowned king of Sweden.
The new monarch enthusiastically took up the affairs of government. From that time on, his working day usually began at five in the morning. And there was enough to do. For example, the king took measures to alleviate the effects of crop failure and famine that hit Sweden and Finland (which at that time was part of the Kingdom of Sweden) in 1696 and 1697.
The king also carried out a comprehensive modernization of the Swedish army, which was created by his father. He also took on fortifications throughout the Swedish Baltic and completed the construction of a new naval base at Karlskrona on the south coast of Sweden.
Bishops were ordered to expedite work on a new translation of the Bible. This translation, which went down in history as the Bible of Charles XII, was completed in 1703 and remained in use until 1917, when it was replaced by the Bible of Gustav V.
Charles XII did not easily appoint people of humble origin to the post of his advisers. Like his father, he attached more importance to knowledge and skills than to titles and origins. Moreover, some of his first state decisions concerned the abolition of a number of privileges for aristocrats,
In the international arena, Charles XII maintained a position of peace in relation to other countries and entered into alliances with France, Holland, Hanover and Brandenburg. The Duchy of Holstein-Gottorp—small but strategically located—was traditionally pro-Swedish, a position reinforced by the marriage of Charles XII's sister Hedwig Sophia to the Dukes of Holstein-Gottorp.
The king devoted his limited free time to his favorite pastimes - architecture, theater, hunting and horseback riding. Contemporaries noted changes in his personal qualities after his accession to the throne. If earlier he was sociable and talkative, now he became more silent and sought to restrain his temperament.
Palace life in the first goals of the reign of Charles XII experienced its golden time. The famous theater troupe Rozidor was discharged from France. Throughout his life, Charles XII remained an ardent admirer of theatrical art; he especially loved the works of the French playwrights Moliere and Racine. In addition, he enthusiastically participated in costume balls and masquerades, which were constantly held at the royal court.
Great Northern War - from Denmark to Poltava
Since Charles XII was a young man with no personal experience of warfare, Sweden's neighbors took advantage of this to advance their own national interests. In the autumn of 1699, Frederick IV, King of Denmark and Norway, and Augustus II, Elector of Saxony (who from 1697 was also King of Poland), formed an offensive alliance with Sweden as their target. They were soon joined by the Russian Tsar Peter 1. The roots of the tripartite alliance lie in the desire of Denmark to regain the provinces of Skåne, Blekinge and Halland, ceded to Sweden only half a century ago. August wanted to take Livonia out of the Swedish Baltic, and Tsar Peter wanted to get access to the Baltic Sea, which was then of great importance for trade.
The Great Northern War began in January 1700, when the troops of Augustus entered Livonia and laid siege to Riga. Shortly thereafter, the King of Denmark and Norway attacked a Swedish ally, the Duchy of Holstein-Gottorp. Both of these military campaigns were expected, and on 14 April Charles XII left Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, to which he never returned, and headed for the port of Karlskrona in southern Sweden. Supported by British and Dutch navies, the king and the Swedish army landed on the Danish island of Zeeland. Faced with stubborn Swedish fighting in Copenhagen, King Frederick had no choice but to sue for peace. According to the peace treaty signed on August 8, the Danes left the territory of the Duchy of Holstein-Gottorp and left the tripartite alliance with Saxony-Poland and Russia.
Now Charles XII turned his attention to the east, landing on October 6 in Estonia. There he learned that Augustus had stopped the siege of Riga, but he also learned that about 40,000 Russian soldiers were beginning to lay siege to the city of Narva. On November 20, Swedish troops under the command of Charles XII attacked the Russians and, despite the fact that the Russians had a numerical superiority, inflicted a complete defeat on them. The losses of the Swedes amounted to 600 killed, while the Russians lost about 8 or 10 thousand people. The victory in Narva increased the reputation of Charles XII and the Swedish army in the eyes of the whole world. The Swedes reinforced their success in the summer of 1701 by defeating a huge Russo-Saxon army and conquering the Duchy of Courland.
The next action according to the plan of Charles XII was the removal of August II from the throne of Poland and the involvement of Poland as an ally in a decisive battle with Tsar Peter and Russia, the Swedes won a number of major victories in battles with the troops of Augustus during the Polish campaign of 1702-1706, the most famous of which are the battles at Kliszow in 1702 and at Fraustadt in 1706. After the latter, Augustus was forced to start peace negotiations with Charles XII, who occupied the Saxon fortress of Altranstadt. On September 14, 1706, Augustus renounced the crown of Poland, which passed to an ally of Sweden, the Polish nobleman Stanislav Leshchinsky.
Charles XII remained in Altranstadt for most of the next year, while the rest of Europe wondered what his next move would be. During the campaign against Augustus, Russian troops once again invaded the Baltic provinces of Sweden. In 1703 they captured or the fortress of Nienschanz and the city of Niem, which are located at the place where the Neva River flows into the Gulf of Finland, and here Tsar Peter began the construction of his new capital, St. Petersburg, and the naval base of Kronstadt. Shortly thereafter, Narva and Dorpat (now Tartu) also passed into Russian hands. At this point, Charles XII had a choice - to go to the Baltic provinces to assist the Swedish forces stationed there, or to strike at the very heart of the Russian Empire, i.e. in Moscow. He chose the latter.
At the end of the summer of 1707, Charles XII left Altranstadt and Saxony at the head of an army of about 50,000 experienced and well-armed soldiers, and moved in marching order to Moscow. A small Swedish army of about 8,000 men was left behind in Poland. It was planned that this army, under the command of King Stanislav Leshchinsky, would join the fighting in Russia. Swedish General Adam Ludwig Levenhaupt was ordered to advance from the Baltic territories of Sweden along with 16,000 soldiers, artillery and a large convoy and join the main army, which arrived in Lithuania in January 1708. From here, without waiting for the arrival of Levenhaupt, the troops headed for Belarus on July 4 under Golovchin, Charles XII and his Swedish troops defeated the large Russian army under the command of Field Marshal Boris Sheremetyev.
In September, the Swedes suffered a very serious defeat when Tsar Peter and his Russian soldiers collided with General Levenhaupt near the village of Lesnaya. The battle ended in victory for the Russians. Half of Löwenhaupt's soldiers were killed, artillery and supplies, which the main Swedish army badly needed, were captured by the Russians. However, Löwenhaupt himself managed to escape and subsequently joined Charles HP and the main army.
Deprived of artillery and desperately needed supplies, Charles XII had to change his plans, at least for a while. Instead of continuing the campaign against Moscow, he decides to go south and spend the winter in Ukraine. There, he hoped, it would be easier for him to replenish his supplies. At the same time, the king entered into an alliance with the Cossack hetman (leader) Ivan Stepanovich Mazepa. But the unusually harsh winter of 1708-1709 resulted in several thousand Swedish soldiers freezing to death while marching south.
By the spring of 1709, the size of the Swedish army was reduced by about half of its original size. In May, the Swedes began the siege of the Ukrainian city of Poltava. in which there was a Russian garrison, numbering approximately 4,000 people and 28 guns. The purpose of the siege was not to capture the city, but to provoke the enemy into a pre-planned battle. On June 17, on his birthday, Charles XII was wounded by a bullet in the leg. The wound festered, and a severe fever began to emaciate the king. By June 22, doctors began to fear for his life. The king still survived, but it took a long time to restore his health.
Having heard about the siege of Poltava, Tsar Peter, as Charles XII expected, went at the head of a large army to help the city. In view of the inevitability of battle, Charles XII, still suffering from a fever, assigns the duties of commander to Field Marshal Carl Gustav Renschild. On the night of June 27/28, the Swedes (numbering 18,000) with their Cossack allies (numbering approximately 10,000) lined up on the battlefield, about 5 km north of Poltava. Similar preparations were made by the Russians, who numbered approximately 40,000.
By the evening of June 28, Tsar Peter and the Russian army had won an unconditional victory. About 5,000 Swedes died (figures vary), and the rest of the once victorious Swedish army, led by the king, moved south to the lands of the benevolent Crimean Khan. Two days later, on June 30, when the army reached the village of Perevolochnaya, 80 km south of Poltava, Charles XII was forced to abandon his main forces in order not to be captured by the Russians. The king handed over command to General Adam Ludwig Levenhaupt, who the next day after the arrival of Russian Field Marshal Alexander Menshikov in Perevolnaya decided to surrender. Thus, the rest of the Swedish army (a total of about 23,000 people) was captured by the Russians. Karl did not forgive Levenhaupt for this. The king's campaign against Russia and Tsar Peter, which began so victoriously, ended in complete defeat, and now all the thoughts of Charles XII were directed to creating a new army in order to get even with Tsar Peter once and for all.
Charles XII and the Swedes in Moldavia
Charles XII left Perevolnaya on the night of June 30 to July 1, 1709 on a field stretcher (a fresh bandage was put on his leg), accompanied by 1,000 Swedes and 3,000 Cossacks, led by Mazepa. Pursued by Russian troops, experiencing extreme hardship - there was a sweltering summer heat, and there was not enough water - the king and his retinue crossed the steppe and, in the end, reached the Turkish border fortress of Ochakov on the Black Sea. Here Charles XII was met by Yusuf Pasha, who informed him that Sultan Ahmed III, the ruler of the Ottoman Empire, wished to have the King of Sweden as his guest of honor, mustafira. For a number of different reasons, the Turks offered the king to move along with his retinue deep into the empire, namely to the fortress of Bendery (Tigina) in the Principality of Moldavia, which was located at a distance of about 150 km.
The transition to Bender took one week. Here, on July 22, the Swedes were solemnly and with great honors greeted by the seraskir (general) Bender (now Tigina) and the troops in parade formation. Then the guests were invited to a beautiful clearing in an oak forest on the left bank of the Dniester River, where the host set up several magnificent tents as a temporary home for an exotic guest from the far North.
Göran Nordberg, chaplain and confessor of Charles XII, wrote in his biography of the king, published in 1740, that after the king and senior officers had inspected the tents, they were treated to sweets and melons. The festive reception ended with the salute of the Turkish guard of honor to the accompaniment of gun salute from the impressive ramparts of the Bendery fortress. However, almost immediately, Charles XII decided to move the camp to the other side of the river, i.e. closer to Bender.
The wounded leg of Charles XII was operated on shortly after his arrival in Bendery. Mazepa died on September 22, 1079, and Philip Orlyk was elected hetman instead.
After a serious flood in the summer of 1711, the king and the Swedes moved their camp to the village of Varnitsa, which was located on a hill, a 15-minute walk from Bendery. Here was built a one-story brick building, covered with shingles, about 40 meters long, designed by the king himself, in which the king lived from Christmas 1711. The building had a couple of large rooms and twelve smaller ones. A church was set up in one of the large rooms. The royal bedchamber had an oven, a simple camp bed, a table, and one or two chairs. The "Royal Palace" or "King's House", as everyone called it, remained the residence of the king until the famous skirmish on February 1, 1713.
The office building, stables, outbuildings, barracks for people and other buildings were built next to the King's House. The chancery building was also built of brick, while other buildings were made of logs or mud. The fortified Swedish camp with the King's House in its very center quickly turned into a small town, and it was indeed sometimes called Karlpolis - "the city of Charles" (the first campsite was also called). The Turks called him "New Benders". It is estimated that a thousand Swedes, Finns and representatives of other Baltic peoples lived in it. The majority were soldiers, but there were also civilians, courtiers of the king, clerics, servants, women and children.
About 3,000 Cossacks and Poles (opponents of August II) who allied with the Swedes, as well as Armenian, Greek, Tatar and Jewish traders lived near the Swedish settlement. For almost four years, both settlements - on the western and eastern banks of the Dniester, respectively - played the role of the capital of the Swedish kingdom, i.e. places where the king and the main core of state administrative power is located.
The revenge plans of Charles XII and his contacts with High Port
Those five-plus years that Charles XII spent in the Ottoman Empire became a bright and noticeable episode in Swedish history. At a party, he felt at home and even learned a few words in Turkish. He highly appreciated the hospitality and sincerity with which he was received here. But why did he stay in the Ottoman Empire for so long? The answer is his desire to conclude a tripartite Swedish-Turkish-Tatar alliance for the final defeat of their common enemy - Peter the Great (and also for the overthrow of Augustus II from the Polish throne, which he managed to win again). This desire was not so unrealistic, and its realization was partly due to the determination of the Turks to stop the expansionism of the Russian Tsar, from which they themselves had already suffered very much.
Charles XII himself had never been to the capital of the Ottoman Empire - Constantinople, but in the summer of 1709 he sent a Swedish embassy to the High Port. The embassy was to play an important role in the links between the King's House in Varnita and the Ottoman government, as evidenced by numerous surviving documents in the Swedish and Turkish archives.
In November 1710, after numerous intrigues, the Swedish monarch's dream of a Turkish military campaign against Tsar Peter finally came true - the High Porte declared war on Russia. In July 1711, the tsar and the vanguard under his command were surrounded by Turkish troops. After the tsar promised to return the port of Azov to the Turks at the place where the Don flows into the Sea of Azov (Russia captured it in 1696), the two sides, to the great displeasure of Charles XII. made peace. However, while Charles XII was under the patronage of the Porte, Tsar Peter did not dare to give up Azov in accordance with his promise under the Prut Peace Treaty of July 11, 1711. As a result, the Sultan again declared war on Russia. This war ended with the tsar solemnly promising to fulfill the terms of the Treaty of Prut, and on April 5, 1712, peace between the High Porte and Russia was restored. But again, it did not last long, because Tsar Peter never fulfilled his promises, and on October 31, the High Porte once again declared war on Russia.
How the king and the Swedes lived in Varnitsa
Aubrey de la Motre, a French merchant and travel writer, described his visit to Charles XII and the Swedes in Varnita as follows:
“On the same day, in the evening, we went to Bender, a country everywhere very fertile and green. Herr Fabrice (Friedrich Ernst von Fabrice, Holstein envoy to Charles XII) had a house on the banks of the Dniester, one of the most beautiful in a small settlement that could be called Karlpolis, because. it was the Swedish king who built it with the hands of his people.”
In his very detailed diaries, Johan Gultman, the royal butler, described how the Swedes lived in Varnitsa. He noted: "Turkey would be a beautiful country if it were not for this sweltering heat of June, July and August". He also described in detail the King's House, informing us that it contained "high oak doors with fine brass and iron locks." The rooms were furnished in an oriental style and, he writes, were partly decorated with "thick, multicolored Turkish fabrics [and] all the walls were lined and painted." On the roof there was a balcony with turned columns, “from which 12 trumpeters and a drummer played the signal three times for all sermons, once for morning and evening prayer, and also announced the district with fanfares when His Majesty took food”.
Gultman also recorded that "2 chefs, 4 hired workers, 4 spit-roasters, 4 cooks, 1 dishwasher and 1 peddler" worked in the royal kitchen, and that in "two magnificent stables" the king could be found, in addition to his own fighting horses of the king, 12 postal horses, 100 Arabian (thoroughbred), Turkish and Tatar horses, as well as wild horses.
In Varnita, Charles XII, who never sat idle, took up, among other things, the improvement of the Swedish public administration. The result of the revision of the tax system, which was undertaken at his direction, was the emergence of a new tax legislation based on progressive principles - it was perhaps one of the first of its kind. Some time after the skirmish in Varnita, he established a new state post of "King's Supreme Ombudsman", which became the predecessor of such state posts as "Chancellor of Justice" and "Swedish Parliamentary Ombudsman". During their stay in Moldova and the Ottoman Empire, Charles XII and his advisers also did not ignore the issue of modernizing agriculture, mining, the metallurgical industry and the financial system.
Kasten Feif was appointed by the king to the position of Secretary of State for the Interior of Sweden, and Heinrich Gustaf von Müllern was entrusted with foreign affairs. Both of them came from rather humble origins, and these were the kind of advisers Charles preferred to have with him.
Charles XII also showed great personal interest in the resumption of construction of the building of the royal palace in Stockholm (the old royal castle burned down in a fire in 1697, shortly after the death of Charles XI), which was suspended after the defeat of the Swedes at Poltava. The work on the construction of the new palace was headed by the architect Nicodemus Tesin the Younger, who regularly sent drawings to the king, which he carefully studied. Charles XII and Tesin are also the authors of grandiose plans to improve the appearance of the Swedish capital, partly through the construction of various new monumental buildings. Several scholars have even been able to demonstrate that the king, thanks in part to the eastern expeditions described below, drew inspiration from Islamic architecture.
In Varnitsa, Charles XII also found time for matters other than military and state affairs. His deep interest in the cultural environment in which he found himself was reflected in the fact that he sent no less than two scientific expeditions to the Middle East. The first of these, with the participation of the 23-year-old captain Cornelius Loos, captain Conrad Sparre and lieutenant Hans Gillenskepp (all of them were professional draftsmen and draftsmen), set off from Varnitsa in January 1710 and returned with great difficulty 18 months later (in July 1711). They brought with them antiques, dried plants and "unseen animals", and most importantly - several hundred sketches, with and without indication of dimensions, of buildings and monuments of Asia Minor, the Levant and Egypt. Charles XII planned to publish the observations and sketches of Loos in a sumptuous illustrated almanac of the Orient. This idea, unfortunately, was never realized, since most of Loos's material was lost during Kalabalyk in Varnitsa (see below). However, about 40 Loos drawings have survived and are now kept in the Stockholm National Museum.
A month after the return of the first expedition, a second expedition was sent, in which Mikael Eneman, chaplain of the Swedish legation in Constantinople, and Johan Silfwerkrantz, secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, participated. The latter died during the journey, and Eneman returned to the king in the summer of 1713, but already in the Timurtash castle, to which the king was transferred after Kalabalyk. Eneman every day for an hour for two months described to the king the countries and places he had visited, i.e. Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Cyprus and Rhodes. Ehnemann had already been appointed professor of Oriental languages at the University of Uppsala in 1712, but died before he could accept this appointment from the effects of pulmonary tuberculosis, which he contracted during his travels to the Middle East.
Varnitsky Kalabalyk and its consequences
In the autumn, Ahmed III, who himself had become involved in the foreign affairs of his empire, tired of waiting for the promised Swedish offensive against Russia, signaled to the Swedish king that the time had come for him to return to his kingdom - in fact, this opinion was shared by many of the king's subjects. His own grandmother had already urged him several times to return home, arguing that he should marry and give the country an heir. But Karl passed these calls and pleas on deaf ears until the seraskir Bender ordered the arrest of the stubborn monarch (with the condition that he should not suffer, and even more so should not be killed).
On February 1, 1713, a grand skirmish took place when the Turkish-Tatar soldiers, obeying the order of the Sultan and Seraskir, began to storm the Swedish settlement. Despite the fact that the Swedes were heavily outnumbered, the battle continued for several hours until, in the end, Charles XII was defeated. In total, about 40 Turks and Tatars and about a dozen Swedes died in this battle. The otter-skin cap that the king wore during this battle and repelled a saber blow to his head is now kept in the Royal Treasury in Stockholm.
After this clash, which, rather unusually, entered Swedish history under the name "Kalabalyk in Bendery" (Kalabalik in Turkish it means “brawl”, “skirmish”, or “crowd”, “gathering” and even “clothing convoy”), Charles XII was first transferred to the palace of the Seraskir Bender, and then sent, accompanied by only 80 Swedes, to Timurtas, a castle in the suburbs of Adrianople (now the city of Erdin in the European part of Turkey).
A few days after Kalabalyk, the Turkish rulers learned that the Swedish general Magnus Stenbock had won a major victory over the Danish-Polish army at Gadebusch in Mecklenburg (December 9, 1712). After that, it became clear that the Swedes were still a military force to be reckoned with. As a result of this, the position of Charles XII was significantly strengthened, but the Turks continued to insist on his return home. As a gesture of goodwill towards the Swedish monarch, the Turks released about a thousand Swedes who were taken prisoner after Kalabalyk, and the Sultan deposed Seraskir Bender, the Crimean Khan and some other officials who were declared guilty of the "unfortunate" incident in Varnitsa.
During and after Kalabalyk, the Swedish settlement in Varnitsa was razed to the ground, but Charles XII and the Swedes remained in people's memory. Anders Friksell (1795-1881), a Swedish priest and historian, wrote about the existence of several stories here, one more fantastic than the other, about the Swedish king, i.e. about Charles XII, and about his brave knights. At the initiative of Sweden, on the "Swedish Hill" in Varnitsa in the early 1930s, a monument that has survived to this day was erected in honor of the stay of the king and his Swedish companions here.
In the autumn of 1714, about six months after Kalabalyk, Charles XII nevertheless decided to leave the Ottoman Empire and return to Sweden. On October 27, under the cover of night, he set out on horseback to the north, accompanied by two fellow travelers (von Dühring and von Rosen). Disguised and with forged passports (the king's passport was in the name of Captain Peter Frisk), they rode non-stop across Europe to Stralsund in Swedish Pomerania, where the king arrived on November 11, 1714. Won Dühring died unexpectedly on the way, and Won Rosen arrived there three days Later. In fourteen days and three hours, the king rode almost 2150 km! Four years after that day, her life was cut short by a bullet in front of the Ferdriksten fortress near the town of Hadden in Norway.