Welcome to my post of the fall of the Swedish Empire. This is a rather large subject, so I will focus on one particular aspect; the battle of Poltava and the death of Charles XII. You may be aware that I have already posted about the rise of this magnificent empire. Now I give a simple introduction into its fall. We know (if you read my last post) that Sweden has risen from the 17th century. Particularly the Thirty Years War, in which Sweden had crushed most European armies and had under the guidance of King Gustav II faced armies double, triple its size and still won. The Swedes dominated Europe, they were the strongest and they were the most feared. However by the early 18th century, Sweden hits a period of decline. The main reason was that King Charles XII was killed whilst fighting in Denmark. So by the middle of the 18th century, Sweden was declining, and Russia has risen.
So why was Charles such an important figure? Well he was the last great leader Sweden had. After he died, the country had to sue for peace with a variety of nations as it had no one to continue the fight. Charles had defeated the armies of each of the nations with relatively ease, at the age of 17, he had defeated the Russians. He was extremely smart, however his decision to invade Russia, was probably not one of his best ones! At least he did not have the example or Napoleon and Hitler to follow, so I think we can grant him some more slack! His army would have made it to Moscow, however, so some stupid reason, he changed direction and headed towards the Ukraine, believing there was to be an uprising in which they could help. This uprising failed, and it left the Swedes very vulnerable, and at Poltava they met their defeat. 20,000 men died, whilst Charles had fled. Remember that 20,000 men is a huge number and something that as time goes on, the loss seems unimportant. Sweden was not a huge country with a massive population, therefore 20,000 men gone, would have been felt. This huge defeat ensured that Sweden was left weak and its faith shaken. After all, the Carolean troops believed God was on their side and that their king was a messenger from God, how could they lose? A good song to listen to that covers the battle of Poltava is Sabaton’s Poltava. The song shows the hopelessness of the battle.
Well Charles XII managed to return to Sweden, after a lengthy spell in the Ottoman Empire, meaning that Sweden was left without a King. This was not too much of a problem as Sweden had a strong government and was not an absolute monarch. Nonetheless, Charles returned and soon decided that he would invade Denmark; it is here where he was killed. Either by a friendly bullet, or by an enemy, no one really knows. Waiting for a cool Archaeologist to figure that one out still! I think it will be one of things that will always be contested. Still what matters is that his death leads Sweden to crumble. The invasion fails, and Sweden has to give up land. Russia also takes land off Sweden after its victories. The gains made by Gustav Adolphus were suddenly gone in 100 years. Was it king Charles fault? Yes and no. He was a great tactician and won many victories, but going so far into Russia wasn’t the smartest of ideas. If he had gone straight for Moscow, then maybe it would be different, and Sweden would still be a great power! His lust for war caused his death and after he fell at a young age, Sweden crumbled. So he is partly to blame, but other countries were getting stronger and were far richer than Sweden. It would not have been able to compete with countries like Britain. Sweden has never really fallen since its break from Denmark and Norway, but it never recovered from the death of Charles XII in the 18th century.
Sweden was on its own, both Norway and Denmark were both anti-Swedish, they were seen as lesser people, particularly as they were seen as worse sailors. The rivalry in the Scandinavian region would lead to constant warring. Sweden was also against Poland, whom it had been at war with a century beforehand. Sweden was also fighting Russia, again this was due to territorial gains, both Finland and Estonia were fought over. Now when looking at whom Sweden was fighting against, it can be seen that they are fighting a war on many different fronts. It different have the manpower to ensure victory. Nonetheless, I reckon, from Charles XII personality, he would have continued fighting, if he had lived. Who knows, if he had lived and continued his wars, maybe Sweden would be in a different situation now, maybe it would not have remained neutral in WW2, as its history would have been different. I’m not a fan of what if history. But still, it shows you how important Charles was to Sweden. A matter of war or peace!
Sweden made its mark on Europe quickly and swiftly, but it soon fell, with a bang. It is safe to say that it was at war on all sides, and victory in such a war would have been impressive. Nonetheless, Sweden was never conquered by anyone (It is very, very hard to get to Stockholm!). It keeps its independence, but what it does do is loose the fear it once held, it loses its land, its pride. Sweden has fallen, Russia has risen. Peter the Great had successfully beaten Sweden; he had made his own mark on Europe. The 18th century leads the way for new great powers such as Austria, Russia and Britain to make their mark. The old powers, of Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands were going, fallen from grace.