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Artillery personnel
Great Embassy
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The Great Northern War
Sunday, 24 April 2016
A new website
Topic: Battles

A website dedicated to events in 1718 (and 1716) has recently opened:

The project seems ambitious enough with several prominent institutions and organizations in Sweden and Norway working together. It is understandable that some of the material is fairly provisional at this point, but it seems to me that some of it has been published a bit prematurely. It is for example quite disappointing to read that Peter I of Russia, Frederick IV of Denmark and August II of Saxony-Poland declared war on Sweden in 1700. The fact that Denmark attacked only the Duke of Holstein and Sweden got involved in that particular conflict only to uphold the Treaty of Altona in 1689 ought to be common knowledge - it is after all one of the keys for understanding the events in 1700. The text then goes on to suggest that the Swedish army subsequently was shipped across the Baltic to relieve the besieged Narva - a decision which was only made once the army got across and Charles XII found that Riga was less threatened.

Another rather preculiar detail is the attempt to explain the difference between the Julian and the Gregorian calender without even once mentioning the unique Swedish calender in use 1700-1712. 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:38 PM MEST
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Sunday, 17 April 2016
Johann Jacob Bach in the Swedish army : part 2
Topic: Musicians

Some weeks ago I touched upon the story of Johann Jacob Bach and his service in the Swedish army. It was originally my intention to publish an article on the subject in some suitable journal, but other subjects have a tendency of getting in the way. So I'll do it here instead. 

One of the versions is that Bach joined the Swedish army in 1704, another that he did so in 1707. Let us start with the first one. What happened in 1704? Well, a few new dragoon regiments were recruited, one of the them under the command of Gustaf Adam Taube. So let's check the oldest muster rolls for 1704-1705 for the regiment's hautboists. And there he is as no 1: Johann Jacob Pach (Generalmönsterrullor, Arkiv med löpande volymnumrering, SE/KrA/0023/0/1603 (1704), bildid: A0029803_00009). 

Despite the spelling there is no question about the identity as Bach also turns up in the records from Bender as hautboist from the Taube dragoons, in one case even with his own signature.

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 8:02 PM MEST
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Sunday, 10 April 2016
The silver legend
Topic: Factoids

One of the most famous Swedish stories from the GNW period is the one about how the clergyman Christian Georg Notmann saved the Communion Set belonging to the Västmanland infantry regiment by hastily burying it near a big oak on the battlefield at Poltava. After more than a decade as prisoner of war he then, the story goes, returned after being released, dug it up and brought back to Sweden. This version of the story goes back at least to the poet Carl Snoilsky (1841-1903) and his Regementets kalk, but has since found its way into more scientific literature. So what did Notmann himself say on the subject?

In 1724 Notmann lived in the parish of Kvillinge just outside Norrköping. The vicar had just died and Notmann sought to succeed him. In a letter to the bishop in Linköping he outlined his achievements, particularly after the disaster of 1709: he became a vicar in the German parish of Yaroslavl and also served parishioners in nearby Kostroma. After his release in 1722 he went via Narva to Norrköping and Kvillinge. So nothing about a visit to Poltava...

However, Notmann does tell a story about a Communion Set. At Toruń in 1703 Charles XII personally gave him a chalice and a paten, saying that Notmann should use them when he received his own parish in the future. Notmann apparently sent them to his mother in Riga for safekeeping and when she fled to Sweden she ended up in Kvillinge, where she gave them to the church. So, Notmann writes, if he was appointed vicar in Kvillinge he would be able to use the chalice and the paten in the way the late King had wished. 

This part of the story is confirmed by an inventory from the early 18th century: "On 2 August 1711 Catharina Eleonora Stenhammar of Kvarntorp presented the church of Kvillinge with a gilded chalice and a paten...". 

Unfortunately for Notmann the parishioners preferred the late vicar's son and he never got his own parish, dying in Kvillinge in 1739. It mattered very little that King Frederick I in 1723 had recommended Notmann, stating that it would be gratifying if the latter received some sort of promotion after having endured so many difficulties during GNW. 


Landsarkivet i Vadstena, Domkapitlet i Linköpings arkiv E IV : 193

Landsarkivet i Vadstena, Kvillinge kyrkoarkiv C I : 2


Posted by bengt_nilsson at 10:13 PM MEST
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Sunday, 3 April 2016
Short break
There will be no new post today as I have had to spend the weekend immersing myself in the workings of mid-18th century bureaucracy in preparation for an article on the poet, clergyman and collector Samuel Älf (1727-1799). Perhaps something later in the week or else next Sunday.

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 10:40 PM MEST
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Sunday, 27 March 2016
The General's servant
Topic: Generals

In December 1703 Reverend Daniel Rydelius in Vinnerstad parish wrote to his superiors in Linköping. There were rumours circulating that General Lewenhaupt's bailiff Simon Larsson Hesselgren at the estate of Charlottenborg was having an extramarital relation with the late reverend Frodelius daughter Greta. Rydelius had tried to find out the truth, but with little success. What should he do?

The issue soon came to Hesselgren's attention and he lodged a complaint. There was absolutely no truth to the rumours. He had for a long time been friends with the Frodelius family. Hesselgren's own wife had been very ill for more than six years and their children were young. The war meant difficult times so it was only natural that he sought out friends for help and advice. Hesselgren lamented that his reputation had been tarnished by Rydelius report. Had he not, Hesselgren wrote, since he left school been in the service of Major General Lewenhaupt and accompanied the General on journeys through Germany, France, Italy, England, Holland, Persia and Russia? Would Lewenhaupt have kept Hesselgren in his service for so long if Rydelius view of him was correct?

Had Lewenhaupt and Hesselgren really visited all those countries? Well, the question mark is around Persia. Hesselgren and Lewenhaupt took part in the Swedish embassy to Russia in 1684, but there is nothing to suggest that they went further. Hesselgren's own journal is silent on the subject.


Landsarkivet i Vadstena, Domkapitlets i Linköping arkiv E IV:303 (Vinnerstad parish 1701-1725) 

Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek, X  418 (Simon Hesselgren's travel journal)

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:32 PM MEST
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Sunday, 20 March 2016
Kobron 1700
Topic: Battles

When Saxon forces crossed the border on the evening of 11 February 1700 and moved towards Riga they came upon the small fort of Kobron, situated just across the river from Riga. The fort was very small and the garrison minimal. The commander Major Conrad von Bildstein reported to Dahlbergh at 1 p.m. on the 12th that he had observed advancing Saxons since 7 a.m. He had not been able to determine the enemy's strength. Bildstein asked for reinforcements and orders how to act. Dahlbergh, who was unwilling to weaken the defense of Riga, immediately replied that Bildstein would have to do the best he could with the men he already had..

The distraught commander wrote back in the evening of the 12th, stating that the fort was weak and the garrison insufficient, but he would with the help of God do his best. However, Bildstein assured Dahlbergh, it was quite impossible for anyone to defend Kobron under the present circumstances. The Saxon infantry had already arrived, he added. 

The next day Bildstein gave a frank assessment of the situation. He had at his disposal "41 useless soldiers" who would not be able to fire a single shot and the other 9 could certainly fire once, but before they had been able to reload the enemy would be at their throats. It was a pity that the enemy would get all the beautiful ammunition stored at Kobron. The Saxon cavalry and artillery had passed the fort, Bildstein added.

In the night between the 13th and 14th the Saxons forces attacked Kobron and captured it after a short fight.

Source: Riksarkivet, Stockholm, M 1374 (Account of the attack on Riga written by Dahlbergh's secretary Blåman. Several reports by Bildstein are attached.)

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 10:56 PM MEST
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Sunday, 13 March 2016
Lewenhaupt in early 1708
Topic: Generals
Not a lot is known about Lewenhaupt's views on the situation as the main army drew closer in early 1708. It has often been assumed that he advocated a less ambitious plan, i.e. was opposed to a march on Moscow. Some insights can be gained from a volume in Tartu (EAA.278.2.86), which contains drafts of his outgoing orders during January. They show that he was in contact with persons close to Charles XII (for example Major Generaöl Meijerfelt). On 2 January 1708 Lewenhaupt wrote to the latter, stating that he believed the Russians would withdraw once the main army got closer. Interestingly Lewenhaupt claims that his own army is ready to march and would leave Courland if there only were supplies enough. Especially fodder was a problem as "our friends" the forces of Wisniowiecki and Sapieha had caused more damage than the enemy. If only Wisniowiecki still had been an enemy - then Lewenhaupt could march anywhere. If the Russians advanced Lewenhaupt would, he states, have no other choice than collect his forces and meet them despite the fact that he had fodder for just 3 days. If only the King would arrive and give the Courland army more room.

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 10:58 PM MEST
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Sunday, 6 March 2016
Very stubborn
Topic: Archives

At present I am preparing an article on the clergyman and poet Samuel Älf (1727-1799), today perhaps best known for the large collection of Swedish poetry in Latin which he gifted to the Diocesan Library in Linköping. Without his lifelong efforts many of these works would likely have been lost. Älf naturally kept an extensive correspondence with scholars and public officials, of which at least a considerable number of incoming letters have been preserved in Linköping and in Uppsala. One example:

In late May 1790 Magdalena Stenbock (1744-1822), married to a member of the Cederhielm family, wrote to Älf about some books he had lent her. One of these "The Prince of Württemberg" (likely an edition of Bardili's work, first published in 1730) she had leafed through and found "the same things as in the histories of Charles XII: bravery, good intentions, a good heart, but no order, much stubbornness and vanity, which often results in misfortunes. Which we and he himself had to pay dearly for. If he had in time made peace with Poland and just disciplined our proud neighbour on the other side she would right now be less overbearing and we a formidable power. But -  what did not happen then will hopefully happen now. However, it would have been better to nip it in the bud and he had such an opportunity."

Magdalena Stenbock was of course referring to Russia and Gustav III's attempts to "discipline the proud neighbour" during the war of 1788-1790. 

Source: Linköping Diocesan Library, Br 37

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:49 PM CET
Updated: Sunday, 6 March 2016 10:33 PM CET
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Sunday, 28 February 2016
A Royal doodler
Topic: Archives

There are few instances when you get as close Charles XII as when you hold in your hand a letter which contains his notes. A particular group of such documents which contains his own "illustrations":

A doodle made by Charles XII usually (in my experience) contains weapons (axes, halberds and such) and field-works. This example would seem to be slightly more civilian in character (a lot of Latin numbers) and an even today often used vulgar term for urine ("piss"). The Royal unhappiness may have had something to do with the content of letter - the letter from Col. Schlippenbach and the attachment from Lt. Col. Romanowitz vividly explains the poor state of the soldiers due to the cold and the various hardships suffered.

Source: Riksarkivet, Stockholm, Skrivelser till Konungen. Karl XII:s tid, vol. 23 





Posted by bengt_nilsson at 12:01 AM CET
Updated: Saturday, 27 February 2016 8:51 PM CET
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Sunday, 21 February 2016
A report from London
Topic: Diplomacy

The Governor Generals of Livonia kept a fairly extensive correspondence with Swedish diplomats abroad and it went far beyond the area of immedia interest (Poland and Russia). A typical item from 1670:

On 30 December 1670 the Swedish envoy to London wrote to Claes Tott (1630-1674), one of the more illustrous men to hold the position (his grandfather had married a daughter of Erik XIV and Claes Tott had been one of Queen Christina's favourites). In his letter Leijonbergh reports on recent events. During Christmas the Court had spent the first day "with devotion", but the following days with comedies and other amusements. On the 29th Parliament had met. "Johan Coventry" (Sir John Coventry), who had had recently been attacked (on the 21st) had appeared before Parliament to show his wounds.

"Sir Edward Sprag" (Edward Spragge) was reportedly chasing 9 pirate ships from Algier. In the meantime money was being collected in London for ransoming English captives and the Archbishop of Canterbury (Gilbert Sheldon) had reportedly pledged 4,000 pound sterling.

At the Royal Exchange there was great unrest as a result of a large "Harzican" (Hurricane) near Barbados. 12 ships were reportedly missing.

"Mons. Bertue" (Charles Bertie), brother of the Earl of Lindsey, had been ordered to prepare for his journey to Denmark where he would serve as Envoy.

Source: EAA, Tartu, EAA 278.2.186 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:16 PM CET
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