Charles XII of Sweden
- "Carolus Rex" redirects here. For the remaining fragment of Gothenburg's city walls, see Carolus Rex (bastion); for the Sabaton album, see Carolus Rex (album).
|King of Sweden
Grand Duke of Finland
Duke of Bremen-Verden
Duke of Palatinate-Zweibrücken
|Charles XII in Military uniform|
|Reign||5 April 1697 – 30 November 1718|
|Coronation||14 December 1697|
|House||House of Pfalz-Zweibrücken|
|Father||Charles XI of Sweden|
|Mother||Ulrika Eleonora of Denmark|
|Born||17 June 1682
Tre Kronor (castle), Sweden
|Died||30 November 1718
|Burial||26 February 1719
Riddarholmen Church, Stockholm
Charles XII also Carl of Sweden, Swedish: Karl XII, Latinized to Carolus Rex, Turkish: Demirbaş Şarl ("Charles the Habitué" or "Charles the Fixture") (17 June 1682 – 30 November 1718) was the King of Sweden from 1697 to 1718. Charles was the only surviving son of King Charles XI of Sweden and Ulrika Eleonora the Elder, he assumed power, after a seven-month caretaker government, at the age of fifteen.
In 1700, a triple alliance of Denmark–Norway, Saxony–Poland–Lithuania and Russia launched a threefold attack on the Swedish protectorate of Swedish Holstein-Gottorp and provinces of Livonia and Ingria, aiming to draw advantage as Sweden was unaligned and ruled by a young and inexperienced king, thus initiating the Great Northern War. Leading the formidable Swedish army against the alliance, Charles had by 1706 forced to submission all parties but Russia.
Charles' subsequent march on Moscow ended with the dismemberment of the Swedish army at Poltava and Perevolochna, and he spent the following years in exile in the Ottoman Empire before returning to lead an assault on Norway, trying to evict the Danish king from the war once more in order to aim all his forces at the Russians. Two failed campaigns concluded with his death at the Siege of Fredriksten in 1718. At the time, most of the Swedish Empire was under foreign military occupation, though Sweden itself was still free. This situation was later formalized, albeit moderated in the subsequent Treaty of Nystad. The close would see not only the end of the Swedish Empire but also of its effectively organized absolute monarchy and war machine, commencing a parliamentarian government unique for continental Europe, which would last for half a century until royal autocracy was restored by Gustav III.
Charles was an exceptionally skilled military leader and tactician as well as an able politician, credited with introducing important tax and legal reforms. As for his famous reluctance towards peace efforts he is quoted by Voltaire as saying, upon the outbreak of the war; "I have resolved never to start an unjust war but never to end a legitimate one except by defeating my enemies." With the war consuming more than half his life and nearly all his reign, he never married and fathered no children, and was succeeded by his sister Ulrika Eleonora, who in turn was coerced to hand over all substantial powers to the Riksdag of the Estates and opted to surrender the throne to her husband, who became King Frederick I of Sweden.
Royal title 
Charles, like all kings, was styled by a royal title, which combined all his titles into one single phrase. This was:
We Charles, by the Grace of God King of Sweden, the Goths and the Vends, Grand Prince of Finland, Duke of Estonia and Karelia, Lord of Ingria, Duke of Bremen, Verden and Pomerania, Prince of Rügen and Lord of Wismar, and also Count Palatine by the Rhine, Duke of Bavaria, Count of Zweibrücken–Kleeburg, as well as Duke of Jülich, Cleve and Berg, Count of Veldenz, Spanheim and Ravensberg and Lord of Ravenstein.
The fact that Charles was crowned as Charles XII does not mean that he was the 12th king of Sweden by that name. Swedish kings Erik XIV (1560–1568) and Charles IX (1604–1611) gave themselves numerals after studying a mythological history of Sweden. He was actually the 6th King Charles. The non-mathematic numbering tradition continues with the current King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf, being counted as the equivalent of Charles XVI.
Great Northern War 
Early campaigns 
Around 1700, the kings of Denmark–Norway, Saxony (ruled by elector August II of Poland, who was also the king of Poland-Lithuania) and Russia united in an alliance against Sweden, largely through the efforts of Johann Reinhold Patkul, a Livonian nobleman gone traitor through the "great reduction" of Charles XI stripping much of the nobility of lands and properties. In late 1699 Charles sent a minor detachment to reinforce his brother-in-law Frederick IV of Holstein-Gottorp, who was attacked by Danish forces the following year. A Saxon army simultaneously invaded Swedish Livonia and initiated a siege on Riga, the most populated city of the Swedish Empire. Also Russia declared war, but stopped short of an attack on Swedish Ingria until the late summer.
Charles's first campaign was against Denmark–Norway, ruled by his cousin Frederick IV of Denmark, For this campaign Charles secured the support of England and the Netherlands, both maritime powers concerned about Denmark's threats to close the Sound. Leading a force of 8,000 and 43 ships in an invasion of Zealand, Charles rapidly compelled the Danes to submit to the Peace of Travendal in August 1700, which indemnified Holstein.
Having forced Denmark–Norway to peace within months, King Charles turned his attention upon the two other powerful neighbors, King August II (cousin to both Charles XII and Frederick IV of Denmark–Norway) and Peter the Great of Russia, who also had entered the war against him, ironically on the same day that Denmark came to terms.
Russia had opened their part of the war by invading the Swedish-held territories of Livonia and Estonia. Charles countered this by attacking the Russian besiegers at the Battle of Narva. The Swedish army of ten thousand men was outnumbered almost four to one by the Russians. Charles attacked under cover of a blizzard, effectively split the Russian army in two and won the battle. Many of Peter's troops that fled the battlefield drowned in the Narva River, and the total number of Russian fatalities reached about 10,000 at the end of the battle, while the Swedish troop lost 667 men.
Charles did not pursue the Russian army. Instead, he turned against Poland-Lithuania, which was formally neutral at this point, thereby disregarding Polish negotiation proposals supported by the Swedish parliament. Charles defeated the Polish king Augustus II and his Saxon allies at the Battle of Kliszow in 1702 and captured many cities of the Commonwealth. After the deposition of August as king of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, Charles XII put Stanisław Leszczyński, largely a puppet of Charles, on the throne.
Russian resurgence 
While Charles won several decisive battles in the Commonwealth and ultimately secured the coronation of his ally Stanisław Leszczyński and the surrender of Saxony, the Russian Tsar Peter the Great embarked on a military reform plan that improved the Russian army, using the effectively organized Swedes and other European standards for role model. Russian forces managed to penetrate Ingria and established a new city, Saint Petersburg, there. Charles planned an invasion of the Russian heartland, allying himself with Ivan Mazepa, Hetman of the Ukrainian Cossacks. The size of the invading Swedish army was peeled off as Charles left Leszczyński with some 24,000 German and Polish troops, departing eastwards from Saxony in late 1707 with some 35,000 men, adding a further 12,500 under Adam Ludwig Lewenhaupt marching from Livonia. Charles left the homeland with a defense of approximately 28,800 men, with a further 14,000 in Swedish Finland as well as further garrisons in the Baltic and German provinces.
After securing his "favorite" victory in the Battle of Holowczyn, despite being outnumbered over one to three against the new Russian army, Charles opted to march eastwards on Moscow rather than try to seize Saint Petersburg, founded from the Swedish town of Nyenskans five years earlier. Peter the Great managed, however, to ambush Lewenhaupt's army at Lesnaya before Charles could combine his forces, thus losing valuable supplies, artillery and half of Lewenhaupt's men. Charles' Polish ally, Stanisław Leszczyński, was facing internal problems of his own. Charles expected the support of a massive Cossack rebellion led by Mazepa in Ukraine, with estimates suggesting Mazepa of being able to muster some 40,000 troops, but the Russians subjugated the rebellion and destroyed its capital Baturin before the arrival of the Swedish troops. The harsh climate took its toll as well, as Charles marched his troops for winter camp in Ukraine.
By the time of the decisive Battle of Poltava, Charles had been wounded, one-third of his infantry was dead, and his supply train was destroyed. The king was incapacitated by a coma resulting from his injuries and was unable to lead the Swedish forces. With the numbers of Charles' army reduced to some 23,000, with several wounded and handling the siege of Poltava, his general Carl Gustav Rehnskiöld had a clearly inferior force to face the fortified and modernized army of Tsar Peter, some 45,000. The Swedish assault ended in disaster, and the king fled with a small entourage south to the Ottoman Empire, where he set up camp at Bender with some 1,000 of his Caroleans ("Karoliner" in Swedish). The Swedish defeat at Poltava is considered by some historians to be the point where the downfall of the Swedish Empire was consummated and the Russian Empire was founded. The remainder of the army surrendered days later at Perevolochna under Lewenhaupt's command, most of them (including Lewenhaupt himself) spending the rest of their days in Russian captivity.
Exile in the Ottoman Empire 
The Turks initially welcomed the Swedish king, who managed to provoke a war between the Ottomans and the Russians. His expenses during his long stay in the Ottoman Empire were covered from the Ottoman state budget, as part of the fixed assets (Demirbaş in Turkish), hence his nickname Demirbaş Şarl (Fixed Asset Charles) in Turkey. Demirbaş, the Turkish word for fixed asset, is literally ironhead (demir = iron, baş = head), which is the reason why this nickname has often been translated as Ironhead Charles. Eventually a small village named Karlstad had to be built near Bender to accommodate the ever growing Swedish population there. Sultan Ahmet III, as gesture to the King, had bought some of the Swedish women and children put up for sale by the Russians and turned them over to the Swedes, thus further strengthening the growing community of Caroleans.
However, the sultan Ahmed III's subjects in the empire eventually got tired of Charles' scheming. His entourage also ended by accumulating huge amounts of debt to Bender merchants. Eventually "crowds" of townpeople attacked the Swedish colony at Bender and Charles had to defend himself against the mobs and the Ottoman Janissaries involved. This uprising was called "kalabalik" (crowd) which after this event found a place in Swedish lexicon as "kalabalik" referring to a ruckus. The Janissaries did not shoot Charles during the skirmish at Bender, but captured him and put him under house-arrest at Dimetoka (nowadays Didimoticho) and Constantinople. During his semi-imprisonment the King played chess and studied the Ottoman Navy and the naval architecture of the Ottoman galleons. His sketches and designs eventually led to the famous Swedish war ships Jarramas (Yaramaz) and Jilderim (Yıldırım).
Meanwhile, Russia and Poland regained and expanded their borders. Great Britain, an adversary of Sweden, defected from its alliance obligations while Prussia attacked Swedish holdings in Germany. Russia occupied Finland initiating what effectively become a genocide (the Greater Wrath 1713 - 1721). After defeats of the Swedish army consisting mainly Finnish troops in Kostianvirta 1713 and Isokyrö 1714 the military, administration and clergymen escaped from Finland which fell under Russian military regime.
Augustus II regained the Polish throne.
Pomerania and Norway 
Charles succeeded in leaving his imprisonment in Constantinople[clarification needed] and returned to Swedish Pomerania on horseback, riding across Europe in just fifteen days. He travelled across the Habsburg Kingdom of Hungary to Vienna and arrived at Stralsund. On 9 November 1714, Charles rested for a night in Zalău with an acquaintance György Zovanyi as is indicated by a notice still on the house. A medal with Charles on horseback, his long hair flaring in the wind, was struck in 1714 to commemorate the speedy ride. Rhyming in German, It reads Was sorget Ihr doch? Gott und Ich leben noch. (What sorries you so? God and I live still.). His efforts to reestablish the Swedish empire failed. He had two Turkish-style warships built in Sweden, the Yıldırım ("The Lightning") and the Yaramaz or Jarramas ("The Rogue").
When Charles arrived on his homeland after 14 years Sweden was at war with Russia, Saxony, Hannover, England and Denmark. Her enemies planned concerted attacks to southern and western Sweden while Russia would attack Stockholm district from occupied Finland. Sweden was now facing a truly defensive war for the first time ever. Charles' plan was to attack Norway (a part of Denmark) on whose reserves Denmark was quite dependent. Cutting Denmark's Norwegian supply would repel the Danish from offending Swedish Scania.
Charles first invaded Norway in 1716 with a combined force of 7,000 men, occupied the capital Christiania, (modern Oslo), and laid siege to the Akershus fortress. However, due lack of heavy siege cannons, the Norwegian forces were intact. Charles was forced to retreat from the capital at 29 April after inflicting significant losses of men and material. Mid-May following the retreat from Christiania, Charles invaded the border town Fredrikshald, now Halden, in an attempt to take the fortress of Fredriksten. The Swedes came under heavy bombardment from the fortress and were forced to flee from Fredrikshald when the town was set on fire by the Norwegians. Swedish casualties in Fredrikshald were estimated to 500. During the siege in Fredrikshald the Swedish supply fleet was defeated by Tordenskjold at the Battle of Dynekilen.
In 1718 Charles once more invaded Norway. The main force consisting of 40,000 men laid siege to the strong fortress of Fredriksten, overlooking the border town of Fredrikshald. While inspecting trenches close to the perimeter of the fortress on 11 December (30 November Old Style), 1718, Charles was killed by a projectile. The shot penetrated the right side of his skull and exited out of the left, destroying most of his brain in the process. The invasion was abandoned, and Charles' body was brought across the border. Another army corps under Carl Gustaf Armfeldt marched against Trondheim with 10,000 men, but had to make a retreat, during which many of the 5,800 remaining men perished in a severe winter storm.
The exact circumstances around Charles' death are unclear. Despite multiple investigations of the battlefield, Charles' skull and his clothes, it is not known where he was hit exactly, and whether the shot came from the ranks of the enemy or from his own men. A popular but unproven theory is that the murder was an act of conspiracy made by his sister's (Ulrika Eleonora) husband, Fredrik, who was crowned Fredrik I. It is believed that the murder was committed by Fredrik’s aide-de-camp, André Sicre, who confessed to the murder during a state of delirium brought about by a fever and later recanted the statement.
There are several theories as to how Charles died that night, though none can be given with any certainty; although there were many people around the king at the time of his death, there were no witnesses at the actual moment of death. The most likely theory is that Charles was killed by enemy, having been within easy reach of the Danish guns and could have been hit by grapeshot or a sniper’s bullet. Other possibilities are more sinister; one claim says that the enemy guns were not firing at the time, and that his killer could have been one of his Swedish enemies. Suspects in this claim ranged from a nearby soldier who was supposedly trying to put an end to the war, and Charles’ own brother-in-law, who took the throne as Frederick I of Sweden. It was also possible that a plot to kill was hatched by wealthy Swedes who would profit from Frederick’s abolition of Charles’ 17% tax on capital that he had intended to introduce.
Another odd account of Charles’ death comes from Finnish writer, Carl Nordling, who states that the king’s surgeon, Melchior Neumann, dreamed that the king had told him in a dream that he was not shot from the fortress but from “one who came creeping”. The body has been exhumed on three occasions to ascertain the cause of death; in 1746, 1859 and 1917. The 1859 exhumation found that the wound was in accordance with a shot from the Norwegian fort while the other two analyses found that he had been murdered.
The most far-fetched explanation of Charles’ death comes from a folklorist Barbro Klein, who put together a thoroughly researched paper on her hypothesis in 1971, "The Testimony of the Button". The theory all starts with a fragment of metal that was brought to the Halland Museum of Cultural History at Varberg in May 1932 by a master smith named Carl Andersson. Anderson handed over a “two half-spheres of brass filled with lead and soldered together into a ball, with a protruding loop that testified to its former use as a button” and it had been found in a gravel pit near his home in Öxnered 1924. One side looked to have been flattened by an impact with something hard.
According to Klein, this fits perfectly in with the Swedish folklore that Charles’ magical protection, (in contemporary times, he was rumoured to be of such strong breed and character that he was bulletproof) had been broken by a killer who shot him with the king’s own coat button. Furthermore, a soldier was said to have found the bullet, brought it home and bragged about it to a local priest, who warned him that the killers might come after him. He threw it into the gravel pit in which Andersson found it a century later. The 'kulknappen' or bullet-button story is further corroborated by other evidence; the soldier who found the bullet and brought it home was called “Nordstierna”, which really was the name of a veteran of the Northern War who worked in a farm at Deragard where the bullet was recovered from the gravel pit. The second piece of evidence is that this bullet is a very close match to the size of the bullet hole in Charles’ hat. The third and most compelling piece of evidence is the fact that traces of DNA on the bullet came from someone with a DNA sequence possessed by only 1% of the Swedish population. An analysis of the blood sample from Charles’ gloves puts him in that 1% bracket.
Charles was succeeded to the Swedish throne by his sister, Ulrika Eleonora. As Palatinate-Zweibrücken required a male heir, Charles was succeeded as ruler there by his cousin Gustav Leopold. Georg Heinrich von Görtz, Charles' minister, was beheaded in 1719.
Charles' reputation (favorable and otherwise) was confirmed by the attentions of Voltaire and Johnson among other writers. Exceptional for abstaining from alcohol and women, he felt most comfortable during warfare. Contemporaries report of his seemingly inhuman tolerance for pain and his utter lack of emotion. His brilliant campaigning and startling victories brought his country to the pinnacle of her prestige and power, posthumously earning him the epithet "last of the Vikings," although the Great Northern War resulted in Sweden's defeat and the end of her empire within years of his own death.
Charles' death marked the end of autocratic kingship in Sweden, and the subsequent Age of Liberty saw a shift of power from the monarch to the parliament of the estates. Historians of the late 18th and early 19th centuries viewed Charles' death as the result of an aristocratic plot, and Gustav IV Adolf, the king who refused to settle with Napoleon Bonaparte despite the latter's superiority, "identified himself with Charles as the type of righteous man struggling with iniquity" (Roberts). Throughout the 19th century's romantic nationalism Charles XII remained a national hero, idealized as a heroic, virtuous young warrior king, and his fight against Peter the Great was associated with the contemporary Swedish-Russian enmity (in the century following the king's death, Russia had through several wars won all of Finland from Sweden). Examples for the romantic heroization of Charles XII in several genres are Esaias Tegnér's song Kung Karl, den unge hjälte (1818), Johan Peter Molin's statue in Stockholm's Kungsträdgården (unveiled on 30 November 1868, the 150th anniversary of Charles' death) and Gustaf Cederström's painting Karl XII:s likfärd ("Funeral procession of Charles XII", 1878). The date of Charles' death was also chosen by a student association in Lund for annual torch marches starting in 1853.
In 1901, August Strindberg in his play Karl XII broke with the heroization practice, showing an introvert late Charles XII in conflict with his impoverished subjects. In the so-called Strindberg feud (1910–1912), his response to the "Swedish cult of Charles XII" (Steene) was that Charles had been "Sweden's ruin, the great offender, a ruffian, the rowdies' idol, a counterfeiter." Verner von Heidenstam however, one of his opponents in the feud, in his book Karolinerna instead "emphasized the heroic steadfastness of the Swedish people in the somber years of trial during the long-drawn-out campaigns of Karl XII" (Scott).
In the 1930s, the Swedish Nazis held celebrations on the date of Charles XII's death, and shortly before the outbreak of World War II, Adolf Hitler received from Sweden a sculpture of the king at his birthday. In the late 20th century, Swedish nationalists and neo-Nazis had again used 30 November as a date for their ceremonies, however these were regularly interrupted by larger counter-manifestations and were therefore abandoned recently.
Scientific contributions 
Apart from being a monarch, the King's interests included mathematics, and anything that would be beneficial to his warlike purposes. He is attributed as having invented an octal numeral system, which he considered more suitable for war purposes because all the boxes used for materials such as gunpowder were cubic. According to a report by contemporary scientist Emanuel Swedenborg, the King had sketched down a model of his thought on a piece of paper and handed it to him at their meeting in Lund in 1716. The paper was reportedly still in existence a hundred years later, but has since been lost. Several historians of science suspect that either the multi-talented Emanuel Swedenborg or the brilliant inventor Christopher Polhem – also present at the meeting in Lund – may have been the true inventor behind this feat, or at least a main contributor.
Charles fascinated many in his time; Voltaire, who could be very sardonic, stopped in front of Charles and took off his hat. Samuel Johnson, a devoted anti-militarian, wrote in his poem "The Vanity of Human Wishes":
On what Foundation stands the warrior's pride,
Swedish author Frans G. Bengtsson and Professor Ragnhild Hatton have written noted biographies of Charles XII of Sweden, as did Voltaire in 1731.
Charles XII figures quite prominently in Robert Massie's magnum opus "Peter the Great".
In popular culture 
A number of albums started by Ultima Thule, later including other artists were named "Carolus Rex".
Al Stewart's song "The Coldest Winter in Memory" deals primarily with Charles's military campaign and defeat by Peter the Great. The song is on the out of print 1996 album "Seemed Like a Good idea at the Time" and the live 2010 album "Uncorked".
- Article Karl in Nordisk familjebok
- Karoliner by Alf Åberg, p. 117
- Karl XII by Bengt Liljegren, p. 151 and 163
- Svenska slagfält, page 280
- Svenska folkets underbara öden, book four by Carl Grimberg, about the numbers of Mazepa's army
- Bra Böckers Lexikon, the article of Karl XII
- Zalău, Zoványi house
- Charles XII's march on Norway – national library
- Associated Press (16 September 1917). "A ROYAL AUTOPSY DELAYED 200 YEARS". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 November 2008.
- Lindqvist, Herman (2009-11-29). "Karl XII:s död ger inte forskarna någon ro". Aftonbladet.
- Mike Dash (17 September 2012). "Past Imperfect". Smithsonian Magazine.
- Massengale, James (1996). "The Enlightment and the Gustavian Age". In Warme, Lars G. A History of Swedish literature. University of Nebraska Press. pp. 102, 104–105.
- Roberts, Michael (1991 (repr. 2003)). From Oxenstierna to Charles XII. Four Studies. Cambridge University Press. p. 164.
- Roberts, Michael (1991 (repr. 2003)). From Oxenstierna to Charles XII. Four Studies. Cambridge University Press. pp. 164–165.
- Lindblom, Andreas (1946). Sveriges konsthistoria från forntid till nutid 3. Nordisk rotogravyr. p. 1210.
- Scott, Franklin Daniel (1988). Sweden, the nation's history. SIU Press. p. 560.
- Lööw, Heléne (1998). Nazismen i Sverige 1980–1997. Ordfront.
- Steene, Brigitta (1996). "Strindberg and the transition to Modernism". In Warme, Lars G. A History of Swedish literature. University of Nebraska Press. p. 267.
- Steene, Brigitta (1996). "Strindberg and the transition to Modernism". In Warme, Lars G. A History of Swedish literature. University of Nebraska Press. p. 271.
- Moers, Gerald (2000). "Im Gemeindewald der Geschichte". In Schöning, Udo. Internationalität nationaler Literaturen. Wallstein. pp. 285–286, fn. 83.
- Scott, Franklin Daniel (1988). Sweden, the nation's history. SIU Press. p. 551.
- Oredsson, Sverker (2000). "Gustav II. Adolf in Geschichtsschreibung und Kult". In Petersson, Rikke. Damals, als Schweden eine Großmacht war ... LIT. p. 59.
- "Karl XII-firare ligger lågt i år". DN. 2011-11-27. "Nationalists abandon 'warrior king' anniversary". TheLOcal. 2011-11-28. On the use of Charles XII by nationalists and nazis in general "Om den 30 november". Peter Englund, in Expressen 1994-11-30.
Ragnhild Hatton, Charles XII. London, 1968.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Charles XII of Sweden|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1905 New International Encyclopedia article Charles XII..|
- Charles XII: on the centenary of his death 1818 The original Swedish text by Esaias Tegner, as well as parallel translations by J.E.D.Bethune (1848) and Charles Harrison-Wallace (1998) and a comment by the latter.
- The Great Northern War and Charles XII
- Charles XII and his Life and Death (Swedish)
- BBC News item: Who killed Sweden's Warrior King?
- Timeline of 1700–1720 in Sweden
Charles XII of Sweden
Cadet branch of the House of WittelsbachBorn: 17 June 1682 Died: 30 November 1718
|King of Sweden
Duke of Bremen and Verden
|Duke of Palatinate-Zweibrücken
Gustav Samuel Leopold