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The Great Northern War
Thursday, 18 October 2018
Karl XII : kungamord (once more)
Topic: Literature

The newspaper article I discussed in the previous entry is a key piece of evidence in the book. I would argue that an experienced historian with knowledge of the events of 1718 who found such a sensational item would react in two ways:

1. Could it be a false rumour going round Europe, much as there in 1709 had been a rumour that the Swedish army had been victorious in the battle of Poltava (a lengthy account of the victory even found its way into the official Swedish newspaper)? The experienced historian would then proceed to check some Dutch, French and German newspapers to see if they contained the same story. 

2. The experienced historian would carefully analyze the other news reports on the same page and look at the paper very closely. Could it be that those pages weren't from 1718? 

Why would he/she be incredulous? Well, because an event  of this magnitude (a revolution in Sweden and an official proclamation of the King's death more than a month before he actually was killed) would surely have left traces everywhere. The new authorities would have had to inform the county governors, the bishops and so on - there would be letters everywhere. Not only that, there would be a need to explain how a small British paper in Lincolnshire would know something which for example the Danish government or their commanders in Norway didn't. How come the Czar knew, but Goertz who negotiated with the Russians didn't? It is, in short, very hard work to build a theory which would explain all of this. 

Now to what Nordenkull on page 72 calls evidence of Frederick's guilt:

1. The coup: as explained above and in the previous post this is based on a British newspaper item which has been incorrectly dated. 

2. That Frederick managed to surround the King with people loyal to him: it's not clear that all of them were or that this in itself would mean anything. Above all it's not clear who the replaced people were.

3. There was a Swedish artillery battery on Oskleiva, which fired the lethal bullet. The King's body was then carried to the trenches etc: No evidence for the existence of such a battery is presented. No evidence for the theory that the King was hit by a number of canister balls is presented. No evidence for an alternative place of death is presented. (what I mean by evidence is witness accounts, maps, drawings etc. - any sort of contemporary documentation). No discussion about the possibility of making precision shots with canister at such a distance or what the likely spread of such a volley would be etc. No discussion of why "murder by artillery" was chosen ahead of a simple gunshot at close range etc.

4. Kaulbars and Maigret by mistake disclosed the plot in their testimonies: Kaulbars (if Anonymous is indeed him) points to Overberget - how can this be an evidence of murder? Maigret speaks of a large projectile and dismisses the idea that someone on the Swedish side killed the King - how can this be evidence of murder?

5. Frederick manipulated the Council of War on 1 December: it's far from obvious why "an unfortunate and very lamentable event" should be interpreted as referring to a shot from the Swedish side. Surely it would be possible to use the same words about a stray norwegian bullet?

6. The participants in the plot were rewarded in various ways: well, it was quite natural for officers to be promoted. My "old friend" Gustaf von Psilander went from being the son of a minor official to baron and head of the Admiralty. Was he also involved in a plot or was he (like Cronstedt) good at his work? 

In short: I would label a lot of the book pure speculation. One example: the author suggests that Charles XII in October made a trip to Armfeldt's army. Has she studied "Riksregistraturet" (copies of outgoing letters from the King's field chancery)? No evidence of this is presented. Has she looked for Royal letters written to county governors or various government bodies in Stockholm during this period to check where and when they are dated? No evidence of this is presented. Has she checked if there are records from the King's kitchen, i.e. evidence of where he spent days and nights, who dined with him etc? No evidence of this is presented...

I have spent hundreds (if not thousands) of hours during the last twenty years pouring over actual documents sent to Charles XII and his officials and letters and documents signed by him. I have visited quite a few archives in several different countries and bought copies from many, many more. I have today scans or photos of more than one thousand volumes from mostly Swedish, Baltic, Danish and Norwegian archives, i. e. I have done real archival research many, many times and spent a very considerable amount of my private money (and vacation days) doing it. Why? Because it is a fascinating period. I have made an index of about 15,000 incoming letters in the archive of the Swedish Governor General of Livonia. I have bought hundreds of books published in Poland, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and other relevant countries in order to keep up with research abroad. I have also fact checked a significant number of book manuscripts before publication and I have been heavily involved in other ways in a couple of book projects, including Peter From's "Karl XII:s död". So I do know something about the period and the events in 1718, perhaps even more than most people do. Based on all of this I must say that I rather resent being "lectured" by some who have done very little of such hard, time consuming and costly work (see above). 

This will, barring unforeseen events, be my final statement about this strange book. 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 6:50 PM MEST
Updated: Monday, 22 October 2018 3:08 PM MEST
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Wednesday, 17 October 2018
A very peculiar book : again
Topic: Literature

Some weeks ago I published a brief review of Cecilia Nordenkulls' book Karl XII : kungamord (Charles XII : Regicide). Towards the end I stated that a certain newspaper article, which forms the basis for Nordenkull's theory, has been incorrectly dated. 

The issue is available online through the British Newspaper Archive . It's dated 13 November 1718, but it should be noted that the date only appears on the first page of each issue. The newspaper in question (Stamford Mercury) has however page numbers. The third page of this issue is numbered 219, the relevant page is numbered 226. 

One particular detail is worth noting: each page ends with a word (or part of a word) which is then repeated on the following page. Page 219 ends with "pre-venting" and the first word on page 220 is "venting". Om page 220 the last word is "Difficul-ties" and on page 221 the first is "ties". 

This system is in place until the end of page 224, where the last word is "Next", but page 225 begins with "We". Page 225 ends with "And" and page 226 starts with "And". The final page is 226, although there obviously should be at least one more page as it ends in the same way with the word "Car". 

Ok, this suggests to me that something is wrong, i.e. that there has been a mix-up of some sort. Page 225-226 likely belongs to another year. So which one?

What does it say on page 225-226? A few things worth investigating:

1. A great plague in France (several items about this)

2. The Duke of Chandios going to Gravesend

3. A certain Doctor Parson, Chaplain to the Duke of Dorset

4. The arrival of a Russian Adjutant-General Romansoff in Stockholm

So what do these items tell us:




So the great plague in France occurred in 1720, there was no Duke of Chandos until 1719 and the Dukedom of Dorset was created in June 1720. 

So what does that indicate? Well, that the newspaper pages cannot be from November 1718 but from some later date - with 1720 being the earliest. 

Ok, so lets look through the issues for 1720 in order to find a connection between pages 224 and 225, where the break occurred in the issue dated 13 November 1718. The issue dated 3 November 1720 looks interesting, with the final page being numbered 224 and ending with the word "We" (see above). 

This indicates that pages 225 and 226 in fact belong to the issue dated 3 November 1720. But how about "Adjutant-General Romansoff"?

Let's look in C. G. Malmströms classical Sveriges politiska historia från konung Karl XII:s död... On page 298 in volume one of the second edition Malmströms describes the arrival in Stockholm of the Adjutant-General Romanzov (in fact Aleksandr Ivanovitj Rumjantsev)  in September 1720 and his mission to congratulate Fredrick on his accession to the throne. The arrival of the Russian envoy made the Swedes believe that he brought a peace offer, but when he didn't want to negotiate he was sent away in October. This very closely matches the newspaper article Nordenkull bases her idea of a coup d'etat in October 1718 on, i.e. she has simply not understood that a couple of the pages have been incorrectly labeled during scanning and that events described on pages 225 and 226 occurred in 1720. 



Posted by bengt_nilsson at 5:18 PM MEST
Updated: Wednesday, 17 October 2018 8:15 PM MEST
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Sunday, 16 September 2018
A very peculiar book
Topic: Literature
I have previously on a couple of occasions mentioned the upcoming Karl XII : kungamord (Charles XII : regicide) by Cecilia Nordenkull. It has now been published. I don't exaggerate when saying unequivocally that it's the most weird book on this subject that I have ever encountered. 

Her theory goes like this: Frederick of Hesse had been plotting against Charles XII for many years. In October 1718 he managed to convince Charles to visit Armfeldt's army outside Trondheim. When the King was well on his way Frederick made for Stockholm as quickly as he could, launched a coup and took power together with his wife, the King's sister. On carrying out this coup they claimed that the King had been killed (their plan was to have him assassinated during the journey to Armfeldt). It all went well and and even an envoy from the Czar arrived to congratulate them on their accession to the throne. 

Meanwhile, the King had managed to avoid all traps and returned to his army in late October. Frederick, who also was back, found himself in a bit of difficult situation. First of all he needed to make sure that Charles didn't find out that he had been deposed. Secondly, he had to convince Charles to go "deep undercover" - Fredrick could not risk having someone finding out that Charles wasn't dead. Thirdly, he needed to kill Charles. 

Then about a month passed, Charles never realized that he had been deposed and none other than the conspirators found out that the King was still alive. Now came the time to kill him, but how?

Well, Fredrick came up with a very complicated plan. He set up a battery across the river (some 700 meters from the Swedish trenches), borrowed some British officers and soldiers from admiral Norris, added a few trusted Germans and waited.

On the evening of 30 November the opportunity presented itself. The King had arrived at a gathering point behind the Swedish trenches, There he was approached by a young officer who had been ordered to carry a lamp. This young officer did not know the purpose, but when he reached Charles he gave a signal with his lamp. The battery across the river fired canister and Charles and the young officer were hit by many balls. Both men were killed on the spot.

Some of the conspirators now sprang into action. They carried the King tightly wrapped in his own coat to the trenches without being discovered and then put the King on top of the outer wall. Just as they were finished Lt. Carlberg appeared. He saw the King and joined the group of men. After some time one of the conspirators exclaimed: "The King has been hit!" and then everything proceeded as told in Carlberg's testimony. 

So what's the evidence Nordenkull cites. Well, first of all a famous painting by Gustaf Cederström - dated 1897! It's not clear how Nordenkull thinks that Cederström knew the correct circumstances...

Another piece of evidence is a newspaper article from Stamford Mercury, which describes the visit by a representative for the Czar to Stockholm. Unfortunately for Nordenkull the relevant page has been mislabeled during scanning. It's quite obviously from November 1720, not November 1718. 

What I have described above is just the tip of the iceberg. It's an amazing book - for all the wrong reasons. Even more amazing is that the author has been invited to a seminar in Halden -

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 1:00 PM MEST
Updated: Friday, 19 October 2018 6:03 AM MEST
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Monday, 3 September 2018
Another book
Topic: Literature

Another book on the same subject is Cecilia Nordenkull's Karl XII : kungamord (Charles XII : murdering a King). It will apparently be released in late September, but the main culprit has already been identified, Unsurprisingly it's Frederick of Hesse, the King's brother-in-law and the standard villain in most murder scenarios. Presumably this means that Sicre is cast in the role of the assassin.

Another new book is Svensk sjömakt under 500 år (Swedish naval power during 500 years). This one volume history of the Swedish navy is obviously neither detailed nor particularly revolutionizing. When it comes to the GNW some of the most familiar arguments are made, such as "the Swedish army had been built for defensive purposes, not for war outside the empire" and "the navy should have had more vessels suitable for the war against Russia". 

The first of these two suggestions would most probably have run into severe supply problems quite soon if it had been acted upon. Onni Korkiakangas, who in the early 1970's investigated the supply situation in 1700-1701, suggested that an important reason behind the decision to move the war into Poland-Lithuania was the impossibility of supplying a large army in the Baltic provinces. I also very much doubt that the Swedish army would have been able to successfully defend the borders from Riga to northeastern Ingria (should be about 900 km) from both Saxons and Russians when the enemies at any given time could choose their point of attack. 

The other argument is not much better. Sweden had not fought a war against Russia for 40 years and the relations appeared quite good. So, with many needs elsewhere - why build and maintain a significant naval force on Ladoga and Peipus for years (if not decades) when a new war with Denmark appeared much more likely? 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 5:48 PM MEST
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Sunday, 26 August 2018
The unknown bullet
Topic: Literature

Rolf Uppström's new book Den okända kulan (The unknown bullet) has now been published. It's basically a slightly revised and updated version of his 1994 thesis. I can quite uneqivocally say that I am very unimpressed. Some examples:

Uppström has discovered that the statement written by three high officials (who had no medical or military training) after they had opened the King's coffin in 1746 has been published in two slightly different versions. It is very well known that three copies were made and that at least two have been preserved. So has Uppström checked them? No...

Uppström, who is an historian and a teacher, also takes it upon himself to question the shooting tests made by Dr Beat Kneubuehl and Dr Michael Thali, suggesting that these two forensic experts did not know what the inside of a human head looks like...

Another curious item is Uppström's suggestion that the trenches may have been placed futher away than previously thought, in his opinion making a Norwegian bullet less likely. Ballistically this is just hogwash. Old and modern tests have repeatedly shown that a lead ball could very easily kill a man at 210 meters - if it hit. It was of course impossible for the Norwegians to see the King's head, but they fired towards the area where they heard the Swedes working.

The top prize must however go to the assassination theory Uppström presents. According to him the murderer fired from a position between the parallell and the line that was started the same evening. From the available sources it is quite clear that the new trench was dug by using "sape volante". This means that the soldiers were digging side by side all along the line, the closest of them likely not more than 5-6 meters from the King's position - with no wall in between. The night was dark, but Carlberg states that the closest of the soldiers may have been able to see the King. It's also reasonable to believe that he mostly looked towards them and the fortress beyond. So how would an assassin remain undiscovered as he was making his way to this position? How would the shot not be heard and the muzzle flash not be seen? How would he get away without being noticed by the soldiers? Seriously?

The most interesting chapter is the description of the still unsuccessful attempt to gain permission for a new opening the coffin. I was immensly critical of it already from the beginning (in 2008) and nothing in Uppström's description causes me to reconsider. It seems to me that some of the tests are quite pointless, like finding out the King's dental health and others could just as well be made without opening the coffin, at least initially (A preliminary dynamic finite element simulation of the injuries, which they wanted to do, could surely be made using a computerized generic human skull?). Why not for example start looking for a suitable open field far from all artificial lightning and build the key parts of the trench system, hire some reenactors and test the possible assassination scenarios under realistic conditions? I realize that this is not as exciting as opening the coffin before rolling TV cameras and putting the King's body through various new tests, but why not start with the fundamental stuff if one is inclined to question most of what has been done before?

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:43 PM MEST
Updated: Monday, 27 August 2018 8:08 AM MEST
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Sunday, 19 August 2018
The most logical solution?
Topic: Literature

As we are closing in on 30 November there will inevitably be new articles about the King's death. The latest issue of the historical magazine Populär historia 2018:9 boldly leads the way. The editor asked Peter Englund to write about the present state of research. 

Englund, who has never been a friend of the assassination theory, dismisses it quickly, He then goes on to deal with the other two - Norwegian musket ball and Norwegian case or canister shot. Englund declares that the most simple and most logical is the one presented by the engineer Svante Ståhl in 2005. According to Ståhl the King was hit by a small iron ball shot from the fortress Overberget some 600 meters away. It was previously assumed that there wasn't sufficiently small iron balls (18-20 mm) for this scenario to be possible, but Ståhl hade come in contact with the Norwegian officer and artillery expert Odd T. Fjeld, who in the 1990's had discovered that there were. Or had he?

Ståhls reasoning is based on an interpretation of a certain passage in one of the ammuntion records for the fortress. I focused on the weight "lod" and the meaning of "lödig". When it came to ammunition for muskets "lödig" in Denmark-Norway undoubtedly had to do with parts of a pund, i.e. a "10-lödig" lead ball weighed 1/10 of a pund, but did it mean the same when used about iron balls in canister and case shot?

Fjeld and Ståhl was sure it did, so Ståhl presented the following solution:

1. Danish-Norwegian case shot contained "20-25 or more wrought iron balls".

2. The case shot weighed about the same as the standard cannonball for a certain caliber.

3. The King was hit by a small iron ball fired from either an 6-pounder or an 18-pounder. 

4.This small wrought iron ball had a diameter of 20 mm and weighed about 32 grams. 

Englund deemed this the simplest and most logical solution. I'd say it is not, as there is a glaring weakness. Point 1 is correct, point 2 as well. Point 3 - OK, that's a theory. But no 4? A case shot for a 6-pounder should weigh about 3 kg and one for an 18-punder about 9 kg, but 25 iron balls at 32 grams à piece only weighs 800 grams!

So as no 1 and no 2 is correct, no 4 must be completely mistaken. Each iron ball in a case shot for a 6-pounder must weigh about 120 grams and in a case shot for an 18-punder about 360 grams - otherwise no 1 is incorrect (and it isn't). 

So Ståhl's theory iis not the simplest and most logical - it is in fact the most illogical and the most unlikely. 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 5:38 PM MEST
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Sunday, 12 August 2018
New books
Topic: Literature
As autumn approaches the events in memory of 1718 come with greater frequency. The same appears to be true about new books. There will be a new edition of Bengt Liljegren's biography of Charles XII. This time it will be called Krigarkungen (The Warrior King). It has been updated to some extent and I have also done the fact checking - although it remains to be seen exactly how this will show in the published work. The author and I have a very different view of Charles...

Rolf Uppström, who in 1994 published a thesis called Mysteriet Karl XII:s död is also back, now with Den okända kulan (The unknown bullet). I don't know anything about it, but I assume that he will continue to advocate that the King was murdered.

The same publisher is behind Allt om Karl den tolfte (Everything about Charles XII). Pretty presumptous title to say the least...

And then there is this. 276 pages of which half is footnotes. The author has discovered that Charles was murdered and his reputation tarnished by his enemies (I presume). All sources in the public domain, it says. Well, I think there will good reason to write about this book later on... The twitter account connected to the book makes some pretty astonishing claims

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 8:19 PM MEST
Updated: Sunday, 12 August 2018 9:01 PM MEST
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Sunday, 1 July 2018
Ulf Sundberg's dissertation : part 3
Topic: Literature

In the previous entry I started to look at the case of Menzen manor, which fell in early August 1702. A glaring weakness is Sundberg's failure to use Baltic archives. I took a quick look in my index of incoming letters and found 120 items dated August 1702 and of them 33 are earlier than the 10th. Of particular interest is the volume EAA.278.1.XX-18, which contains letters from Lt. Col. H. J. Brandt, sent from Wolmar in late July and early August. Brandt had passed Menzen on his way to Wolmar from Marienburg, so he knew the area quite well.

On 4 August Brandt wrote to Frölich about recent events and enclosed a couple of reports he had received. One of these, sent by a certain Berch on 3 August, mentions that Lt. Col. Yxkull at Menzen had sent a scouting party under the command of captain Knoblauch, which had encountered a small Russian force which it had defeated. On 8 August Brandt reported that according to rumours the enemy had appeared before Menzen two days earlier. There were no reports of subsequent events. Brandt had sent out a detachment of 60 men under the command of major Laurentzen and hoped to have more news when it returned. Next is a short note from the bailiff Ringenheim, dated 7 August, in which he reports that Menzen is holding.

The next letter from Brandt is dated 11 August. It is accompanied by one report from Ringenheim and one from major Laurentzen. Ringenheim writes that Menzen had been burnt on Thursday (the 7th). He did not know if Yxkull had been killed or captured. Another detailed account of events in early August is found in a letter from the clergyman Andreas Neudahl, dated 15 August (EAA.278.1.XX-19)

Among outgoing letters from Governor Frölich (LVVA, Fond 7349, op. 1, vol. 74) several mention Menzen (to de la Gardie, to Strokirch and to Schlippenbach 11 August )

Another source Sundberg has overlooked(?) is Christian Kelch's Liefländische Historia, in which Menzen is mentioned briefly on page 288 in volume 2. 

Even more glaring is Sundberg's failure to use Russian sources. He could for example have started with Heldur Palli's Mèdu dvumja bojami za Narvu (1966), which discusses Menzen on pages 188-189. 


Posted by bengt_nilsson at 12:01 AM MEST
Updated: Tuesday, 3 July 2018 7:41 PM MEST
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Sunday, 24 June 2018
Ulf Sundberg's dissertation : part 2
Topic: Literature

 After careful consideration I have decided to continue my analysis of Sundberg's dissertation Swedish defensive fortress warfare in the Great Northern War : 1702-1710. I will continue with  the sources and the literature.

Case 1: Menzen 1702

As Menzen was an ordinary manor it's not even obvious why it has been included in the study. Surely it was neither built nor manned as part of a defensive system established in Livonia?

As for the appearance and size of Menzen Sundberg has basically nothing to say and is forced to use a drawing of an entirely different manor. Could he have improved on this by using Baltic archives? I would think that's very likely. A simple google search turned up an excavation report from 2008 with a contemporary map showing the manor close to a small lake (which is not mentioned by Sundberg).

Sundberg then goes on to speak about sources and previous research. He mentions a couple of brief late 19th century works by Otto Sjögren, who primarily worked on the Schlippenbach archive which more or less by chance had ended up in Stockholm. Sundberg also notes the so called diary of Czar Peter and a mysterious report mentioned by Adam Lewenhaupt's Karl XII:s officerare.

Is this really all there is of previous research? Obviously not. What first comes to mind is Carl von Rosen's Bidrag..., published in the 1930's. The second volume deals with the war in Courland, Livonia and Ingria during the first few years and Rosen mentions Menzen. Another even more obvious work is Heldur Palli's Mezjdu dvumja bojami za Narvu (1966), which would have given Sundberg an idea of what Baltic archives hold. 

Sundberg notes that a letter from the Swedish commander is incorrectly dated and how this mistake through Sjögren has found its way into other works. If Sundberg had used Rosen or Palli he would have found chronologically more accurate versions, so it could be argued that his ability to correct the record is solely based on the fact that he has failed to use certain previous works.

An additional note: 

Just before Sundberg starts the discussion of various sieges during the GNW he lists on page 131 the strength of Swedish garrisons in 1699. In footnote 425 he has a long explanation of a presumed problem concerning the exact date Carl Gustaf Frölich was put in charge of Soop's regiment. The solution is very simple. If Sundberg had looked in Riksregistraturet (available online) he would have found that Frölich was appointed on 10 March 1700 (not 1701) because Soop had died and that the appointment was for both the governorship and the regiment. So the footnote is quite unnecessary - everything is quite clear if one uses the logical sources.

 To be continued...


Posted by bengt_nilsson at 7:41 AM MEST
Updated: Sunday, 24 June 2018 4:29 PM MEST
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Monday, 9 April 2018
The revolution and some odd letters
Topic: Literature
In 1953 Lennart Thanner published a voluminous dissertation called Revolutionen i Sverige efter Karl XII:s död. Thanner concluded, based on his interpretation of events after the King's death, that Charles had likely been murdered. In a footnote on page 366 Thanner mentions a series of rather peculiar letters sent from (mostly) Lund in 1717-1718 by the Chancery official Olof Sandberg (1679-1750). They are written in a peculiar type of "cipher", i.e. the author uses other names for the main characters. The purpose is unclear as it's quite simple to understand who he is thinking of. It's likely they were written like that for amusement rather than for covering up important information or political views. Thanner writes that the archivist Olof Jägerskiöld intended to publish them, but that apprently never happened. So if time permits I will put at least a few summaries online during the next weeks.

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:07 PM MEST
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