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The Great Northern War
Sunday, 14 July 2013
Rebellion in Astrakhan

On 1 March 1709 Georg Lybecker, County Governor at Vyborg and commander of the Finnish army wrote to his colleague G. W. von Budberg, acting Deputy Governor of Riga (roughly translated):

"A Russian soldier, a native of Astrakhan, arrived yesterday. He claims that it was caused by the daily bother he has had to endure as a result of his countrymen having rebelled and his brother's desertion when the Russians were here under the fortress (in 1706 - my note). The most important he has to say is that these rebels have captured two fortresses and are now roaming the countryside, killing anyone who dares oppose them. The Khan who was placed in charge of them has mysteriously disappeared from Moscow and no one knows where he is. From travellers he has heard that our gracious King last autumn came as close as 200 versts from Moscow, where he was met by the entire Russian force. The enemy was defeated and dispersed och our gracious King then retreated. After that he hasn't noticed anything, except that everyone hopes that peace will come this winter. In Petersburg no flags or other signs of celebration had been seen, neither on the fleet or in the churches. No Prasnik had been celebrated. At about the same time eight regiments had left Ingria for Moscow. At present the northern provinces are being emptied of all suitable men, so that only one man is left at each farm. The hangman is following, taking care of everyone who dares to resist or isn't coming fast enough. However, there is such a shortage of men that not many can be found. As for the rest he says much the same as I did in my last letter, except that the Czar is expected at Petersburg and the houses and everything else has been prepared for his arrival. It is likely that he has now arrived. "



Uppsala  University Library, Dorpat-Riga collection, box 3


Posted by bengt_nilsson at 8:53 PM MEST
Updated: Sunday, 14 July 2013 9:00 PM MEST
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Saturday, 13 July 2013
Saved from a junk-shop
Topic: Archives

In the Uppsala University Library is preserved a most peculiar collection called Dorpat-Riga-samlingen. It consists of three medium sized boxes, filled with largely uncatalogued and only partially sorted documents which at least to some extent were discovered in the early 1940's by library staff in a local junk-dealer's shop. Apparently they had once been acquired in Berlin by a Swedish collector, but that is as far as they can be traced. However, as many of them bear the small blue stamp of the Russian archival commission which around 1900 were trying to organize the old Swedish archive in Riga it's obvious that they must have been removed after that. There is no distinctive logic to the material, so it's entirely possible that the whoever took them was mostly after autographs and seals. The oldest documents are from around 1600, but a large proportion of them dates from the first decade of the Great Northern War.

In the collection there are many letters from local commanders during the GNW, for example more than a dozen written by Georg Lybecker. Some of these are from the time of his ill-fated expedition into Ingria in 1708 and does not only shed light on his decisions but also on what sort of information he was able to acquire. There are also quite a few letters from various officers in Livonia and Courland, not least from early 1708, as well as from diplomatic representatives abroad. In the next few weeks I will present some of the material in more detail.

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:20 PM MEST
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Sunday, 7 July 2013
A fateful message
Topic: Diplomacy

After the Saxon attack on Riga in February 1700 Swedish officials and diplomats had wondered about the position of Russia. Would the Czar join Augustus or remain neutral? The reports from the Swedish representatives in Moscow, Pskov and Novgorod were inconclusive. They often reported such matters that could be considered as preparations for war, but on the other hand the Czar and his officials made every effort to appear friendly towards Sweden - including sending the envoy Chilkov who had his first meeting with Charles XII just as the war was declared in Moscow. It was also believed that a peace or an armistice with the Ottomans was far off, something that seemed to be confirmed by news from Constantinople which the Swedes received through contacts with the Sapiehas in Lithuania.

Possibly the first person to present the Swedes with conclusive evidence of the Czar's plans was the French envoy Charles-François Caradas, Marquis du Héron (1667-1703). On 1 September 1700 he came to see General Otto Vellingk in the camp at Rujen (Latv. Rujiena). Du Héron showed Vellingk a translation of the Czar's letter to King Augustus, dated Moscow 9 August (printed as no 325 in the first volume of Pisma i bumagi). This message reached Stockholm on 15 September. On 11 September Vellingk reported more disturbing news in a letter which reached Charles XII in Karlshamn on the 19th. Lieutenant Thilou at Neuhausen (Est. Vastseliina) and Captain Ringenheim at Sagnitz (Sangaste) had informed Vellingk that the border was so heavily guarded that no real news got through, but Russians had told them that the Swedish representative in Pskov had been arrested. However, Vellingk hoped that this only meant that the Czar was prepared to assist Augustus in forcing Sweden to agree to a peace. It was first on the 19th that Vellingk got the news from Narva that Russian forces had crossed the border, a letter which by way of Stockholm reached Charles when he already had arrived at Pernau.


Source: Riksarkivet, Skrivelser till Konungen. Karl XII., vol. 30. Letters from Otto Vellingk, September 1700-1705

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:06 PM MEST
Updated: Sunday, 7 July 2013 11:08 PM MEST
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Saturday, 29 June 2013
General Rodion Baur
Topic: Generals

The background of the Russian General Rodion Baur (Родион Христианович Баур/Бауэр/Боур) seems most unclear. According to Russian Wikipedia he belonged to a wellknown Swedish noble family which had settled in Germany (perhaps the author means the "Bonde" family? Bonde is  Swedish for "peasant" - or in German "Bauer") He had entered a Swedish regiment of dragoons in Livonia and had at the time of the outbreak of the Great Northern War reached the rank of captain. During the siege of Narva, the article continues, he suddenly switched sides and deserted to the Russian army. The German Wikipedia article for some strange reason calls Baur "Christian Felix", claims that he at the beginning of the Great Northern War served in the Prussian army, then switched to the Swedish because he had fought a duel and finally went over to the Russians.

Some of these unclear points can be cleared up directly. There is no doubt that Baur had served in the Swedish army in Livonia. Carl Gustaf Skytte, the commander of the Dorpat garrison, in his journal describes how Baur on 29 June 1704, after having seen Cavalry Captain Holden during a skirmish outside town, sent word to Dorpat asking to be allowed to talk to Holden. When Holden came out Baur showed him great courtesy because he had once been a private in the company where Holden had been a Lieutenant.  To the journal there is also attached a copy of a letter from Bour to Skytte in which the former writes: "Bitte meinen gewesenen Lieutenant itzigen Rittmeister Hollde unbeschwert zu grüssen...". This places Baur firmly in Drottningens Livregemente till häst, a cavalry regiment stationed in Estonia and Livonia in which Erik Johan Holden was a Lieutenant between 1679 and 1695. There are not too many muster rolls preserved for this regiment (at least not in Sweden), but the one from 1690 puts Holden in Otto Zöge's company. Unfortunately the pages are very heavily damaged and some names missing entirely.

So how about Baur and the start of the Great Northern War? Well, on 20 August 1700 Otto Vellingk wrote to Charles XII from Rujen (Latvian Rūjiena) about recent developments. According to Vellingk an enemy cavalry captain by the name of Bauer had arrived a couple of days earlier (According to Leonhard Kagg's diary Baur came on the 13th). Baur had explained that he had fought a duel, killed his opponent and been forced to flee. Baur claimed that King Augustus was weakly guarded and seems to have suggested that a strong Swedish detachment from the Riga garrison would have every chance of capturing him and destroy the Saxon camp.  Vellingk had immediately informed Dahlbergh of this and also sent the King a detailed list of the Saxon army - based on Baur's testimony. The matter is very reminiscent of Johan Gummert's action at Narva a few weeks later, when he upon arrival suggested that a a few hundred Swedish soldiers led by Gummert could capture the Czar.

Apparently Vellingk sent Baur to Narva, because it was there that the latter engineered a most curious escape (in the manuscript Utföhrlig berättelse it's stated that Baur arrived in Narva a few days before the siege started) On 28 September 1700 some gentlemen from Narva and Baur had met in the house of the merchant Samuel Meux, where they ate a dish based on celery. During their conversation one of them said that celery grew just outside the town gates and it was decided to ride out the following day to pick some more. During this expedition Baur, who was on horseback, suddenly rode off at great speed towards the Russian camp. 


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

Riksarkivet, M 1373 (Utförlig berättelse, huruledes- - -enkannerligen fästningarne Narwa och Ivangorod - - - belägrade blifvit av Zahren av Muscou)

Krigsarkivet, Rullor 1620-1723, vol. 1690:21

Kagg, L., Leonhard Kaggs dagbok 1698-1722. - Stockholm, 1912

Ramsay, J., Narvas rådsturätts protokoll för d. 1 okt. 1700 angående generalen R. F. Bauer // Historiallinen arkisto. XXVIII (1920).  Tieteelisiä ilmoituksia. - P. 12-14.

Skytte, C. G., Öfversten och kommendanten Carl Gustaf Skyttes berättelse om Dorpats belägring 1704 // Karolinska krigares dagböcker jämte andra samtida skrifter.Vol. XI. - Lund, 1916. - P. 219-326

Christian Felix Bauer. (2013-06-29)

Баур, Родион Христианович.,_%D0%A0%D0%BE%D0%B4%D0%B8%D0%BE%D0%BD_%D0%A5%D1%80%D0%B8%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B8%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%B2%D0%B8%D1%87 (2013-06-29)

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 3:41 PM MEST
Updated: Saturday, 29 June 2013 5:26 PM MEST
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Sunday, 23 June 2013
The grand solution
Topic: Diplomacy

The historian Birger Fahlborg (1880-1978) between 1932 and 1961 published a series of books concerning Swedish foreign policy 1660-1672. One of the aspects he covers in great detail is the "Eastern Question", i.e. how the provinces Ingria, Estonia and Livonia should be protected politically. The frequent Polish-Russian wars suggested that it could be fruitful to establish an alliance with one of these countries. As the Oliva treaty of 1660 removed key issues of conflict between Poland and Sweden it seemed logical to attempt to create a closer relationship between the two countries for the common defense against Russia. Fahlborg writes (roughly translated): "That the friendship with Poland, if and when it could be gained, had to be a major asset for Sweden was after the Oliva treaty not disputed by any of the Swedish statesmen". As the Republic seemed to have been weakened the Swedish government believed they could negotiate from a very strong position. In May 1660 the Swedish diplomat Johan von Weidenhayn was given an instruction which detailed the plans: Swedish forces would attack from Livonia, Ingria och Finland, while Polish armies moved in from Lithuania and the Ukraine after having convinced Cossacks and Tartars to join them. For this assistance Widenhayn should (among other things) demand a part of Polish Livonia. In 1664 the issue came to the foreground again. A new envoy was sent to Poland and the leading Councillors of the Realm discussed the situation. The Chancellor Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie spoke of the importance of preserving Poland and the envoy was given an instruction which stated that Sweden wanted an alliance in order to "reduce the Russian appetite for the Baltic Sea".

Despite changing circumstances this view of Poland-Lithuania and Russia was never far away from Swedish thinking during the next fifty years. Bengt Oxenstierna's famous "political will" from 1702 belonged to the same tradition and so did the plans of Charles XII as they manifested themselves in the negotiations with Polish representatives in 1704-05 - in return for Courland and commercial concessions Sweden would assist Poland in reclaiming the territories lost to Russia in 1667/1686. By doing this the Commonwealth and Sweden would be bound so tightly together by a common interest that the Swedish dominance of northeastern Europe would remain "forever". Maybe, as the Chancery official Samuel Bark speculated in 1707, the Swedish Empire could even be extended as far as Arkhangelsk. 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 10:10 PM MEST
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Friday, 21 June 2013
The state of Livonia 1697
Topic: Livonia

On 30 May 1697 the Governor General of Livonia Erik Dahlbergh, in light of the recent death of Charles XI, sent a long report to Stockholm about the situation in Livonia. Here is a summary of what he had to say:

1. The Church: It had not yet been brought to perfection as there were too few churches and to few clergymen. This, together with the very bad roads, made it difficult for people to come to church and as a result superstition and idolatory was common among the peasants.

2. The Judiciary: It was generally satisfactory.

3. The Economy: It was handled by Strokirch (Latvian district) and Strömfelt (Estonian district) and they understood their tasks well.

4. The Chancery: Dahlbergh had built offices for the staff, so it worked quite well.

5. The Military: The situation was, considering the dangerous times, not satisfactory. In the large and important province of Livonia there were only six cavalry companies, in all 350 men. Their horses were poor and the equipment even worse. The pistols and the carbines were so bad that they coudn't be fired even twice. The "Adelsfana" in Livonia and on Ösel (Saaremaa) had not been mustered during the last 15 years, but numbered 207 men. New uniforms had been ordered and would soon be delivered, but the unit lacked guns and swords. In March Charles XI had ordered that it should be divided into four companies, but their were not yet a sufficient number of officers. It was obvious, Dahlbergh concluded, that such a weak cavalry force could not be of any use in case of an attack. A system similar to the one in place in Sweden was needed and Dahlbergh hoped to present such a proposal in the near future.

6. The infantry: The Riga garrison had been mustered on 1 May. At that time Dahlbergh's own regiment numbered 993 common soldiers,  Governor Soop's 901, Colonel von Campenhausen's 874, Colonel Funck's 164 - in all 2 932 men. This was sufficient in time of peace, but totally inadequate of war broke out as there were 6 large bastions, the citadel, the works around the castle and also the large town fortifications. 6- 8000 men would be needed for Riga to be fully defended and it was necessary to use "national troops" as only they could be fully trusted. The inhabitants of Riga could be expected to assist in the defense, but there was a substantial jealousy between them and the garrison. 

The Neumünde garrison was very weakened and it was necessary to bring in new recruits from Finland to Budberg's regiment. The garrisons and Pernau and Dorpat were also weak. Kokenhusen was manned by just 70 men and Kobron by 40.

7. The artillery: Dahlbergh enclosed a list of the needs.

8.  Provisions: The food situation in Livonia was difficult. Since the cavalry could be expected to have to abandon the countryside in case of war there was a need for larger magazines in the towns.

9. The Fortifications: Dahlbergh gave along and detailed description of the situation at Riga, what had been done and what was needed. Kobron was very weak and not even worty of a garrison, but because of the strategically important position it should be strengthened. Neumünde was unfinished, but it could be developed into a nice fortress. More work was also needed at Pernau. Dorpat was "bizarre", i.e. the position was unsuitable. However, as it was the only major fortification near the Russian border it seemed wise to continue with improvements. Kokenhusen was poor and should really be torn down, but there were no resources to build a new fortress. The fort at Ewst (Aiviekste) should be rebuilt and garrisoned. Dahlberg also wanted to tear down the many old, half ruined castles in the countryside as they could be used by an invader.

Finally Dahlbergh suggested remedies for the ongoing famine and pointed out the vulnerability of the postal communications if the German mail was cut off. Last winter the Finnish mail had failed to appear for three consecutive months.


Source: LVVA, Fond 7349, op. 1. vol. 69, Copy book of outgoing letters in Swedish.



Posted by bengt_nilsson at 8:29 PM MEST
Updated: Friday, 21 June 2013 9:12 PM MEST
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Wednesday, 19 June 2013
You have mail
Topic: Communications

During the time of the Great Northern War communications were understandably slow, a factor which is important to bear in mind when it comes to judging responses to events. Here are some examples:

The attack on Riga 11 February 1700: the news reaches Stockholm around 6 March. The King, who was in Kungsör, issued his first orders on 7 March.

Letters from the commander of the relief army in Livonia Governor Vellingk: A letter dated 4 July 1700 reached the King at Humlebaek on the 31st. Such letters were often sent by more than one route - on 1 August Vellingk wrote that he had sent two couriers with his previous letter dated 25 July. One copy was carried by Lt. Colonel Hans Henrik von Liewen, who was to sail from Pernau and the other went from Reval through Stockholm with Captain von Essen. In a letter dated Rujen 11 September Vellingk could inform Charles that Essen had returned with the King's letter dated 13 August. This news reached Charles in Karlshamn on 19 September. On 19 September Vellingk had just been informed of the Russian invasion of Ingria.

The fall of Nöteborg on 13 October 1702: the news reached Vyborg on the 17th and Stockholm on the 30th. Charles XII, who was near Kraków, seems to have received the first reports in early December. 

Letters from the Swedish Governor in Pomerania (Stettin) to his colleague in Livonia (Riga): About 10-14 days. 

Letters from the Swedish representative in Danzig to the Governor General of Livonia: About 5 days.

Letters from the Swedish representative in Moscow to the Governor General of Livonia:  About 10 days-3 weeks.

Letters from the Swedish representative in Novgorod to the Governor General of Livonia: About 1 week.

News from London to reach Stockholm: About 3 weeks.

News from London to reach Göteborg: About 2 weeks.

Letters from Stockholm to the Governor General of Livonia: About 2 weeks when the mail could go directly by boat, otherwise close to a month.

Letters from Estonia/Livonia to reach Charles XII in Poland: Of course very much depending on his whereabouts. A letter written by W. A Schlippenbach on 6 April 1704 was answered by the King in Heilsberg (Lidzbark Warmiński) on the 22d, while a letter dated Reval 15 August reached him in Lemberg (Lviv) on 8 September.

News of the defeat at Poltava: Firm confirmation reached Riga through the arrival of Josias Cederhielm, who had been sent by the Czar with peace terms. Cederhielm reached Riga in the evening of 16 August 1709 (Swedish calendar). He arrived in Stockholm on 1 September. 



Posted by bengt_nilsson at 8:57 PM MEST
Updated: Wednesday, 19 June 2013 11:07 PM MEST
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Sunday, 16 June 2013
A surprise visit?
Topic: Diplomacy

On 10 June 1700 Colonel Carl Gustaf Skytte, commander of the garrison at Dorpat, wrote to Governor General Dahlbergh in Riga about certain rumours concerning the expected Russian Embassy to Sweden. According to them the Czar himself would take part - but incognito. How, asked Skytte, should he receive the Russians when they came to Dorpat? The letter reached Dahlbergh two days later and he replied immediately. Dahlbergh could, he wrote, not believe such a rumour as it seemed strange that an Embassy would come to Dorpat rather than to Narva or Reval. However, if the Russians were planning to come Skytte should get advance notice from one of the Voyvod's across the border, so that the guests could be received in accordance with the Swedish-Russian treaties. 

The following day Dahlbergh reported to the College of the Chancery (Kanslikollegium) that there were rumours of a large Russian force having been sent in support of the Saxons outside Riga. Dahlbergh hoped these were unfounded, although a letter from Pskov dated 4 June indicated that preparations of war were being made. However, a letter from the Swedish representative in Moscow Thomas Kniper, dated 16 May, stated that the Czar had expressed great friendship for Sweden.This apparently made a greater impression on Dahlbergh than the news from Pskov did.




LVVA, Fond 7349, op. 1, vol. 52, Copy book of outgoing letters in German 1700

LVVA, Fond 7349, op. 1, vol. 72, Copy book of outgoing letters in Swedish

LVVA, Fond 7349, op. 1. vol. 288, Letters from Skytte to the Governor General in Riga

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 12:01 AM MEST
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Saturday, 15 June 2013
Carl Gustaf Dücker
Topic: Generals

In the Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, the standard biographical dictionary begun in 1917, it's claimed that the later Field Marshal Carl Gustaf Dücker (1663-1732) had served in the French army during the Nine Years War and after his return home to Livonia served as a volunteer during the siege of Riga in 1700. This is perhaps not quite correct, as on 15 February 1700 Governor General Dahlbergh orders the captains "Stahl and Dücker" to remain in Riga and not return to the Netherlands. The letter filed under that date is however undoubtedly addressed to just "Stahl", but a similar can be found mistakenly placed under the date 20 March. In this letter the Governor General tells Dücker that he understands that the latter's leave of absence has come to an end and that he must return to his regiment in France, but Dahlbergh will not permit it because of the Saxon attack. Instead Dücker should join in the defense of the city, being assured that this would not cause him any disrepute because a loyal subject must always put his own King before any foreign power.



LVVA, Fond 7349, op. 1, vol. 52, Copy book of outgoing correspondence in German 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 12:01 AM MEST
Updated: Saturday, 8 June 2013 6:46 PM MEST
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Sunday, 9 June 2013
Carl Gustaf Armfeldt
Topic: Generals

In Eirik Hornborg's biography Karolinen Armfelt och kampen om Finland under det stora nordiska kriget (1953) the author admits that he does not know what Armfeldt did in the months preceding his appointment as Aide-de-camp to Major General Cronhjort in December 1700. Hornborg, who used Cronhjort's letters to Charles XII, seems to have overlooked Governor Vellingk's letters to the King. On 10 December 1700 the Governor wrote to Charles about Captain Carl Gustaf Armfeldt, who Vellingk "last summer" had awarded the lease of the estate Gatchina because he was an able man, who had endured a lot of hardship in order to make himself suitable for Royal service. Unfortunately the previous leaseholder Albrecht Düring made difficulties. Vellingk pointed out that Düring's father had never served the Crown and Düring himself had left Ingria as soon as war broke out, while Armfeldt could personally describe to the King not only his 10 campaigns during the last "War of Brabant" but also how he since the Great Northern War broke out had taken part in real actions and had risked his life without receiving any payment. Surely the King would rather grant Armfelt Gatchina?


Riksarkivet, Livonica II, vol. 192. Letters from Governor Vellingk 1699-1702

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 12:01 AM MEST
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