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Great Northern War
"We have just been given an insight into the Russian mind and soul. It will be most valuable, provided we do not die from it."
-Charles XII upon coming across a village where the Russians have performed scorched earth style tactics.

I was chosen by Heaven, say my name when you pray.
To the skies, see Carolus rise!
With the Lord my protector, make them bow to my will.
To the skies, see Carolus rise!
To the skies, See Carolus rise!
-Sabaton, Carolus Rex, giving a perfectly accurate summary of Charles XII's personality.

The Great Northern War was a series of battles fought to contest the Supremacy of the Swedish Empire in Northern and Central Europe. It originally pitted Russia, Denmark-Norway, Poland-Lithuania and Saxony against Sweden. The result was a bloodbath that saw Poland switching sides twice (both cases saw the election of a new king), Russia to modernize under Peter I (aka Peter the Great) and the death of the Warrior King, Charles XII and the empire he built with it.

Three treaties followed the conflict: Russia gained Ingria, Estonia and Livonia (essentially the area around St. Petersberg and the 2 modern-day Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia), as well as some territory in Northern Russia (near modern-day Finland). Prussia gained the Swedish Pomerania (in the eastern coasts of modern-day Germany), Hanover (who joined the war in 1715 alongside the British) gained Verden and Denmark gained Schwelswig-Holstein (where they hold on to until 1864).


Tropes include:

  • Ax-Crazy: When Peter wasn't winning wars or founding empires he liked to drink his courtiers under the table and try out his surgeon and dentist skills on them.
    • He was also an avid dwarf collector.
  • Badass: Both Peter and Charles
  • Badass Army: The Drabants, Charles bodyguard, strike unit and ad-hoc Officer Candidate School.
    • The Swedish army as a whole. Dominated the battlefields up to Poltava and preformed gallantly given the circumstances afterwards.
      • Averted with the Danish and (early) Russian army. They were defeated within months after the war started. Russia shaped up though, and by Poltava fielded an army that measured up to any modern (at the time) standards.
  • Badass Boast: "I have resolved never to start an unjust war but never to end a legitimate one except by defeating my enemies." - Charles XII. Basically saying "I don't start shit, I end it."
  • Badass Preacher: Swedish Chaplains regularly joined in battle.
  • Blood Knight: Charles
  • Big Lipped Alligator Moment: After the defeat at Poltava Charles and his surviving men took refuge for four years in the Ottoman Empire, in a bid to gain Turkish support against Russia. Even though there was no love lost on between Russia and Turkey in those days, the Sultan was not keen on sending his men to fight in Swedens war. The Swedes ended up being seen as simple freeloaders in the eyes of the Turks and and in February 1713 the so called "Skirmish At Bender" happened where Charles and about 1000 Caroleans defended themselves against a Turkish army of 10.000 with orders to capture the king alive. The Turks eventually succeded when Charles tripped on his riding spurs and fell. It ended with a crowning moment of awesome though, when Charles and a few men had to ride a greatly circuitous passage through the lenght of Europe to Stralsund (wich was Swedish territory at the time.)
  • The Big Guy: Augustus II "The Strong", Elector Of Saxony and De Facto King of Poland. Said to have been able to straighten out Horseshoes with his bare hands.
  • Crazy-Prepared: The Swedish "Indelningsverket" (allotment system), a type of system where the Soldiers where on year-round duty and living on alloted peices of land where they would farm the earth and take payment from the village in wich they resided. This was considered a better system then to rely on expensive Mercenaries or unexperienced conscripts. It allowed Sweden to field a great number of Soldiers (compared to her population) in a very short time. The best example of this would be in the battle of Helsingborg in 1710 where fresh of the defeat at Poltava (where an Army of 20 000 had been lost) Swedish Commander Magnus Stenbock managed to raise a new army in a couple of months time, to meet the Danish invaders who wanted to reclaim Scania. The Danes ended up getting a royal beating and since then Denmark never made any serious attempts at taking back Scania.
  • Celibate Hero: Charles.
  • Cool People Rebel Against Authority: The Norwegian farmers, who felt the burden of heavy war taxation, indicted tax strikes in response. When the Danish king ordered them to shelter troops (who evidently ate their food), they rebelled against that as well. Taxation and ordered housing resulted in a near open rebellion in 1713. Later on, protests were raised against forced conscription of farm boys to the war.
  • Cool Horse: "Brandklipparen" (Firecutter) the horse of Charles XII. Survived the entire war and lived for 20 more years afterwards.
  • Cool Versus Awesome: Charles versus Peter.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Arguably Charles could have gotten a favorable peace after he had slapped the Russians and Saxons about a little in the early part of the war, and it would have been more to Sweden's interest.
  • Drinking On Duty: The Swedish commander who decided to take a break at the Norderhov farm at Ringerike, Norway in late january 1716. He and his men were dutyfully served lots and lots of beer by the priest`s wife, while one of her menservants ran his legs off to warn the Norwegian troops stationed on a nearby hill. It is fair to say the Swedes were stopped there and then...
    • The room where it all happened still have bullet holes in the walls from the Norwegian ambush.
    • This Swedish campaign, paired off with the hilarious ending of king Charles, gained the Swedes a dubious reputation in Norway, and they are still the butt of many Norwegian jokes.
  • Doomed Moral Victor: Charles XII may have lost the war, his life and the Swedish Empire as a whole, yet he is still remembered by many Swedes today, as the very symbol of the "Era Of Great Power" thanks to his Fighting Spirit, Bravery and Determination. That is, if you dont think he was Stubborn, Unrealistic and indifferent to the suffering of his own people.
  • The Empire: The Swedish Empire. Russia became a empire after the war.
  • Foreshadowing: Charles' last march in Russia and his defeat at Poltava anticipated the similar defeats of both Napoleon (who actually mentioned Charles' fate when passing near Poltava and tried to force a decisive battle before the Russians did the same to him) and Hitler in Russia.
  • Guile Hero: Peter the Great. He didn't win the war by having the superior army or by being the better general, he won by distracting Charles on the secondary Polish front while he assembled an army that could hold the line against the Swedes, then taking down all of his allies and the Cossacks willing to join him, and leading him in a merry chase until a skirmish showed the Russians could hold the line and retreat in good order when faced with equal numbers, at which point Peter accepted to fight a decisive battle... And prepared a successful trap at Poltava just to be sure.
  • The Gadfly: Charles XII was a bit like a Swedish version of Oliver Cromwell in that he despised excessive vanity and pompousness. To this end, it is said that he liked to snatch the wigs of Military Commanders and Noblemen and tear buttons and medals of their uniforms in mid-conversation. None of them dared to protest of course. The man himself rarely wore a wig and prefered his Military Uniform to Regal Robes.
  • Heel-Face Revolving Door: Great Britain. In 1700, they helped Sweden to make siege on Denmark's capital city Copenhagen, but couldn't do much more due to the War of the Spanish Succession. In 1715 they joined the war again...on the Anti-Swedish Alliance's side. In 1721 they were ready to join Sweden's side again but then the war had ended already.
    • It was part of an old Anglo-Dutch strategy to make sure that no one got too much power over the Baltic trade.
  • Kick the Dog: During the war, Russians occupied Finland (a land belonging to Sweden at the time) for seven years. The occupation was so strict and destructive that Finns still refer to it as "The Great Wrath".
  • Knife Nut: Several Norwegian boys coming home from war duty had trouble settling in. Thus, the Great Northen war coincides with the greatest amount of knife fights and bullying in Norwegian history.
  • Magnetic Hero: Both Peter and Charles.
  • Mother Russia Makes You Strong
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Charles XII: "Järnhövfde" (Ironhead) and "Skägglös Dundergud" (Beardless Thundergod) although the last one was not used during his lifetime but first used in a poem by Esaias Tegnér from 1818.
    • The Danish-Norwegian naval hero Peder Wessel was known as "Tordenskjold" (Thundershield).
    • All Swedish Soldiers carried "Nome De Guerres" like "Svärd" (Sword), "Seger" (Victory), "Kämpe" (Fighter) etc.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: After the War of Spanish Succession, both Great Britain and France threated to join the war on Sweden's side if Russia didn't accept the peace truce. They did.
  • Poles With Lances: Mere shadows of their former self, pulled into the war by over-belligerent king acting in poorly-understood interests of his dynastic realm, Saxony.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Peter the Great conquering Swedish territory and building the city of Saint Petersburg on it in the middle of Charles' domination of the war. And he didn't just take a city, renamed it and then expanded it, he took the fortress of Nyenschantz, razed it to the ground and built the stronger Peter And Paul Fortress and a city on the site of Nyen (the city near Nyenschantz, burned down by the Swedes to not leave shelter to the incoming Russians). Between that and the Swedish failure in retaking or even raiding the area, Peter destroyed diplomatically half of the Swedish military successes. Incidentally, that's why the capital of Russia was Saint Petersburg from 1712 to the revolution (renamed Petrograd in 1914, when the Russians decided that no self-respecting Entente power should have such a Germanic sounding capital).
    • During the first Danish campaign in 1700 the Danish resistance was so weak, that according to legend, some Swedish soldiers passed the time by hunting wild game in the royal Danish gardens.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: both Peter and Charles
    • Peter was more versatile then Charles and had an interest in a number of crafts including, interestingly enough, seamanship. Some might say that his nautical interests were bad for Russia in the long run and the example got Russia in more fights then needed by competing with maritime states in their own area of expertise. Still Peter did do much to increase the independence of Russia and perhaps his eccentricities had something to do with it.
  • Salt the Earth: Rather Town. The inhabitants of the Norwegian city of Halden decided to burn the city to the ground rather than let the Swedes have it (Fall 1715)
    • The merchant who proposed this, was a Peder Colbjørnsen. His sister Anna was married to the priest at Norderhov. She made the Swedes drink on duty some months later, with a not so good result for the Swedes in question.
    • This was reckoned a true moment of awesome in Norwegian history, to the point where it is actually mentioned in the Nowegian national anthem:
    We would rather let the land burn than to see it fall. Remember the incident at Frederikshald...
    • Also, the Swedes burned down the town of Nyen to prevent the invading Russians from finding shelter when trying to attack its citadel of Nyenschantz. The Russians were not impressed: they stormed the fortress, razed it down, and built Saint Petersburg on the site.
  • Snow Means Death: The Poltava campaign.
    • Not to mention the bright idea to march across The Scandinavian Fjells the New Year 1718/1719, in a blizzard that raged for three days. The result: 3900 men froze to death, 600 more were crippeled for life. Only 1500 were more or less unharmed.
    • This was the war that started the idea that invading Russia in the winter is a Really Bad Idea. Interestingly, Napoleon took along Charles' account of the war in a bid to avoid the same mistakes. He failed.
    • Part of the reason why the Battle Of Narva was such a devastating Swedish victory was that a Blizzard started unexpectedly. The Swedes had their back to it while the Russians could not see anything until the Swedes were 30 meters away from them with Muskets at the ready.
  • Swedes with cool horses.
  • Real Men Love Jesus: Charles XII had a Stonewall Jackson style piety.
  • Teen Genius: Charles XII. His genius lay in killing people.
    • He was a pretty good tactician but not really much of a strategist.
    • He was also heavy into Architecture, History and Mathematics.
  • Took a Level in Badass: The Russian Army. At the start of the war it was so weak that Charles XII stopped taking Russian seriously after crushing it at Narva. Three years later the Russians were capable of conquering Ingria (and built Saint Petersburg there to rub salt in the wound) when Charles wasn't around, and in 1709 they crushed Charles' own army at Poltava.
  • Warrior Prince: Charles XII
  • Stock Unsolved Mysteries: The death of king Charles, being shot as he lifted his head over the top of a trench outside the city of Halden during the siege in November 1718. To this very day, Swedes and Norwegians are at odds on who really shot him: Norwegian soldiers or war-weary Swedes. One popular myth is that he was killed by a trouser button (a Norwegian one). Others claim that he accidentally shot himself. Either way, his death was the end of the Swedish campaign, and the beginning of a slow decline for Sweden as a European greater power.


Depictions in fiction

Anime and Manga

Music

  • The second half of the Sabaton album Carolus Rex is about this, mainly from King Charles' perspective:
    • "The Carolean's Prayer" is about the Swedish Army.
    • "Carolus Rex" is about Charles' rise to power.
    • "Killing Ground" is about the early Swedish victories.
    • "Poltava" chronicles the pivotal battle.
    • "Long Live The King" is about Charles' death and his soldiers returning his body to Sweden.
    • "Ruina Imperii" is about the fall of the Swedish Empire.

Film

  • Charles XII part 1 and 2 (1925) regarded as classics in Swedish silent cinema.
  • Eli Sjursdotter (1937) a cute Romeo and Juliet type story about the love between a Swedish Soldier and a Norwegian farmer girl and the conflict this causes with her Knight Templar father.
  • Tordenskjold Går I Land (1942) Danish movie about the famous Naval Commander.
  • Karl XII (1974) a Swedish TV-Film based on the play by August Strindberg
  • Kalabaliken I Bender (1983) A Swedish War/Comedy film about the Skirmish At Bender (see "Big Lipped Alligator Moment" above) and the struggles of two Swedish Soldiers to escort a potential bride to the King. One of the biggest economic flops in Swedish movie history, but it has some decent action scenes.
  • Sluga Gosudarev (aka "The Sovereigns Servant") (2007) Russian movie about the Battle At Poltava.

Live Action TV

  • Peter The Great (1986) American mini-series about the life of Tsar Peter, including the war.


Hanover-Stuart WarsHollywood HistoryWar of the Spanish Succession
Franco-Prussian WarUsefulNotes/EuropeHole in Flag
Great Dickens Christmas FairAdministrivia/Useful Notes Pages in MainGreco-Persian Wars

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