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Artillery personnel
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The Great Northern War
Sunday, 6 August 2017
Magnus Stenbock
Topic: Factoids

It has frequently been claimed that Charles XII never forgave Magnus Stenbock for the surrender in 1713 and took his revenge by letting his old favorite remain a prisoner of war in Denmark. The evidence is slim. Not only did Charles XII on 12 August 1713 order the Council to prepare a new transport to Germany. Stenbock would be in command (the King assumed that the prisoners had been released in accordance with the agreement made when the army surrendered).

An even clearer evidence is a letter from Casten Feif to Stenbock, dated Demotika 24 July 1714. Feif assures the Field Marshal that he should not worry, the King continued to hold him in high regard. Stenbock should not, Charles had told Feif, listen to rumours who were intended to annoy him but rather take care of his health so that the King once more would have the joy of seeing his old friend as happy and amusing as he used to be.


Riksarkivet, Ericsbergsarkivet, Autografsamlingen, vol.  69.

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 7:12 PM MEST
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Sunday, 30 July 2017
Vellingk, Oxenstierna and Maydell
Topic: Battles

The large autograph collection in the Ericsberg archive (preserved in Riksarkivet) contains a tremendous amount of valuable material concerning the GNW. The basis for the collection is in this regard the personal records of the Chancery President Bengt Oxenstierna (1623-1702) and his son-in-law Magnus Stenbock. The autograph collection consists of more than 300 large volumes and is divided into four parts. The Swedish royal autographs part naturally contains a large collection of letters from Charles XII, but these are rather well known. More rarely used are letters from Swedish officers and officials, particularly those who were not in the King's immediate circle.

One example is an undated letter from Otto Vellingk, apparently written in May 1700 and addressed to Bengt Oxenstierna. It deals with both political and military matters. It was originally accompanied by a letter to Vellingk from Major General Georg Johan Maydell, who together with Major General Johan Ribbing commanded the advance guard of the relief army sent towards Riga. Vellingk acknowledges the receipt of a letter from Oxenstierna, dated 24 April, in which the Chancery President apparently had written about "secret" and "reliable" warnings about more enemies than the Saxons and the Danes. Oxenstierna appears to have suggested that King Augustus would be discouraged from further expanding his war against Sweden because the Emperor had ordered several regiments in Bohemia and Moravia to march towards the Saxon border. Vellingk believed, he wrote, that this was very likely as their was no signs of any Russian support for the Saxons. The Swedish representative in Moscow Thomas Kniper had, Vellingk continued, also received written assurances from Golovin that the Czar was about to send an envoy to Sweden and then a large embassy. Golovin had stated that he would be a member of this embassy and had asked Kniper to inform the Swedish authorities of this so that a ship could be ready at Narva. This, Vellingk concluded, indicated that the Czar did not have any hostile intentions. There was also a shortage of money in Russia, forcing the Czar to mint copper coins worth a lot less than the existing ones. The Czar was still in Voronezh, where he was most upset with his Dutch Admiral Cruys because the latter had not been able to put to sea. 

Vellingk had started to raise two new regiments in Ingria. One consisting of 600 dragoons and another of 1,000 foot. He had also ordered the nobility to make preparations for mobilization. 

There was no indication of the Polish Republic being inclined to join King Augustus and reports from Riga were encouraging. The Saxons had been driven off and forced to back to the other side of the Düna.

Vellingk enclosed a report from Maydell, dated 7 May, which nowadays is in another volume: Colonel Klingspor had been sent ahead with 600 men and orders to stop the Saxon marauders. On 26 April Klingspor had encountered 200 Saxons at Wenden. Maydell had on 4 May driven off more Saxons. Later he had come upon 300 Saxon dragoons and 500 Cossacks. He had ordered Klingspor to move around the enemy force and strike it from behind, but as soon as the latter appeared they fled. Many of them were caught by the Finns and killed. After these three defeats the enemy had been struck with such fear that he had abandoned a fortification at Neuermühlen,thrown 36 guns into the river, retreated back across the Düna and burnt the bridge. The mood in Riga was ecstatic, Maydell wrote. 


Riksarkivet, Ericsbergsarkivets autografsamling, Vol. 39 and 232

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:34 PM MEST
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Sunday, 23 July 2017
Axel Sparre
Topic: Generals

Axel Sparre (1652-1728) was, despite the considerable age difference, one of Charles XII's favorite officers. At some point in the first years of the war Sparre sent the King a rather peculiar bill.

The King had, Sparre wrote, on 14 March 1701 promised him that he would be killed in the next battle. If he was not, the King would pay Sparre 1,000 ducats. Because of the Saxons poor shooting Axel Sparre was still alive so he wanted the 1,000. The King had furthermore on the 24th thrown away a cushion belonging to Sparre, worth 20 ducats. On 23 May the King had made an effort to wound Sparre in the leg with one of his spurs. This was particularly expensive: 200 for the illegal wound, 100 for the pain, 100 for the surgeon and 200 for forcing Sparre to travel on a simple peasant's wagon in front of his regiment and then having to limp during the battle after the crossing of the Düna. 

Another couple of items and the entire bill was for 1,650 ducats. The document does not indicate a payment, but it's well-known that the King was quite generous. In an article in Karolinska Förbundets årsbok 1968 Sven Grauers list some expenses during the first years of the war: 148 thalers in silver to three Polish women whose houses had burnt down by accident, 67 thalers to a Polish nobleman whose oxen had been taken by the Swedes, 630 thalers to Swedish and Saxon wounded after the battle of Kliszow etc. 

Source: Riksarkivet, Ericsbergsarkivet,  Vol. 196

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 5:37 PM MEST
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Sunday, 16 July 2017
Topic: Literature

In 2005 the Swedish novelist Ernst Brunner published a most peculiar book called Carolus Rex. Was it a novel or was it a biography? In many appearances the author insisted that it was a true version, even the ultimate true story of the life of Charles XII. In some cases he went as far as claiming that nobody knew more about the subject than he did and that he had used "secret, personal sources" which were unknown to everybody else. 

Many reviewers appeared to be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the book (more than 800 pages) and the enormous amount of details, names etc., assuming that this meant that Brunner actually had carried out extensive research. Others simply did not listen when Brunner claimed that the book was the truth and went on to review it as a work of fiction.

Since no one else seemed inclined to really analyze Carolus Rex, I took it upon myself to try and determine what Brunner's sources were and if the book could be considered to be the "truth". I rapidly found that Carolus Rex heavily dependent on Anders Fryxell's Berättelser ur svenska historien, published in the 1850's (Fryxell was used heavily by both Strindberg and Heidenstam). In many cases Brunner had simply borrowed paragraphs directly from Fryxell in a way which could be described as plagiarism. 

The author was made aware of my findings and was not too pleased, even going as far as on occasion claiming that the only ones who did not approve of his book were extremists. This tended to make him somewhat of a martyr for the truth. Many years later he revisited the controversy around Carolus Rex in an autobiographical work called Där går han. In this Brunner makes some absolutely fantastic claims, such as writing that his visit to Lund on 30 November 2005 was disrupted by nazis marching in the street carrying banners with swastikas and saluting. He also stated that the head librarian of a major Swedish university library had called him in the middle of the night to discuss certain things Brunner had said on TV. 

Very well, Brunner has subsequently published a book on Anckarström, the man who assassinated Gustav III in 1792. This was however supposed to be a biography and Brunner listed sources, something he had not done in 2005. The only problem was that there were no footnotes, so it was absolutely impossible to check his statements. The list of unpublished sources was even more odd. It simply said "Uppsala University Library, Royal Library" etc. No references to specific manuscripts - just the name of the archive or the library. 

A couple of months ago Ernst Brunner struck again, this time with a book on Swedenborg (some 750 pages). Same type of list of unpublished sources, no footnotes - but according to the publisher "the first biography which starts with Swedenborg, the man" and according to the author the first biography which is objective.

Since Swedenborg was born in 1688 it's inevitable that Charles XII turns up here and there, so I have done some checking. Is the size of the book and the myriad of details really proof of Brunner's expertise (as some reviewers have implied)?

Well, on page 151 Brunner explains the calendars used in 1710. He claims that Sweden used the Julian and Britain the Gregorian. This is of course quite wrong. Britain did not switch until 1752 and Sweden in 1753. In 1710 Sweden used the peculiar Swedish calendar and Britain the Julian.  

On pages 128 and 149 Brunner explains the monetary system. He writes that a student had received a scholarship worth 500 thalers in silver and that this was the equivalent of 1500 Reichsthaler. This is obviously also incorrect. The student had received 1500 thalers in copper, which was roughly 500 thalers in silver and slightly more than 200 Reichsthaler. So the "expert" does not know the calendars and not the exchange rates. But how about Charles XII?

On page 96 Brunner describes how Charles XII learned of the Saxon attack on Riga: on 14 April 1700 Charles left Stockholm to go to Kungsör. There he amused himself with bear hunting and parties. Swedenborg's father Jesper Svedberg turns up and is unhappy. Surely someone can make the King stop? Well, Svedberg takes over mass on Sunday and starts to preach on the subject. Suddenly the church door is thrown open and a messenger from Riga rushes in. The Saxons have attacked!

This is of course utter nonsense. The news reached Stockholm at the beginning of March and Kungsör a couple of days later. The King's journey on 14 April went to Karlskrona, where he wanted to oversee the naval preparations. 

And Brunner still cuts and pastes. For example on page 337 there is a very odd paragraph: "Assessor Swedenborg hade mottagit ett brev från baron Conrad Ribbing, guvernör över Närke och Värmlands gruvdistrikt, i vilket Dylta svavelbruk ingick". What's this? A Swede would not use "guvernör" but "landshövding" and certainly not "gruvdistrikt" - Ribbing was "landshövding över Närke och Värmlands län", pure and simple. 

Well, the explanation can be found in The Letters and Memorials of Emanuel Swedenborg. Alfred Acton writes (vol. 1, page 338): "Accordingly, early in June, Swedenborg received a letter (now lost) from Baron Conrad Ribbing, the Governor of the Nerike and Vermland mining district, within which was situated the highly important sulphur works at Dylta".

Brunner has simply translated Acton's sentence, without adapting it to Swedish. Does this indicate a profound knowledge and extremely deep research? I think not...

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 1:16 PM MEST
Updated: Sunday, 16 July 2017 1:20 PM MEST
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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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