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The Great Northern War
Monday, 4 November 2013
Krigskollegii brevböcker
Topic: Archives

The series Krigskollegii brevböcker is one the more interesting GNW collections available online (for a fee) through Riksarkivet. These very large volumes contain incoming letters to Krigskollegium (College of War). This administrative body did not have the authority it once had, particularly after the creation of the so called Defensionskommissionen, a committee consisting of several members of the Council of the Realm. Krigskollegium came to handle mostly issues of equipment, production of war materiel and fortifications. It also dealt with military trophies, which can be seen from such items as 1701:2345 ff., various lists of material taken from the Russian camp after the battle of Narva. Among the items one notes 3,569 muskets, 4 barrels of tar and two iron cauldrons. In 1701 there is also a letter from Medicinska Societeten (1701:429), which complains about the situation in regard to barber-surgeons. It's difficult to find qualified men as the pay is too low in view of the fact that the requirements in Sweden are higher than anywhere else in Europe. On 11 July Johan Sjöblad reports (1701:2179) about the succesful crossing of the Daugava etc.

 

 


Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:54 PM CET
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Wednesday, 2 October 2013
The Courland trade
Topic: Diplomacy

Voltaire famously claimed that Charles XII only conquered to give his conquests to someone else, i.e. Stanisław Leszczyński. This is obviously a complete misunderstanding - the King's goals were much more ambitious than that. The gradual occupation of Courland which started in the summer of 1701 was intended to become permanent. This was also in line with the wishes of the merchants in Riga, who did not like the commercial ambitions of the Dukes of Courland. In the work Der baltische Getreidehandel im 17. Jahrhundert (1961) Arnold Soom briefly discusses some of the more "militant" attempts to limit the trade through Courland. One such attempt was made in 1690, when a Swedish man-of-war during the summer cruised off the coast of Courlandin an attempt to control the traffic. In 1691 the experiment was continued with the intent of stopping any trade to private ports. The Swedish captain Hans Ankarcrantz managed to capture two ships, which the Duke claimed belonged to him. A Swedish investigation found that this was not true, but the two vessels were nevertheless released for the sake of "good neighbourly relations". The Swedish Governor General of Livonia Hastfer was despite this incident determined to make an other effort in 1692. 

These events can be followed in LVVA, fond 7349. In op. 1, vol. 237 one finds for example an inventory of the two captured ships, a brief journal of the expeditions in 1690 and 1691 as well as letters and other documents dealing with similar naval expeditions later in the 1690's. In the Swedish copy book for 1697 (op. 1, vol. 69) there is the instruction issued to captain Michael Albrechtson in May 1697, when he was about to embark on one of these. Albrechtson is instructed to stop all trade from other ports than Libau and Windau, but make it quite clear to anyone he stops that he is just protecting ancient rights and privileges. 


Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:57 PM MEST
Updated: Wednesday, 2 October 2013 9:58 PM MEST
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Tuesday, 24 September 2013
Passenger lists
Topic: Archives

In Bienemann's Katalog des Schwedischen Generalgouverneur-Archivs zu Riga (1908) there is a subseries called IX. Städtesachen. In this one finds for instance a number of volumes dealing with Riga (1-15). Some of these can be identified in LVVA, fond 7349, op. 1. They are volumes 177-189:

IX: 1 =?

IX:2 = 177

IX:3 = ?

IX:4 = 178

IX:5 = 180

IX:6 = ?

IX:7 = 181

IX:8 = 182

IX:9 = 183

IX:10 = 184

IX:11 = 185

IX:12 = 186

IX:13 = 187

IX:14 = 188

IX:15 = 189

 

According to Bienemann's catalogue volume IX:3  contained miscellaneous items concerning Riga dating from 1642-1708. The modern volume 179 still bears the old mark "IX:3, but nowadays only contains material from 1700 to 1708. Where has the rest gone? Even more unfortunate is the loss (?) of volume IX:6, which according to the old catalogue contained passenger lists and other documents concerning in- and outgoing ships between 1691 and 1706.  What has happened to that volume? 

As far as I know a lot of material from Baltic archives were during WWII transported to Troppau (Opava). In some older Soviet works on the matter it's stated that losses were suffered as a result of "enemy action", but I have yet to find an explanation of what that means. In this particularly case it seems a bit peculiar that volumes which belong to the same subseries and presumably were kept together could have suffered very different fates during this period. 

Passenger lists can however also be found in the letters from the garrison commander at Neumünde to the Governor General in Riga. Unfortunately this collection (Bienemann XX:25 - 6 volumes) has encountered other difficulties. In the Estonian Historical Archive in Tartu one finds XX:25b, 25c and 25f, while in the LVVA there are not only op. 1., vol. 298, 299 and 300 but also op. 2, vol. 235. To make things even more complicated some of Albedyhl's letters from 1706 and 1707 form the basis for Bienemann's volume IX:13 and a few others are preserved among the Lewenhaupt papers in Linköping and in the so called Riga-Tartu collection in Uppsala. The latter were most likely taken from Riga after 1908. 

 

 


Posted by bengt_nilsson at 8:19 PM MEST
Updated: Tuesday, 24 September 2013 8:21 PM MEST
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Tuesday, 17 September 2013
An angry exchange
Topic: Diplomacy

Among the records of the Livonian Governor General there is a large number of very fragmentary volumes concerning Swedish-Russian relations during the second part of the 17th century (Riga, LVVA, Fond 7349, op. 2, vol. 57-102 and op. 3, vol. 15-27). While the material belonging to op. 1 roughly constitutes the material catalogued around 1900 (with the exception of the volumes kept in Tartu), the content of op. 2 and 3 are said to have been found after the Bienemann catalogue was published in 1908. To me it seems like op. 2 and 3 predominately consist of records that at some point have been taken from their original volumes in op. 1 and arranged in a new way. Considering that the records were moved during both World War I and II this would seem logical and it's also clear that the occasional document from the archive of the Dukes of Courland (LVVA, Fond 554) have erroneously be moved to fond 7349.

One of these rather strange volumes is op. 3, volume 22. It mainly contains material dating from 1661 to 1685, but starts with something much older - a copy of one of the letters from de famous correspondence between Ivan the Terrible and the Swedish King Johan III. In these letters the two rulers hurled abuse at each other, with Ivan for example suggesting that Johan's father Gustaf I had been a simple peasant and not of noble birth. To this Johan reacted by describing the careers of some of his more distinguished ancestors, explaining their high rank by comparing them to distinguished officials in France, Poland and Lithuania.

I am not sure what role such material could play in Swedish-Russian negotiations almost 100 years later, but apparently someone on the Swedish side must have felt that it would be useful to have at least one of these letters copied. 


Posted by bengt_nilsson at 8:40 PM MEST
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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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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
Propaganda
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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