Russia 1689-1725
Foreign Policy

The Great Northern War 1700-1721

A.) The Diplomatic Pre-History of the War

When King CHARLES XII. ascended to the throne, he found the port city of NARVA under siege by Russian troops, and a coalition consisting of RUSSIA, POLAND-SAXONY, DENMARK-NORWAY (alliance treaty of March 13th 1700) standing against Sweden, the country only being supported by France. France, however, was entangled in the WAR OF SPANISH SUCCESSION (1700-1713).

B.) The Military Course of Events

B.1.) The Swedish-Russian War

A Russian force of 30,000 laid siege to the Estonian port city of NARVA, when Charles XII. landed with a force of 8,000, defeating and dispersing the Russian force. Then Charles XII. focussed on Poland, neglecting the Russian war theatre.
Catharina, daughter of a Courland farmer and wife of a Swedish dragoon, was taken prisoner (1702); she became mistress, later wife (1712) and successor (1725) of Czar Peter the Great. The Russians defeated the Swedes at the mouth of the Newa (1703), occupied INGRIA and on May 27th founded ST. PETERSBURG on what used to be Swedish soil.
In 1709, Charles XII., hoping for support from the COSSACKS who rose in rebellion in 1707/08, marched into Ukraine from Poland; in the BATTLE OF POLTAVA the Swedish force, weakened by a pursuit of the Russians through areas where the Russians pursued their SCORCHED EARTH POLICY, where decisively defeated by the Russian army. Charles, now without an army, fled to Constantinople, where he convinced the Sultan to declare war on Russia (Oct. 1710) and give him command over the Ottoman army ( RUSSO-OTTOMAN WAR of 1710-1711).
In 1710 the Russians conquered Livonia and Estonia; Reval, Riga, Viborg (Karelia) surrendered.
In 1713, Charles returned to Sweden, never again to focus on Russia; he died while besieging a fortress in Norway, in 1718.
The Swedish forces against Russia had a difficult stand. In 1714 the Russians achieved victory in the NAVAL BATTLE OF HANGÖ, on land in the BATTLE OF ÅBO; Finland was occupied. The Russian fleet occupied the Åland Islands and began to raid the Swedish coast (1719). In 1721 the PEACE OF NYSTAD ended the war.

B.2) The Swedish-Polish War

In 1700 hostilities began with a combined Polish-Saxon invasion of Swedish Livonia. From Narva Charles XII. marched to Livonia, where he defeated a Russo-Polish-Saxon force in the BATTLE OF RIGA (June 17th 1701), won another victory at DÜNAMÜNDE (July 9th 1701) and marched on Poland, where he, victorious at Klissow (July 2nd 1702), occupied Warsaw (1702). In 1704 Charles XII. forced the deposition of King August the strong and the election of his candidate STANISLAS LESZCZYNSKI. Poland suffered severely from the Swedish occupation.
After Charles XII.' defeat at Poltava, August the Strong declared war on Sweden, returned to Poland in 1709, expelled Stanislas Leszxzynski and was again crowned king in 1710. Saxony-Poland and Sweden signed peace in 1719.

B.3) The Swedish-Danish War

The Danes did not attack Sweden, but the Duchy of Holstein-Gottorp, a Swedish ally. Charles invaded the Danish main island of SJÆLLAND, took Copenhagen and compelled Denmark to sign the TREATY OF TRAVENDAL which eliminated Denmark from the coalition of Sweden's enemies.
After the Swedish defeat at Poltava, Denmark declared war (end Oct. 1709); the Danes attacked SCANIA in 1709 with an army of 16,000 men; they were expelled in 1710. In 1712 the Danes conquered the Swedish Stifts of Bremen and Verden and then moved their army to Swedish Pomerania, where they were defeated by the Swedish General MAGNUS STENBOCK (1712), who moved his force into Jutland; there, surrounded at Toenning, he surrendered to the Danes in 1713. In 1715 the Danes occupied Stralsund and Ruegen.
After Charles XII. returned from his temporary residence at Bender, Bessarabia (Ottoman Empire), he turned on Norway. Outside of the besieged fortress of FREDERIKSTEN, Charles XII. was shot on Dec. 11th 1718.

B.4) The War in Germany

From Poland Charles XII. marched on Saxony in 1706, humiliatingly forcing Duke August the Strong to resign as King of Poland (TREATY OF ALTRANSTÄDT, Sept. 24th); Saxony signed peace. In 1707, the Imperial Upper and Lower Saxon Circles declared their neutrality.
Danish troops conquered the (Swedish) STIFTS BREMEN and VERDEN in 1712 (they sold their claim to Hannover in 1714). On June 15th 1715, Prussia and Russia signed a secret treaty in which Russia supports Prussia's claim on (Swedish) Hither Pomerania. On December 24th 1715, HANNOVER and PRUSSIA declared war on Sweden; Danish and Prussian troops occupied Swedish Pomerania. With the occupation of Wismar (1716) the Swedes lost their last outpost in Germany.

C.) The Legacy

In 1719, Sweden ceded the DUCHIES OF BREMEN and VERDEN to Hannover and signed a peace treaty with Saxony-Poland. In the peace treaty signed Jan. 21st 1720 Sweden ceded Pomerania to the south of the Peene to Prussia. In the PEACE OF NYSTAD 1721 they ceded Livonia, Estonia, Ingria and Eastern Karelia to Russia. Russian troops evacuated Finland, which they had occupied in the meantime.

Military History Encyclopedia on the Web, click entries Great Northern War, Treaty of Altranstadt, Treaty of Nystad, Treaty of Travendal
Frederik den Fjerde, from Preben Mjoerch's hjemmeside, in Danish; chapter from A. Thoegersen, C. & C. Broennum, N.E. Egholm, Den Oldenborgske Linie (1865) posted 1997, detailed
From Narva to Poltava, from History of the Russian Navy, also Vyborg and Gangut, In the Baltic, from same source
The Battle of Narva, Nov. 20th 1700, from Sverige som Stormakt, 1620-1721 by Magnus Källgren; this article in English
Karl XII: Det stora nordiska kriget 1700 - 1721, from Sveriges Krig
Battles of the Great Northern War, by Ken Sharman, table, lists 28 battles until 1715
Notes on Russian "Old Army" Units in the Great Northern War, by Vladimir Velikanov
Rysshärjningen 1719 (Russian raid of the Swedish coast), from Oerregrund foerr och nu, in Swedish
The Army of Holstein-Gottrup: Organisation and Deployment. by Nick Dorell
DOCUMENTS The Battle of Pultowa 1709, from Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World by Edward Creasey (died 1878)
Report on the Battle of Narva, 1700, from Svensk Krigshistoria, in Old Swedish
On the siege of Nöteborg by the Russians, 1702, from Svensk Krigshistoria
Report by Caleb de Frumerie on the expedition to Lithuania in 1703 and the battle of Saladen, from Svensk Krigshistoria, in Old Swedish
Report on the battle of Jacobstadt, 1704, from Svensk Krigshistoria, in Old Swedish
Correspondence Charles XII - Rehnschioeld on P.O.W.s, 1706, after battle of Fraustadt, from Svensk Krigshistoria
Report by Stockholmiske Post-Tidender, 1709, on Battle of Poltava, from Svensk Krigshistoria
Charles XII. leaves besieged Stralsund, 1715, from Svensk Krigshistoria
Letter by Major Didron, 1718, from Svensk Krigshistoria
The Norwegian Campaign 1718, from Svensk Krigshistoria, in Old Swedish
War Council in Tistedalen 1718, from Svensk Krigshistoria
Medal : Russian Admiral Apraxin's Victory over Swedish Fleet, 1708, from Medal Web, Collection Benjamin Weiss
Medal : Battle of Poltava, (1770), from Medal Web, Collection Benjamin Weiss
Medal : Naval Victory at Gronhamm, 1720, from Medal Web, Collection Benjamin Weiss
Digt ved den danske hærs landgang i Skane (omkr. 1709) (Poem on the landing of the Danish Army in Scania 1709), from Skræp, in Danish
Tysk spottevers om danskernes nederlag til Stenbock ved Gadebusch (omkr. 1712) (German mocking rhyme on the Danish defeat by Stenbock near Gadebusch), from Skræp, in Danish
Jørgen Sorterup: Hyldest til danskernes erobring af Rygen under admiral Sehested 1715 (1716) (Praise to the Danish Conquest of Rügen by Admiral Sehested, 1715), from Skræp, in Danish
REFERENCE Melvin K. Wren, The Course of Russian History, Prospect Heights 1994 : The Northern War

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First posted in 2001, last revised on November 19th 2004

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