Charles XII (17 June 1682 30 November 1718, reigned from 5 April 1697 to 30 November 1718), perhaps better known outside Sweden as Carolus Rex (latinized form of King Charles) was a King of Swedenfull title . Amongst the various Notable Swedish Monarchs, Charles XII was one of a kind: The only surviving son of the previous King, Carolus (crowned king when he was fifteen) soon saw himself in a time of great political strife between his nation and Russia, where tensions were heating up in a dispute for control of the Baltic territories. In this delicate time, Tsar Peter The Great decided that there would be no better hour to strike than this. The King of Sweden was a young teenage boy with little experience on the throne, and a triple alliance of DenmarkNorway, SaxonyPolandLithuania and Russia took advantage of this and united against Sweden. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
But Tsar Peter did not foresee just who this teenage boy was. Charles XII did not drink, he did not spend his time with women, while he executed some very important political reforms and was a skilled politician, this was nonetheless a man who disciplined his mind, body and spirit for a single-minded purpose: War. And in this purpose Carolus displayed unprecedented brilliance. He made the Caroleans (as his army was called) into what was described in his own time as one of the best, if not the best war machine of Europe.
King Charles went to war and proceeded to completely annihilate all of his foes with the singular exception of Russia: Denmark, Norway, Poland, Lithuania, Saxony were outmaneuvered and crushed by the Swedish Army and Navy with terrifying speed. The Swedish Empire's military and political prestige reached its very height with Carolus' crushing victories over all of his foes (despite said foes vastly outnumbering his army). He turned his attention to Russia, the final foe. In his invasion Carolus achieved tremendous success at first (with one memorable episode, which Carolus immortalized in a medal, involving Tsar Peter himself fleeing at full gallop from the Swedish Army), but it was in this moment of history that Russia revealed the weapons that would doom so many other invaders after King Charles: an unforgiving winter and ruthless scorched Earth tactics. The Carolean Army was slowly whittled and beaten down by the terrible conditions, and Carolus was seriously injured and had to leave command. This proved to be disastrous with the Battle of Poltava, in which the Russians decisively defeated the Swedish. The Swedish Empire started to crumble, and the Russian Empire began its ascension.
Charles XII was exiled to the Ottoman regions, where he awaited for the time being to make a Rightful King Returns sort of situation when his time was due. After fourteen years, it was evident he had to return (namely because the Ottoman hospitality was wearing thin and because Sweden was hanging by a thread). After a two-week long horseback journey across Europe, he once more marched to war, this time against Norway. But fate has a way of making epic stories less-epic, for it was at this time that, during a siege, Carolus Rex, 36 years old, was fatally shot in the head. To this day it is unknown by whom. Theories range from a mere Norwegian sharpshooter to his own brother-in-law, attempting to take hold of the throne (which he later did), though exhumations evident the exit wound was smaller than the entry which implies the projectile was traveling rather slowly, and so fire from the fortress he was sieging is the prevalent suspect rather than a hypothetical probably-much-nearer assassin.
His death marked the effective end of the Swedish Empire (or Sweden as a de facto military or political power) and the decline of absolute monarchy in Sweden in general. Today he is revered as a heroic, lionic figure by many historians (sometimes acquiring the moniker of "Last of the Vikings") and is a popular figure in his native Sweden. He is also unfortunately revered by Neo-Nazis.
Tropes as portrayed in fiction:
- Immune to Bullets: A common legend about him in his time. Some even say he wasn't killed by a bullet, but by a button, as he was bullet-proof.
Appears in the following works:
- Voltaire held him in the utmost regard, and wrote a biography about him.
- The Age of Unreason features him prominently.
- Sabaton has an album named after him, fittingly called Carolus Rex. The second half of the album is all about him, starting with an "I Am" Song of sorts.
- Joseph Conrad's novel, Victory, has a passing mention to him.
- Al Stewart's song "The Coldest Winter In Memory" primarly talks about him.
- Badass of the Week had an article about him.
- The Sword Does Not Jest is a more romantic biography of him.
- One of the military leaders profiled in Charles Fair's From the Jaws of Victory. Fair heavily deconstructs Charles' reputation, arguing that he was more reckless and wasteful than militarily brilliant.
- Tactically brilliant (won all the battles but one, would have been a great blitzkrieg commander), but strategically and politically naive (had to completely conquer, and always biting off too much). His opponent Peter The Great shares the chapter with him "The Tiny Lion and the Enormous Mouse", for having the opposite issue (solid if crude strategy, but too nervous to command on or near a battlefield). Fair's final verdict, in the end Peter did not waste men's lives for absolutely nothing, and Charles did.
- Extra Credits did a segment on Charles's reign with him as the central figure of the great northern war.
- He is briefly referenced in Legend of Galactic Heroes during one occasion when Count Franz von Mariendorf compared Reinhard von Lohengramm with him.