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The Great Northern War
Monday, 2 September 2013
The Governor General of Estonia
Topic: Archives

During the last few years I have gradually worked my way through the GNW volumes of LVVA, fond 7349 - the Riga part of the archive of the Governor General of Livonia. Recently I decided to take a look at some of the volumes from his colleague in Estonia, preserved in the Estonian Historical Archive in Tartu as fond 1. These records have, generally speaking, fared better than the Livonian ones, but certain problems derive from the fact that they were evacuated to Sweden before the Russian conquest in 1709-10 and only partly returned after 1721. This means for example that a large number of letters from Henning Rudolf Horn in Narva to Governor General de la Gardie in Reval from the period 1702-1704 are preserved in Stockholm, while most of the letters from Governor Vellingk to de la Gardie during the campaign of 1700 appear to be in Tartu. The latter were used by Hendrik Sepp for his study Narva piiramine ja lahing a. 1700 (1930), but as far as I know not by any Swedish historian.

At this point I have only looked at volumes EAA 1.2.284-286, which contain incoming correspondence for 1700 and the first seven months of 1701. It's quite obvious that these only contain a very limited part of incoming letters, predominantely those from Vellingk, the garrison commanders at Pernau and Dorpat as well as some from Dahlbergh in Riga, County Governors Lindehielm in Vyborg and Örnekloo in Arensburg and various local commanders.

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 7:17 PM MEST
Updated: Monday, 2 September 2013 10:39 PM MEST
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Monday, 26 August 2013
Topic: Diplomacy

One of the more interesting works of propaganda during the GNW is Petr Shafirov's A discourse concerning the just causes of the war between Sweden and Russia. The first Russian edition appeared in 1717 and it was later translated both into German and into English. A Discourse attempts to prove that the Czar was justified in attacking Sweden by cataloguing past Swedish aggression against Russia and listing recent transgressions, such as the bad treatment the Czar supposedly received during his vist to Riga.

I think it's fair to say that some of the statements cannot stand up to scrutiny, such as the version that the Czar only after patiently waiting for more than a year after the discussions with the Swedish embassy in 1699 decided that he would seek satisfaction through an alliance with Saxony and Denmark. Another example is the claim that Sweden attempted to influence the Sultan to continue the war against Russia through the Polish envoy Rafał Leszczyński. In this case it was rather the other way around. Leszczynski had been equipped with two instructions. One from King Augustus, which told him to try and facilitate an agreement between the Czar and the Sultan and another from the Polish Great Chancellor, which told Leszczynski to do the exact opposite. Apparently the envoy favored the second course of action, so he met with Mauritz Vellingk and attempted to persuade him to use Swedish contacts in France for the purpose of getting French assistance in Constantinople. 

Other statements seem more plausible, such as the story that Major General Axel Sparre during a visit to Berlin (in 1706 or 1707) boasted that the Swedes would drive the Russians out of the world by using only their whips. Sparre also produced a letter of appointment signed by Charles XII to be Governor of the city of Moscow. Axel Sparre was one of the King's favorites and a great joker, who once send a bill to Charles for damages as a result of Sparre not (as the King had promised) having been killed in action. It is very likely that Charles, half jokingly, had actually signed such a letter in much the same vein as he once had paid Sparre's bill. 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 8:09 PM MEST
Updated: Monday, 26 August 2013 9:10 PM MEST
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Sunday, 18 August 2013
A political decision : Narva 1704

In the summer of 1704 some of the local commanders and officials in the Baltic provinces, most notably Major General Schlippenbach and Governor General Frölich, pleaded with Major General Lewenhaupt to move his forces from Courland and join in an effort to relieve Dorpat or Narva. Lewenhaupt firmly refused, stating that he could not possibly convince Hetman Sapieha to join such an enterprise and the it was quite out of the question to leave the Lithuanian forces on their own as the enemy would then soon threaten the fortresses in Courland as well as Riga. It was also important to convince more Lithuanians to join the Warsaw Confederacy and this would be quite impossible if Lewenhaupt's army left the area. The General also pointed out the weakness of his force and the difficulty of supplying the troops during the march.

I think it's quite obvious that Lewenhaupt interpreted the King's wishes correctly. The most pressing matter in 1704 was, in Charles XII's opinion, to assist in rallying Poland and Lithuania against Augustus II. This does not mean that he took the fate of Narva and Dorpat lightly - he had during late 1703 and early 1704 repeatedly urged both the government in Stockholm and Governor General de la Gardie in Estonia to support Narva and was quite upset when little was done. However, I believe it is quite obvious that Charles in 1701-1702 had made a choice and that was to pursue the war with Augustus to a successful conclusion, i.e. to have him replaced by a new King (who had to be a native Pole). In order to reach this goal Charles was fully prepared to temporally sacrifice parts of the Baltic provinces, so that he in the end would be able to concentrate all available forces against one remaining enemy.

This is also, in my opinion, where critics of his Polish policy often err. Their conclusion is generally that Charles underestimated the Russian threat and marched into Poland believing that the forces he left in Ingria, Livonia and Courland would be able to protect the provinces. I think that's unlikely as the first heavy Russian attacks came as early as in September 1701 and Schlippenbach's army suffered its first big defeat in late December the same year. At that time the main army was not further away than Courland and it would still have been entirely possible to cut short the involvement in the Lithuanian civil war and return north. But the decision had already been made. Once it had, it was imperative to have the bulk of the reinforcements go to the King's own army rather than to Ingria or Livonia. 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 8:56 PM MEST
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Monday, 12 August 2013
The Sapieha family

The decision by Charles XII to carry the war into Poland and Lithuania in order to force Augustus II to abdicate has for more than 300 years been regarded as one of his most controversial decisions. As far as we know most of his political advisors argued against it, either because they felt that it would be nearly impossible to achieve such a result or because they felt that negotiations with Polish representatives would make Augustus virtually incapable of interfering with a Swedish campaign against Russia.  When Charles made this decision has also been debated by historians. Some have tended to think that it was made shortly after the battle of Narva, when it appeared that the Czar would be out of the game for some time. Others have suggested that it was made shortly after the crossing of the Daugava in July 1701, when it became clear that the Saxon army had been beaten but not destroyed. In more recent works (which in this case is the 1960's) it has been suggested that the Sapieha family and Prince Jakub Ludwik Sobieski played an important. According to this version of events it was appeals from the Prince and from the Sapieha's gave Charles the opportunity to send his forces into Lithuania and get involved in the civil war.

I believe it's fairly obvious that the Swedish goverment had been watching events in Poland and Lithuania very closely since the death of Jan Sobieski. While Charles XI was reluctant to act decisively for a certain candidate was clear who he and his advisors preferred - a native Pole. He would presumably be friendly towards Sweden and inclined to view Russia as a threat because of the major territorial losses suffered by the Commonwealth in 1667/1686. A French candidate was the least desirable, which in hindsight may seem a bit paradoxical as France was probably the country which could be of most value to the Swedish Empire. Indeed, this was something Charles XII eventually came to realize and one wonders what might have happened if he in 1701-1702 had been prepared to throw his support behind the Prince of Conti.

The Sapieha family became the first really influential ally to Charles and he would stick with them. In General Lewenhaupt's memoirs there is a description of an incident which took place during the General's visit to the Royal headquarters in the Spring of 1708. At that point Prince Michał Serwacy Wiśniowiecki (1680-1744) had switched sides and Lewenhaupt spoke, he writes, highly of the Prince and the assistance his forces had been given Lewenhaupt during the preceding months. The King, Lewenhaupt claims, got redder and redder in the face while the General made unfavorable remarks about the Sapiehas and their forces and finally said: "But We wish to support the Sapieha family!" This is amply corraborated by the instruction to Georg Wachschlager, the Swedish envoy to King Stanislaw, dated 31 May 1708. In paragraph 8 it says (roughly translated):

"As it is in the aforementioned treaty (Warsaw 1705 - ny note) it is assured that the Sapieha family will be reinstated in all its former honors and offices and receive compensation for all injuries and damages suffered through the actions of the opposing faction during this war, it is His Majesty's wish that the Envoy embraces the issues of concern to this family and in all possible ways supports and assists them when they so ask. He should do this in such a way that the Royal Court of Poland understands that it is very dear to the heart of the King of Sweden that the Sapieha family, which all the way back to the beginning of the war has shown a most laudable fidelity to its promises, is supported and protected against all oppression."

Source: Riksarkivet, Diplomatica, Polonica, vol. 311.


Posted by bengt_nilsson at 10:17 PM MEST
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Sunday, 4 August 2013
"Here is nothing" - the attempt to save Narva

On 3 August 1704 Governor General Axel Julius de la Gardie wrote to the Castle Court (Burggericht) in Reval. In the letter he asked the court to immediately call Colonel Bernhard Johan Mellin, the postmaster Grubb and some others to testify in the presence of Anders Lifman, who was one of the top officials in the administration. According to de la Gardie he had ordered Lifman to send provisions to Narva, but the latter had failed to carry out the instruction. De la Gardie also claimed that one ship that was to carry supplies to Narva had been diverted and used by Lifman for private business.

When Mellin testified he said that he had understood that the Governor General was troubled by the lack of provisions in Narva, but he has not been present when de la Gardie ordered Lifman to take care of the matter. Next witness on the list was Major David Philip von Hertzog, but Lifman objected as there was jealousy between him and the Major. When asked to explain he stated that something had occured last winter, but neither Hertzog nor the court deemed the event important. 

In his testimony Major Hertzog  said that he had not been present when de la Gardie gave the order to Lifma. The only thing he knew was that there had been talk in the Governor General's Chancery about the urgent need to supply Narva. The only thing he knew about Lifman's actions was that the latter once had said "God knows when Horn gets enough supplies". 

Next witness was Johan Corylander, secretary to the Governor General. Corylander said that he had no recollection of any written order to Lifman. He did know that Major General Horn last summer had learned through spies that the enemy was planning an attack on Narva and had therefore asked for provisions. De la Gardie had called a meeting and read Horn's letter aloud and it had been established that Horn had already received supplies from other places. From Reval nothing could be sent as half of Estonia had been devastated by the enemy and not only Narva but also the garrisons at Dorpat and Reval as well as Schlippenbach's army needed provisions. When Horn through a new letter had repeated his request de la Gardie had, according to Corylander, exclaimed "What can I do. Here is nothing. You have heard what Ribbing and Lifman said during the meeting." Corylander had replied: "It would be a very serious matter if such an important fortress as Narva was forced to surrender. If Major General Horn did indeed ask for more than he needed it would would most certainly result in the King demanding an explanation, but if a loss of Narva could be blamed on lack of supplies it would also be a most serious thing". Corylander had asked De la Gardie to contemplate this. The Governor General had then recalled Ribbing and Lifman, who both had agreed that nothing could be found at Reval. 

When Horn then in the autumn had repeated his request with considerable urgency the Governor General had called for Ribbing and Lifman again. He had read Horn's letter aloud and Lifman had again said "Here is nothing". Coylander had again repeated his warning and de la Gardie had sat in silence for a while. He had then turned to Ribbing and asked for his opinion. Ribbing had said that Narva most certainly needs some provisions and de la Gardie had agreed with him. Lifman had remained silent. 

To be continued...

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 11:03 PM MEST
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Sunday, 28 July 2013
The De la Gardie papers

Count Jacob Gustaf de la Gardie (1768-1842) is one of the most prominent collectors of books and manuscripts in Swedish history. After his death most of the manuscripts came to Lund University Library, where they still remain. From the time of the Great Northern War the most important parts originate from Fabian Wrede (1641-1712), Councillor of the Realm and expert in financial matters and from three members of the de la Gardie family - Axel Julius (1637-1710) and his two sons Adam Carl (1668-1721) and Magnus Julius (1674-1741). Axel Julius was, as I have mentioned in previous posts, for many years Governor General of Estonia as well as Councillor of the Realm. Adam Carl was during the first part of the war Colonel of the de la Gardie Infantry Regiment and later became County Governor in Kalmar. Magnus Julius served abroad until after Poltava and upon returning home was appointed Colonel of the recreated Dalecarlia Infantry Regiment. He was promoted to Major General in 1713 and to Lieutenant General in 1717. He is among other things notable as a strong believer in the musket, arguing against the reintroduction of the pike that took place after Charles XII had returned to Sweden in late 1715. In de la Gardie's opinion the musket was very superior as a defensive weapon, a view which probably appeared totally irrelevant to the very attack-minded King.

In the Adam Carl de la Gardie papers there are quite a few letters from officers in his regiment and also some financial records concerning the creation of the regiment. In the Axel Julius papers there is one document of particular interest. It deals with the failure to adequately supply Narva in 1703-04 despite the urgent appeals of Major General Horn and an attempt by Axel Julius de la Gardie to divert attention from himself when questions were being asked. More about this in my next entry.

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 3:59 PM MEST
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Sunday, 21 July 2013
Ambassador Khilkov

On 20 August 1700 (Swedish calendar) the Russian envoy Andrey Chilkov had his first audience with Charles XII in the latter's camp on Seeland. His mission was ostensibly to prepare the arrival of a Great Embassy and to take up the position as permanent resident in Stockholm. In reality the Czar had long ago agreed to attack Sweden as soon as he had finished the war with the Ottoman Empire, so Khilkov's mission was most likely just another part of a very deliberate scheme to fool the Swedes. On 30 August Khilkov had his farewell meeting with the King in Kristianstad. It is described in some detail by Olof Stiernhöök, one of the Drabants. Khilkov came in a carriage drawn by six horses and was dressed in the Hungarian fashion. Upon arrival Khilkov took out a small piece of paper and started to read in Russian. When he had finished his interpreter stepped forward and read the same in Swedish. The message was just a note of thanks for how well he had been treated during his stay in Sweden, something he promised to report to the Czar. After that Samuel Göthe read the Swedish reply (in Swedish) and the interpreter did the same in Russian. Göthe then said (again in Swedish) that Charles XII had read the Czar's letter and asked Khilkov to present the reply to Peter along with friendly greetings. After that Charles took the Swedish letter from his advisor Count Polus and handed it to Khilkov. Göthe told the envoy that the King had decided to give him a royal dinner the same night, but as it was Friday Khilkov would eat only fish. Khilkov soon continued his journey and arrived in Stockholm on 19 September.

Two days later the news of the Russian attack reached Stockholm. On the 25th Khilkov had a meeting with Chancery president Oxenstierna and expressed surprise at the news. In his opinion, Khilkov said, it could hardly be anything else than an auxiliary corps commanded by Saxon officers. Khilkov said that he was greatly impressed by the Swedish army and navy and suggested that he should be given permission to send a courirer to the Czar with a warning. On the 24th and the 25th the Council of the Realm held meetings to discuss what to do with Khilkov and other Russians. On the 26th the Chancery wrote to the King, asking for his orders. Khilkov was at the same time asked to stay in his house. Before Charles had received the letters from Stockholm the news from Ingria had reached him and on 30 September he ordered the Council to arrest Khilkov and all other Russians, a letter which arrived in Stockholm on 10 October. 




Almquist, H., Ryska fångar i Sverige och svenska i Ryssland 1700-1709. I. Ryssarna i Sverige // Karolinska Förbundets Årsbok. - 1942. - P. 38-191

Stiernhöök, O., Journal på det som passerade wedh Hans Kongl. Maijt:s drabanter... // Karolinska Förbundets Årsbok. - 1912. - P. 325-408.

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 1:09 PM MEST
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Sunday, 14 July 2013
Rebellion in Astrakhan

On 1 March 1709 Georg Lybecker, County Governor at Vyborg and commander of the Finnish army wrote to his colleague G. W. von Budberg, acting Deputy Governor of Riga (roughly translated):

"A Russian soldier, a native of Astrakhan, arrived yesterday. He claims that it was caused by the daily bother he has had to endure as a result of his countrymen having rebelled and his brother's desertion when the Russians were here under the fortress (in 1706 - my note). The most important he has to say is that these rebels have captured two fortresses and are now roaming the countryside, killing anyone who dares oppose them. The Khan who was placed in charge of them has mysteriously disappeared from Moscow and no one knows where he is. From travellers he has heard that our gracious King last autumn came as close as 200 versts from Moscow, where he was met by the entire Russian force. The enemy was defeated and dispersed och our gracious King then retreated. After that he hasn't noticed anything, except that everyone hopes that peace will come this winter. In Petersburg no flags or other signs of celebration had been seen, neither on the fleet or in the churches. No Prasnik had been celebrated. At about the same time eight regiments had left Ingria for Moscow. At present the northern provinces are being emptied of all suitable men, so that only one man is left at each farm. The hangman is following, taking care of everyone who dares to resist or isn't coming fast enough. However, there is such a shortage of men that not many can be found. As for the rest he says much the same as I did in my last letter, except that the Czar is expected at Petersburg and the houses and everything else has been prepared for his arrival. It is likely that he has now arrived. "



Uppsala  University Library, Dorpat-Riga collection, box 3


Posted by bengt_nilsson at 8:53 PM MEST
Updated: Sunday, 14 July 2013 9:00 PM MEST
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Saturday, 13 July 2013
Saved from a junk-shop
Topic: Archives

In the Uppsala University Library is preserved a most peculiar collection called Dorpat-Riga-samlingen. It consists of three medium sized boxes, filled with largely uncatalogued and only partially sorted documents which at least to some extent were discovered in the early 1940's by library staff in a local junk-dealer's shop. Apparently they had once been acquired in Berlin by a Swedish collector, but that is as far as they can be traced. However, as many of them bear the small blue stamp of the Russian archival commission which around 1900 were trying to organize the old Swedish archive in Riga it's obvious that they must have been removed after that. There is no distinctive logic to the material, so it's entirely possible that the whoever took them was mostly after autographs and seals. The oldest documents are from around 1600, but a large proportion of them dates from the first decade of the Great Northern War.

In the collection there are many letters from local commanders during the GNW, for example more than a dozen written by Georg Lybecker. Some of these are from the time of his ill-fated expedition into Ingria in 1708 and does not only shed light on his decisions but also on what sort of information he was able to acquire. There are also quite a few letters from various officers in Livonia and Courland, not least from early 1708, as well as from diplomatic representatives abroad. In the next few weeks I will present some of the material in more detail.

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:20 PM MEST
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Sunday, 7 July 2013
A fateful message
Topic: Diplomacy

After the Saxon attack on Riga in February 1700 Swedish officials and diplomats had wondered about the position of Russia. Would the Czar join Augustus or remain neutral? The reports from the Swedish representatives in Moscow, Pskov and Novgorod were inconclusive. They often reported such matters that could be considered as preparations for war, but on the other hand the Czar and his officials made every effort to appear friendly towards Sweden - including sending the envoy Chilkov who had his first meeting with Charles XII just as the war was declared in Moscow. It was also believed that a peace or an armistice with the Ottomans was far off, something that seemed to be confirmed by news from Constantinople which the Swedes received through contacts with the Sapiehas in Lithuania.

Possibly the first person to present the Swedes with conclusive evidence of the Czar's plans was the French envoy Charles-François Caradas, Marquis du Héron (1667-1703). On 1 September 1700 he came to see General Otto Vellingk in the camp at Rujen (Latv. Rujiena). Du Héron showed Vellingk a translation of the Czar's letter to King Augustus, dated Moscow 9 August (printed as no 325 in the first volume of Pisma i bumagi). This message reached Stockholm on 15 September. On 11 September Vellingk reported more disturbing news in a letter which reached Charles XII in Karlshamn on the 19th. Lieutenant Thilou at Neuhausen (Est. Vastseliina) and Captain Ringenheim at Sagnitz (Sangaste) had informed Vellingk that the border was so heavily guarded that no real news got through, but Russians had told them that the Swedish representative in Pskov had been arrested. However, Vellingk hoped that this only meant that the Czar was prepared to assist Augustus in forcing Sweden to agree to a peace. It was first on the 19th that Vellingk got the news from Narva that Russian forces had crossed the border, a letter which by way of Stockholm reached Charles when he already had arrived at Pernau.


Source: Riksarkivet, Skrivelser till Konungen. Karl XII., vol. 30. Letters from Otto Vellingk, September 1700-1705

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:06 PM MEST
Updated: Sunday, 7 July 2013 11:08 PM MEST
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