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The Great Northern War
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 The list of unpublished sources was even more odd.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, 26 March 2017
Karolinska krigares dagböcker
Topic: Literature

The famous publication Karolinska krigares dagböcker has for some time been available online through Projekt Runeberg. The twelve volumes are now also online at the site Litteraturbanken, where it is also possible to search the volumes for certain names or terms, for example like this.

It should be noted that this function means searching not only the journals and reports themselves, but also the introductions and footnotes by August Quennerstedt. These sometimes contain errors, which also appear in the indexes. One significant example is in volume XII, which contains Stenbock's account of his expedition in the winter of 1702/03. He frequently mentions a certain Potocki, who Quennerstedt (with limited access to Polish works) identifies as Józef Potocki (1675-1751), the later Great Hetman of the Crown. This is however incorrect, Stenbock's counterpart was Michał Potocki (c. 1660-1749), starosta of Krasnystaw and Crown Field Writer. The story of Michał  Potocki is a good example of the absurdity of the old view that Charles XII never forgot what he considered a betrayal. Potocki had made a deal with the Swedes before Stenbock started his expedition, but did not honor it. This did not stop the King from accepting him a couple of years later. Michał Potocki then fought on the Swedish side at Kalisz, where he fled. He subsequently acted rather carefully keeping his options open, but eventually joined Charles XII at Bender. So the supposedly harsh Charles ("the sword does not jest") forgave Potocki not just once, but at least twice (and possible even three times).

Charles was much more of a politician than subsequent historians have given him credit for - partially because they (just as Quennerstedt) did not fully understand what the sources told them. There were a lot of Potockis and Lubomirskis in early 18th century Poland and the sources must be carefully analyzed in order to separate them from each other. 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 8:00 PM MEST
Updated: Sunday, 26 March 2017 8:02 PM MEST
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Sunday, 9 August 2015
New books
Topic: Literature

I recently added to my collection of Polish books:

1. Urzędnicy Wielkiego Księstwa Litewskiego: spisy. Tom III. - Warszawa, 2015. This is a series which began appearing in 2003. It lists the names of officials on various levels, in this case for the Duchy of Samogitia. These books are invaluable for anyone who tries to identify the Polish and Lithuanian nobles who appear in Swedish documents from the GNW period. Previous volumes have covered the voivodeships of Vilnius, Trakai and Smolensk.

2. Pabich, Lukasz: Bitwa pod Koniecpolem 21 listopada 1708. - Zabrze, 2014. About the battle between forces loyal to Stanislaw Leszczynski and those Polish and Lithuanian forces which refused to accept him as king. The unprinted sources are Polish-Lithuanian only, but the printed ones more diverse (unfortunately in some cases they are of a highly dubious nature). 

3. Płowy, Damian: Poniec 7 XI 1704. - Zabrze, 2013

4. Płowy, Damian: Od Ponieca do Bełcza Wielkiego. - Zabrze, 2015. Both books are about the final stages of the 1704 campaign. Both volumes are quite thin, but the author appears to have consulted many archival sources both in Poland and abroad (though not in Sweden).

5. Wimmer, Jan: Polska-Szwecja : konflikty zbrojne w XVI-XVIII wieku. -  Oświęcim, 2013. A summary of the events during the many wars between Sweden and Poland by the veteran historian, who as far back as 1956 published a large volume about the GNW (Wojsko Rzeczypospolitej w dobie wojny północnej 1700-1717).



Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:09 PM MEST
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Sunday, 25 May 2014
Narva 1700
Topic: Literature

The Estonian historian Hendrik Sepp (1888-1943) in 1930 published an extensive study of the siege of Narva in 1700 (Narva piiramine ja lahing a. 1700). Sepp was fortunate to have access to the archives of the Livonian Governor General and the Estonian Governor General, which had not been used by Carl Bennedich and his associates when they prepared the Narva chapter in volume 2 of Karl XII på slagfältet (1918).  I have during the last few months obtained copies of most of the Narva related records from the two above-mentioned archives. Although Livonia in 1700 was a vastly more important province than the much smaller Estonia it's the latter archive which is more rewarding in this case. In EAA 1.2.285 (incoming letters July-December 1700) one finds for example:

Carl Gustaf Skytte to A. J. de la Gardie, Dorpat 16 September 1700 (about the unfortunate news which have arrived today from Narva).

Henning Rudolf Horn to C. G. Skytte, Narva 10 September 1700 (attached to the previous letter. Reports the sudden invasion by Russian troops and how they were marching towards Narva).

Skytte to de la Gardie, Dorpat 21 September 1700 (how everything still remains quiet along the border, except for rumours of planned transport of artillery from Pskov to Narva).

A summary of recent reports from Narva, dated Dorpat 20 September 1700 (attached to the previous letter)

Skytte to de la Gardie, Dorpat 25 September 1700 (with a copy of Florian Thilo von Thilau's letter, dated Neuhausen 21 September 1700, which contains a report of news and rumours from Russia)

Colonel Johan Apolloff's undated report about Russian forces having crossed the border.

Skytte to de la Gardie, Dorpat 5 October 1700 (about rumours suggesting that a combined Saxon-Russian force will attack Dorpat)

Apolloff to de la Gardie, dated Nyen 4 September (but has to be October) 1700 (about attempts by Christian Adrian Rosenmüller to get the Ingrian peasants to fight the Russians, the fall of Koporie fortress and rumours that the Czar had told his soldiers to take Narva within three days or be massacred)

Apolloff to de la Gardie, undated (about Rosenmüller's capture during a fight near Koporie and his death a couple of days later).


Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:35 PM MEST
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Sunday, 4 May 2014
Top secret
Topic: Literature

In a recent blog entry on Örjan Martinsson discusses pikes, in particular how they were carried by the Swedish infantry. In the comments interest was focused on the printed infantry regulations of 1701 - Förordning och Reglemente för infanteriet Som den Stormäcktigste Konung och Herre, Herr Carl den XII. Sweriges, Götes och Wändes Konung. Due to the very ambitious digitalization work carried out in Estonia it's available online:

This discussion reminded me of a letter among the Lewenhaupt papers in Linköping (LiSB, H 79:3, no 219). In it Wolmar Anton von Schlippenbach on 15 July 1707 replies to a request from Lewenhaupt for 8 copies of this work, which was printed in Reval. Unfortunately, Schlippenbach informs Lewenhaupt, he cannot send them as it's explicitly forbidden to distribute any copies without specific orders by the King. 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 10:18 PM MEST
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Sunday, 9 March 2014
The GNW in Courland, Livonia, Estonia and Ingria
Topic: Literature

Generally speaking the Swedish literature about the war in the above mentioned areas is very limited. The operations of the Courland army under the command of Adam Ludvig Lewenhaupt is described in some depth by Hugo Uddgren (1876-1955) in his two volume biography of the General (Karolinen Adam Ludvig Lewenhaupt), published in 1919 and 1950. Uddgren was among the first Swedish researchers to use the archives in Riga and he is possibly the only one to have used the archive of the Dukes of Courland (at that time in Saint Petersburg), which also contains the records of the Swedish administration between 1701 and 1709.

The Livonian theatre of war is partially covered by a couple of short works by Otto Sjögren, who was involved in arranging the large Schlippenbach collection in Riksarkivet. 

Count Carl von Rosen's Bidrag till kännedom om de händelser om de händelser..., vol II (1936) covers the entire area, but only until 1704. On the other end is Fredrik Arfwidsson's dissertation Försvaret af Östersjöprovinserna 1708-1710 (1936), which he much later supplemented by a few articles in Karolinska Förbundets Årsbok

Worth mentioning is also the Finnish historian Eirik Hornborg's biography of Carl Gustaf Armfeldt (Karolinen Armfelt och kampen om Finland under stora nordiska kriget), which appeared in 1952. 

This handful of works have until today pretty much dominated the field, so whenever modern Swedish historians write about the GNW in the Baltic provinces it's often easy to recognize their sources. Often the interpretations are very similar as well and heavily influenced by v. Rosen. 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:30 PM MEST
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