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The Great Northern War
Sunday, 7 December 2014
The Embassy of 1674
Topic: Diplomacy

In LVVA, fond 7349, op. 2, vol. 73-76 is preserved  a considerable amount of material concerning the Swedish embassy to Moscow in 1674. Among the more odd items is a fragment of a letter book (June-July 1673) which once belonged to Gustaf Oxenstierna, the leader of the Swedish delegation. It contains information about the preparations for the journey, for instance the hiring of a translator and the purchase of presents. In vol. 76 there is a specification of how many horses and wagons the delegation needed. Count Oxenstierna should have 20 wagons, while his two colleagues would have to do with 15. The total number required was 169 - along with 148 horses (for riding). A curious item in the same volume is an unsigned and undated diatribe against the Russians, "this barbaric nation which does not care for reason or agreements". 

The volumes also contains a number of letters from Gustaf Oxenstierna and other members of the delegation to Governor General Tott and Governor Fersen in Riga. Some of the letters are coded, but luckily there is a key in vol. 74.

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 11:05 PM CET
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Sunday, 6 April 2014
The Ketten affair
Topic: Diplomacy

When the Great Northern War broke out in 1700 the main Swedish fortresses in Ingria were Narva, Nyen and Nöteborg, in Estonia Reval and in Livonia Riga, Neumünde, Pernau and Riga. In Ingria substantial amounts had been spent on Narva, while the only major work done at Nöteborg during the latter part of the 17th century was the rebuilding of the so called "Black Tower". One cannot help wonder what would have happened if Czar Peter in 1700 had attacked Nöteborg and Nyen rather than the much more formidable Narva. Most likely had been able to capture them both rather quickly, totally changing the situation facing Charles XII when he landed at Pernau in early October. In such a scenario a foray into Courland and involvement in the Lithuanian civil war could well have appeared less appealing to him, but on the other hand it would have been both expensive and difficult to supply a large army in Livonia (and even more so in Ingria) for operations against the Russians. 

It is worth noting that the Saxon's did not particularly like the Czar's decision to attack Narva as they considered the fortress to be part of Estonia, which according to the agreements made before the war was off limits. However, Peter could rightly point out that Narva administratively belonged to Ingria. When Russian forces in 1704 captured Dorpat there was no question - the Czar had reached beyond what the agreements said. For the time being the matter was settled by a manifesto in which Peter stated that he had taken the town on behalf of the Polish Crown and assurances that the matter would be settled in the promised fashion.

Perhaps some of this uncertainty around the Czar's real intentions were a contributing factor in the peculiar episode called "the Ketten affair". In late 1702 Johan Reinhold Patkul visited Vienna, where he received a letter from a close associate of Jakub Sobieski, a clergyman called Ketten. Ketten asked Patkul about the Czar's view of Sobieski and suggested that Charles XII was prepared to grant Patkul amnesty if the latter could convince Peter to make peace with Sweden. Patkul replied with the interest, suggesting a personal meeting between him and Ketten. Apparently this went well enough and Patkul later wrote to Ketten saying that he was prepared to make an attempt to carry out his part of the deal if he received written assurances from Charles XII. However, no such document was issued (and it's unlikely that Charles was informed of Ketten's action). The mysterious incident ended with King Augustus warning the Czar about Patkul's intrigues - he was a man who only worked for his own benefit and couldn't be trusted. 



Erdmann, Y., Der livländischen Staatsmann Johann Reinhold von Patkul. - Berlin, 1970.  

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 10:16 PM MEST
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Sunday, 16 March 2014
The Embassy of 1684
Topic: Diplomacy

In 1684 a large Swedish embassy was sent to Russia. Among the notable members was the young Count Adam Ludvig Lewenhaupt (1659-1719) and the linguist Johan Gabriel Sparwenfeld (1655-1727), whose diary from the journey was published in 2002. Some documents concerning this embassy have found their way into the archive of the Livonian Governor General (LVVA, fond 7349, op. 2, vol. 72). This volume bears the rather misleading title "Briefe von verschiedene Personen (H. Zimmermann, J. Kenning, H. Halmfeldt u.a.) über die Kampfhandlungen 1670-1684", but is reality a rather artificial collection of miscellaneous letters dealing with Swedish-Russian relations. Some of them are from Governor General Grundel-Helmfelt in Narva, others from Dorpat. With one or two exceptions they are all dated 1684. However, the bulk of the rather thin volume (less than 100 pages) consist of letters from the leader of the Swedish delegation Konrad Gyllenstierna, letters to him and material concerning Swedish complaints. One document, dated Narva 10 March 1684, gives a list of the complaints received by the embassy up to that point. No 1 is "The town of Narva's two memorials about the troubles caused on the Russian side contrary to the treaties", while others go back to damages caused during the war in the 1650's. No 19 is two letters written by the leaseholder Schubben regarding the fact that the Russians had strengthened a certain border post and would not allow Swedish subjects to cross, while no 21 is "Major Maidel's list of 19 peasants who have escaped..." Of the various complaints some seem to be included in the volume (but they are unfortunately undated). There is one from the city of Riga and others from Nyen and Narva.

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:54 PM MEST
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Sunday, 16 February 2014
Diplomatic reports
Topic: Diplomacy
When going through the Bienemann catalogue (1908) one of the surprising discoveries is the scarcity of correspondence from Swedish diplomats in Poland during the years leading up to the GNW. From the preserved letter books it's obvious that Dahlbergh did correspond with both Cuypercrona in Danzig and Wachschlager in Warsaw, but almost no letter older than 1700 seem to remain in the archive of the Governor General (LVVA, fond 7349 & EAA 278). During a recent visit to Riksarkivet I discovered the reason for this - they were removed by the historian Carl Schirren long before Bienemann and others started to catalogue the archive. Carl Schirrens huge collection of copies and excerpts (194 volumes) were transferred to Sweden in the early 1920's and a couple of years earlier a smaller portion of originals (15 volumes) had preceded it. Volume 4 contains the missing diplomatic reports and volume 13 various maps and plans, for example one which shows the siege of Kokenhusen in 1700 and another which shows the Saxon positions along the Daugava. The volume also contains two lists of travellers passing the border post Neuhausen going from or to Russia (1698 and January-June 1699). The latter was used by Fred Otten for his work Der Reisebericht eines anonymen Russen...(1985).

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 10:10 PM CET
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Wednesday, 2 October 2013
The Courland trade
Topic: Diplomacy

Voltaire famously claimed that Charles XII only conquered to give his conquests to someone else, i.e. Stanisław Leszczyński. This is obviously a complete misunderstanding - the King's goals were much more ambitious than that. The gradual occupation of Courland which started in the summer of 1701 was intended to become permanent. This was also in line with the wishes of the merchants in Riga, who did not like the commercial ambitions of the Dukes of Courland. In the work Der baltische Getreidehandel im 17. Jahrhundert (1961) Arnold Soom briefly discusses some of the more "militant" attempts to limit the trade through Courland. One such attempt was made in 1690, when a Swedish man-of-war during the summer cruised off the coast of Courlandin an attempt to control the traffic. In 1691 the experiment was continued with the intent of stopping any trade to private ports. The Swedish captain Hans Ankarcrantz managed to capture two ships, which the Duke claimed belonged to him. A Swedish investigation found that this was not true, but the two vessels were nevertheless released for the sake of "good neighbourly relations". The Swedish Governor General of Livonia Hastfer was despite this incident determined to make an other effort in 1692. 

These events can be followed in LVVA, fond 7349. In op. 1, vol. 237 one finds for example an inventory of the two captured ships, a brief journal of the expeditions in 1690 and 1691 as well as letters and other documents dealing with similar naval expeditions later in the 1690's. In the Swedish copy book for 1697 (op. 1, vol. 69) there is the instruction issued to captain Michael Albrechtson in May 1697, when he was about to embark on one of these. Albrechtson is instructed to stop all trade from other ports than Libau and Windau, but make it quite clear to anyone he stops that he is just protecting ancient rights and privileges. 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:57 PM MEST
Updated: Wednesday, 2 October 2013 9:58 PM MEST
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Tuesday, 17 September 2013
An angry exchange
Topic: Diplomacy

Among the records of the Livonian Governor General there is a large number of very fragmentary volumes concerning Swedish-Russian relations during the second part of the 17th century (Riga, LVVA, Fond 7349, op. 2, vol. 57-102 and op. 3, vol. 15-27). While the material belonging to op. 1 roughly constitutes the material catalogued around 1900 (with the exception of the volumes kept in Tartu), the content of op. 2 and 3 are said to have been found after the Bienemann catalogue was published in 1908. To me it seems like op. 2 and 3 predominately consist of records that at some point have been taken from their original volumes in op. 1 and arranged in a new way. Considering that the records were moved during both World War I and II this would seem logical and it's also clear that the occasional document from the archive of the Dukes of Courland (LVVA, Fond 554) have erroneously be moved to fond 7349.

One of these rather strange volumes is op. 3, volume 22. It mainly contains material dating from 1661 to 1685, but starts with something much older - a copy of one of the letters from de famous correspondence between Ivan the Terrible and the Swedish King Johan III. In these letters the two rulers hurled abuse at each other, with Ivan for example suggesting that Johan's father Gustaf I had been a simple peasant and not of noble birth. To this Johan reacted by describing the careers of some of his more distinguished ancestors, explaining their high rank by comparing them to distinguished officials in France, Poland and Lithuania.

I am not sure what role such material could play in Swedish-Russian negotiations almost 100 years later, but apparently someone on the Swedish side must have felt that it would be useful to have at least one of these letters copied. 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 8:40 PM MEST
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Monday, 26 August 2013
Topic: Diplomacy

One of the more interesting works of propaganda during the GNW is Petr Shafirov's A discourse concerning the just causes of the war between Sweden and Russia. The first Russian edition appeared in 1717 and it was later translated both into German and into English. A Discourse attempts to prove that the Czar was justified in attacking Sweden by cataloguing past Swedish aggression against Russia and listing recent transgressions, such as the bad treatment the Czar supposedly received during his vist to Riga.

I think it's fair to say that some of the statements cannot stand up to scrutiny, such as the version that the Czar only after patiently waiting for more than a year after the discussions with the Swedish embassy in 1699 decided that he would seek satisfaction through an alliance with Saxony and Denmark. Another example is the claim that Sweden attempted to influence the Sultan to continue the war against Russia through the Polish envoy Rafał Leszczyński. In this case it was rather the other way around. Leszczynski had been equipped with two instructions. One from King Augustus, which told him to try and facilitate an agreement between the Czar and the Sultan and another from the Polish Great Chancellor, which told Leszczynski to do the exact opposite. Apparently the envoy favored the second course of action, so he met with Mauritz Vellingk and attempted to persuade him to use Swedish contacts in France for the purpose of getting French assistance in Constantinople. 

Other statements seem more plausible, such as the story that Major General Axel Sparre during a visit to Berlin (in 1706 or 1707) boasted that the Swedes would drive the Russians out of the world by using only their whips. Sparre also produced a letter of appointment signed by Charles XII to be Governor of the city of Moscow. Axel Sparre was one of the King's favorites and a great joker, who once send a bill to Charles for damages as a result of Sparre not (as the King had promised) having been killed in action. It is very likely that Charles, half jokingly, had actually signed such a letter in much the same vein as he once had paid Sparre's bill. 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 8:09 PM MEST
Updated: Monday, 26 August 2013 9:10 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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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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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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