The early 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 baby's solemn baptism took place on July 12. He was named Charles after his father and grandfather, Charles X Gustav.

Charles XI, the Prince's father, was a good monarch who carried out successful internal reforms for the benefit of the Kingdom. During his reign (1672-1697), he limited the power of the upper aristocracy and became the autocratic ruler of Sweden, which at that time was one of the most powerful countries in Europe. He left his successor a well-organized state with reliable finances, a powerful army, and relatively good social conditions.

Prince Charles spent the earliest years of his life mainly with his mother, who was responsible for his early upbringing. 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 held a huge place in her heart. In total, she produced seven children. Four sons died at an early age, and only Karl and his sisters Hedwig Sophia and Ulrika Eleonora reached adulthood.

Charles's formal training began in 1686, when he was 4 years old, and the following year he received his own court and retinue. Two years later, when he was just over 6 years old, he left his mother's apartment and moved into his own. Charles XI began raising his son in 1689.

Charles XI carefully selected the people who were to oversee the Prince's education, which included, among other things, theology, history, law, mathematics, foreign languages, and, of course, the theory and practice of military art. Great attention was also paid to the study of the Swedish Constitution, judicial system and administrative organization. The curriculum also included practical subjects such as dancing, horse riding, and fencing. The Prince was taught as an axiom that the king ruled by the right of the anointed of God and should rule his Kingdom in accordance with the law of God and God's will.

Karl's beloved mother died when he was 11 years old. Four years later, in the spring of 1967, his father died, and Charles became king of Sweden at the age of 15. At first, however, the reins of the Kingdom were given to the Regency Council, which was headed by Charles's formidable paternal grandmother, Queen Dowager Hedwig Eleanor.

The Riksdag (Assembly of representatives of all classes of the Kingdom) was convened in Stockholm in early November 1697, and on November 24, the funeral of Charles XI was finally held. 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 engaged in the Affairs of government. From then on, his workday usually started at five in the morning. And there was enough to do. For example, the king took measures to mitigate the effects of crop failures and famines that hit Sweden and Finland (which was then 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 worked to strengthen fortifications throughout the Swedish Baltic States and completed the construction of a new naval base at Karlskrona on the southern coast of Sweden.

The bishops were ordered to speed up work on a new translation of the Bible. This translation, which went down in history as the Charles XII Bible, was completed in 1703 and remained in use until 1917, when it was replaced by the Gustav V Bible.

Charles XII easily appointed people of low birth to the position of his advisers. Like his father, he attached more importance to knowledge and skills than to rank and background. 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 important-was traditionally Pro-Swedish, and this position was 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 pursuits-architecture, theater, hunting and horse riding. Contemporaries noted changes in his personal qualities after his accession to the throne. If previously he was sociable and talkative, now he became more silent and sought to restrain his temperament.

Palace life in the first years of the reign of Charles XII experienced its Golden time. From France he was discharged the famous theatre troupe of Rezidor. Throughout his life, Charles XII remained an ardent fan 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 arranged at the Royal court.

Great Northern War - from Denmark to Poltava

Since Charles XII was a young man who had no personal experience of warfare, Sweden's neighbors took advantage of this to defend their own national interests. In the autumn of 1699, Frederick IV, king of Denmark and Norway, and Augustus II, elector of Saxony (who had also been king of Poland since 1697), formed an offensive Alliance with Sweden as their goal. They were soon joined by the Russian Tsar Peter 1. The roots of the triple Alliance lie in Denmark's desire to regain the provinces of Scania, Blekinge and Halland, ceded to Sweden just half a century ago. Augustus wanted to withdraw Livonia from 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 troops of Augustus entered Livonia and laid siege to Riga. Soon after, the king of Denmark and Norway attacked the Swedish ally, the Duchy of Holstein-Gottorp. Both of these military campaigns were expected, and on April 14, Charles XII left Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, to which he never returned, and headed for the port of Karlskrona in southern Sweden. With the support of the English and Dutch navies, the king and the Swedish army went ashore on the Danish island of Zealand, Faced with persistent Swedish fighting in Copenhagen, king Frederick had no choice but to request peace. According to the peace Treaty signed on August 8, the Danes left the territory of the Duchy of Holstein-Gottorp and left the triple Alliance with Saxony-Poland and Russia.

Charles XII now turned his attention to the East by landing in Estonia on October 6. There he learned that Augustus had ended the siege of Riga, but he also learned that about 40,000 Russian soldiers were beginning to besiege the city of Narva. Russians were attacked by Swedish troops under Charles XII on November 20 and, despite the fact that the Russians were outnumbered, they were completely defeated. The Swedish losses were 600 killed, while the Russians lost about 8 or 10 thousand people. The victory at Narva increased the reputation of Charles XII and the Swedish army in the eyes of the whole world. The Swedes consolidated their success in the summer of 1701 by defeating a huge Russian-Saxon army and conquering the Duchy of Courland.

The next step in Charles XII's plan was to remove Augustus II from the throne of Poland and attract Poland as an ally for the decisive battle with Tsar Peter and Russia. the Swedes won a number of major victories in battles with Augustus ' troops during the Polish campaign of 1702-1706, the most famous of which are the battles of Kliszów in 1702 and Fraustadt in 1706. After the latter, Augustus was forced to start peace negotiations with Charles XII, who occupied the Saxon fortress of Altranstadt. September 14, 1706 Augustus abdicated the crown of Poland, which passed to Sweden's ally, the Polish nobleman Stanislaw Leszczynski.

Charles XII remained in Altranstadt for most of the next year, while the rest of Europe wondered what his next actions would be. During the campaign against Augustus, Russian troops once again invaded the Baltic provinces of Sweden. In 1703, they captured the fortress of Nienschanz and the city of Niem, which are located at the point where the Neva river flows into the Gulf of Finland, and here Tsar Peter began construction of his new capital, St. Petersburg, and the naval base of Kronstadt. Soon after Narva and Dorpat (modern Tartu) is also passed into the hands of the Russians. 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 heart of the Russian Empire, i.e. 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 marched to Moscow. A small Swedish army of about 8,000 men was left 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 Lowenhaupt was ordered to move out of the Baltic territories of Sweden with 16,000 soldiers, artillery, and a large wagon train and join the main army that arrived in Lithuania in January 1708. From here, without waiting for the arrival of Levenhaupt, the troops headed for Belarus, and on July 4, at Golovchin, Charles XII and his Swedish troops defeated a large Russian army under the command of field Marshal Boris Sheremetyevo.

The Swedes were defeated in September when Tsar Peter and his Russian soldiers clashed with General Levenhaupt at the village of Lesnaya, and the Battle ended in Russian victory. Half of Levenhaupt's soldiers were killed, and the artillery and supplies that the main Swedish army badly needed were captured by the Russians. However, Loewenhaupt himself managed to escape, and he subsequently joined Charles XII and the main army.

Deprived of artillery and much-needed supplies, Charles XII had to change his plans, at least for a while. Instead of continuing the March to Moscow, he decides to go South and spend the winter in Ukraine. There, he hoped, it would be easier for him to restock. At the same time, the king made an Alliance with the Cossack Hetman (leader) Ivan Stepanovich Mazepa. But the unusually harsh winter of 1708-1709 caused several thousand Swedish soldiers to freeze to death while marching South.

By the spring of 1709, the size of the Swedish army had been reduced by about half of its original size. In may, the Swedes began a siege of the Ukrainian city of Poltava. in which there was a Russian garrison, numbering about 4,000 men 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, the day of his birth, Charles XII was wounded by a bullet in the leg, the wound festered, and the king began to suffer from a severe fever. By June 22, doctors began to fear for his life. The king still survived, but it took a long time to restore his health.

Hearing of the siege of Poltava, Tsar Peter, as expected by Charles XII, went at the head of a large army to help the city. In view of the impending battle, Charles XII, still suffering from fever, assigns the duties of commander to field Marshal Carl Gustav Rehnskiöld. On the night of June 27-28, the Swedes (numbering 18,000 people) with their allies, the Cossacks (numbering approximately 10,000) lined up on the battlefield, about 5 km North of Poltava. Similar preparations were made by the Russians, who numbered about 40,000.

By the evening of June 28, Tsar Peter and the Russian army had won an unqualified victory. About 5,000 Swedes died (figures vary), and the remaining part of the once victorious Swedish army under the leadership of 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 force to avoid being captured by the Russians. The king handed over command to General Adam Ludwig Lewenhaupt, who decided to surrender the day after the arrival of Russian field Marshal Alexander Menshikov in Perevolochnaya. Thus, the remaining part of the Swedish army (about 23,000 people in total) was captured by the Russians. Charles did not forgive Lewenhaupt for this. The king's campaign against Russia and Tsar Peter, which had begun so triumphantly, 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 Perevolochnaya on the night of 30 June to 1 July 1709 on a field stretcher (a fresh bandage was applied to his leg), accompanied by 1,000 Swedes and 3,000 Cossacks led by Mazepa. Pursued by Russian troops and suffering extreme hardships - the summer heat was sweltering and there was not enough water - the king and his entourage crossed the steppe and eventually 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, ruler of the Ottoman Empire, wished to see the king of Sweden as his guest of honor, musafir. For a number of different reasons, the Turks suggested that the king move with his retinue deeper into the Empire, namely to the fortress of Bendery (Tighina) in the Principality of Moldavia, which was located at a distance of about 150 km.

The transition to Bendery took one week. Here, on July 22, the Swedes were solemnly and with great honors received by the seraskier (General) Bender (now Tighina) 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 party set up several magnificent tents as a temporary home for an exotic guest from the far North.

Joran Nordberg, chaplain and Confessor to Charles XII, wrote in the 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 a Turkish honor guard salute accompanied by a 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 Bendery.

Charles XII's injured leg was operated on shortly after his arrival in Bendery. Mazepa died on September 22, 1079, and Philip Orlik was elected Hetman in his place.

After a serious flood in the summer of 1711, the king and the Swedes moved their camp to the village of Varnița, 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 since Christmas 1711. The building had a couple of large rooms and twelve smaller ones. A Church was built in one of the large rooms. The Royal bedchamber had a stove, a simple camp bed, a table, and one or two chairs. The "Royal Palace" or" king's House, " as everyone called it, remained the king's residence until the famous skirmish of February 1, 1713.

The Chancery 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 structures were made of logs or clay. 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 — "Karl's city" (the same name for the first camp site). The Turks called it the "New Bendery". It is estimated that there were a thousand Swedes, Finns, and other Baltic peoples. Most of them were soldiers, but there were also civilians, courtiers of the king, clerics, servants, women and children.

The Swedish settlement was home to approximately 3,000 Cossacks and poles (opponents of Augustus II) who had allied with the Swedes, as well as Armenian, Greek, Tatar, and Jewish merchants. For almost four years, both settlements-on the Western and Eastern banks of the Dniester river, respectively-served as the capital of the Swedish Kingdom, i.e., the place where the king and the main core of state administrative power are located.

Plans for revenge of Charles XII and his contacts with the Ottoman Porte

The five-and-a-bit years that Charles XII spent in the Ottoman Empire were a vivid and notable episode in Swedish history. He felt at home when visiting and even learned a few words in Turkish. He 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 triple Swedish-Turkish-Tatar Alliance for the final defeat of their common enemy, Peter the Great (as well as for the overthrow of Augustus II from the Polish throne, which he managed to reconquer). This was not an unrealistic ambition, and its realization was partly due to the Turks' determination to stop the expansionism of the Russian Tsar, from which they themselves had already suffered greatly. 

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 Ottoman Porte. The Embassy was to play an important role in the links between the king's house in Varnița and the Ottoman government, as evidenced by numerous surviving documents in Swedish and Turkish archives.

In November 1710, after numerous intrigues, the Swedish monarch's dream of a Turkish military campaign against Tsar Peter was finally fulfilled - the Ottoman 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 Porte of Azov to the Turks at the confluence of the Don with the sea of Azov (Russia captured it in 1696), the two sides, to the great displeasure of Charles XII. make peace. However, while Charles XII was under the protection 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's identical promise to fulfill the terms of the Prut peace Treaty, and on April 5, 1712, peace was restored between the Ottoman Porte and Russia. But again, it did not last long, because Tsar Peter did not fulfill his promises, and on October 31, the Ottoman Porte once again declared war on Russia.

How the king and the Swedes lived in Varnița

Aubrey de La Motre, a French merchant and travel writer, described his visit to Charles XII and the Swedes at Varnița:

"On the same day, in the evening, we went to Bendery, the country is very fertile and green everywhere. Herr Fabrice (Friedrich Ernst von Fabrice, Holstein envoy to Charles XII) had a house on the banks of the Dniester river, one of the most beautiful in a small settlement, which could be called Charlespolis, because it was the Swedish king who built it with the hands of his people.”

In his very detailed diaries, Johan Hultman, the Royal Butler, described how the Swedes lived in Varnița. He noted: "Turkey would be a beautiful country if it were not for this sweltering heat of June, July and August." He also described the king's House in detail, telling us that it had "high oak doors with fine brass and iron locks." The rooms were decorated in an Oriental style and, as he writes, were partially decorated with " thick, multicolored Turkish fabrics [and] all the walls were lined and painted." On the roof was a balcony with turned columns, "from which 12 trumpeters and a drummer played the signal for all sermons three times, once for morning and evening prayers, and also announced the district with fanfare when His Majesty took food."

Gultman also recorded that the Royal kitchen employed "2 chefs, 4 hired workers, 4 roasters on the spit, 4 scullions, 1 dishwasher and 1 peddler" and that in the" two magnificent stables " of the king could be found, in addition to the king's own war horses, 12 post horses, 100 Arab (thoroughbred), Turkish and Tatar horses, as well as wild horses.

In Varnița, Charles XII, who never sat idle, engaged, among other things, in improving the system of Swedish public administration. The result of the revision of the tax system, which was undertaken at his direction, was the emergence of new tax legislation based on progressive principles - perhaps it was one of the first of its kind. Some time after the skirmish in Varnița, he established a new public office, the "Royal high Ombudsman", which was the forerunner of such public offices as "Chancellor of justice" and "Swedish parliamentary Ombudsman". During their stay in Moldavia and the Ottoman Empire, Charles XII and his advisers also paid attention to the modernization of agriculture, mining, metallurgy, and the financial system.

Kasten Feif was appointed by the king to the position of State Secretary for internal Affairs of Sweden, and Heinrich Gustav von Mullern was entrusted with foreign Affairs. They were both of fairly humble origins, and these were the kind of advisers Charles preferred to have around.

Charles XII also showed great personal interest in resuming the construction 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 Swedish defeat at Poltava. Work on the construction of the new Palace was led by the architect Nicodemus Tesin the Younger, who regularly sent the king drawings, which tog carefully studied. Charles XII and Tesin are also the authors of Grand 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, in part due to the Eastern expeditions described below, drew inspiration from Islamic architecture.

Eastern expeditions

In Varnița, Charles XII also found time for matters other than military and state. His deep interest in the cultural environment in which he found himself was reflected in the fact that he sent at least two scientific expeditions to the middle East. The first of them, with the participation of 23-year-old captain Cornelius Loos, captain Conrad Sparre and Lieutenant Hans Gyllenskepp (all professional draughtsmen and draughtsmen), set off from Varnița in January 1710 and returned with great difficulties 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 dimensions, of buildings and monuments in Asia Minor, the Levant and Egypt. Charles XII planned to publish Loos' observations and sketches in a sumptuous illustrated almanac about the East. This idea, unfortunately, was never realized, since most of the Loos material was lost during the Kalabalyk in Varnița (see below). Nevertheless, about 40 drawings of Loos have been preserved, and they are now stored in the national Museum of Stockholm.

A month after the return of the first expedition, a second one was sent, which included Michael Eneman, chaplain of the Swedish mission in Constantinople, and Johan Silfverkranz, Secretary of the Chamber of Commerce. The latter died during the journey, and Eneman returned to the king in the summer of 1713, but this time to the Timurtas castle, to which the king was transferred after Kalabalyk. Eneman spent an hour every day for two months describing to the king the countries and places he had visited, i.e., Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Cyprus, and Rhodes. In 1712 Eneman was already appointed Professor of Oriental languages at the University in Uppsala, but died before he could accept this appointment from the effects of pulmonary tuberculosis, which he contracted during his travels to the middle East.

Kalabalik in Varnița and its consequences

In the autumn, Ahmed III, who had begun to deal with the foreign Affairs of his Empire himself, tired of waiting for the promised Swedish offensive against Russia, made it clear 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 to return home several times, arguing that he should marry and give the country an heir. But Charles ignored these calls and pleas until seraskier of Bendery ordered the arrest of the stubborn monarch (with the condition that he should not suffer, and certainly not be killed). 

On February 1, 1713, a huge skirmish occurred when Turkish-Tatar soldiers, obeying the orders of the Sultan and seraskier, began to storm the Swedish settlement. Despite the fact that the Swedes were in a significant minority, 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 were killed in this battle. The otter-skin cap that the king wore during this battle and deflected a sabre blow on his head is now kept in the Royal Treasury in Stockholm[i].

After this encounter, which, rather unusually, went down in Swedish history under the name "Kalabalik in Bendery" (Kalabalik in Turkish means "brawl", "skirmish", or "crowd", "gathering" and even "baggage train"), Charles XII was first transferred to the Bendery seraskier's Palace, and then sent, accompanied by only 80 Swedes, to Timurtas, a castle in the suburbs of Adrianople (now Erdin in 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 obvious that the Swedes still remained a military force to be reckoned with. As a result, 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 had been taken captive after Kalabalyk, and the Sultan deposed seraskier of Bendery, the Crimean Khan, and some other officials who were declared guilty of the "unfortunate" incident in Varnița.

During and after Kalabalyk, the Swedish settlement at Varnița was razed to the ground, but Charles XII and the Swedes remained in popular memory. Anders Fryxell (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, a monument was erected on the" Swedish hill " in Varnița in the early 1930s to commemorate the stay of the king and his Swedish companions.

In the autumn of 1714, about six months after Kalabalyk, Charles XII decided to leave the Ottoman Empire and return to Sweden. On October 27, under cover of night, he rode North, accompanied by two fellow travelers (von Düring and von Rosen). Disguised and with forged passports (the king's passport was in the name of captain Peter Frisk), they rode non-stop through Europe to Stralsund in Swedish Pomerania, where the king arrived on November 11, 1714.Von Düring died unexpectedly on the way, and von Rosen arrived three days later. In fourteen days and three hours, the king rode almost 2,150 km! Four years after that day her life was cut short from a bullet in front of the fortress Fredriksten under Hadden in Norway.

Peter Sandin, PhD. Senior curator of the Royal Treasury, Stockholm.

[i] according to the updated data, the forces of the parties were: from the Turks and Tatars from 8,000 to 13,000 people. with 12 guns; from the Swedish side-from 700 to 1007 people. Losses amounted to: on the part of the attackers - from 200 to 433 killed and wounded, on the part of the Swedes-15-31 killed, the rest surrendered.

Charles XII in Bendery. Aubry de la Mottaraye's.

The battle in Bendery. Karabalyk. Charles Édouard Armand-Dumaresq’s.

Charles XII in Bendery. Gustav Brusewitz’s.

A Plan of the third camp of the Swedish king in Varnița.

 Postage stamp for the 300th anniversary of Charles XII 's stay in Bendery.

Diorama with the second camp of Charles XII under the walls of the fortress in the historical Museum of the Bendery fortress.

 Swedish striker in the historical Museum of the Bendery fortress.

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