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The Great Northern War
Sunday, 15 July 2012
A diplomatic web
Topic: Diplomacy

In 1699, on the eve of the Great Northern War, Sweden had an extended network of permanent diplomatic and commercial representatives all across Europe. One of their duties was naturally to look out for Swedish interests abroad, but a major task was also to keep the government in Stockholm informed about political developments. The main focus lay traditionally on Germany and western Europe, not least the Hague where a Swedish ambassador was in the middle of things as far as relations between France and the Maritime Powers were concerned. Eastern Europe was a bit different. There was a commissioner in Moscow (since 1688 Thomas Kniper), but no ambassador. Kniper was supplemented by Philip Vinhagen in Novgorod and Thomas Herbers in Pskov. I Poland there was a permanent ambassador, since 1698 Georg Wachslager (a native of Torun) and the commissioner Per Cuypercrona in Danzig. Included in this list should perhaps also Mauritz Vellingk be, as he was on a special mission to August II. 

These men, who were more or less permanent "listening posts", did not only correspond with the government in Stockholm but also with the Governor Generals in the Baltic provinces. They were in 1699 Otto Vellingk in Ingria (brother of Mauritz), Axel Julius de la Gardie in Estonia and Erik Dahlbergh in Livonia. These were all men of considerable experience. Vellingk, born in 1649, had joined the Swedish army in the 1660's and fought in the so called Scanian War 1675-79. Later he had been both a county governor (landshövding) and Governor of Scania. Axel Julius de la Gardie (born in 1637) came from one of the most distinguished families in Sweden. Grandson of the French immigrant Pontus de la Gardie and son of Jakob de la Gardie, he was the youngest brother of the late Chancellor of the Realm Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie. Axel Julius had joined the Swedish army as early as the 1650's and been a Councillor of the Realm since 1664. 

The most famous of them all was the Governor of Livonia, Erik Dahlbergh. Born in 1625 as the son of a commoner he had through his own ability (and a fair amount of luck) advanced  to the highest positions. A Count, a Councillor of the Realm and a Field Marshal since 1693 he possessed a military and administrative experience second to none. He was also, as modern research have shown, quite conscious of his position in history and willing to use some rather dubious methods in making sure that posterity appreciated this. 

Dahlbergh's information network in 1699 can be investigated reasonably well through the copies of outgoing correspondence in archive of the Livonian Governor General's office (Fond 7349,op. 1, vol. 51 and 71, Latvijas Valsts vēstures arhīvs). For example: during the month of January Dahlbergh sent at least three letters to Wachslager in Warsaw, at least two letters to the envoy Leijonstedt in Berlin, to commissioner Cuypercrona in Danzig and to commissioner Herbers in Pskov. Knieper in Moscow, Rothlieb in Hamburg and Mauritz Vellingk got at least one letter each. Most of these men, if not all, likely also wrote regularly to Dahlbergh's colleagues de la Gardie and Vellingk and the three Governor Generals were naturally in frequent contact with each other. 

So the means of discovering what was being planned may not have been perfect, but it's clear that Dahlbergh well over a year before the Great Northern War broke out was quite suspicious of the Saxons. On 8 February 1699 he wrote to Charles XII about a recent visit to Riga by Jacob Heinrich von Flemming, a close advisor to August II. Flemming claimed that he just wanted to buy clothes for a new dragoon regiment, but Dahlbergh found him to be "a greater statesman than soldier and well versed in intriguing" (Fond 7349, op. 1., vol. 71). Towards the end of 1699 Dahlbergh had gathered enough information to be able to send Charles XII a fairly detailed outline of the Saxon dispositions. He found it quite suspicious that the forces stationed in Courland were equipped with a rather strong artillery and informed the King that according to a widespread rumour the Saxons were prepared to act if something happened in Holstein (Ibid., Dahlbergh to Charles XII, 27 december 1699). But, as is well known, at the very same time Mauritz Vellingk repeatedly assured the King that all was well in Dresden and that August II was a good friend of Sweden...


Posted by bengt_nilsson at 7:52 PM MEST
Updated: Sunday, 15 July 2012 11:03 PM MEST
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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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