The New Student's Reference Work/Charles XII

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Charles XII, king of Sweden, was born June 27, 1682, the son of Charles XI. Ascending the throne when 15 years old, his boyishness tempted Denmark, Poland and Peter the Great of Russia to attack Sweden, at that time the great power of the north. Charles at once besieged Copenhagen and forced a peace. Next, with 8,000 Swedes, he attacked the camp of the Russians, 50,000 strong, and in the battle of Narva routed them with great slaughter. The king of Poland was now driven into the heart of Saxony, conquered and dethroned. In 1700 Charles invaded Russia with an army of 43,000, almost captured the czar and won several battles. But here, trusting to the promises of the Cossack, Mazeppa, the Swede turned southward to meet him. Mazeppa and his troop failed to come up. His reinforcements cut off, he was forced to winter in a hostile and barren country, losing half his army; and though in the spring he marched at once on Peter, he was defeated. With a handful of attendants he fled across the Turkish border, but instead of gaining the sultan as an ally, Russian spies spread such reports about him that he was arrested and imprisoned. In 1714 he escaped and made his way through Germany and Hungary in 16 days. But his love of fighting was only intensified by his misfortunes, and a project now entered his head that promised fighting enough. This was to make peace with Peter, conquer Norway, next land in Scotland and replace the house of Stuart on the English throne. When at peace with the czar, he burst into Norway, and early in 1718, while urging on siege-works in the dead of winter, he was killed by a musket-ball from the fortress. Charles was almost foolishly brave; his dress was simple, and he shared the coarsest food and the hardest labor with the common soldiers with a cheerfulness that won their devotion.