The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Charles XII.
CHARLES XII., born in Stockholm, June 27, 1682, killed at the siege of the fortress of Frederikshald, Norway, Dec. 11, 1718. He was the eldest son of Charles XI. (1660-1697), a peaceful prince, who improved the internal condition of his kingdom, opened the succession to females, and left the crown with a full treasury to his son. Charles was well educated under the care of his father, and early acquired great facility in speaking French, German, and Latin; he had also a more than ordinary knowledge of history, geography, and mathematics, especially of the latter science; and it is said that his favorite work was Quintus Curtius's account of the victories of Alexander the Great, whose career his own so much resembled. He was but 15 years old when he was declared by the estates to have attained his majority, and succeeded to the throne (1697). At first he showed little inclination or aptitude for business, devoting himself mainly to bear hunting. But before he had been two years on the throne a league between Russia, Denmark, Saxony, and Poland was brought about by Patkul, a Livonian noble, who had been ill-used by Charles XI., and, flying to the Russians, had been condemned to death in contumaciam. Peter I. of Russia sent Patkul as his ambassador to Augustus of Saxony and Poland, and, taking advantage of the quarrel of Sweden with Livonia, occupied the shores of the gulf of Finland. Denmark had also been rendered hostile by the annexation of Schleswig-Holstein to Sweden, and the Danish troops invaded the territories of Frederick, duke of Holstein-Gottorp, who had married Hedwig Sophia, the sister of Charles. Frederick repaired to Stockholm to demand the aid of Charles, who entered fully into the enterprise, obtained by the treaty of the Hague the aid of England and Holland, and assumed the initiative with great energy. In May, 1700, he embarked at Carlscrona for the island of Zealand, designing to attack Copenhagen with a fleet of 30 ships of the line, besides transports, assisted by a Dutch and English squadron. In his first engagement Charles gave evidence of the impetuous courage for which he was afterward distinguished; for, on nearing the place of disembarkation, he leaped into the sea, and was the first man on the enemy's soil. Copenhagen was bombarded by the fleets, and would have been invested and closely besieged, when further operations were terminated by negotiations, which had for their result the signing of a separate peace at Travendal (Aug. 8, 1700), Frederick IV. of Denmark deserting the coalition, and resigning Schleswig-Holstein to the house of Gottorp. In the mean time a Polish army had overrun Swedish Livonia, and laid siege to Riga, while Peter of Russia besieged Narva. The sword which Charles now drew was never again to be sheathed. From this time forth he affected the habits of an old campaigner; wine was banished from his board; coarse bread was often his only food, and he not unfrequently slept on the ground, wrapped in his heavy cloak. His dress, too, at a period when men of gentle birth paid the greatest attention to their apparel, and especially to the hair, was affectedly coarse and ultra-military. Without awaiting reinforcements, or losing any time, in the depth of winter he proceeded by forced marches across Livonia into Esthonia, where he attacked the Russian besieging army before Narva, with but 8,500 men against 50,000, and utterly defeated it, Nov. 30, 1700. Instead of following up his success, he turned aside to attack the Polish and Saxon armies, which were posted in a strong position on the Düna. On the first attack his men were repulsed with some loss; but rallying them in the middle of the stream, he reformed them in the channel of the river, and led them to a decisive victory. Shortly after this Augustus sent his mistress, Aurora von Königsmark, reputed the most beautiful woman in Europe, in the hope of entangling him in some intrigue; but Charles refused to see her. Another army was brought against him under the Saxon general Riese; but in vain, for Charles was everywhere victorious. At Kliszów, July 19, 1702, he gained another victory, which would have been decisive had not Charles been detained by a broken leg at Cracow, which delayed the campaign so much that, although he was closely pursued for four days by the Swedes under Rehnsköld, Augustus continually escaped, and afterward found a respite, owing to the invasion of Finland by the Russians, which required the whole attention of Charles till 1705. He thus wasted time in petty struggles with Poland and Saxony, allowing the young and growing colossus of the north to recuperate itself at its leisure, when he might have crushed the embryo power which in the end crushed himself. At this time, however, his thoughts seem to have been solely fixed on placing another king on the throne of Poland, young Sobieski having been surprised by Augustus at Ohlau in Silesia and carried into Saxony. Stanislas Leszcynski was therefore elected king by the partisans of Sweden and Poland; and, although Rehnsköld was at first held in check by the manœuvring of Von Schulenburg, whose retreat across the Oder is famous in the annals of war, yet on his advancing to aid the czar, whom Charles was driving out of Lithuania, he was completely routed at Fraustadt (February, 1706) by his former opponent; in consequence of which defeat Augustus fell back upon Russia, and Charles, dashing rapidly across Silesia into Saxony, was there received with enthusiasm. This bold step so terrified Augustus that he sent his two principal councillors from Poland, with full powers to treat with Charles; but when the treaty had actually been signed, having been compelled during the progress of secret negotiations to assist his Russian ally at Kalisz, where Peter was victorious, he was so much elated that he declared the report that peace had been concluded between himself and Charles false in every particular. The declaration did nothing, however, to eject Charles from Saxony, of which he kept absolute possession, and in which Augustus was held in contempt and detestation. The Saxon was soon compelled to lower his pretensions, and to meet Charles in conference at Altranstädt, where peace was definitely concluded (Sept. 24, 1706). By it Augustus resigned all claims to the throne of Poland, and surrendered to the conqueror young Sobieski and the unhappy Patkul, against whom the vengeance of Charles was particularly excited, and whom he caused to be broken on the wheel. Charles now took up his residence in Saxony, and acted as though he was its sovereign, recruiting his armies from its subjects, and compelling the emperor Joseph I. of Germany, who had dispossessed his Protestant subjects of 125 churches, which had been given up to the Jesuits, to restore those which had been confiscated, and to permit the erection of six new ones. The emperor was at this time hard beset by his enemies in the war of Spanish succession, and the empire, if Sweden had joined the coalition against it, would have been in peril of total ruin. In order to avert this calamity, Marlborough was sent to visit the Swedish conqueror. The courtly talents of the handsome and polished Englishman were not exerted in vain. Charles was persuaded to withhold his aid from the coalition, and to turn the weight of his arms and military genius against Russia. In September, 1707, he invaded that country at the head of 43,000 men, marching almost by the very route which Napoleon followed with ten times the number of troops a little more than a century later, and shared almost identically the same fate. Charles crossed the Beresina at Borisov, and stormed the Russian lines at Golovtchin, wading the river Vabis, in which he sunk up to the neck, at the head of his forlorn hope. Thence he pursued the enemy with such inconsiderate haste and rashness that he involved himself and his army in forests and morasses. His artillery was lost in the swamps, and his men died of hunger, while he was yet advancing. But he pressed resolutely onward, the enemy wasting the country before him. Gen. Löwenhaupt, who was attempting to join him with reënforcements from Sweden, was waylaid and defeated, after a desperate conflict which lasted during three days, by the czar in person, at Liesna; notwithstanding which, he succeeded in joining his master at the head of 6,000 men. Up to this time it had been the plan of Charles to strike direct at Moscow; but when he reached Smolensk he was persuaded by Mazeppa, the hetman of the Cossacks, to turn his line of march toward the Ukraine, where the hordes were not as yet reconciled to the Russian yoke, and where they had promised to aid him. But Peter laid waste the country, constantly retreating before him and refusing to deliver battle; and Mazeppa, who was proscribed, failed to aid him until he forced his way, with fearful loss of life from cold, hunger, and fatigue, in the depth of the winter 1708-'9, as far as Gadatch upon the Dnieper in lat. 52°, where he retired into winter quarters with the intention of attacking Poltava, a strong town on the river Vorskla, with an abundance of all provisions and supplies of which his army was in want, in the commencement of spring. Before that time arrived, however, his forces were so fearfully reduced that Peter, who since his defeat at Narva had completely reorganized his army, resolved to fight, and appeared at the head of 70,000 men, at the moment when Charles was about to invest the city. It so happened that while reconnoitring the advance of the enemy Charles was dangerously wounded in the thigh, and was obliged to limit his exertions on the day of battle, July 8, 1709, to issuing his commands from a litter instead of directing their manœuvres himself, and charging in person at their head. All advantages, however, without counting this, were in favor of the enemy: vast superiority of numbers, better equipment, perfect condition of men and animals, and a superb artillery. There was reason enough why the Russian should win the day, and he did so completely. Charles escaped with extreme difficulty, with a handful of followers, into Turkish territory, old Mazeppa adhering faithfully to his fallen fortunes. The last salvo was fired by Prince Maximilian Emanuel of Würtemberg, who commanded a Swedish regiment. He was taken prisoner and treated with extreme distinction by the czar. The Swedish division of Löwenhaupt was overtaken and compelled to surrender on the Dnieper, and Charles, escaping to Bender on the Dniester, a strong fortress which was then in Turkish territory, where he was hospitably received and allowed to fix his residence by the Ottoman Porte, employed the whole power and energy of his mind to bring about a war between Turkey and Russia. This he succeeded in doing, and the grand vizier, taking the field in 1711 at the head of 200,000 men, shut Peter up on the Pruth; and his affairs seemed utterly ruined when his yet unacknowledged wife, afterward empress as Catharine I., bribed the grand vizier with all her jewels to allow the Russians to escape. That day was decisive of the fall of Charles and the rise of Russia. Charles, who had been greatly aggrieved that to him had not been assigned the chief command of the Turkish army, galloped impatiently into the camp, but too late to prevent the escape of the czar. Frustrated as he was and severely mortified, the king of Sweden still continued year after year, till 1713, to linger at Bender, incessantly employed in endeavoring to awaken the Turkish government to a consciousness of the danger of allowing the Russians to consolidate their rising power, and constantly hoping that he had succeeded, but ever hoping in vain. He effected the overthrow, by the intrigues of the agents whom he employed at Constantinople, of four successive grand viziers, and felt justified in his long delay by the reasonable hopes he entertained of placing himself at the head of a powerful Turkish army. In the mean time Livonia and Esthonia fell a prey to Russia, immediately after the calamity of Poltava. Riga surrendered. Courland became the property of Peter, who caused its duke to marry his niece Anna Petrovna, and then designedly and deliberately drank him to death. Pomerania was next invaded. The Saxons seized the whole of Poland on the flight of Stanislas, who, deserted by all his adherents, joined Charles in Turkey; the allied forces of Saxony and Russia made themselves masters of all Swedish Pomerania, with the exception of Stralsund and Wismar; and after the war had been carried on with the utmost cruelty, Stade, Altona, Garz, and Wolgast being burned to the ground in the dead of winter, and most of their inhabitants perishing of hunger and cold, Prussia was induced to join the anti-Swedish league by the promise of the future possession of Stettin. But about this time events took place in Turkey which nearly altered the whole state of affairs in Europe. The Russian agents having at length persuaded the sultan that the residence of Charles at Bender was dangerous to his safety, as he was plotting, they said, to attack Turkey from Poland should he succeed in establishing Stanislas on that throne, he received intimation that he must leave Bender; and on his positively refusing to do so, orders were issued to the seraskier of that place to bring him, dead or alive, to Adrianople. Refusing to submit, he barricaded his house, and, with the 200 or 300 men who composed his personal retinue, defended it until, the roof taking fire, he was forced to sally out, when his spurs becoming entangled, he fell, and was mastered and made prisoner (Feb. 12, 1713). He was removed to Demotika, near Adrianople, where, obstinate as ever, he remained ten months in bed, feigning sickness, until, becoming satisfied that he could expect to obtain nothing from the Porte, he sent off a parting embassy to Constantinople, in order to conceal his intentions, and then taking horse, in disguise, by night, travelled through Hungary, Austria, Bavaria, the Palatinate, Westphalia, and Mecklenburg, in order to avoid the Saxons and Prussians, and reached Stralsund during a dark night (Nov. 22, 1714). The moment it was known that Charles was in the city, it was invested by a combined army of Danes, Saxons, Russians, and Prussians. It was defended by Charles with extraordinary skill and talent for nearly a year; but despairing of receiving aid from without, he was forced to abandon it, Dec. 15, 1715, when he retired to Lund in Scania, where he set himself to defend his coasts. For the remainder of his reign the war was carried on for the most part by sea, and generally to the prejudice of the Swedes, though not without Charles at times making dangerous efforts against Norway. At this time his principal friend and adviser was Baron Görtz, the minister of Holstein, who all but succeeded in breaking up the anti-Swedish league, which had just been joined by George I. of England. It was the policy of Görtz to gain over Peter the Great by any concession which might be needful, by his aid or connivance to conquer Norway, and thence, with the aid of a preconcerted Jacobite rising, to land in Scotland, and dethrone George I. in favor of the pretender. A treaty had been agreed upon by which Peter should retain his conquests on the gulf of Finland, Stanislas should be replaced on the throne of Poland, and Charles should be married to Anna Petrovna, the widow of the duke of Courland. Accident dissolved the whole scheme. A Swedish despatch fell into the hands of the Danes. Denmark dreaded the union of Russia and Sweden; Saxony saw that she would lose Poland; Hanover, that her projects upon Bremen and Verden, Prussia that hers on Stettin would fail. Frederick of Hesse would no longer be heir to the crown of Sweden; while the power of Charles by so great a marriage would swell to a height dangerous to the aspirations of the Swedish aristocracy. A small Swedish force under Armfeldt had perished from cold while crossing the mountains which separate Norway from Sweden, and another, commanded by Charles in person, was besieging the fortress of Frederikshald in the south of Norway, when he was shot through the head while standing in the trenches at night exposed to the enemy's fire. It was generally supposed that he was assassinated by an emissary of the party opposed to his projects, and the question of his death gave rise to a discussion continued for many years, and resulting in the publication of more than 200 books and pamphlets. The controversy was finally settled by an inquest held at Stockholm in 1859 by the Swedish government, when the body of Charles was examined by three eminent physicians in the presence of King Charles XV., his ministers, the royal princes, and other persons of note. The inquest after careful investigation decided that the fatal wound was inflicted by a musket ball fired from the besieged fortress. His tomb is in the chapel opposite to that where the remains of Gustavus Adolphus are interred, in the royal mausoleum in the Ridderholms church in Stockholm. The walls are decorated with trophies of his various battles, including a standard taken with his own hands in Poland. The hat, clothes, and sword worn by him at the time of his death are preserved in the chapel. Ulrica Eleonora and her husband Frederick of Hesse succeeded him on the throne of Sweden. Görtz, for his endeavors to preserve the integrity of the kingdom, was sentenced to the block. Sweden was as fatally dismembered, in order to secure the succession of a false heir to her crown, as she could have been by the utmost spite of her enemies. See Norberg, Konung Carls XII. historia; Adlerfeld, Histoire militaire de Charles XII.; Lundblad, Konung Carls XII. historia (Stockholm, 1830; German translation, Hamburg, 1835-'40); and Voltaire, Histoire de Charles XII.