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Artillery personnel
Great Embassy
Prisoners of war
Source criticism
The Great Northern War
Sunday, 23 September 2012
Lieutenant Colonel Johan Kinnaird
Topic: Artillery personnel

I have in an earlier entry briefly discussed Colonel Carl Gustaf Skytte and his disagreements with the commander of the Swedish naval squadron stationed at Dorpat. Another man who had his fair share of problems with Skytte was Major (later Leiutenant Colonel) Johan Kinnaird. On 30 November 1702 Kinnaird wrote to Governor General Carl Gustaf Frölich in Riga, lamenting his misfortune. According to Kinnaird he had been insulted and badly treated by Skytte. When Kinnaird delivered a muster roll of the personnel he had brought to Dorpat from Riga and Pernau Skytte had, in the presence of many officers, torn it to pieces and told Captain Gustaf Monpenne to give it back to Kinnaird so that the latter could "wipe his ass" with it. If Kinnaird was not satisfied with this Monpenne could show him where the jail was. Kinnaird was deeply incensed by this and found it intolerable that a regimental officer and a nobleman should have to experience such a treatment. He had requested a court martial and also asked to be transferred elsewhere. At least the latter request was eventually granted as Kinnaird appears as commander of the artillery in Narva during the siege of 1704 and on 5 and 16 May reported to Frölich about developments. Skytte mentions Johan Kinnaird in his journal on 7 August 1704, stating that he was expected to arrive in the Russian camp outside Narva but did not appear. He was killed by a musket ball the following evening. 


Fond 7349, op. 1, vol. 345 - LVVA, Riga

Hansen, H. J., Geschichte der Stadt Narva. Dorpat, 1858


Posted by bengt_nilsson at 3:45 PM MEST
Updated: Sunday, 23 September 2012 6:57 PM MEST
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Wednesday, 5 September 2012
Riga 1697
Topic: Great Embassy

In late March 1697 the Great Embassy crossed the Swedish border near Neuhausen (today Vastseliina in Estonia) in Livonia, setting in motion a series of events which may have played a significant role in the process leading up to the outbreak of the Great Northern War. In Russian propaganda before and after the outbreak of hostilities, the treatment of the Great Embassy by the Swedish authorities and in particular by Governor General Erik Dahlbergh in Riga was emphasized. In this version Dahlbergh had acted rudely, not properly acknowledged the presence of the Czar, been unhelpful and even outright hostile. In Shafirov's A discourse concerning the just causes of the war between Sweden and Russia (Russian ed. 1717, English ed. 1722) it is even suggested that Dahlbergh planned to seize or possibly kill the Czar. The Swedish view was of course quite different. Dahlbergh was first of all displeased with the secrecy surrounding the arrival of the Embassy. He wasn't informed of its intended arrival date until very late and the Czar's decision to travel incognito made it difficult to determine exactly how the Russians should be greeted. Should his incognito be respected and his presence consequently ignored or was it better to give the Czar the same welcome he would have received under normal circumstances? Dahlbergh believed that the Czar wished his incognito to be respected and that the other Russians were strictly forbidden to divulge his identity, so he decided to treat the Russians exactly as the Swedish-Russian treaties stipulated. A problem was the great famine which had struck the Baltic provinces, making it hard to gather provisions, horses and other necessities.

What really happened when the Great Embassy reached Riga has been described and analyzed by a couple of historians. The first was Alexander Bergengrün, who based his work Die grosse moskowitische Ambassade von 1697 on documents preserved in Riga and the second was Alvin Isberg, who based his analysis on Bergengrün's work and a voluminous report sent by Dahlbergh to Charles XII in March 1700. Bergengrün placed himself emphatically on the side of Dahlbergh, suggesting that the Russian complaints were just poor excuses for an attack on Sweden which in reality had quite different causes. Isberg was a bit more ambivalent, finding some of the statements made by Dahlbergh and others on the Swedish side a bit hard to believe when they were compared to contemporary Russian sources. As some bits and pieces seems to have escaped both Bergengrün and Isberg I will in subsequent posts return to this topic. 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 8:27 PM MEST
Updated: Wednesday, 5 September 2012 8:28 PM MEST
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Monday, 20 August 2012
Emanuel Werner
Topic: Navy

The collection "Meritförteckningar Flottan" in Krigsarkivet contains a substantial number of "CVs" from the years just after the GNW. Some of them are quite detailed and almost like short memoirs. One example is the one for Emanuel Werner, who joined the Swedish navy as an apprentice mate on 1 May 1700. In the summer he participated in the operations against Denmark and the landing at Humlebaek. The following year Werner was sent to Ladoga, where he served on the Astrild. In April of 1703 he was again on the same ship, which at the beginning of May was ordered to enter the Neva river together with Gieddan to investigate the situation at Nyen. During this expedition a superior Russian force was encountered and the small Swedish ships were overpowered. Most of the crew of the Astrild was either killed or wounded, Werner writes. The ship's commanding officer, Lieutenant Kilian Wilhelms, then gave instructions that the Astrild was to be blown up. His last words were, Werner writes, "Låt springa i Jesu nampn" (In the name of Jesus let her explode). Werner says that he did as Wilhelms requested, but survived and was taken to Czar Peter. The Czar treated him kindly and ordered that Werner be sent to Moscow.

In January 1704 Werner's wounds had healed. He was then put in prison and tortured in attempt to persuade him to convert and join the Russian navy. When this failed Werner was sent to Kolomna and put in a tower together with "robbers, thieves and scoundrels" for a year. In January 1705 Werner was sent back to Moscow and put in solitary confinement. He was then again asked to convert and enter Russian servic, but still refused. Werner was then sent away again, this time to a town 300 km from Moscow. There he was put in another tower until August, when he again was sent back to Moscow. Werner was then released and given to a boyar he calls "Michael Iwanowitz Chaputoff", with whom he stayed until the summer of 1707. Werner was then sent to the "house of the prisoners", where Major General Henning Rudolf Horn was kept and placed together with the cavalry captain Fabian Schütz. The Swedish prisoners were shortly thereafter sent away from Moscow and Werner came to a town he calls "Sabacksahr" (probably Cheboksary). On 31 May 1710 he and the other non-commissioned officers and soldiers were sent to Kazan to work on fortifications. On 29 March 1711 all the prisoners were put in jail and the following day "deported to Siberia" (or rather to the town of Khlynov). Werner spent the next decade there, returning to Sweden in July 1722


Source: Meritförteckningar Flottan, Krigsarkivet

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 10:33 PM MEST
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Monday, 13 August 2012
Online archives
Topic: Archives
In recent years we have in Sweden seen a large boom in regard to digitalization of records. Riksarkivet has through Svensk arkivinformation (SVAR) made a lot of previously microfilmed material available online. Arkiv Digital (AD) has for many years photographed the original records (in color), which in most cases makes their product vastly superior to the SVAR version. From a purely user perspective it's unfortunate that several producers compete by putting the same material online while other interesting records remain "offline". Still, quite a few categories of military records pertaining to the GNW are now online. First of all the collections of muster rolls and rolls in Krigsarkivet, but also their large and heterogenous "Biografica" collection as well as "Flottans meritförteckningar". The latter contains "CV's" of naval officers, some rather extensive and others very brief. Both "Biografica" and "Flottans meritförteckningar" are arranged alphabetically, so it's a very time consuming task to find just the ones relevant for the GNW. Another interesting addition is "Krigskollegii brevböcker", which is the incoming correspondance for the College of War. The number of letters for each year is huge, and as the typed indexeed produced in the mid-20th century are not included you will need a lot of patience when working with these volumes. All these records and many more can be found through "Nationella arkivdatabasen" (NAD). In most cases a subscription is needed if you want to look at the images.

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 1:37 PM MEST
Updated: Monday, 13 August 2012 1:39 PM MEST
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Sunday, 5 August 2012
The fate of Dmitry Mikhailovich
Topic: Prisoners of war

On 28 March 1719 Queen Ulrika Eleonora declared that Russian prisoners of war who wanted to settle in Sweden and take up some trade they had learnt would have the liberty to do so. Swedish citizens who wished to employ Russian prisoners and take responsibility for them would also be free to do so. In mid-July, at the height of the Russian attacks on the east coast, the policy was changed and the it was decided that the Russians must be arrested. One man who got caught up in this was a certain Dmitry Mikhailovich or Demetrius Mickelsson (as he was called in Sweden). Mickelsson had been captured at the battle of Fraustadt. He was first brought to Göteborg and stayed there for six years. Mickelsson was then sent to Halmstad, where he had been for one year. After that he was sent to Dalarna, where he in 1719 had lived for eight years. This suggests that he was captured during the fighting near Fraustadt in 1704 and not during the battle in 1706. Mickelsson had come to the parish of Folkärna, where he married a soldier's widow on 13 May 1715. She died the following year and Demetrius on 18 November 1716 married a woman called Margareta Ersdotter. In 1719 they had one daughter together and Demetrius had taken up farming as his wife's parents were old and infirm. He had also adopted the Lutheran faith. The farm (which his parents-in-law owned)  was quite large, so Demetrius paid a substantial tax. He assured the Swedish authorities that he had no wish to return to Russia and feared falling into Russian hands as he would then be punished for his marriage and his conversion. Demetrius also pointed out that no one took care of the farm while he was arrested. The College of War (Krigskollegium) decided that Demetrius should be released, but the local bailiff was instructed to keep an eye on him. 

Due to the quite well preserved ecclesiastical records of Folkärna parish it's quite easy to follow Demetrius Mickelsson. He seems to have fared quite well, eventually having three daughters with his Swedish wife. When he died on 24 April 1758, according to records at the age of 75, the local priest wrote that "he had left his wife in sorrow and illness". Demetrius had "generally lived quietly and in seriousness", the priest added. Margareta died four months later. At that time their three daughters were all alive, so most likely there are today descendants of Demetrius and Margareta.


Krigskollegii brevböcker 1719, page 93 ff.

Folkärna kyrkoarkiv C: 2, E I:1 (1716-1755), F: I (1749-1776)

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 5:53 PM MEST
Updated: Monday, 6 August 2012 9:28 AM MEST
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The summer of 1719
Topic: Devastations

In July and August 1719 Russian forces made numerous landings on the east coast of Sweden, burning and ravaging a large number of towns, villages, manors, mines and iron works. The armed resistance was in most cases quite weak, partly because the defense deliberately had been concentrated around Stockholm. Nevertheless, the nervousness was quite widespread even in the capital and the Council of the Realm was in endless discussions about the situation. One of the main worries was that the Russians would be able to land at Södertälje, transport their galley across land to lake Mälaren and then attack the capital from the west. The famous artillery specialist Carl Cronstedt (1672-1750) at one point even told the Councillors that this would result in all of them ending up as "slaves in Siberia".

In late July the County Governor of Västmanland in Västerås (nearly 100 km west of Stockholm) became so worried that he requested 6 000 muskets and 6 000 rapiers for the peasants in his county and a few days later an additional 1 000 muskets and 1 000 rapiers. To his first request the College of War (Krigskollegium) on 30 July replied that they had no muskets to send, but he could get gunpowder and ammunition from Örebro if guns could be found locally.

In this situation all sorts of schemes were proposed. The retired naval veteran Admiral Olof Wernfelt (1654-1731) openly questioned the leadership of Admiral Taube, who commanded the Stockholm naval squadron and suggested that a more active approach would be better. Wernfelt suggested that he should be given command of some of the lighter units and go out and attack the Russian galleys. This upset Taube, who not only complained to the Queen, but also invited Wernfelt to a meeting and (with the help of his officers) cut Wernfelt's idea to pieces. A couple of local privateers suggested that they should be given permission to collect some 2- 300 "idle people" in Stockholm and go out and fight the Russian galleys - an idea which was discussed back and forth for quite some time before being dismissed. 


Rådsprotokoll July-August 1719, Riksarkivet
Krigskollegii brevböcker, Krigsarkivet
Krigskollegiets registratur, Krigsarkivet


Posted by bengt_nilsson at 1:46 PM MEST
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Sunday, 22 July 2012
The Dorpat naval disaster in 1704
Topic: Source criticism

On 4 May (Swedish style) 1704 a major disaster struck the Swedish naval squadron stationed at Dorpat (Tartu). Upon leaving the town on the river Embach it encountered a large Russian force and was within a very short time totally lost. The commander Carl Gustaf von Löschern Hertzfelt was killed when he blew up his ship Carolus. The commander of the garrison in Dorpat Colonel Carl Gustaf Skytte very shortly started an investigation into the circumstances, but the records were lost when Dorpat fell to the Russians just over two months later. However, Skytte's own report about the siege of Dorpat is preserved. It was printed in 1916 and has because of this been readily available for anyone interested in this matter. Skytte's opinion is clear - the ships were lost through the stupidity and arrogance of Löschern. Löschern had spent the night before sailing from Dorpat celebrating and drinking heavily. Disregarding warnings and sound advice he had stubbornly sailed directly into the trap set up by the waiting Russians, so the responsibility for the outcome rested with Löschern only. 

I don't think it's an exaggaration to say that this is the dominant view of the matter. The Swedish writer Carl von Rosen, who in 1936 published a study about the war in the Baltic provinces 1701-1704, follows Skytte closely and so does Margus Laidre in his recent book about Dorpat during the GNW. Both authors do however mention that the local army commander Major General Wolmar Anton von Schlippenbach was of a different opinion and that he instigated a new investigation. When I some years ago went through a lot of documents from the archives of the College of the Admiralty I found quite a few references to this matter and particularly to the intense effort Löschern's widow put into exonerating her late husband. Her opinion was (if I remember correctly) that Skytte had smeared her late husband and made him a scapegoat.

It is quite clear from the letters Schlippenbach sent to Governor General Frölich in Riga that he profoundly disliked Skytte. On 22 May 1704 he replies to a suggestion by Frölich that it would under the present circumstances be best to "caress" Skytte rather than starting an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the loss of Löschern's squadron. In Frölich's opinion the aging Skytte (who probably was around 60 years old) should instead be assisted by the appointment of a deputy garrison commander. Schlippenbach stated that he had indeed "caressed" Skytte, but only "won his own contempt". If Frölich wanted to appoint a deputy - fine. However, Schlippenbach feared that this would only make Skytte suspicious and besides - why would Skytte listen to his deputy when he didn't listen to Schlippenbach who was his superior? Ten days earlier Schlippenbach had outlined his criticism of Skytte in regard to the Löschern disaster:

1. If Skytte had used his 2 000 horse for reconnaissance he would have known about the arrival of the Russians.

2. When the ships had sailed from Dorpat the previous years they had always been preceded by scouting parties on both side of the river. Why had this not been done this time?

3. Why were the ships not escorted by units from the garrison? This had been done the previous years.

4. A senior officer from the garrison had always before been present when the ships sailed in order to keep an eye on the junior officers and the soldiers from the infantry. This had not been done this time even though Skytte had received specific orders from Schlippenbach to do so. Because of this some officers had stayed behind when the ships sailed, while others had fled without offering any resistance when the fight began.

This criticism may or may not have been valid. However, it's quite obvious that the fact that Skytte's journal has been available in print since 1916 has resulted in a rather onesided interpretation of the events. If greater attention was paid to the view put forth by Schlippenbach, by Löschern's widow and by her supporters the result would probably be more knowledge of the circumstances. At the very least it would mean a greater understanding of the personal rivalry that apparently existed between some of the leading figures.

Source: Letters from Schlippenbach to Frölich 12 & 22 May 1704, Fond 7349, op. 1, vol. 282, pp 190-193 and 211-213, Latvijas valsts vestures arhivs, Riga


Posted by bengt_nilsson at 12:01 AM MEST
Updated: Sunday, 22 July 2012 6:01 PM MEST
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Saturday, 21 July 2012
To cross a bridge
Topic: Transport

In preparation for the planned assault on the Saxon positions south of the Daugava river, Charles XII on 17 April 1701  (Swedish style) instructed Governor General Dahlbergh in Riga to prepare the construction of a bridge. Unfortunately the conditions during the crossing on 9 July made it impossible to use the bridge in the way it was intended, so the bulk of the Swedish cavalry did not arrive until the battle was over. Apparently the bridge was subsequently donated to the city of Riga.

In the spring of 1702 the Riga City Council presented Dahlbergh with a proposed tariff for those using the bridge. Those on official government business (civilian or military) would get free passage, but otherwise the proposal looked like this:

A single person on foot - 1 shilling

A person on horse - 7 shillings

An empty peasant wagon (without horses) - 3 shillings

A basket wagon (without horses) - 6 shillings

A chaise or Berlin coach (without horses) - 12 shillings

A coach (without horses) - 18 shillings

Each person travelling in one of these - 1 shilling



Each horse, whether loose or part of a team - 6 shillings

An ox, cow or large pig - 6 shillings

A sheep, calf or small pig - 1 shilling

A barrel of salt or herring (without horse and wagon) - 2 shillings

A sack of flour or rye (without horse and wagon) - 3 shillings

A baker's (?) sack of flour or rye (without horse and wagon) - 3 shillings

A common sack of flour or rye - 2 shillings

A sack of malt, oats, barley or wheat  (without horse and wagon) - 2 shillings

A cart with flax seeds, including wagon and horse - 18 shillings

A cart with hops or leather, including wagon and horse - 24 shillings

A pipe of wine or snaps, including wagon and horse - 43 shillings

A hogshead of wine or snaps, including wagon and horse - 24 shillings

A tierce of wine or snaps, including wagon and horse - 18 shillings

A barrel of beer, including wagon and horse - 6 shillings

Two barrels of beer, including wagon and horse - 9 shillings

A sack of spent hops, [?] and coal (when it is carried) - 1 shilling

A quarter of butter, including wagon and horse - 8 shillings

A barrel of vinegar (?), including wagon and horse - 12 shillings

A struse (loaded or not) which wants to pass the bridge when it's opened - 15 shillings

A boat - 6 shillings

Source: Fond 7349, op. 1, vol. 371, pp. 427-428, Latvijas valsts vestures arhivs, Riga

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 3:43 PM MEST
Updated: Saturday, 21 July 2012 5:50 PM MEST
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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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