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Charles XII of Sweden


Charles XII of Sweden
Portrait by Axel Sparre[?], 1712

Charles XII of Sweden (June 17, 1682 - November 30, 1718), was king of Sweden. He came to the throne at the age of fifteen and left the country three years later to embark on a series of battles overseas, that briefly made Sweden the predominant power in Northern Europe. His youth gave other nations a decent pretext with which to invade Sweden; Poland-Saxony, Denmark-Norway, and Russia joined in a coalition to attack Sweden, beginning the Great Northern War. Charles XII turned out to be more astute than the other powers imagined.

Charles's first campaign was against Denmark, ruled by his cousin Frederick IV of Denmark, which threatened a Swedish ally, Frederick IV of Holstein-Gottorp[?] (another cousin of Charles XII, and married to his sister Hedvig Sophia). Denmark's defeat, however, and Sweden's ensuing rise to prominence in the Baltic region was viewed suspiciously by two powerful neighbors, King August II of Poland (cousin to both Charles XII and Frederick IV of Denmark) and Peter the Great of Russia. Russia responded by occupying the Swedish territories of Livonia and Estonia. Charles countered this by attacking the Russian garrison at Narva. From the very beginning, this seemed to be a headstrong move. The Swedish army of ten thousand men was outnumbered four to one by the Russians. Still, Charles attacked under cover of a blizzard, and effectively split the Russian army in two. Many of Peter's troops that fled the battlefield drowned in the Narva River[?] and the battle was a crushing Swedish victory.

Charles then turned against Poland, defeating Augustus and his Saxon allies at the Battle of Klissow[?] in 1702. After the deposition of the king of Poland, Charles XII filled the void with his own man, a certain Stanislas Leszezynaski .

Meanwhile, Peter had managed to retake Livonia and even established a new city Saint Petersburg there. This prompted Charles to make the fatal decision to attack the Russian heartland with an assault on Moscow. Once again, harsh climactic conditions took their toll, this time on Charles as he marched his troops through the Ukraine. By the time they reached Poltava, Charles had been wounded, one-third of his infantry was dead, and his reinforcements held back by Cossack raiders. The battle was a disaster, and Charles fled south to the Ottoman Empire.

The Turks despised Charles for attempting to incite them to war against Russia and even imprisoned him briefly. Meanwhile, his old enemies Russia and Poland took advantage of his absence to regain and even expand their lost territories. Russia seized Finland and Augustus II regained the Polish throne.


The Corpse of Charles XII
Portrait by Gustaf Cederström[?], 1884

Seeing his very kingdom threatened, Charles fled the Ottoman Empire and rode across Europe in just fifteen days to return to Pomerania. His efforts to reestablish his lost empire failed, however, when he was killed by a stray bullet in an attack on Norway.

Preceded by:
Charles XI
List of Swedish monarchsSucceeded by:
Ulrike Eleonore



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