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The Great Northern War
Sunday, 19 August 2018
The most logical solution?
Topic: Literature

As we are closing in on 30 November there will inevitably be new articles about the King's death. The latest issue of the historical magazine Populär historia 2018:9 boldly leads the way. The editor asked Peter Englund to write about the present state of research. 

Englund, who has never been a friend of the assassination theory, dismisses it quickly, He then goes on to deal with the other two - Norwegian musket ball and Norwegian case or canister shot. Englund declares that the most simple and most logical is the one presented by the engineer Svante Ståhl in 2005. According to Ståhl the King was hit by a small iron ball shot from the fortress Overberget some 600 meters away. It was previously assumed that there wasn't sufficiently small iron balls (18-20 mm) for this scenario to be possible, but Ståhl hade come in contact with the Norwegian officer and artillery expert Odd T. Fjeld, who in the 1990's had discovered that there were. Or had he?

Ståhls reasoning is based on an interpretation of a certain passage in one of the ammuntion records for the fortress. I focused on the weight "lod" and the meaning of "lödig". When it came to ammunition for muskets "lödig" in Denmark-Norway undoubtedly had to do with parts of a pund, i.e. a "10-lödig" lead ball weighed 1/10 of a pund, but did it mean the same when used about iron balls in canister and case shot?

Fjeld and Ståhl was sure it did, so Ståhl presented the following solution:

1. Danish-Norwegian case shot contained "20-25 or more wrought iron balls".

2. The case shot weighed about the same as the standard cannonball for a certain caliber.

3. The King was hit by a small iron ball fired from either an 6-pounder or an 18-pounder. 

4.This small wrought iron ball had a diameter of 20 mm and weighed about 32 grams. 

Englund deemed this the simplest and most logical solution. I'd say it is not, as there is a glaring weakness. Point 1 is correct, point 2 as well. Point 3 - OK, that's a theory. But no 4? A case shot for a 6-pounder should weigh about 3 kg and one for an 18-punder about 9 kg, but 25 iron balls at 32 grams à piece only weighs 800 grams!

So as no 1 and no 2 is correct, no 4 must be completely mistaken. Each iron ball in a case shot for a 6-pounder must weigh about 120 grams and in a case shot for an 18-punder about 360 grams - otherwise no 1 is incorrect (and it isn't). 

So Ståhl's theory iis not the simplest and most logical - it is in fact the most illogical and the most unlikely. 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 5:38 PM MEST
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Sunday, 12 August 2018
New books
Topic: Literature
As autumn approaches the events in memory of 1718 come with greater frequency. The same appears to be true about new books. There will be a new edition of Bengt Liljegren's biography of Charles XII. This time it will be called Krigarkungen (The Warrior King). It has been updated to some extent and I have also done the fact checking - although it remains to be seen exactly how this will show in the published work. The author and I have a very different view of Charles...

Rolf Uppström, who in 1994 published a thesis called Mysteriet Karl XII:s död is also back, now with Den okända kulan (The unknown bullet). I don't know anything about it, but I assume that he will continue to advocate that the King was murdered.

The same publisher is behind Allt om Karl den tolfte (Everything about Charles XII). Pretty presumptous title to say the least...

And then there is this. 276 pages of which half is footnotes. The author has discovered that Charles was murdered and his reputation tarnished by his enemies (I presume). All sources in the public domain, it says. Well, I think there will good reason to write about this book later on... The twitter account connected to the book makes some pretty astonishing claims

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 8:19 PM MEST
Updated: Sunday, 12 August 2018 9:01 PM MEST
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Sunday, 29 July 2018
Topic: Miscellaneous
I have been a bit slow to update recently, but I'll be back around 10 August with something new. 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:03 AM MEST
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Sunday, 1 July 2018
Ulf Sundberg's dissertation : part 3
Topic: Literature

In the previous entry I started to look at the case of Menzen manor, which fell in early August 1702. A glaring weakness is Sundberg's failure to use Baltic archives. I took a quick look in my index of incoming letters and found 120 items dated August 1702 and of them 33 are earlier than the 10th. Of particular interest is the volume EAA.278.1.XX-18, which contains letters from Lt. Col. H. J. Brandt, sent from Wolmar in late July and early August. Brandt had passed Menzen on his way to Wolmar from Marienburg, so he knew the area quite well.

On 4 August Brandt wrote to Frölich about recent events and enclosed a couple of reports he had received. One of these, sent by a certain Berch on 3 August, mentions that Lt. Col. Yxkull at Menzen had sent a scouting party under the command of captain Knoblauch, which had encountered a small Russian force which it had defeated. On 8 August Brandt reported that according to rumours the enemy had appeared before Menzen two days earlier. There were no reports of subsequent events. Brandt had sent out a detachment of 60 men under the command of major Laurentzen and hoped to have more news when it returned. Next is a short note from the bailiff Ringenheim, dated 7 August, in which he reports that Menzen is holding.

The next letter from Brandt is dated 11 August. It is accompanied by one report from Ringenheim and one from major Laurentzen. Ringenheim writes that Menzen had been burnt on Thursday (the 7th). He did not know if Yxkull had been killed or captured. Another detailed account of events in early August is found in a letter from the clergyman Andreas Neudahl, dated 15 August (EAA.278.1.XX-19)

Among outgoing letters from Governor Frölich (LVVA, Fond 7349, op. 1, vol. 74) several mention Menzen (to de la Gardie, to Strokirch and to Schlippenbach 11 August )

Another source Sundberg has overlooked(?) is Christian Kelch's Liefländische Historia, in which Menzen is mentioned briefly on page 288 in volume 2. 

Even more glaring is Sundberg's failure to use Russian sources. He could for example have started with Heldur Palli's Mèdu dvumja bojami za Narvu (1966), which discusses Menzen on pages 188-189. 


Posted by bengt_nilsson at 12:01 AM MEST
Updated: Tuesday, 3 July 2018 7:41 PM MEST
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Sunday, 24 June 2018
Ulf Sundberg's dissertation : part 2
Topic: Literature

 After careful consideration I have decided to continue my analysis of Sundberg's dissertation Swedish defensive fortress warfare in the Great Northern War : 1702-1710. I will continue with  the sources and the literature.

Case 1: Menzen 1702

As Menzen was an ordinary manor it's not even obvious why it has been included in the study. Surely it was neither built nor manned as part of a defensive system established in Livonia?

As for the appearance and size of Menzen Sundberg has basically nothing to say and is forced to use a drawing of an entirely different manor. Could he have improved on this by using Baltic archives? I would think that's very likely. A simple google search turned up an excavation report from 2008 with a contemporary map showing the manor close to a small lake (which is not mentioned by Sundberg).

Sundberg then goes on to speak about sources and previous research. He mentions a couple of brief late 19th century works by Otto Sjögren, who primarily worked on the Schlippenbach archive which more or less by chance had ended up in Stockholm. Sundberg also notes the so called diary of Czar Peter and a mysterious report mentioned by Adam Lewenhaupt's Karl XII:s officerare.

Is this really all there is of previous research? Obviously not. What first comes to mind is Carl von Rosen's Bidrag..., published in the 1930's. The second volume deals with the war in Courland, Livonia and Ingria during the first few years and Rosen mentions Menzen. Another even more obvious work is Heldur Palli's Mezjdu dvumja bojami za Narvu (1966), which would have given Sundberg an idea of what Baltic archives hold. 

Sundberg notes that a letter from the Swedish commander is incorrectly dated and how this mistake through Sjögren has found its way into other works. If Sundberg had used Rosen or Palli he would have found chronologically more accurate versions, so it could be argued that his ability to correct the record is solely based on the fact that he has failed to use certain previous works.

An additional note: 

Just before Sundberg starts the discussion of various sieges during the GNW he lists on page 131 the strength of Swedish garrisons in 1699. In footnote 425 he has a long explanation of a presumed problem concerning the exact date Carl Gustaf Frölich was put in charge of Soop's regiment. The solution is very simple. If Sundberg had looked in Riksregistraturet (available online) he would have found that Frölich was appointed on 10 March 1700 (not 1701) because Soop had died and that the appointment was for both the governorship and the regiment. So the footnote is quite unnecessary - everything is quite clear if one uses the logical sources.

 To be continued...


Posted by bengt_nilsson at 7:41 AM MEST
Updated: Sunday, 24 June 2018 4:29 PM MEST
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Sunday, 17 June 2018
A new dissertation

Some weeks ago Ulf Sundberg's dissertation Swedish defensive fortress warfare in the Great Northern War 1702-1710 was published. A lot can be said of this work, but I will focus on one point:


Sundberg starts by emphasizing the importance of Karolinska krigares dagböcker and Historiska handlingar and then goes on to state that the most important published Russian source is the so called diary of the Czar, which Sundberg has used in a edition from 1773. In my opinion that's a remarkable statement given the existence of Pisma i bumagi, literally thousands of pages of letters from and to the Czar. 

As for the Baltic archives Sundberg states that the "General Governor's archive in Tartu [Estonian: Riigi Keskarhiiv, Swedish "Estlands centralarkiv i Tartu"] is worth mentioning, because "it has several documents from commanding officers in Swedish Livonia". But Sundberg didn't use these documents as Fredrik Arfwidsson did so in the 1930's. Well, "several documents" is a bit of an understatement. I have up til now registered about 15,000 incoming letters (most of them from the period in question) and then there is an enormous amount of copies of outgoing correspondence. I would argue that it is not possible to write about Livonia during the GNW without using the archive of the Governor General (which apparently unbeknownst to Sundberg became divided between Tartu and Riga after World War 2). As for Tartu the Archive haven't been called "Riigi Keskarhiiv" for a very long time. The wording suggests to me that Sundberg hasn't really made an effort to check what the archive contains and certainly isn't aware that the part preserved in Riga was microfilmed in the 1990's - and the films available in Stockholm.

Another part of Sundberg's work should depend on Danish sources, but he says that he abstained from using Danish archives because he presumed that Bidrag til den store nordiske krigs historie had used everything that wasn't difficult to find...

Sundberg has also left Russian archives aside because of language difficulties. Even if that is to be considered understandable, it's rather unfortunate when the topic of the dissertation so clearly focuses on events involving Russian forces. So if not archives - how about Russian literature? Surely in this day and age it would not only have been possible to consult the most relevant works, but also to have the key parts translated?

Sundberg's bibliography has a few notable omissions, for example Carl von Rosen's Bidrag till kännedom. I also miss the series "Skrivelser till Konungen", which I would think is pretty central for any work on the GNW. 



Posted by bengt_nilsson at 12:01 AM MEST
Updated: Tuesday, 19 June 2018 10:47 PM MEST
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Sunday, 3 June 2018
Back from Norway
Topic: Archives
On 26 May I made a presentation in Stugudal, Norway about the de la Barre papers in Tartu. As I have previously touched upon they contain a number of previously unknown letters and other documents from Armfeldt's campaign in 1718. Most notable are a few letters sent by Armfeldt to Lt. General Reinhold Johan de la Barre in December 1718 during the latter's successful enterprise against Röros.

The reception was very positive and plans to publish the material in some suitable regional publication were tentatively discussed. After my presentation there were several questions and later one participant said (roughly) that he was used to hearing things he had heard before, so it was refreshing when some entirely new appeared.

The other presentations were quite interesting, although one or two of the Norwegians were not so easy to understand...

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 7:36 PM MEST
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Sunday, 20 May 2018
To Norway
Topic: Miscellaneous

On Thursday I will go to Östersund for the "Jämt-trönderska historiedagarna" 2018 in Stugudal, Norway. On Saturday I will speak about previously unknown sources for Armfeldt's campaign, which I came across when browsing the catalogue of the Estonian National Archives. These records should, I believe, change quite a few perceptions of this campaign and most notably how the events leading up to the disastrous retreat at the beginning of January 1719 are interpreted. 

I have also spent some time going over the debate in 2005-2006 about the death of Charles XII and the "grapeshot theories" brought forward by Svante Ståhl and his Norwegian colleague Odd T. Fjeld. I found them completely untenable then and after going through the same sources once more (and adding some more) I remain convinced that they are both easily disproven. Time will tell if the 300th anniversary reignites the debate. 


Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:19 PM MEST
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Sunday, 29 April 2018
Olof Sandberg writes from Lund : part 2

On 2 December 1717 Sandberg wrote his second "coded" letter. There was, he wrote Barck, no indications of dismissals. Gustaf Adam Taube, Governor of Stockholm, had nothing to fear and he should not believe rumours flying around. 

The next letter was sent on 9 December. Goertz could, Sandberg wrote, possibly help himself through a new scheme. Nobody could understand what the Czar was up to. It semmed likely he wanted something in return for helping the neighbour across the river (Danish forces across the Sound?).

No military campaign was likely until next year. Goertz actions were suspicious, but it was uncertain what he was attempting.

Source: Riksarkivet, Ericsbergsarkivet, Autografsamlingen, Vol. 182

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 4:19 PM MEST
Updated: Sunday, 29 April 2018 4:20 PM MEST
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Tuesday, 17 April 2018
Olof Sandberg writes from Lund : part 1
Topic: Archives

The first "coded" letter from Olof Sandberg to Samuel Barck is dated Lund 25 November 1717. Lennart Thanner appears to have considered the code as an attempt to cover the presumably sensitive content. This appears very unlikely as it would probably have taken a contemporary reader only a few seconds to figure out the meaning. It seems more likely that Sandberg tried to amuse Barck. 

Sandberg starts out by saying that the knight "Sankt Jörgen" (Goertz) appears to have lost favour with the King. He then mentions "Pehr Speleman i Gårdarijke" (the Czar), who in Sandberg's opinion has bitten off more than he can chew. Sandberg then goes on to say God bless "Far" (the King) as things will then go well for "ungefar och ungemor" (Frederick of Hesse and Ulrika Eleonora). If "far" dies they will inherit the farm, which has fared poorly lately. They will have to spend time on repairs etc. Pretty standard stuff and certainly not a code that would have been of any use if the intent was to keep the content secret.


Source: Riksarkivet, Ericsbergsarkivet, Autografsamlingen, Vol. 182



Posted by bengt_nilsson at 7:35 PM MEST
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