Charles XII of Sweden

Karl XII
Image:Charles XII of Sweden.jpg
Portrait by Axel Sparre, 1712
Reign April 5, 1697-November 30, 1718
Government from November, 1697
Coronation December 14, 1697
Royal motto "Med Guds hjlp"
("With God's help")
Royal House Pfalz
Predecessor Charles XI of Sweden
Successor Ulrika Eleonora of Sweden
Date of birth June 17, 1682
Place of birth Stockholm
Date of death November 30, 1718
Place of death Fredriksten, Norway
Date of burial February 26, 1719
Place of burial Riddarholmskyrkan, Stockholm

Charles XII, Karl XII or Carolus Rex, (June 17, 1682November 30, 1718), the Alexander of the North, nicknamed in Turkish as Demirbaş Şarl (Charles the Habitue), was a King of Sweden (16971718). He came to the throne at the age of fifteen and left the country three years later to embark on a series of battles overseas, that briefly made Sweden the predominant power in Northern Europe. His youth gave other nations a decent pretext with which to invade Sweden; Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth-Saxony, Denmark-Norway, and Russia joined in a coalition to attack Sweden, beginning the Great Northern War. Charles XII turned out to be more astute than the other powers imagined, a great tactician, defeating all of the invaders. However, his strong tactical abilities were not accompanied by strategic and political wisdom. He is quoted by Voltaire as saying upon the outbreak of the Great Northern War, "I have resolved never to start an unjust war but never to end a legitimate one except by defeating my enemies." He took this resolution to an extreme level, which eventually resulted in the end of the Swedish Empire and its dominance of the southern Baltic Sea.



Charles's first campaign was against Denmark, ruled by his cousin Frederick IV of Denmark, which threatened a Swedish ally, Frederick IV of Holstein-Gottorp (another cousin of Charles XII, and married to his sister Hedvig Sophia). Denmark's defeat, however, and Sweden's ensuing rise to prominence in the Baltic region was viewed suspiciously by two powerful neighbors, King August II of Poland (cousin to both Charles XII and Frederick IV of Denmark) and Peter the Great of Russia. Russia responded by occupying the Swedish territories of Livonia and Estonia. Charles countered this by attacking the Russian garrison at Battle of Narva. From the very beginning, this seemed to be a headstrong move. The Swedish army of ten thousand men was outnumbered four to one by the Russians. Still, Charles attacked under cover of a blizzard, and effectively split the Russian army in two. Many of Peter's troops that fled the battlefield drowned in the Narva River and the battle was a crushing Swedish victory.

Charles, despite advice from his advisors, didn't pursue the Russian army. Instead, he then turned against Poland, disregarding Polish negotiation proposals, supported by the Swedish parliament. Charles defeated Polish king Augustus II and his Saxon allies at the Battle of Kliszow in 1702 and captured many important cities of the Commonwealth. After the deposition of the king of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Charles XII filled the void with his own man, Stanislas Leszczynski .

Meanwhile, while Charles enjoyed easy victories in the Commonwealth, the Russian Tsar Peter the Great embarked on a giant military reform plan that soon begun to bear fruit. The new Russian army was a much tougher one that the one defeated at Narva. Russian forces had managed to retake Livonia and even established a new city Saint Petersburg there. This prompted Charles to make the fatal decision to attack the Russian heartland with an assault on Moscow, allying himself with Ivan Mazepa, ataman of the Cossacks. Peter the Great managed to cripple Swedish forces near the Baltic coast before Charles managed to combine his forces, and Charles Polish ally, Stanislaw Leszczynski, was facing internal problem of his own. Charles expected the support of a massive Cossack rebellion led by Mazepa in Ukraine but the Russians destroyed the rebel army before they could aid the Swedes. Harsh climactic conditions took their toll as well, as Charles marched his troops through Ukraine. By the time of the decisive Battle of Poltava, Charles had been wounded, one-third of his infantry was dead, and his vulnerable supply train destroyed. The king himself, incapacitated by a coma resulting from his injuries, was unable to rally the Swedish forces. The battle was a disaster, and Charles fled south to the Ottoman Empire, where he set up camp at Bender with about 1000 men who were called Caroleans ("Karoliner" in Swedish). The Poltava Swedish diasaster marked both the end of the Swedish Empire and the rise of Russian Empire.

Missing image
Carolus - the autograph of the king.
Missing image
The Corpse of Charles XII. Painting by Gustaf Cederstrm, 1884
Missing image
Statue of Charles XII at Karl XII:s torg, Stockholm

The Turks initially welcomed the Swedish king, who managed to incite a war between the Ottomans and the Russians. However the sultan eventually tired of Charles' endless scheming and ordered his arrest. Meanwhile, the king's old enemies Russia and Poland took advantage of his absence to regain and even expand their lost territories. England, an ally of the Swedes, defected from their alliance obligations while the Prussians also attacked Swedish holdings in Germany. Russia seized Finland and Augustus II regained the Polish throne.


Seeing his very kingdom threatened, Charles fled the Ottoman Empire and rode across Europe in just fifteen days to return to Swedish Pomerania. His efforts to reestablish his lost empire failed, however, when he was killed by a stray bullet in an attack on the fortress Fredriksten in Danish-controlled Norway. There has been some speculations that he was not killed by a stray bullet but by one fired from the Swedish side, making his death an assassination (at the time he was not very popular in Sweden due to the hardships the people suffered because of the constant wars) but this has never been proven. He was succeeded to the Swedish throne by his sister, Ulrika Eleanora.

Charles was one of the greatest soldiers of all time. Exceptional for abstaining from alcohol and women, he felt most comfortable during warfare. Contemporaries report of his seemingly inhuman tolerance for pain and his utter lack of emotion. The king brought Sweden to its pinnacle of prestige and power through his brilliant campaigning. However, his over-ambitious invasion of Russia coupled with the overwhelming power of a revived anti-Swedish coalition brought Sweden's downfall as a Great Power.

Scientific contributions

Apart from being a monarch, the King's interests included mathematics, and anything that would be benefitial to his warlike purposes. He is attributed to having invented an octal numeral system, which he considered more suitable for war purposes because of all cubic boxes used for materials such as gunpowder. According to a report by contemporary scientist Emanuel Swedenborg, the King had sketched down a model of his thought on a piece of paper and handed it to him at their meeting in Lund in 1716. The paper was reportedly still in existance a hundred years later, but has since been lost. Several historians of science suspect that either the multi-faceted Emanuel Swedenborg or the brilliant inventor Christopher Polhem – also present at the meeting in Lund 1716 – may have been the true inventor behind this feat, or at least a main contributor.

Preceded by:
Charles XI
King of Sweden
Succeeded by:
Ulrike Eleonora

External links

da:Karl 12. af Sverige de:Karl XII. et:Karl XII fr:Charles XII de Sude nl:Karel XII van Zweden ja:カール12世 (スウェーデン王) no:Karl XII av Sverige pl:Karol XII ru:Карл XII, король Швеции fi:Kaarle XII sv:Karl XII uk:Карл XII


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