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Artillery personnel
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The Great Northern War
Sunday, 25 June 2017
Topic: Miscellaneous
Updates will be a bit sporadic during the coming weeks....

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 7:59 PM MEST
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Monday, 19 June 2017
A Holstein surprise?
Topic: Diplomacy
In his dissertation” Karl XII och hans rådgivare” (1960), Gustaf Jonasson describes the circumstances surrounding the decision to send Swedish troops into Holstein in 1699. According to Jonasson it was made by Charles XII in mid-July without consulting his foreign policy advisors and was a result of the influence of the Duke of Holstein, who had arrived in Sweden at the beginning of the month. The King’s orders were dated 15 July, but Jonasson claims that the Chancery did not find out until 1 August. On that date Thomas Polus, Bengt Oxenstierna and Nils Gyldenstolpe held a meeting to discuss what the King had told them the same morning.

If Jonasson’s account is to be believed the logical conclusion seems to be that the Duke had convinced the King during the journey from Ystad to Stockholm and the two of them had then managed to keep the matter completely secret for more than two weeks. This seems rather unlikely. Thomas Polus had at the very least been in Ystad just before the Duke arrived and in an undated letter to Bengt Oxenstierna he writes: “The Duke will likely upon his arrival try to persuade the King to act vigorously”. Polus found this most disconcerting and adventurous.   

So perhaps Polus wasn’t aware of the decision when it was made, but he certainly seems to have feared it would come. Had Polus managed to postpone it until the King came back to Stockholm or was he just pretending to be uninformed as late as 1 August?

Source: Riksarkivet, Ericsbergsarkivet, Autografsamlingen

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 8:14 PM MEST
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Sunday, 11 June 2017
28 January 1701
Topic: Miscellaneous

On 28 January 1701 Major General Magnus Stenbock, never one to let an opportunity for showing off his skills pass by, organized a celebration in the King's headquaters at Lais. It was the King's name day, but the event should more be looked at as a celebration of the recent Narva victory. 

According to a contemporary description it started with a hunt and then a dinner. After dinner Stenbock had organized amusements. First a man entered and after him two local musicians with bagpipes. After them came ten beautiful girls, dressed according to local custom. Every girl carried a lamp and after greeting the King and his guests they put these lamps on the walls. The first one had the King's name, the fourth showed a lion who chased two eagles, the fifth a Lion who opened a mouse trap and released all the captive mice, the sixth a lion who rested upon the arms of Denmark, Poland and Russia. On the lamps seven to ten were poetic verses. Then a disguised Stenbock appeared and sang a mass (or an opera) along with several other officers (also in disguise).

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 6:50 PM MEST
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Sunday, 4 June 2017
Never had such a strong army
Topic: Factoids

Modern historians frequently tend to view the battle of Poltava as the beginning of a dramatic change in European history, i.e. the event which broke the back of the Swedish empire and signalled the rise of Russia. 

This was not necessarily how the battle later was perceived by the surviving Swedes. Per Adlerfelt (1680-1743), in 1709 a captain in the Life Guards, was in 1739 a Councillor of the Realm and a supporter of the plans to send troops to Finland for the purpose of putting pressure on the Russian government. On 31 August he wrote to Carl Gustaf Tessin, stating that 6,000 men were about to be transferred to Finland. These were under the command of Major General Buddenbrock and Colonels Didron, Pahlen, Silfversparre and Wrangel (all veterans of the GNW and a couple also participants in the campaign of 1708-1709).

When these reinforcements arrived in Finland, Aderfelt wrote, the army would number 20,000. This would make it stronger than any army Charles XII had commanded in battle against the Russians. As God had always used to help the Swedes this would hopefully continue.

The decision had been kept very secret, so if everything worked out the arrival of this force in Finland would make a profound impression in Saint Petersburg. The Russian envoy had not been in Stockholm on the day the orders went out. He had not discovered anything until three days later. The envoy had been profoundly stunned and not sent his first report until the next day. There was great enthusiasm among the officers and the soldiers, Adlerfelt ended his report.

Source: Riksarkivet, Ericsbergsarkivets autografsamling, Vol. 2 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 5:54 PM MEST
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Sunday, 28 May 2017
Royal letters to Schlippenbach
Topic: Archives

In 1885 the Swedish archivist Per Sondén travelled to various archives along the coast of the Baltic sea from Stettin to Saint Petersburg, primarily in order to search for letters from Axel Oxenstierna. Occasionally he looked beyond his immediate task and made notes of other interesting items. Upon arriving in Reval (Tallinn) he went first to the town archive and then to the archive of the Estonian nobility. He found little of relevance for his mission, but as a representative of the Swedish National Archive was offered a volume of letters from Charles XII to Wolmar Anton von Schlippenbach 1701-1705. The same offer was repeated twenty years later, but as it was not clear what the owners wanted in return the volume stayed in Tallinn. 

The volume was later added the archive of the Governor General of Estonia and is now labelled EAA.1.2.153. It's available online through VAU (registration needed). Most of the content can likely be found in Riksregistraturet, but a few of the very first letters are written by the King personally. The first is dated Koiküll 5 January 1701 and deals with Schlippenbach's march to Marienburg (Alūksne). The second is dated the same day and goes into more detail. Schlippenbach should take 200 men from his own dragoons, 100 Finnish cavalry and 100 of Lt. Col. Stackelberg's batallion and go to Marienburg. There he would like find 200 men of Skytte's batallion wirh four guns. This force, the King writes, should not only be sufficient for defensive purposes but also permit an expedition into Russia in order to collect contributions. If Schlippenbach deemed it necessary he should allow those Livonians who lived close to the border to move further west. 

The King assured Schlippenbach that Major General Spens would take a position at Sagnitz (Sangaste) and would be able to support him if necessary.

On 10 January Schlippenbach acknowledged the arrival of these two letters (RA, Skrivelser till Konungen. Karl XII, vol. 23) and gave an extensive account of the situation. 

In an odd twist to the story there is a similar volume in Linköpings Stiftsbibliotek (H 189). This volume consists of copies of Royal letters to Schlippenbach, but is not identical to the EAA 1.2.153. The first letter in this volume is dated 22 January, which chronologically would put it between letters 5 and 6 in the Estonian one. 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 12:01 AM MEST
Updated: Sunday, 28 May 2017 7:46 AM MEST
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Sunday, 21 May 2017
Marshal Sapieha
Topic: Factoids

In 1963 Gustaf Jonasson published a long article called Karl XII:s baltiska militärpolitik under 1701. In it he attempted to determine when the idea to move the main army back from Courland to eastern Livonia in preparation for an attack on Pskov was abandoned. Jonasson also discusses the reasons behind the changed plans and suggests that it had to do with a request for help from Hetman Sapieha. It arrived in early September and resulted in the King sending Colonel Hummerheilm into Samogitia with a small cavalry force. At about the same time there came a letter from Prince Jakub Ludwik Sobieski, who asked the King to help the Sapiehas.

According to Jonasson this letter of recommendation was likely a result of a visit Herman Sapieha had made to the Prince's estate at Ohlau (Oława) in August. Jonasson bases this on Carl von Rosen's Bidrag till kännedom om de händelser.., vol. 1, page 18. The source given by von Rosen is a letter from Georg Wachschlager to Mauritz Vellingk, dated 27 August 1701. This letter can be found in Riksarkivet (Polonica, vol. 117). So what does it say? Apparently Jonasson never checked... 

The letter is in French and the relevant part is like this: "Il m' dit aussy que le Marechal de Lituanie Sapieha etoit arrivé en ces quartiere pour luy parler des affaires de consequence.." (He also told me that Marshal Sapieha had arrived in these quarters for talks with him on important matters). Carl von Rosen apparently did not discover that there are more letters on this subject. On the same day Wachschlager also wrote to Charles XII (Polonica, vol. 110), reporting: "Er vertraute mir auch dass der Littauische Marschalck Sapieha dieses Orts ankommen und mit Ihm wichtige dinge abzureden hätte". And on 3 September to the King: "der Littauische Grossmarchall Sapieha ist noch dieser Orten und gegenwartig bey dem Königlichen Printzen Jacob zur Olau" (The Lithuanian Grand Marshal Sapieha is still in these parts and right now at the Royal Prince Jacob's estate Olau"). 

So Marshal Sapieha... Is this really referring to the Hetman? No, he would have been called "Feldherr" or "Grand General".

Wachschlager instead means "Le grand maréchal de Lithuanie" ("Marzałek wielki litewski"), i.e. the Hetman's son Aleksander Paweł Sapieha (1669-1734). Later letters makes this very evident. On 7 September Wachschlager writes to Charles XII that the Hetman's son the Grand Marshal last Sunday met with the Prince.

A small detail, but it shows that you need to look at the documents and not just take some previous historian's word for granted. 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:31 AM MEST
Updated: Sunday, 21 May 2017 10:30 AM MEST
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Sunday, 14 May 2017
Topic: Livonia

On 23 August 1705, head of the Swedish postal system, signed an instruction for Mattias Bruggeman, master of the post yacht Lotsman.

Bruggeman was ordered to set sail for Riga, but exercise great caution when approaching the coast. If no enemy was present he should proceed to the fortress Dünamünde. If the enemy remained in Courland he should not risk going up to Riga, but only take on board letters to the Royal army or to Prussia or Germany. He should then proceed directly to Königsberg and hand over the letters to the postmaster. After doing this Bruggeman should take letters to Riga. If they were not ready he should proceed to Pillau and wait for them there. Once everything was ready he should hasten to Riga and then to Memel or Pillau.

Bruggeman should be careful with other ships and not allow more than one to approch his vessel. His crew should always be ready to defend the ship. The Governor in Riga and the commander of the garrison at Dünamünde would assist him in every way.




Posted by bengt_nilsson at 6:57 PM MEST
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Sunday, 7 May 2017
The High Court of Dorpat in 1700
Topic: Archives

I recently bought Heikki Pihlajamäki's new book Conquest and the Law in Swedish Livonia. On page 135 he speaks of a "mystery" which was quite unknown to me. Apparently there has been some confusion as to what happened with regard to the Court once war broke out in February. Margus Laidre has apparently claimed that it relocated to Reval under armed escort, while Heinz von zur Mühlen stated that it went to Riga. Pihjalamäki mentions that the letters from the High Court clearly shows that it from January 1703 had its seat in Riga. 

The correspondence of the Governor General of Livonia is able to clear up a few things. On 9 March 1700 Charles XII wrote to Colonel Skytte in Dorpat (a letter which is missing in Riksregistraturet), telling him to bring the archive of the Court to safety in Pernau or Reval if the military situation started to appear dangerous. Some time later the Court itself had turned to the King for help and on 10 April he sent a new letter to Skytte (not in Riksregistraturet, but a copy is preserved in LVVA, Fond 7349, op. 1, vol. 288). Charles ordered Skytte to start moving the archive immediately. 

Skytte got this letter about a month later and quickly informed Governor General Dahlbergh. All preparations had been made, he reported, but as the latest news from Riga was encouraging it seemed unnecessary to go through with the transfer. Was it really worth the cost, especially as the Court had changed its mind about relocating?

Dahlbergh tentatively agreed to postpone, but wrote the Court to confirm the change of heart. He noted that the fortunes of war could shift again, but he was quite happy to disregard the King's instructions if the Court did not want to move. 

And so it stayed.


LVVA, fond 7349, op. 1, vol. 72

LVVA, fond 7349, op. 1, vol. 288 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 5:43 PM MEST
Updated: Sunday, 7 May 2017 6:55 PM MEST
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Monday, 1 May 2017
De la Barre
Topic: Archives

Among the family archives preserved in Tartu one finds some volumes from the de la Barre family. Its most prominemt member during the Great Northern War was Lt. General Reinhold Johan de la Barre (166?-1724), who served under Armfelt in Finland, Sweden and Norway. One prominent letter from this collection was brought to light by Greta Wieselgren in an article in Svio-Estonica 1938. The letter was sent by Charles XII on 16 October 1718 and it contains a unequivocal instruction to de la Barre: he has to make sure that the King's orders are followed to the letter even if no one in the army survives. Parts of the letter echoes the King's sentiment towards the surrender at Perevolochna: those in command should not enter into discussions but rather give clear and distinct orders. They should not rely on reports from regimental commanders but look for themselves. 

Wieselgren apparently never noted that the archive contains much more military material, both from the first years of the GNW and from 1719-1721. One notable item is a letter from the aide-de-camp Major G. W. Marcks von Würtemberg, written in Långå at 5 in the morning on 26 December 1718. The existence of this document has been known for a long time. In his book about Armfelt's campaign in Norway Gustaf Petri mentions that Marcks on the very same day wrote to Armfelt that the reports of the King's death had been confirmed. This letter never reached Armfelt, but the earlier message Marcks mentions that he sent de la Barre has - in Tartu. 



Posted by bengt_nilsson at 8:59 PM MEST
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Sunday, 23 April 2017
The fall of Dünamünde
Topic: Sieges

On 13 March 1700 the fortress Dünamünde surrendered after a Saxon assault during the night between the 11th and 12th had ended in a spectacular failure. According to Kungl. Fortifikationens historia 3:2 Charles XII on 19 April ordered Dahlbergh to investigate the circumstances surrounding Col. Budberg's decision to hand over the fortress. Munthe further states that the King countermanded this order on 26 November. 

Munthe's statements are not entirely accurate. What the King did on 26 November was to permit Dahlbergh to postpone the inquest until Governor Frölich returned from a visit to the headquarters and some officers from the garrison were back in Riga.

The inquest does in fact appear to have gone on for some time. In a letter to Charles XII on 24 August 1701 the prosecutor Ingel Biörndahl notes that he had reminded the King about this issue on 25 March. Charles had replied that the inquest had to be postponed for the time being. In his new letter Björndahl, stating that he considered the matter to be of great importance, asked for new orders. The King this time agreed and on 22 November ordered that a certain Lt. Westman (who had been present at Dünamünde) be instructed to cooperate with Biörndahl.

On 14 December Biörndahl wrote to Governor General Dahlbergh, reporting that the commission had met for the first time the previous day. They had then discovered that important witness Westman (now promoted to captain) had been arrested and Biörndahl requested that Dahlbergh permitted an interrogation.

On 16 January 1702 Biörndahl wrote again. Colonel Budberg had claimed that he had not received any instructions from Dahlbergh. If instructions had indeed been sent, the Commission wanted to have a look at them. They were also interested in seeing the explanation given to Dahlbergh by Budberg.

The inquest seems to have continued in February, but it's unclear to me how and when it ended.  


EAA 278.001.XV-50 

LVVA, fond 7349, op. 1, vol. 149

LVVA, fond 7349, op. 1, vol. 294

LVVA, fond 7349, op. 1, vol. 316 

Munthe, L., Kungl. Fortifikationens historia 3:2. - Stockholm, 1909-1911 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 7:06 PM MEST
Updated: Sunday, 23 April 2017 8:15 PM MEST
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