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The Fall Of Absolutism In Sweden

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English B/History A, Spring 04


Christian Laning


It was a typical November night with a light cold breeze in the air. The time was nine o clock in the evening and the date 30th of November 1718.

The King was standing firm at his place on the parapet that was facing the fortress of Fredriksten. It was the second military campaign against Norway and the siege had only lasted for ten days, until an unexpected event changed the situation dramatically.

While heavy firing was commencing from the fortifications, Charles XII stood there, on the very front line, gazing beyond the surroundings with his head out, uncovered by the parapet, as projectiles were swarming overhead. In close vicinity stood Bengt Vilhelm Carlberg, who served as fortification officer during the siege. This is his eye witness account of the event that followed:

"It was now when the unfortunate time had come, the time that ended everything. Barely a quarter of an hour had passed before His Majesty the King, who had been standing above and beside several high officers, was shot from nowhere. It was a shot that pierced through the left side of His Majesty The King's head, leaving him motionless and dead ."

Charles XII efforts to strengthen the Swedish empire ultimately led to its fall and the rise of parliamentary reforms in Sweden

This was the end, and not only the end for Charles XII King of Sweden. But also the beginning of the end of the Great Northern War, and ultimately the end of the Swedish Empire. Sweden had fought two decades of constant war against Poland, Russia, Denmark and Norway. The outcome was over 200 000 casualties and an economy that was crippled.

Charles XII had been ruling Sweden as a divine right monarch. Absolutism brought him total power and with it responsibility. The responsibility to protect his people and strengthen the glory and greatness of Sweden, but both these responsibilities he failed to comply, and left was a poor, betrayed, miserable people with nothing but despise towards the state, and in particular absolutism as a form of government. The time of absolutism in Sweden was over, while the beginning of parliamentary reforms was taking its course.

What efforts did Charles XII make to strengthen the Swedish Empire? How did these efforts lead to the fall of Absolutism in Sweden, and finally what was the reason for reforming the parliamentary climate in Sweden? These three questions, with each respective answer lie as the foundation for the thesis statement regarding this research.

Starting off with what actions Charles XII took in order to secure the future survival of the Swedish Empire and how they later led to its fall.

Never before had a Swedish King inherited gained such a mighty kingdom as Charles XII had. Crowned at an age of only fifteen this young king sought to fulfil his duty as king, and continue to keep Sweden as the dominating country around the Baltic Sea. Charles XII saw one solution to this matter, which his advisors more than often were presented with;

"Attack is the best defensive ."

Was the motto that Charles XII seemed necessary to rule by. Firstly spoken by Gustav II Adolph, this motto, or more appropriate tactic, would serve as the very foundation for the Great Northern War from the Swedish part. The first years of the Northern War were a success for the King and the Swedish Karolin's , victory after victory, in particular the Baltic areas gave opportunities to expand the Swedish empire, the one thing Charles XII sought so eagerly to achieve.

The country was at this time in a very good political and military state. Successful campaigns had put fear into the opponent and rumours grew that Charles XII had divine qualities; after all he was a king under God, was he not?

But from here on it went downwards. Not that the military campaigns were unsuccessful, on the contrary Sweden was winning the battles in Poland. Instead it was the strategy that caused problems. Tsar Peter had conquered large areas of the Baltic provinces, allowing him access to the important trade routes that could to some extent finance his campaigns against the Swedish territories. Due to some serious strategic faults made by Charles XII, he had now managed to jeopardise the entire situation in the Baltic region. Bengt Liljegren states in "Karl XII, en biografi";

"As a tactician Charles XII was astounding, as a strategist he was a catastrophe for Sweden. "

The real turning point of the war was the Swedish campaign against Russia. It was a campaign leading them far into enemy territories with no hope of reinforcements or supplies. When the tables later turned in the success in the field, the Swedish Karolin's1 found themselves with a very small marginal, or practically close to no chance of victory.

The campaign was a very hazardous undertaking by Charles XII that in due time ended in disaster, resulting in the loss of 10 000 Swedish Karolin's lives.

The Russian campaign was one of many disorganised and unsuccessful campaigns into enemy country. Charles XII intentions were to recapture the Baltic provinces but if he would have prioritised them from the beginning instead of launching massive assaults in Poland, the disastrous Russian campaign might never have been necessary.

An alliance between the two battling countries could also serve as an alternative solution, creating a secure front for Sweden, allowing them to operate in Poland and at the same time rearm for possible attacks from Russia.

"There are historians that say that the fall of the Swedish Empire was only a matter of time, since Sweden's limited resources could not compete against the Russian's. The growing power of Russia was impossible to stop ."

The fact that Sweden eventually was doomed to fall is based on several facts, one of them is stated in the quote above, that Sweden had insufficient amounts of resources to compete with the Russians in the long run. So even if Charles XII had managed to win the Russian campaign, Sweden would



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