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The Great Northern War
Sunday, 5 January 2014
To know best
Topic: Interpretations

The number of Swedish historical magazines directed at the general public is quite remarkable. While most of them tend to focus heavily on World War II they occasionaly contain articles on the GNW. Populär historia, which started in 1991, probably does this more than the others. The latest example came in issue 2013:12, where Åsa Karlsson, Gunnar Åselius and Marie Lennersand got about 15 pages for articles about Charles XII and the GNW. Åselius article promptly provoked a reply from Sverker Oredsson, who belongs to the so called "Old school" in the tradition of Anders Fryxell, F. F. Carlson and Ernst Carlson. 

Oredsson's objections (published in issue 2014:1) are primarily the following:

1. Charles XII could have made peace after his victories against the Russians and the Saxons (presumably in late summer 1701), which was what the leading powers in Europe and his own advisors wanted.

2. By waging war against Poland Charles weakened the country and laid the foundation for future partitions of Poland. 

3. Charles should not have attempted a march towards Moscow. It would have been better to focus on recapturing "those Baltic provinces which had been lost during his time in Poland".

4. This resulted in the Czar eventually acquiring more land than he had wanted as the original intention was just to reach the Baltic sea.

5. Charles attacks on Norway in 1716 and 1718 were "unnecessary and unprovoked".  


Let's start with no 1. Well, assuming that it would indeed have been possible - on what terms? Both the Saxons and the Russians had launched surprise attacks, which eventually were beaten back in quite spectacular fashion. Should Charles have offered the Czar Narva and Augustus Riga or was it (in view of the victories at Narva and the Daugava) more reasonable to demand land or some sort of reparations? 

Number 2: Well, even if that was true Charles can hardly be blamed for putting what he believed was the in the Swedish interest first. In fact, the whole point with his policy towards Poland was to create an "eternal" Swedish-Polish alliance against Russia. There was no disagreement among his advisors on that point, but many of them seemingly believed that it could be achieved without dethroning Augustus.

3. The only Baltic province which had been lost was Ingria and Lybecker's campaign in 1708 showed how difficult it was to supply an army there. The King's main army was 3-4 times as large as Lybecker's, so such an undertaking would most likely have been totally impossible.  To bring 35-40,000 men into Livonia would have resulted in similar difficulties. Indeed, a march into Lithuania made every possible sense both politically and strategically and may indeed have been the only feasible alternative. 

4. Yes, Ingria was all the Czar originally wanted, but Augustus was to have Livonia.

5. A most peculiar criticism as the Danes (and Norwegians) had entered the war in 1709. As the Norwegians had launched an invasion of Bohuslän in 1711, surely Charles XII's invasions in 1716 and 1718 were not "unprovoked"? Whether they were "necessary" is an other matter, considering the situation it could hardly be worthless to capture some part of Norway for use as a bargaining chip. 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 8:34 PM CET
Updated: Sunday, 5 January 2014 9:04 PM CET
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