What would you do if, at the tender age of 15, you already had the responsibility of caring for and leading a nation? See that you’re not being overrun by other empires, while making sure your people are happy and your city is peaceful? That’s what Charles XII had to do when his father, the King of Sweden, died of abdominal cancer.
The start of the Great Northern War
In 1697, Charles sat on the throne and ruled over Sweden. Only three years after the formation of a Denmark-Norway, Saxony-Poland-Lithuania and Russia alliance, they wasted no time in launching an attack on the Swedish Empire, knowing that a young and inexperienced king was leading it. from now on. The idea came from Peter the Great, who wanted to get the Baltic Sea, which was unfortunately under the power of Sweden. When Charles XI died, they thought it would be the perfect opportunity to seize it, starting the Great Northern War.
Unfortunately for them, that wasn’t going to be the case.
Charles was unimpressed with the three-way alliance. In August 1700 he deployed an army of 10,000 men near Copenhagen in Denmark, a surprise attack which caught Frederik IV of Denmark-Norway unawares. Unable to defend his city, he had no choice but to agree on a peace treaty called the Peace of Travendal. For Charles, that’s one less attacker for his nation, so he can focus on Peter the Great of Russia, who waged war on Sweden the same day the peace treaty was signed.
Blessed by the Wind in The Battle of Narva
Russia invades Livonia and Estonia, two Swedish territories. Knowing this, young Charles decided to sail to Narva to confront his besiegers. It was freezing cold and they would be heavily outnumbered, with the ratio being 4:1. Naturally, her father’s top advisers voted against what appeared to be a suicide plan. But Charles’ strong will and desire to crush the enemies prevailed, and he believed that his 10,000 disciplined and highly capable soldiers would do the battle just fine. He went ahead with the plan and his soldiers marched through the blizzard.
It looked like an inevitable defeat, but for a few minutes the wind favored Charles’ armed forces and was now blowing on their backs, now blinding the Russians. Out of the blizzard, they attack their future conquerors, shoot at close range and dive into the trenches to fight them with bayonets. The Russians fled and many of them fell and drowned in the Narva River. Peter’s armed forces were crushed on the frozen ground.
He could have taken advantage of the situation and invaded Russia, and he should have. Instead, he pursued the Saxon-Poland-Lithuania alliance, which he also defeated.
The Great Frostfall
Charles XII won all the battles he fought until 1709. Peter had the chance to rebuild his army, which he did. They established a new city in Ingria and called it Saint Petersburg. Charles decided that he now wanted to invade Russia with the help of the military commander of the Ukrainian Cossacks. They managed to invade most parts of Russia over time. All was well for the Swedish army until the coldest winter Europe had seen in 500 years arrived: the Great Frost of 1709.
The Swedish troops did not have enough supplies. Starvation and disease swept away a third of its strength, although the Russians also suffered their losses.
During the Battle of Poltava in 1709, Charles could not lead what was left of his army due to injuries. His general led the remaining 20,000 men against Peter’s 45,000 troops. Some even say the number was 80,000. Regardless, Charles XII’s outnumbered forces lost terribly as he fled to the Ottoman Empire.
Charles XII died of a bullet to the head during a siege in the town of Fredriksten in Norway while inspecting the trenches. He was only 36 years old.
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