When Karl's father, Karl XI, died in 1697, young Karl was only 14 years old. Because of his young age Karl was not pronounced King at that time, and a temporary government was formed to control Sweden. A year later when Karl XII was just 15 years old he had proven the people wrong, and he was pronounced King of Sweden. At this time Sweden was the most powerful kingdom in Europe. This included what we today know as Sweden, Finland, The Baltic states, a part of Russia called Karelia, part of Norway, and Courland which is located in northern Germany.
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To govern a kingdom of this magnitude is a responsibility unlike anything else. Karl showed in early years that he was capable of handling this position. As a son of a warrior King Karl was raised with an education in fencing, horseback riding, and military strategy. Scholars agree that Karl was a strategic genius, but it is almost impossible to find any of his own ideas because he was illiterate. Some of the ideas that Karl has been accredited with are the ideas of adding forces where you have success to achieve greater success faster, and the use of a small military unit to mislead the enemy, and use the rest of the units in an attack against one flank where the protection normally was weaker. Morale was also important for Karl, therefore he would never ask anything of a soldier that he would not do himself. To live up to the great warrior he was, he made sure to always be around his soldiers, and to show the right warrior attitude. This philosophy of always be among the front troops gave Karl a great advantage in forms of fast and accurate information, which is important for fast and correct decisions.
Several countries started campaigns against Sweden shortly after Karl came to power. The Danes were the first that Karl had to face, and he formed an alliance with Holstein Gottorp. At the same time, the Russians advanced in the east to conquer the Baltic states. As this if was not enough, Sachsen declared war against Sweden the same year.
Karl realized that he could not separate his army and face all his opponents at the same time. After some consideration he started his war against Denmark. After using his skills wisely, Karl came to a quick victory over Denmark. Now, he turned his war machine and headed east to fight against Russia. In the year 1700 he defeated the Russians at the battle of Narva. The normal routine would have been to finish off the Russians once for all, but Karl was more concerned with the problems around Sachsen. To defeat Sachsen, Karl conquered Poland because the king of Poland was also the one in charge of Sachsen. After getting revenge on August II of Poland, the Swedes pronounced Stanislaw Leszczynski as new king of Poland because he would not revolt against them.
In 1705 and 1706 Karl finally managed to create a treaty between Sweden and Poland with contracts signed in Warsaw and Altranstedt. These peace agreements were not a year old when Karl started his new campaign against Russia. After making alliances with the Turkish sultan and one of the Kosak warlords, Karl had the power he needed to exterminate his arch enemy in the east. Karl expected this final fight against Russia to be brief. However, when the winter of 1708 arrived Karl had not accomplished half of his goals, and he had to redevelop his strategies in order to win the war more quickly. The final battle was fought in July 1709 at Poltava and the Russians won this time. The battle of Poltava became one of the most famous battles in northern Europe. Historians argue that the Swedes could have won this battle. Because he had sustained an injury earlier in the campaign, Karl was unable to lead his forces during this crucial battle. Without his leadership, his officers ignored his original strategy, and the battle was lost. Karl managed to take a little unit and escape to Turkey. While in Turkey, Karl tried to create new conflicts between Turkey and Russia, but nothing serious occurred. Karl stayed in Turkey until 1714 when he fled on a horseback through Europe to Sweden. When Karl had reestablished his authority in Sweden, he began his war against Norway. During this war Karl faced death. In November 30th Karl was shot in the head while commanding officers at the front, and he died immediately. He died the death of a hero, doing what he loved and had been doing for his entire life.
Karl only lived to be 36 years old, but he is still honored with statues and songs all through Sweden. King Karl XII was in many ways the last true Viking who dared to face danger as a warrior should do it.
Bengtsson, Frans Gunnar. The sword does not jest; the heroic life of King Charles XII of Sweden.. (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1960).
Hatton, Ragnhild Marie.Charles XII of Sweden. (New York: Weybright and Talley, 1968).
Villius, Hans. Karl XII. (Stockholm: Wahlstrom & Widstrand, 1960).
Edited by: Rasmus K. Gerdeman
Researched by: Marie Gunnarsson
Written by: Jessica Karlsson
April 30, 1997
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