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The Great Northern War
Monday, 31 October 2016
After Errastfer
Topic: Battles
Shortly after the battle of Errastfer Schlippenbach sent the King an extensive account of the battle. A couple of days later (5 January 1702) he added his own analysis. Schlippenbach emphasized that he had always attempted to serve Charles to the best of his ability and the defeat was primarily a result of the cavalry not having done its duty. It was impossible, the major general wrote, to rely on such soldiers. Could the King not send some reinforcements? The units sent in September had only partially reached him. Albedyhl’s dragoons were supposed to be 300, but were only 60. Only ¼ of Stenbock’s dragoons were with the army and Wactmeister’s regiment was 120 men short.
Schlippenbach’s brother had also been ordered to join the army, but his unit had neither received supplies nor weapons. I dare not, the major general stated, write everything because of fear that those who have caused these problems will take their revenge on me. The artillery had done very well, especially captain Sonnenberg who had been forced to assist in loading the guns. The guns had 25 to 30 shots each and had used up all but 3-4. If the cavalry had had not begun to flee so quickly the guns would have been saved and the army could have stopped its retreat much earlier.
Schlippenbach had, he stated, done everything he could and no one could reasonably blame him for the defeat. All the officers had done their duty, so the fault lay with the common soldiers in the cavalry. The major general had brought the executioner from Dorpat to set an example. 
Source: Riksarkivet, Skrivelser till Konungen. Karl XII, vol.  24.

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 5:46 PM MEST
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Sunday, 23 October 2016
The bold Schlippenbach
Topic: Factoids

In 1719 Wolmar Anton von Schlippenbach, by then in the service of Czar Peter, claimed that he upon receiving his promotion to Major General in 1701 had replied to Charles XII: "Thank you, but I would have preferred 7,000- 8,000 soldiers". This is (naturally) quite untrue. On 2 October 1701 Schlippenbach acknowledged the arrival of his promotion and expressed his gratitude. There was nothing he would rather do for the rest of his life, Schlippenbach wrote, than serve the King and try his outmost to please him. 

The closest to this dramatic (but apparently untrue) warning can be found in Schlippenbach's letter dated 6 September. After relating the recent fairly successful skirmishes he points out the enemy's numerical superiority and his own army's weakness, asking for instructions and reinforcements. Upon receiving this dispatch in Grobin on 16 September Charles XII immediately acted accordingly, sending the regiments of Fritz Wachtmeister and Erik Stenbock as well as 300 men from Albedyhl's dragoons and another 50 dragoons just arrived at Reval. The King also ordered Governor General Dahlbergh to send 937 from the garrison at Riga and nearby post. Charles had carefully looked at Dahlbergh's dispositions and decided that the post at Kobron could be brought down from 190 men to 30. By making similar savings elsewhere (6 men here, 42 there, 24 here, 18 there etc.) he managed to scrape together almost 1,000 infantry, which together with the other reinforcements more or less doubled the size of Schlippenbach's force. Charles realized that this may still prove to be insufficient and gave Schlippenbach full control of corps in Livonia. If the newly appointed major general believed the situation forced him to retreat there was no need to ask for permission first - Schlippenbach had every right to conduct the campaign as he saw fit. Advance or retreat, it was Schlippenbach's call to make. Similar instructions were issued to Cronhjort in Ingria, a fact which rather disproves the old myth that Charles was reluctant to delegate.


Riksarkivet, Skrivelser till Konungen. Karl XII, vol 23-24

Riksarkivet, Riksregistraturet 

Ustryalov, N., Istoriya Tsarstvovaniya Petra Velikago. Tom 4 Chast 2. - Saint Petersburg, 1863

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 8:00 PM MEST
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Sunday, 16 October 2016
Jean Charles de Folard
Topic: Archives

Among the many French soldiers who entered Swedish service during the Great Northern War few acquired the reputation of Jean Charles de Folard (perhaps better known as Chevalier de Folard). His letters to Goertz form the basis for chapter IX in Charles de Coynard biographic study (1914). Folard greatly admired Charles XII and went to Sweden in 1716. An illness forced him to return to France in the autumn of 1717, but the ship he was travelling on was wrecked off Skagen. In Folard's company was Hans Gyllenskepp, who was carrying secret dispatches for Poniatowski. Folard lost most of his luggage, including manuscripts and letters, but survived and got back to France. He was still planning to return to Sweden when Charles fell in November 1718. 

What Coynard did not know was that some letters from Folard to Charles remain, well hidden in a private archive. They suggest that Folard and Charles had immersed themselves in discussions about ancient history as well as about more practical matters. On 23 June 1718 Folard writes to the King that he has sent a drawing of a gun carriage for naval use and has been working on similar inventions for field and siege artillery. Due to the risk of them being captured by the enemy he has not yet forwarded those plans, but will do so if the King requests it. He also writes about a rifle which will fire five shots in the time an ordinary musket fires one. 

The second surviving letter is dated Paris 28 August 1718. Folard discusses at some length the reasons behind Alexander's great success against the Persians and the exploits of Caesar. Folard seems to suggest that these ancient examples proves that a smaller force can succeed by a rapid and determined assault (something Charles undoubtedly fully agreed with).

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 8:49 PM MEST
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Sunday, 9 October 2016
Guns and ammunition from Courland
Topic: Archives

When the Swedish army took control of Courland in 1701 they came upon considerable amounts of guns and ammunition. On 26 September Governor General Dahlbergh wrote to Major General Carl Gustaf Mörner in Mitau, asking him about the size and quality of the captured items. Mörner was blunt in his reply. Very little was of any use. The hand grenades were so brittle that they broke into pieces if dropped to the floor. The cannonballs and musket balls were of the wrong caliber and not worth wasting any time on.

During the attempts to strengthen the Peipus squadron the following year a new attempt was made. Would it possible to obtain guns from the iron works at Angern? The result was not much better. On 22 March Nils Klintenhielm wrote from Mitau that the boring house had burnt down five years earlier, so no guns could be produced there and none were available at Mitau. The only items available at Angern were horseshoes and nails - of little use to a navy.


LVVA, fond 7349, op. 1, vol. 73

Riksarkivet, Gustaf Adolf Strömfelts arkiv, vol. 16 

Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek, Dorpat-Rigasamlingen, vol. 1 (these papers later rearranged and renamed "Livonica".)

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 7:55 PM MEST
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Sunday, 2 October 2016
Hedvig Sofia
Topic: Archives

Charles XII was extremely fond of his two sisters Hedvig Sofia and Ulrika Eleonora. It is well known that the news of Hedvig Sofia's death, which had arrived just before Poltava, was kept from him for quite some time because his entourage feared that such a blow could cause grave damage to his health. Charles XII and his eldest sister were very close, which her letters to him clearly show. Upon hearing the news from Narva she wrote to him on 7 December 1700. The first report had reached Stockholm on the 4th and futher confirmation had arrived the next day. The joy was indescribable, the Duchess wrote. God would undoubtedly continue to help and bring the Polish business to a quick resolution.

On the 28th the Duchess wrote again, thanking the King for a greeting sent by Arvid Horn and for the account of the battle by Carl Gustaf Wrangel. It was obvious, she wrote, that a very thorough fact checker had been at work. This was particularly pleasing as it proved that the King had not forgotten his devoted sister. May the Lord continue to protect His Majesty and help him carry out all his plans. I only wish, the Duchess wrote, that I will one day have an opportunity to meet Your Majesty again.

In her next letter, dated 29 January 1701, Hedvig Sofia jokingly informed Charles that some of the women at court had become soldiers and had enrolled her. They had their own uniforms and was now preparing to sail to Livonia. They would surely frighten the Russians more than the Russians would frighten them. The life at court was merry, but the King was missed. When he returned it would surely become even merrier.

On 4 February Hedvig Sofia gently reprimanded her brother. She was pleased with the greetings sent through Arvid Horn, but wished the King would write himself. She did not particularly like the stories about his disregard for his health. On him rested all hopes and he should take better care of himself. 

Source: Riksarkivet, Skrivelser till Konungen. Karl XII, vol. 38 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:05 PM MEST
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Sunday, 25 September 2016
Vellingk's second thoughts : part 4
Topic: Battles

On 25 July 1700 Vellingk was forced to inform Charles XII that the Saxons had been able to cross the Düna in force. In light of the General's previous optimistic assessments of the situation this must have embarrassed him. What had happened?

Well, according to Vellingk the cause was Governor General Dahlbergh's failure to keep the army supplied. Otto Vellingk had, he stated, repeatedly asked Dahlbergh for bread but none had arrived. Major General Maydell's advance party of 2,700 men had been without bread for three days and had been unable to remain. On the 20th Vellingk had anvanced towards the Saxons with his entire army, but they had already built a formidable camp near the shore. Vellingk placed his force in battle order, but could not get the Saxons to attack. Finally he had been forced to withdraw towards Yxkull. The Saxons pursued and as Vellingk considered them to be significantly stronger (about 14,000 to 15,000 men) than his own army (about 8,000), he decided to continue his withdrawal. During this two squadrons of the Åbo Cavalry were attacked, but the enemy pulled back when these were supported by infantry. The enemy had used a peculiar tactic. Each horseman was supported by a musketeer sitting beside him, who stepped forward and fired when the cavalry was about to attack. The Swedish cavalry withstood this fire as well as the fire from the Saxon horse and returned fire. A lot of Saxons were killed and 30 Saxons horses with empty saddles came over to Swedes. 

In this situation Vellingk sent an officer to Dahlbergh, informing the Governor General that only two options remained. Either to fight the Saxons, in which case Dahlbergh ought to send 2,000 men from the Riga garrison or further retreat. Dahlbergh replied by sending Governor Frölich and colonels Wangersheim and Albedyhl, who informed Vellingk that no reinforcements from the garrison were possible. Instead Vellingk should detach 4,000 infantry from his own army as well as some cavalry. Vellingk accepted and kept only 1,600 infantry. Dahlbergh also took 400 cavalry. This meant, Vellingk wrote, that the garrison in Riga was stronger than the Saxon infantry.

Vellingk hoped that the events would not be harshly judged by the King. All the officers under his command had conducted  themselves very well and he hoped that no one would be able spread unfavorable stories. He could have crossed the Düna himself, but too much was lacking. There was a shortage of fodder for the horses and the two Governor Generals had not been very helpful. 

Source: Riksarkivet, Skrivelser till Konungen. Karl XII, vol. 29 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 7:49 PM MEST
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Sunday, 18 September 2016
Vellingk's second thoughts : part 3
Topic: Battles

Vellingk sent his next report on 18 June.  According to the general not much had changed. A lot of Saxon deserters were arriving. They were alla saying that the wages were poor and the supply situation very bad. Vellingk had spread a rumour about how extremely well all deserters were treated and hoped this would further weaken the enemy. 2,000 Lithuanians had arrived in the enemy camp as well as 800 Guards and four regiments of cavalry. The Saxons force was now estimated at 7,000 horse and three regiments of infantry. Further units had been recruited in Lithuania and Courland, but their strength was unknown. More Saxon units were expected by sea, so Vellingk estimated that he would soon be outnumbered. This made him believe that a change in approach was needed, i.e. it was no longer advisable to attempt a crossing of the Düna. Vellingk were instead planning to strengthen his defensive positions and wait. Presumably the enemy's supply situation would continue to worsen and the desertions increase. But, Vellingk assured the King, if he could get supplies for two weeks an attack on the Saxons would still be possible - the general did not consider the Saxon and Lithuanian cavalry to be of any higher quality. If just the Danes were beaten quickly - then a Swedish relief army could land in Courland and force the Saxons back to deal with the new threat. Vellingk could then cross the river and drive them into Dünamünde. 

The report reached Charles XII in Malmö at the beginning of July after passing through Stockholm. The King was not pleased. On Vellingk's letter he personally wrote (rough translation): "We have received several of your reports at the same time, the last being dated 18 June. As we note from the content that you still haven't crossed the Düna we are quite displeased. We are convinced that something good could have been achieved if you had just crossed the river before the enemy received reinforcements. We certainly appreciate the need of being careful, but it should not put a stop to all initiative." This reply was sent to Vellingk on 5 July. 

Source: Riksarkivet, Skrivelser till Konungen. Karl XII, vol. 29

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 7:02 PM MEST
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Sunday, 11 September 2016
The Swedish calendar
Topic: Livonia

1700-1712 Sweden had its own calendar, which was one day ahead of the Julian calendar and ten days behind the Gregorian calendar. Why? Well, that's an issue which surprisingly hasn't been investigated in detail. The standard work on the issue (Den svenska tidräkningen 1700-1712 by Emil Hildebrand) came as early as in 1882 and it's very brief. I will not attempt go beyond what Hildebrand has to say, except on a couple of details. 

The background was of course the problems with the Julian calendar and the fact that the difference between it and the Gregorian increased by time. During the 17th century it was ten days, but would be eleven by the next century. A German mathematician by the name of Erhard Weigel took a great deal of interest in the matter and in late 1696 he arrived in Stockholm. Sweden was of course at that time one of the most important Protestant countries in Europe, so the position taken by the Swedish authorities could be expected to influence other countries. Upon arriving in Stockholm Weigel presented Charles XI with a number of proposals, including calendar reform. Unfortunately he soon ran into problems. Swedish experts, most notably Johan Bilberg (1646-1717) and Anders Spole (1630-1699), were not enthusiastic. The Gregorian calendar was invented by a pope, a change would bring disorder and Weigel had not been able to prove that he enjoyed the support of other German mathematicians or princes. Weigel should start at home and return when he had convinced everyone else.

Weigel did just that and managed to get quite far at the Diet in Regensburg. The Swedish minister Snoilsky in 1698 informed Charles XII of the developments and so did Weigel himself. In 1699 the discussions continued in Sweden and various proposals were debated. During this period a letter from the Diet arrived: it was in favour of Weigel's proposal and asked for the Swedish opinion. Bengt Oxenstierna, the Chancery President, concluded that the Swedish provinces in Germany had to follow suit, but that this did not mean that Sweden itself would have to make the change. 

Further debate brought forth the idea to change gradually. Johan Bilberg suggested to remove eighth days in 1700 (one in February and the rest in November) and the leap days in 1704, 1708 and 1712. This became the Swedish position and the Diet in Regensburg was informed of it. However, the decision was to go ahead anyway and remove eleven days in February 1700. So how would Sweden respond?

Well, here things get a bit unclear, but apparently Bilberg came forward with a new idea: remove one day in February 1700 in order to keep the difference from growing and use the time for further discussions. On 11 November this was decided in the Chancery.

Then nothing happened for several years. In 1711 Charles XII decided that the "experiment" had gone on for too long and decreed that Sweden in 1712 would go back to the Julian calendar. Thus far Emil Hildebrand's description. 

To this I can add a rather peculiar detail. The decision was apparently not conveyed to the Governors of Livonia and Estonia until well past February 1700. On 20 March 1700 Charles XII wrote to Dahlbergh and de la Gardie, ordering them to make the correction.The letter reached Dahlbergh on 4 April and two days later he sent instructions to both the clergy and the Court of Appeal in Dorpat. 


LVVA, Fond 7349, op. 1, vol. 52, German letterbook for 1700

LVVA, fond 7349, op. 1, vol. 149, Royal letters for 1701

Hildebrand, E., Den svenska tidräkningen 1700-1712. - Stockholm, 1882

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 7:07 PM MEST
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Sunday, 4 September 2016
Vellingk's second thoughts : part 2
Topic: Battles

Otto Vellingk sent his next report on 6 June 1700. He started by alluding to his letter two days earlier and the supply problems he would encounter if the army crossed the river into Courland. Vellingk then went on to say that he believed the King would not favour an attack into Courland since this would risk drawing not only the Polish Republic but also Brandenburg into the war. Vellingk believed it important to proceed carefully and not move ointo Courland until the army could be supplied from Livonia. The General also stated that he was about to send letters two Hetman Sapieha and to the Duke of Courland in order to ascertain their views on the situation. Otto Vellingk also suggested that it would be beneficial to open an additional mail route from Pernau to Sandhamn, thereby improving on the two existing (Pernau-Reval and Dorpat-Narva). A couple of yachts going back and forth between Pernau and Sandhamn would speed up communications.

Vellingk's next report was sent on the 11th. He informed the King that the letters to Sapieha and the Duke of Courland had been sent. Three Danish ships had appeared outside Dünamünde and small vessels had been seen travelling between them and the fortress. Major Rosen had been sent on a scouting mission to Courland and the Lithuanian border in order to find out if rumours about Russian reinforcements to the Saxon army were true. Rosen had found that they were quite false. As for more Saxon troops, Vellingk believed it unlikely they would arrive before Midsummer. Before then Vellingk hoped to have collected enough supplies to be able to cross the river. It was unfortunate, Vellingk concluded, that many believed all sorts of rumours. Not long ago the peasants near Dorpat had started to run away because Colonel Skytte had spread unfounded reports.

On the 13th Vellingk again wrote to the King, informing him that Duke Ferdinand had replied. The Duke was in the Saxon camp and had had taken command of their forces. In his letter the Duke made it clear that his own service to King Augustus was an entirely different from him being the administrator of Courland. The Duchy remained outside the conflict. As Vellingk had been made aware of disagreemnts between the Dowager Duchess and Duke Ferdinand he had written to the former as well. The Saxon army had received reinforcements from Lithuania, but these consisted of untrained and badly clothed men. Vellingk remained intent on crossing the Düna, but the supply problems were still unsolved. For the time being it seemed better to remain on the defensive.

The news indicated that the Polish Republic would remain neutral. Sapieha's decision to support King Augustus with troops had caused a rift in Lithuania and many had gone over to Oginski. Vellingk had spread a rumour that a relief army of 8,000 had arrived from Sweden and he hoped that this would spread fear among the Saxons.

Source: Riksarkivet, Skrivelser till Konungen. Karl XII, vol. 29

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 8:20 PM MEST
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Sunday, 28 August 2016
17th and 18th century newspapers
Topic: Newspapers

A online resource which I had not noticed before - Zeitungen des 17. Jahrhunderts

Despite the title there are a lot of 18th century material as well, including issues of Stralsundischer Relations Corier, Revalische Post-Zeitung and Rigische Novellen. Very useful for tracing how news and rumours travelled across Europe.

A Swedish version covering some of the major domestic 19th and 20th century papers - It's usefulness is still somewhat limited due to an extremely careful handling of the copyright issue (only items older than 1901 can be read online).

An older attempt at something similar, but this mostly with smaller local papers -

And a Dutch version going back to the 17th century:

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 4:32 PM MEST
Updated: Sunday, 28 August 2016 8:00 PM MEST
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