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The Great Northern War
Wednesday, 11 September 2013
Common misunderstandings
Topic: Factoids

It is always interesting to take a look at how the Great Northern War (GNW) is described in new history books. Recently I happened to come across a recently published work, which is intended for history students at university level. The GNW had only been given a few pages, but the authors still manage to make quite a few remarkable mistakes:

1.  Denmark, Saxony-Poland and Russia strengthened their relations, supported by the nobility of Livonia, jointly attacked Sweden in 1700. Saxony and Russia certainly attacked, with some unofficial military support from Lithuania and Poland, but there was no formal state of war between Sweden and Poland. Denmark only attacked the Duke of Holstein.

2. Sweden, supported by the Dutch and the English, rapidly defeated Denmark and forced the Danes to sign a separate peace treaty. Yes, but the treaty was with the Duke of Holstein as Sweden, the Netherlands and England only acted in accordance with their position as guarantors of the Treaty of Altona in 1689.

3. After Narva Charles XII decided to attack Poland.  He rather decided to march into Poland in order to put added pressure on the Poles to support the idea of dethroning Augustus II. There was at that time no state of war between the two countries.

4. After the dethronement of Augustus Poland became a vassal state to Sweden. It was certainly the intention, but Charles never got that far.

5. While Charles was busy in Poland the Czar managed to reach the Baltic, where he built ports and towns. Hardly "towns" in plural...

6. In the autumn of 1707, after the peace with Poland... Which undoubtedly refers to the Treaty of Altranstadt, which of course wasn't a peace treaty with Poland.

7. The Russians defended by burning their own land. It may possibly be true of certain areas west of Smolensk, but in 1707-08 the Russian army mostly defended itself on the territory of Poland-Lithuania.

8. An uprising in Poland tied down some units of the Swedish army.  Those opposing Charles had of course not recognized Stanislaw, so the armed struggle was ongoing. It also seems possible that the main reason for leaving Krassow's corps in Poland was distrust of Augustus, i.e. it should act as a deterrent against any attempt by him to make a comeback.

9. After his return to Sweden in December 1715 Charles XII refused to get involved in the diplomatic game, which the Council had advocated during nearly 10 years. The Council played no independent role in foreign policy until 1709 and the King certainly did not turn away from diplomacy - he only followed (through Goertz) a different agenda.

Of these mistakes no 1 and 2 are extremely common in Swedish literature. Almost nobody seem to understand why the Dutch and the English got involved and in what capacity they (and Sweden) acted. 


Posted by bengt_nilsson at 6:50 PM MEST
Updated: Wednesday, 11 September 2013 9:08 PM MEST
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