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Useful Notes / The Great Northern War

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"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.

"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.

The Great Northern War was a series of battles fought to contest the Supremacy of the Swedish Empire in Northern, Central and Eastern 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 the Great and the death of the Warrior King, Charles XII and the empire he built with it.

The war began with Sweden as the hegemon of northern Europe, encompassing all the lands of modern-day Sweden, Finland, and large chunks of Denmark and the Polish coast, nearly encircling the Baltic. The three powers united against Sweden to press their own claims, but waged their wars in a piecemeal fashion. Denmark-Norway was the first to concede and left the loose alliance completely. Charles XII then led stunning campaigns against Russia who had invaded the city of Narva on the Baltic coast, landing a naval invasion in a winter storm and then a direct assault in the middle of a snowy blizzard, leading to crushing victories. Charles turned his attention south to Poland-Lithuania where he routed their armies and installed Stanisław Leszczyńskia as a puppet king, dethroning Augustus II.

Several years of rebuilding followed for Russia as Peter the Great attempted to reorganize his army after the earlier routs. Sweden put down several rebellions in Poland-Lithuania to support his collaborator's claims. Russia, who still held parts of Sweden's Baltic territories, attempted to negotiate a peace, as all they'd wanted was access to the Baltic Sea. They built heavily fortified forts on their claimed lands, which would eventually become St. Petersburg. Charles refused, and soon after committed one of the classic blunders and invaded mainland Russia. Where he could engage the Russian army, he won handily, but Peter did not oblige him, falling back and using scorched earth tactics to deprive Sweden of forage and supplies. In the chase to catch the army, the Swedish forces far outran their supply trains, many of which were intercepted and destroyed.

In a dire state, Charles began a fighting retreat south, but was caught up by a large Russian army at the battle of Poltava in modern-day Ukraine. Charles himself escaped with a small chunk of his remaining forces to the Ottoman Empire's territory on the western Black Sea. Charles and his army remained there for the next five years in equal parts as an exile, a hostage, and an unwanted guest. Russia attempted to invade the Ottoman territory to reach Charles and his remaining forces, but were repulsed by Ottoman troops "protecting" their "guest". Charles was eventually allowed to leave and return home, though in the meantime Russia and the other members of the anti-Swede coalition had taken advantage of the loss of the Swedish military nucleus. Charles attempted to counterattack Norway, but was killed in 1718 while inspecting a firing line position.

Four treaties ended the conflict as Sweden made peace with Great Britain and Hanover in 1719, with Prussia in early 1720, with Denmark in July 1720 and with Russia in 1721. Humiliatingly Saxony-Poland, one of the powers that started the war, did not get a treaty of its own and would have to wait years for peace with Sweden to be formalized. In the end Russia gained Karelia, Ingria, Estonia and Livonia (essentially the area around and to the north of St. Petersburg, Estonia and part of Latvia). Prussia gained part of Swedish Pomerania (in the coastal region on the modern German-Polish border)note , Hanover the duchies of Bremen and Verden (in modern-day Lower Saxony), and Denmark the part of the duchy of Schleswig which up until the war had been ruled by the Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf.

Depictions in fiction

Anime and Manga


  • The poem Mazeppa by Lord Byron.
  • The epic poem Poltava by Alexander Pushkin. His Bronze Rider is also a tribute to the building of St. Petersburg.
  • The poem Mazeppa by Victor Hugo.
  • Martje Flohr's toast is commemorated in poems by Detlev von Liliencron and Börries von Münchhausen.
  • serves as background in Krabat. In one chapter the miller's men are forced to host a less-than-pleasant group of lost soldiers.


  • The symphonic poem Mazeppa by Franz Liszt.
  • 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. The pre-choruses all consist of Peter the Great taunting Charles during the 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.


  • 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.
  • 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.


Video Games

  • Cossacks: European Wars has a few missions of the Russian campaign taking place during this war.
  • Empire: Total War has this in the main campaign, starting in 1700 with Charles XII and Peter the Great as the rulers of Sweden and Russia.