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Artillery personnel
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The Great Northern War
Saturday, 14 July 2012
A fresh start
Topic: Archives

About fifteen years ago I started to research the life of Admiral Gustaf von Psilander (1669-1738), one of the most famous naval officers in Swedish history. Some years later I got involved in an investigation of the circumstances surrounding the death of Charles XII in the trenches outside Fredriksten fortress, something which eventually resulted in Peter From's book Karl XII:s död: gåtans lösning and the now defunct web site

During the last couple of years I have studied (among other things) the papers of General Adam Ludvig Lewenhaupt (1659-1719) and particularly how (and when) a substantial portion ended up in the old ecclesiastical library in Linköping. This has so far resulted in an article in Linköpings biblioteks handlingar no 19 called En karolinsk general och hans arkiv (A Carolean General and his archive), but many unclear points remain. In the course of this research I have taken an interest in the old Swedish archives from the Baltic provinces, particularly the papers of the Governor Generals of Livonia. These records, now primarily preserved in Riga and Tartu, contains much of interest for the student of the Great Northern War. Unfortunately they have not always been treated well. When the Swedish archivist and historia Per Sondén (1853-1955) came to Riga in the late 1880's he was horrified to find that these valuable records were kept under appalling conditions in Riga castle. Some bundles of documents were, he writes, "laying on the floor - or rather on the ground as there was no floor". It was also clear that the archive had been plundered as empty covers were scattered about.

Some ten years later the Russian authorities decided to do something about this and a commission was appointed. The task of sorting out the mess and writing a catalogue was given to Friedrich Bienemann junior (1860-1915). His job was undoubtedly very difficult, but the method used was perhaps not the best, particularly when it came to the period of the Great Northern War. Instead of sorting incoming correspondence strictly according to year and/or alphabetically, a large number of subject related volumes were created, such as Schreiben and Aktenstücke betr. die Fortifikation der livl. Festungen (Letters and documents concerning the fortifications of the Livonian fortresses). This means that letters from prominent Swedish officials can be found not only in volumes which bears their names, but also scattered throughout the archive.

Through the dramatic political changes which took place during the first half of the twentieth century this old Swedish archive ended up being divided between Tartu and Riga, resulting in an even greater confusion. Some records, not included in Bienemann's catalogue, have also turned up. In the 1990's the Riga part (fond 7349, Latvijas Valsts vēstures arhīvs) was microfilmed in a joint Latvian-Swedish project and it's at present available on microcards. Although very difficult and time consuming to work with due to the sometimes poor quality and the often chaotic content of the volumes, they are veritable treasure troves. Some of the blog entries will undoubtedly be based on these records.

I will hopefully be able to write a new entry about once a week, but this is at present a bit of an experiment.

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 4:58 PM MEST
Updated: Saturday, 14 July 2012 9:19 PM MEST
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