Dutch Republic

The First Northern War 1655-1660

A.) The Situation leading to the War

In Sweden King Charles X. Gustavus had succeeded Christina, the philosopher queen. With a Vasa still reigning in Poland (thus posing a continued threat to any Swedish king) and poor Swedish revenues, the temptation was great to resume a policy of maintaining sizeable armies on foreign soil - Sweden was a Grand Power as long as it was at war; once her armies were disbanded.
Denmark and Poland-Lithuania were not only old Swedish foes, but had common interests in the flourishing trade of Polish grain to Western Europe - shipped down the Vistula, and from Danzig across the Baltic Sea, through the sound - where Denmark raised the SOUND LEVY, Denmark's primary source of revenue. This grain trade was of vital importance to the Dutch Republic, still of considerable importance to England.

B.) The Military Course of Events

B.1) The Polish Theatre of War

In 1655 Charles X. Gustavus, at the head of a Swedish Army, invaded Poland in what Polish sources refer to as "The Deluge". The Swedes were victorious in a number of engagements and occupied Warsaw, appeared in front of Cracow in Sept. 1655. With Russian troops occupying regions in the east, a defeatist mentality was widespread among Poland's nobility. Only a few cities, such as Danzig and Lvov held out; much of Poland proper was under Swedish control. Charles X. assumed the title of Protector of Poland
When a Swedish force wanted to take the monastery of Jasna Gora near Czestochowa, the latter withstood the assault, triggering a general rising against the Swedish occupation. Now the Swedish forces were
harrassed, single units defeated (1656). Meanwhile, the Brandenburg Army (at the start of the war a Polish ally, and temporarily at war with Sweden, defeated, then signed the TREATY OF KÖNIGSBERG) had joined the Swedes; the allies defeated the Poles in the BATTLE OF WARSAW (July 1656). Still, the Swedes and Brandenburgers were on the defensive, southern Poland liberated, Polish and Tatar forces raiding Brandenburg and East Prussia. Poland now received aid from the Emperor; the Swedish garrison at Cracow surrendered in July 1657. Major battles were avoided, the Polish strategy was to wear down the Swedes. However, an invasion by Georg Racoscy, Duke of Transylvania, in southern Poland (February-July 1657) only complicated the situation; it was defeated. In 1658, Thorn (in Polish : Torun) was retaken. The war was ended with the TREATY OF OLIVA 1660, which did not result in any gain for Sweden, but in the recognition of the independence of the Duchy in Prussia by Poland.

B.2.) The Danish Theatre of War

On June 1st 1657, Denmark declared war on Sweden. Brandenburg switched sides, joining Sweden's enemies. However, Swedish forces took Bremen and Holstein and, by the end of the year, occupied all of Jutland. On February 27th 1658 Denmark signed the TREATY OF ROSKILDE, in which it ceded Scania, Blekinge, Bornholm, the Stift Drontheim and, most notably, half of the vital Sound Levy.
While the treaty was not yet ratified, Swedish forces laid siege to Copenhagen; the grain trade so vital to the Dutch Republic was interrupted. Now both the Dutch Republic and England dispatched their fleets, joining the war on the Danish side. The siege of Copenhagen was broken.

B.3.) The Livonian Theatre of War

In summer 1656, Russia declared war on Sweden, Russian forces invading Swedish Livonia. An armistice was concluded Dec. 28th 1658 at Valiesar near Narva; on June 21st 1661 the peace TREATY OF KARDIS was signed.

C.) The Legacy

The Swedish policy of maintaining an army in an occupied land and profiting of it worked in the 30 Years' War, when the presence of the Swedish army served a purpose - defending the protestant camp - and the country had allies. In the First Northern War, Sweden lacked both, legitimation and allies, the war in Poland rather creating an alliance of enemies.
Yet, Sweden was shown her limits, not decisively defeated. The Treaty of Copenhagen 1660 (with Denmark) left Sweden in the possession of Scania and Blekinge; the Stift Drontheim and Bornholm, as well as the share in the Sound Levy claimed by Sweden, were returned to Denmark.
Denmark and Poland both had experienced severe crises, at times threatening the existence of the state. While in Denmark Rigsrad and Rigsdag approved the introduction of Absolutism (1660), this enabling the King to modernize the state in order to guarantee its survival (at the expense of the country's privileged classes), such a reform, attempted in Poland in 1665-1666, was foiled by the successful Lubomirski rebellion; in Poland, despite permanent foreign threat, the privileged classes, most of all the nobles, placed their particular interests over those of the state, an attitude which, in the long run, resulted in the eradication of the state (Polish Partitions 1772-1795).
For Brandenburg-Prussia (which switched sides twice in the war), the standing army proved the tool for a successful foreign policy.

Wars with Sweden, from Danish Military History by Gert Laursen; in Danish
The Bloody Deluge, from Polish Renaissance Warfare
Polish-Sweden War 1655-1660 : The Deluge Period, from The Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569-1795)
Der Erste Nordische Krieg, 1655-1660 (The First Northern War), from Kriege der Neuzeit (Wars of the Modern Era), in German
Timeline M.A. de Ruyter, posted by Stichting Michiel Adriaanszoen de Ruyter, in Dutch
The Citadel "Frederikshavn" of Copenhagen, posted by Bjørn Westerbeek Dahl
Biography of Charles X., from History Learning Site
Landsförrädaren (Traitor), from Skånelands Historia, on Corfitz Ulfeldt, blamed for helping Sweden force Denmark to cede Scania; local patriotic site, in Swedish (also available in Danish)
Peace of Oliva, from Columbia Encyclopedia
The Many Swedish Wars, list posted by Hans Högman; scroll down for "The Polish War of King Karl X Gustav" 1655-1657, "The Russian War of King Karl X Gustav" 1656-1661, "The First Danish War of King Karl X Gustav" 1657-1658 and "The Second Danish War of King Karl X Gustav" 1658-1660, decent summaric descriptions from Swedish perspective
DOCUMENTS Inventory de Ruyter Family Archive; documents relating to M. de Ruyter, foreign affairs of Dutch Republic, posted by deruyter.org, in Dutch
Mare Balticum, Exhibition on Copenhagen's History; numerous exhibits related to events 1658-1660
Image : Siege of Czestochowa 1655, from Mappe di Citta' ed altre mappe antiche diverse, comment in Italian
SİŞren Poulsen Gotlænder Judichær: Klagedigt over den svenske besættelse af landet (1659) (Poem to Mourn the Swedish Occupation of the Country), from Skræp, in Danish
Jacob Andersen Scheffer: Vise om sejren ved Nyborg 1659 (1660) (Ode on the Victory near Nyborg 1659), from Skræp, in Danish
Anders Matthiesen Hiørring: Om København belejring (1660) (On the Siege of Copenhagen), from Skræp, in Danish
Peder Juul: En fynsk students oplevelser under Københavns belejring (1665) samt senere tilføjelse hertil af Poul Rogert. (Reminiscences of a Finnish Student during the Siege of Copenhagen), from Skræp, in Danish

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2001, last revised on November 18th 2004

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