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Literature / The Sword Does Not Jest

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On the subject of diplomacy: “The sword has to do the best for it does not jest”.

By Swedish author Frans G Bengtsson, author of The Longships. The Sword Does Not Jest is an obscure but well-written biography of Charles XII. As with many biographies, it makes no pretence of hiding the author's hero worship of his subject, but the style is saga-like, entertaining and worth the read.

Provides examples of:

  • Anticlimax: Charles was killed by a stray shot:
    His fate was destined to a foreign strand
    A petty fortress and a dubious hand
    He left the name at which the world grew pale
    To paint a moral or adorn a tale.
  • Badass Army: Sweden has one.
  • Badass Family: The Vasas, Sweden's royal family.
    • Charles XII was not part of the house of Vasa, he was part of the house of Palatinate-Zweibrücken.
  • Bodyguarding a Badass: The Drabants regiment.
  • Four-Star Badass: Charles
  • Proud Warrior Race: Swedes, at least as described by Bengtsson. At that time it would have been accurate.
  • Real Men Love Jesus: Charles
  • The Rival: Peter the Great
  • Title Drop: Charles discussing diplomacy with his minister Stenbock: "The sword must do best, for it does not jest."
  • Teen Genius: Charles
  • Translation Distillation: Bengtsson's original Swedish-language biography, Karl XIIs Levnad (1932), was a two-volume work heavy on primary source material, including private correspondence and diaries from Charles' contemporaries. This English translation is heavily abridged for narrative clarity.
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  • Warrior Prince: Charles. One of the last European monarchs to take part in hand-to-hand combat.


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