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The Great Northern War
Sunday, 8 February 2015
The attack on Patkul
Topic: Source criticism

In 1953 the historian Alvin Isberg published a dissertation called Karl XI och den livländska adeln 1684-1695. In this work Isberg attempted to investigate the various elements in the struggle between the absolute monarch and the Livonian nobility and particularly the role played by Johann Reinhold Patkul. One of the episodes covered by Isberg is the attempt in late 1692 to send Patkul (by then a captain in the Swedish army) to garrison duty at Kokenhusen. According to Isberg this was an idea hatched by Governor General Hastfer, Lt. Colonel Magnus von Helmersen and Charles XI with the purpose of removing Patkul from Riga, thereby making it difficult for him to continue his political work. 

One weakness in Isberg's account is the fact that the archive of the Livonian Governor General was unaivable to him and because of this he had to rely heavily on older literature such as Beiträge zur Lebensgeschichte Johann Reinhold Patkuls (1893) by Anton Buchholtz. What Isberg didn't know was Buchholtz (who used this archive) was severely handicapped by the fact that Carl Schirren had removed many Patkul documents and added them to his own collection (today partly in Riga and partly in Stockholm). These items allows us to get a slightly more complete picture.

The idea to send Patkul to Kokenhusen seems to have been Hastfer's. On 1 January 1693 Governor Erik Soop wrote to Hastfer (LVVA, fond 7349, op. 2, vol. 211, p. 28 ff.), informing him that he upon receipt of Hastfer's order (no date for it is given) immediately had written to Lt. Col. Helmersen, telling him that the King had decided that the garrison at Kokenhusen should be changed every six months. Helmersen should consequently order Patkul to take charge of the detachment and leave for Kokenhusen. Soop's order to Helmersen was issued on 28 December 1692 (LVVA, fond 7349, op. 1, vol. 46, p. 1181). It soon ran into problems. Two days later Patkul replied (LVVA, fond 7349, op. 2, vol. 211, p. 27) that he was severely ill and could not possibly travel. Soop told Hastfer that Patkul was indeed ill and had been for some weeks, but as soon as there was a change for the better the Governor General would be informed. 

According to Isberg the failure of the Kokenhusen plan resulted in a change, i.e. that Charles XI on 16 January 1693 ordered Patkul to switch to the Åbo infantry regiment and go to Finland. As it turns out this is entirely impossible. The order to Patkul was issued on 28 December 1692, his reply was sent two days later and Soop's report on the matter, dated 1 January 1693, did not reach Hastfer in Stockholm until the 26th. So it is clear that Patkul's illness and reluctance to go to Kokenhusen had nothing to do with the King's decision to send him to Finland. 

In the same context Isberg also discusses the complaints lodged by Patkul and four other captains against Helmersen on 19 December 1692 and how these were handled by the authorities. As this is another interesting issue I will deal with it in a separate post in the coming weeks.

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:07 PM CET
Updated: Sunday, 8 February 2015 9:08 PM CET
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Sunday, 23 November 2014
Adlerfelt's Histoire Militaire
Topic: Source criticism

One of the most popular sources for the history of the Great Northern War is Histoire militaire de Charles XII, roi de Suède (1741), presented as a work by Gustaf Adlerfelt (1671-1709). As the late historian Hans Villius showed in his dissertation Karl XII:s ryska fälttåg (1951) it is nothing of the kind, especially as far as the campaign of 1707-1709 is concerned. Histoire Militaire is in fact an extremly "dangerous" source in the sense that it, contrary to what is explicitly stated in the introduction, was heavily edited by Adlerfelt's son (who had no firsthand knowledge of the events). This resulted in many mistakes which are not present in the Gustaf Adlerfelt's original Swedish manuscript (published in 1919 under the title Karl XII:s krigsföretag).

The preserved manuscript is accompanied by various letters to Gustaf Adlerfelt, which bear testimony to the fact that he sought to collect information from various theatres of war. Another example of this can be found in a small collection of Lewenhaupt papers in Riksarkivet, Stockholm (E 4645). On 18 May 1706 Gustaf Adlerfelt wrote to Lewenhaupt from Pinsk about the latest developments, thanking the General for his willingness to send a copy of his journal. "My curiosity is legitimate and has to be excused", Adlerfelt writes. If it was possible to send the journal over Königsberg he would be much obliged. Later contacts between the two can also be established. On 23 February 1707 Adlerfelt wrote to Lewenhaupt from Altranstädt (LVVA, fond 7349, op. 1., vol. 296, pp. 253-255). The wish this time was very different: a relative by the name of Ernst Magnus von Hargen, who was serving in the garrison at Wismar, was interested in obtaining a vacant spot in the Österbotten infantry regiment. The Colonel of the regiment, a friend of Adlerfelt, was favorably disposed and had promised to write to Lewenhaupt about it. Adlerfelt hoped this would settle the matter and assured the General that his relative was a very experienced officer. So how did it go? Well, according to a note on Adlerfelt's letter it arrived in Riga on 11 March. On the very same day Lewenhaupt appointed von Hargen to the vacant position and on 2 April Charles XII confirmed the appointment (Krigskollegium, Militiekontoret, Avlöningshandlingar., SE/KrA/0009/A/G IV b/59 (1707), page 509). 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:27 PM CET
Updated: Sunday, 23 November 2014 9:28 PM CET
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Sunday, 2 November 2014
The Lewenhaupt memoirs
Topic: Source criticism

One of the most hotly debated Swedish sources is the Lewenhaupt memoirs, written while the author was a prisoner of war in Russia. They were first (partially) published in the 1750's by Carl Gustaf Boije, married to one of the late General's daughters. A complete edition appeared as late as in 1952. Historians traditionally formed two different camps - one which considered Lewenhaupt a tragic victim of a stubborn monarchs disregard for common sense and another which viewed the memoirs as an attempt to rewrite history and place blame for the author's own mistakes on everybody but himself. 

One of the most contested items in the memoirs is the description of the prelude to Lewenhaupt's march eastwards in the summer of 1708. The historian Ernst Carlson (1854-1909), who was firmly in the first camp, relied heavily on the memoirs and apparently believed that the first order to collect supplies for three months was given on 26 May - in the same letter which ordered Lewenhaupt to march in early June! This was of course not the case. The order to collect supplies for three months was given on 24 February 1708 and reached Lewenhaupt in early March (see for instance letter from B. O. Stackelberg to Nils Stromberg 10 March 1708). So how could Carlson have been so mistaken? Well, there is no mention of the February order in Lewenhaupt's memoirs. Instead the General gives the King's letter of 26 May and comments: I sent a courier to the King and reported that it would be impossible for me to leave so soon and how my departure would leave Estonia and Livonia open to the enemy. But as I received no new orders the march continued...

So when did this courier leave with Lewenhaupt's report and his request for different orders? The memoirs are vague on this point, but Carlson naturally assumed that it was done immediately.  Well, the letter dated 26 May arrived in Riga on 3 June, but Lewenhaupt's doubts and worries were not translated into action until three weeks later. On 25 June Lewenhaupt wrote to Gustaf Adolf Strömfelt (who a few days before had appealed to him to leave some units behind) that he "now" was sending an extensive report about the situation and that this "perhaps" would result in different orders. 



Bernt Otto Stackelberg to Nils Stromberg, Mitau 10 March 1708, Riksarkivet, Livonica II, vol. 313.

Gustaf Adolf Strömfelt to Adam Ludvig Lewenhaupt, Pernau 19 June 1708, LVVA, Fond 7349, op. 2, vol. 247.

Karl XII to Adam Ludvig Lewenhaupt, Radoszkowicze 26 May 1708, Uppsala Univ. Library, F. 103

Swedish letter book 1708, LVVA, Fond 7349, op. 1, vol. 79. 

Carlson, Ernst, Sveriges historia under Karl den tolftes regering. D. 3. - Stockholm, 1910.

Lewenhaupt, Adam Ludvig, Adam Ludvig Lewenhaupts berättelse... Stockholm, 1952. 


Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:37 PM CET
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Sunday, 18 May 2014
Creative quoting
Topic: Source criticism

The Finnish historian Eirik Hornborg (1879-1965) published a number of works about Swedish-Russian wars. In his work Sverige och Ryssland genom tiderna (1941) he quotes (page 63) a statement supposedly made by Major General Henning Rudolf Horn in 1703: 

"Sålunda äro dessa abandonerade provinser överlämnade fienden till skövling, om ej till egendom. Om ej Kunglig Majestät snart kommer, skall han så innästla sig, att det bliver svårt att få honom ut, evad makt som än användes." (Roughly: "So these abandoned provinces have been left for the enemy to devastate, if not conquer. If His Royal Majesty does not arrive soon, the enemy will strengthen his position to such an extent that it will be difficult to drive him out regardless of how strong a force is used").

In this form the quote has also found its way into Lars Ericson Wolke's recent work Sjöslag och rysshärjningar (2012). But did Horn actually write this? No, he did not. The actual letter is dated 16 July 1703 and contains a long account of the situation at hand. Horn states:

"Således så länge han ingen hafwer som honom distraherar eller motwährn giörer, så blifva dessa abandonerade Provincier honom till sköflings, Gud gifwer, eij heelt och hålne til Egendom, lährandes han wisserligen sig så innestla, att om intet den gode Guden snart skyndar hijt Wår Store Konung till undsättning, så lährer det sedan hålla swåhrt att få honom uth igen, ehwad macht och författning dertill skulle willia eller kunna användas, af hwilcket alt successen och uthgången står i Guds hand." (Roughly: "As long as the enemy does not encounter someone who opposes him or distracts him, these abandoned provinces will be left for him to devastate, God willing not entirely to conquer, and he will surely strengthen his position to such a degree that if the merciful God does not soon send Our Great King it will become difficult to drive him out regardless of force or method used, of which the success and result is all in God's hand.")

So while Hornborg's version is reasonably close to the original (although slightly more pessimistic) it's not a direct quote. Horn's letter is more of an appeal for money and some sort of local military diversion than it's an appeal to the King to abandon his campaign in Poland. Indeed, Horn expresses an understanding of the difficulty of simply leaving Poland but then vaguely suggests the Saxon intrigues are keeping Charles away from his own country.



Riksarkivet, ÄK 243, vol. 106, Skrivelser till Defensionskommissionen från kommendanten i Narva 1703 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 8:18 PM MEST
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Saturday, 16 February 2013
Honor and distinction
Topic: Source criticism

In 2007 the Swedish historian Svante Norrhem published a book called Kvinnor vid maktens sida : 1632-1772. In it he analyses the position of women close to power, i. e. the wives of some of the most powerful members of Swedish aristocracy. On pages 78-79 he describes and interprets a curious episode in General Adam Ludvig Lewenhaupt's memoirs. In the autumn of 1706 the General carried out an expedition into Lithuania, where he had some skirmishes with enemy forces. At one point Lewenhaupt handed over the army to Major General Stackelberg and made a short visit to Riga. According to Lewenhaupt's memoirs this quickly became a subject for gossip and people started saying that the General neglected his official duties and came to Riga only for some private matter, i.e. negotiations concerning his daughters marriage. Lewenhaupt claims that his secretary Klinthen helped spread such innuendos and that some of them focused on Lewenhaupt's wife and her alleged vanity. These, the General suggests, were based on an misinterpretation of a conflict between the wife of Deputy Governor Rembert von Funcken's second wife Margareta Christina Frölich (1683-1735), daughter of former governor Carl Gustaf Frölich.

According to Lewenhaupt's memoirs v. Funcken's wife started to use the official seats in St. Peter's church, which forced the Lewenhaupt's own wife to sit among the burgher's wives. This resulted in gossip and criticism directed against von Funcken's wife, who then proceeded to buy another chair close to the official ones and make it bigger than the former. Lewenhaupt states that he, upon returning to Riga, confronted the Riga town councillor Ulrich and asked him how he as churchwarden could have allowed this to take place. Ulrich defended himself by saying that von Funcken had wanted it done and as he was in charge when Lewenhaupt was away they felt that his wish could not be denied. Ulrich suggested that Lewenhaupt talk to von Funcken, but the general refused. This was, he stated, a matter for the town council and the church wardens - they must restore the chairs or else face dire consequences. Major General von Funcken would at first not budge and sent Colonel Budberg to Lewenhaupt as an negotiator. Lewenhaupt told Budberg that von Funcken had allowed the King's rights to be infringed and if he had any complaints against Lewenhaupt he should write to Charles XII. Even former governor Frölich and eventually also von Funcken came to Lewenhaupt, asking him to reconsider, but were told that nothing could be done as it was an official and not a private matter. 

Now, this is a fascinating story and Norrhem seems to believe that this is what happened and that there was nothing more to it. He even suggest that the conflict resulted in a complete break between the two families, but Lewenhaupt himself does not go that far. He claims that von Funcken initially was obstinate and tried to make things difficult for Lewenhaupt, but eventually apologized. 

But does Lewenhaupt tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Well, nobody seems to have looked for additional evidence. Surely there has to be something if the matter eventually involved the town council, former governor Frölich, churchwarden Ulrich, Colonel Budberg etc? Let's have a look:

On 4 October 1706 Lewenhaupt wrote to von Funcken from the Lithuanian town Kėdainiai. In the letter he accuses the Major General of having opened private letters addressed to Lewenhaupt and orders him to give every arriving letter to Lewenhaupt's wife, who will then open them in the presence of an official from the Governor's Chancellery and determine which are private and which are official. This order was repeated in another letter written six days later. Could this have caused friction between the two men? When did Lewenhaupt make his short visit to Riga?

To be continued...



Posted by bengt_nilsson at 7:58 PM CET
Updated: Saturday, 16 February 2013 8:02 PM CET
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Thursday, 14 February 2013
Abraham Cronhjort and Eirik Hornborg
Topic: Source criticism

In 1952 the Finnish historian Eirik Hornborg (1879-1965) published a biography of Carl Gustaf Armfeldt (1666-1736), in 1718 leader of the unsuccessful campaign to take Trondheim. In the book Hornborg, who was no admirer of Charles XII, paints a grim picture of the situation on the Ingrian front during the first years of the war. He is critical, but yet sympathetic, to the first Swedish commander, Major General Abraham Cronhjort. Cronhjort may have been a poor general, but the main fault lay with Charles XII who wandered away into Poland instead of giving proper attention to the defense of the Baltic provinces.

In January 1701 Cronhjort made an excursion into Russia across the eastern border of Ingria, arriving at a village called Saari (nowadays Shum). There he found a wooden manor, defended by a few hundred Russians. For nearly two weeks Cronhjort tried to force them to surrender, but could make no headway despite a large numerical advantage. Then, late one night, the garrison managed to elude the Swedish posts and escape - a real embarrassment for Cronhjort. Hornborg briefly touches upon the struggle for Saari, but places the emphasis on the reaction by Charles XII. The King, upon hearing of Cronhjort's initial difficulties, got quite upset and pointed out that the Major General a few weeks earlier had written about possible forays as far as Novgorod. Such promises and now he could not capture even "a simple wooden manor"? Hornborg found this reaction deeply unfair as the forces at Cronhjort's disposal were quite untrained, poorly equipped and the weather conditions difficult. But what about the embarrassing outcome? Well, Hornborg only says that the garrison secretly abandoned the manor in the night between the 28th and the 29th. Did he perhaps find this fact a bit "disturbing", i.e. not in line with his interpretation of where the real responsibility for the failure lay?

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 6:44 PM CET
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Sunday, 22 July 2012
The Dorpat naval disaster in 1704
Topic: Source criticism

On 4 May (Swedish style) 1704 a major disaster struck the Swedish naval squadron stationed at Dorpat (Tartu). Upon leaving the town on the river Embach it encountered a large Russian force and was within a very short time totally lost. The commander Carl Gustaf von Löschern Hertzfelt was killed when he blew up his ship Carolus. The commander of the garrison in Dorpat Colonel Carl Gustaf Skytte very shortly started an investigation into the circumstances, but the records were lost when Dorpat fell to the Russians just over two months later. However, Skytte's own report about the siege of Dorpat is preserved. It was printed in 1916 and has because of this been readily available for anyone interested in this matter. Skytte's opinion is clear - the ships were lost through the stupidity and arrogance of Löschern. Löschern had spent the night before sailing from Dorpat celebrating and drinking heavily. Disregarding warnings and sound advice he had stubbornly sailed directly into the trap set up by the waiting Russians, so the responsibility for the outcome rested with Löschern only. 

I don't think it's an exaggaration to say that this is the dominant view of the matter. The Swedish writer Carl von Rosen, who in 1936 published a study about the war in the Baltic provinces 1701-1704, follows Skytte closely and so does Margus Laidre in his recent book about Dorpat during the GNW. Both authors do however mention that the local army commander Major General Wolmar Anton von Schlippenbach was of a different opinion and that he instigated a new investigation. When I some years ago went through a lot of documents from the archives of the College of the Admiralty I found quite a few references to this matter and particularly to the intense effort Löschern's widow put into exonerating her late husband. Her opinion was (if I remember correctly) that Skytte had smeared her late husband and made him a scapegoat.

It is quite clear from the letters Schlippenbach sent to Governor General Frölich in Riga that he profoundly disliked Skytte. On 22 May 1704 he replies to a suggestion by Frölich that it would under the present circumstances be best to "caress" Skytte rather than starting an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the loss of Löschern's squadron. In Frölich's opinion the aging Skytte (who probably was around 60 years old) should instead be assisted by the appointment of a deputy garrison commander. Schlippenbach stated that he had indeed "caressed" Skytte, but only "won his own contempt". If Frölich wanted to appoint a deputy - fine. However, Schlippenbach feared that this would only make Skytte suspicious and besides - why would Skytte listen to his deputy when he didn't listen to Schlippenbach who was his superior? Ten days earlier Schlippenbach had outlined his criticism of Skytte in regard to the Löschern disaster:

1. If Skytte had used his 2 000 horse for reconnaissance he would have known about the arrival of the Russians.

2. When the ships had sailed from Dorpat the previous years they had always been preceded by scouting parties on both side of the river. Why had this not been done this time?

3. Why were the ships not escorted by units from the garrison? This had been done the previous years.

4. A senior officer from the garrison had always before been present when the ships sailed in order to keep an eye on the junior officers and the soldiers from the infantry. This had not been done this time even though Skytte had received specific orders from Schlippenbach to do so. Because of this some officers had stayed behind when the ships sailed, while others had fled without offering any resistance when the fight began.

This criticism may or may not have been valid. However, it's quite obvious that the fact that Skytte's journal has been available in print since 1916 has resulted in a rather onesided interpretation of the events. If greater attention was paid to the view put forth by Schlippenbach, by Löschern's widow and by her supporters the result would probably be more knowledge of the circumstances. At the very least it would mean a greater understanding of the personal rivalry that apparently existed between some of the leading figures.

Source: Letters from Schlippenbach to Frölich 12 & 22 May 1704, Fond 7349, op. 1, vol. 282, pp 190-193 and 211-213, Latvijas valsts vestures arhivs, Riga


Posted by bengt_nilsson at 12:01 AM MEST
Updated: Sunday, 22 July 2012 6:01 PM MEST
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