Karl XII och Karolinerna

The Great Northern War and Charles XII

Charles XII

Within the months this page will evolve and include every military aspect of the great Northern War 1700 - 1721.

Completed years:
1700 1701 1702 1703 1704 1705 1706

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Charles XII was born in 1682 and became king at an age of only 15 in 1697. At the same year his father Charles XI died and the castle "Tre Kronor" (Three Crowns) was accidentally set on fire and burned down to the ground. These signs were not a good start for a king. The years onwards to 1700 was also troublesome since famine struck in different parts of the kingdom. The province of Finland suffered heavily and the population decreased with 1/3 between the years 1697 - 1699.

At the year 1700 the kingdom of Sweden was far larger than today. It consisted not only of the borders known today but also encompassed todays Finland, Estonia and Latvia as well as Ingermanland (the area around todays St:Petersburg), Pommern (Province in northern Germany), Bremen-Verden (in western Germany). The total population counted around 2.5 millions of which 1.5 millions lived within the actual borders of todays Sweden.

In the year 1700, Denmark, Russia and Poland-Saxony had formed an alliance towards Sweden. They all had their own reasons for their animosity. In the previous wars in the 17th century all of them had lost provinces and sovereignty to Sweden. They decided the time had come to get some of it back. Why not better take the chance when the old king had recently died and the new one was young and inexperienced.

The first signs of war came to the king while he was hunting bears and wolves outside the capital of Stockholm. He was reached by the message that Danish forces had crossed the borders to the Swedish ally duchy Holstein-Gottorp (just south of Denmark). He didn´t react immediately to the news but continued the hunt. But directly afterward he he called for his war cabinet to assemble.

In the middle of the preparations for war he was reached by the news that the Russian Tzar Peter had crossed the Swedish province of Ingermanland with an entire army. Before that Saxon forces had unsuccessfully tried to capture the major city of Riga in todays Latvia. Now Sweden was at war with 3 of it´s neighbours at once.

The only good thing about the war was that Sweden at the time was quite military powerful. The decades before a new system of conscription had been formed that would prove to be very efficient. The navy was also well equipped and more powerful than before with the new naval base of Karlskrona, founded by the king Charles XI in the 1670´s.


In spring 1700 the whole Swedish army assembled fast and efficiently and marched to the ports from where it would be shipped to an unknown destination. No one knew where they would go until they were all aboard the ships. Charles XII saw Denmark as the greatest threat to Sweden and decided to disembark his army on the Danish main island of Själland near the Danish capital Copenhagen.

The only thing that would hazard such a mission would be the powerful Danish navy. Sweden got help from a British-Dutch navy force and together with the Swedish one they forced the Danish navy to seek protection in Copenhagen. The landing on Själland went successfully and few shots were fired. When the Swedish army was about to march to Copenhagen the Danish king Frederic IV got nervous and asked for peace. Charles XII didn´t wan´t peace now when the Danish army and navy still existed as a threat but were forced to agree since the support of the British-dutch navy would cease otherwise and Sweden needed its protection to continue to land troops unhindered.

Peace was eventually signed in Traventhal and Charles XII had taken care of one of the three enemies. Now the Swedish town of Narva in Estonia was besieged by the Russians under Peter the Great and so he decided the army to be shipped to the Estonian town of Pernau. He joined up with the Finnish part of the army and through forced marches he reached Wesenberg where he were able to drive off the few thousand Russians entrenched. With a tired and hungry Swedish army consisting barely of 10.500 men he reached Narva the 30th of November and decided - against his generals - to immediately go to attack. The Russians under command of duke de Croy counted around 40.000 regular troops that were entrenched. Fortunately a blizzard struck and got right in the eyes of the Russians, severely hindering them from seeing and reacting on the advancing Swedish army. After several hours of tough fighting the whole Russian army surrendered. It was so many prisoners that only the officers could be taken. The regular Russian soldier were allowed to return to Russia without any possessions. Sweden lost around 700 dead and 1200 wounded, the Russians lost at least 8.000 in dead and wounded. That was a great victory and over the months it would have spread to all courts of Europe and became the main topic of discussion in military circles. The Russian Tzar Peter the Great fled just hours before the battle begun - Officially to speed up the assembling of some new Russian regiments in Pskov.

The remaining month of the year was peacefully enough and allowed the Swedish army to go into winter quarters around the castle Lais in northeastern Estonia. That was close enough to protect the borders to Russia and also pretty close if Charles XII decided to go south to relieve the city of Riga that Saxony-polish troops had threatened for months under August II.


During the winter of 1700-1701 reinforcements where called upon from Sweden and Finland to fill up the losses of men and to build up the army for the coming military manoeuvrers. While the Swedish main army were in Estonia, the Russians didn´t make much noise of themselves. In the beginning of the spring the army began to move south to Riga and the saxon-polish army that were stationed south of the river Duna.

Generalmajor Schlippenbach was in command of the Swedish border troops to Russia. But he had only a few thousand men under his command and that was not enough. There were also other problems since Estonia was divided into at least three military districts with its own commander. The first was the city of Reval and its surroundings where the de la Gardie was in command. The second was Schlippenbachs area which stretched from Narva and south to Dorpat. And the third was Dorpat with its commander Skytte. Each commander had just a few thousand troops for himself and it was very hard to conduct any operations with so small forces. It would have been better to have a commander at the top with the authority over all the troops in Estonia. But so far so good.

The Swedish main army moved to Riga and on the other side of the river Duna, the saxon-polish army of about 20.000 men and under command of Steinau lay in wait. To cross the river Duna would be very hazardous and difficult since the enemy would try to smash down every foothold on the other side. But nothing was too difficult for Charles XII. With the help of the city of Riga and its commander Erik Dahlberg (now over 70 years old and most famous for his ideas of crossing the Danish Strait in the Swedish-Danish war in the 1650:ies) hundreds of boats were built and assembled and they lighted them to build up an enormous smokescreen to hide their advancement over the river. At the same time the swedes did some diversion manoeuvrers on several other places to confuse August II of were the Swedish main force would try to get over. When about a thousand troops had managed to the other side the saxon-polish forces were ready to take them on and they attacked. The bridgehead was hold by "Livgardet", Charles XII personal and best regiment. After a few hours of fighting and with the help of new reinforcements and artillery fire from Rigas great cannons. They saxon-polish army retreated in good order. They had failed to stop this landing and had lost 2.000 in dead. The losses on the Swedish side counted a around 500 hundred. This was taken place in July the 9th 1701.

While the Swedish main army under Charles XII was moving south into Latvia and chasing the saxon-polish army, the Russians began their activity in the north again. In September 1701 a Russian army of 9.000 men led by general Sjeremetjev crossed the border into Estonia but where stopped at two places by inferior Swedish troops (less than 3.000 men) under command of von Liewen in the battle at Rauge and at Rappin under command of Schlippenbach. Insufficient reinforcements and chain-of-command was already a problem but Schlippenbach had to make the best of the situation. In December the Russians push on and a battle stands at Errastfer (50 km south of Dorpat) between 1.600 swedes under Schlippenbach and many times more Russians. After taking 600 men in losses Schlippenbach retreats in good order and receives reinforcements that scare away the Russians.

The Polish Campaign


Charles XII have now decided upon entering Poland and takes his winter quarters in Lithuania. When the campaign starts again the swedish main army moves into Poland, chasing the saxon-polish troops and tries to engage them. They finally meet at Kliszow the 9 July and the Swedes counted about 12.000 men. August II have around 24.000 men under his banner. The battle was a complete success for Charles XII. The Saxon losses were around 2.000 men in dead and in wounded. Another 1.700 were taken prisoners. The swedes lost around 1.100 men in dead and in wounded. Politically things are quite unchanged and Charles XII continues to move his army through Poland and claim his demand that August the second should resign from Polands throne. Krakow and Warsaw are taken during the year and new reinforcements arrive in August from Nils Gyllenstierna so that Charles XII now counts 25.000 men.

In the Baltic provinces the Russians begin another offensive. With overwhelming forces they swarm over the border into the area south of the lake Peipus and the town Dorpat. With 6.000 men Schlippenbach decides to try to stop the Russians at a pass at Hummelshof. The 19th of July the Russians attack and Schlippenbach is defeated with losses of 3.000 men. His army has ceased to exist and he have to retreat back to Pernaus and leave the southeastern area of Estonia and Lifland for plunder by the Russians. In the autumn Peter the Great attacks the province of Ingermanland and the Swedish fort of Nöteborg with 300 men are defending against 12.000 Russians. After several weeks and 3 storms by the Russians the Swedes have to abandon the fort.


After having marched with the army to Lublin in the beginning of the year the swedes return to Warsaw to try another round of fruitless talks to make August dethroned. During the negotiations the Saxon commander Von Steinau arrive with a detachment of 3.000 men cavalry to the village of Pultusk. Charles XII immediately depart with 3.000 men of his own cavalry to meet him in battle. The battle which took place in 21st of April was a complete victory for the swedes. They took over 600 prisoners and lost only 60 men.

In May Charles XII move his main army to the strong fort of Thorn were 6.000 saxons have fortified themselves with ample supplies. Not until the Swedish general Magnus Stenbock arrives in the end of August with heavy cannons and 4.000 men in reinforcements can an effective siege take place and in October the Saxons surrenders. The Swedish troops takes winter quarters around the river Weichsel.

Things are looking worser and worser for the swedes in the Baltic provinces. They hardly receive any reinforcements since most of them goes to the main army in Poland. After having taken the Swedish fort Nyenskans in Ingermanland, Peter immediately begins the foundation for his new town St:Petersburg. Before May, two other Swedish forts surrender and the Swedes lost all control over Ingermanland. The Russians pushes the swedes back to the strong fort of Viborg in southeastern Finland and after that they turn once again to Estonia where Schlippenbach seeks protection with his small forces in Reval. In Livland (todays Latvia) the Swedish colonel Adam Ludvig Lewenhaupt defeats a much larger Russian-lithuanian force with his 6.000 men at Saladen in march. But the victory does not affect the strategical situation. It only buys some time because soon new fresh Russian troops makes it over the border and Lewenhaupt are forced to retreat back to Riga. At the end of the year the Russians return back from Estonia and Latvia, leaving the eastern parts of the countries ravaged.


After Thorn has fell into Swedish hands the poles are quite eager to accept that August should be removed from the polish throne and the 6th of february the polish parliament declares the throne available. Charles XII candidate Stanislav Leczinski is elected as new king in Poland the 2nd of July. August is however in no mood to leave his ambitions for the throne and so in July Charles XII marches towards August forces with 33.000 men. During that time August manages to get reinforcements from a Russian army and he begin his march to Warszawa. Despite a victorius battle by the Swedish generalmajor Meijerfeldt at Posen against overwhelming Saxon forces under command of Schulenberg, the swedes have to regroup at Warsaw.

In the east a polish city called Lemberg still refuses to give up for the swedes and so Charles XII takes personal ownership of 3 dragoon regiments and take the city in just 15 minutes. Over 600 garrison troops surrenders and the swedes only loose 40 men. But news reaches Charles XII that August have succeeded in retaken Warsaw from the swedes the 21st of August. Only the castle is still held by Arvid Horn. Charles XII immediately starts to march towards Warsaw the 12th of September. Rumours says that August already have left Warsaw to seek winter quartes so Charles XII send his trustworthy military teacher Rhenskiöld to Warsaw and decides to go after August. When August return with his troops to Warsaw, Charles XII rejoin with Rhenskiölds troops. When the swedes are almost at Warsaw August decides to split his forces into two and he himself marches towards Krakow and from there into Saxony. Charles XII decides to follow Shulenburg and reaches him the 28nd of October. He immediately decides to attack at the small town of Punitz and Shulenburg is forced to retreat with some losses. After that things are pretty calmed down on this front since the armies now goes into winter quarters.

In the Baltic provinces, Peter the great is now ready to continue his conquests but he needs to defeat the remaining Swedish navy on the sea of Peipus (on the border between Estonia and Russia) to be able to capture the towns of Narva and Dorpat. The 4th of May the Swedish squadron of 14 ships are attacked and when things seem really dark for the swedes, the commander blow his own ship into the air together with a lot of Russians. After that defeat Sweden lacks any sea forces in this region. 8.000 Russian go for the city of Dorpat and Schlippenbach tries to support the town with 3.500 men but he is defeated at Wesenberg the 16th of June. One of the reasons for the defeat was that half the force consisted of newly recruited and untrained Estonians. One month later Dorpat surrenders after a heroic defense by the Swedish commander Skytte. The 10th of August Narva is taken and the 16th of August the sister town of Ivangorod is also taken.

The only positive thing in the baltic region is that in July Adam Lewenhaupt succeeds in defeating a threefold larger Russian army with his 3080 Swedish soldiers and some thousand poles in the battle at Jakobstadt. In the autumn Lewenhaupt are forced to retreat once again since thousands of new Russian troops pour over the border.


Not much happens during the first half of the year in Poland. The town of Rawitz is under this time the headquarters for Charles XII and his army. It is decided that Charles XII candidate Stanislav will be crowned in July. His opponents gathers a force of 10.000 men and heads for the capital Warsaw to prevent this. As a matter of security, Charles XII send his betrothed generallieutenant Nieroth with 2.000 men cavalry to protect the crowning. When he learns that the opposition force is closing he immediately marches towards it and meet them in the battle at Rakowitz the 21st of Juli. Around 2.000 enemies fall for the swedes and a considerate force are taken as prisoners. In the end of July Charles XII decided to march to Warsaw but leaves Rhenskiöld with 10.000 men to keep an eye for an oncoming Russian-Saxon army that are being gathered west of the river Oder.

The 24th September, Stanislaus is crowned as king and the 18th November Sweden makes peace with Poland. The 29th of December Charles XII marches towards the town of Grodno in eastern Poland where the Russian main army of 34.000 men resides together with Augusts´ Saxon cavalry.

At the eastern front, the Swedish colonel Karl Gustav Armfeldt surprisingly attacks St:Petersburg with 1.000 men the 26th of January and succeeds in taken large amounts of supplies and burns parts of the city. The attack lack any strategic importance however. Peter decides to defeat the "latin colonel" Lewenhaupt in Kurland once and for all and sends his general Sjeremetjev with 12.000 men to make that happen. Lewenhaupt waits for the Russians at the village of Gemauerthof the 16th of July with 7.000 men and completely defeat the Russians so that between 2.000 to 6.000 men lies dead left on the battlefield. That victory makes Lewenhaupt general of the Swedish infantry and governor of Riga. His victory delays the Russian occupation of Kurland but in the long run he is vastly outnumbered and have to retreat back to Riga in August while the Russians occupy Kurland and in September move their main army to Grodno.


The 14th of January the Swedish main army of 20.000 men reaches the outskirts of the town Grodno where the Russians are forced to seek protection inside the town. They will soon be pained by famine and sickness. While Charles XII are approaching Grodno, August leaves the city with his Saxon cavalry and 3.000 Russian dragoons and marches towards the central of Poland where he hopes to join up with Schulenberg and his 18.000 men. Behind in central Poland, the Swedish commander Rhenskiöld is stationed with 9.000 men and he is in danger of being trapped by August. He is however an experienced commander, having been the military teacher to Charles XII and fought with his father 30 years earlier, so he soon understands August plan and decides to immediately attack Schulenburg at Fraustadt the 3rd of February. This results in a total victory for Rhenskiöld and is regarded as his best military performance ever. The losses for Schulenburg counts over 7.000 men in dead or wounded and another 8.000 are taken as prisoners. The Swedes only looses 424 in dead and 1.100 wounded. Rhenskiöld is soon promoted to Fieldmarshal and now he and Lewenhaupt has risen to be probably the best Swedish commanders.

When August learns of what has happened to Schulenburg, he moves south to Krakow. The 25th of March the Russians succeeds in leaving Grodno and retreats. Charles XII immediately follows them in forced marches but have to give up their intention after a very tired Swedish army at the town of Pinsk. Despite the fact that some Russians did manage to retreat from Grodno it could still be regarded as one of the greatest victories for Charles XII since over 17.000 Russian infantry men died because of lack of supplies.

After Grodno, Charles XII marches south and together with Stanislau he takes residence in the castle of Jaroslav. Here he decides to march into Augusts homeland saxony to force him to drop all claims to Polands throne. The 1st of September, 19.000 men stands just outside Saxony. The 14th of September he signs peace with August that reassures the Swedes that he will never have any claims for the crown of Poland or to start any war with the swedes in the future. While the swedes are in Saxony the Russians once again cross the border to Poland and recaptures large areas. Here for the first time, the swedes are defeated under command of Marderfelt by overwhelming russian-polish forces at Kalisij the 10th of October.

Things are quiet for the most part of the year in the Swedish provinces in the east. The Russians try to capture the Swedish fortress of Viborg in October but fail due to bad planning and they retreat back to St:Petersburg.

Sweden prepares for Russian campaign


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