Today, 30th November is an important day in Swedish history.
And it all revolves around a stoical King, whose statue can be seen in Stockholm’s Kungsträdgården Park.
Today, Sweden is a peaceful country and hasn’t been at war for over 200 years. But it wasn’t always so. Once upon a time, Sweden was a great power, a military giant with a much larger territory than it has today. And the King of the statue – Charles XII – had a lot to do with it. If you see the statue, he is pointing his finger east. And there is a good explanation for this.
Charles (Karl) was king in Sweden 1697-1718 and a bit of a badass. Apparently never registering physical pain, in the space of a few years, he transformed the small nation of Sweden into a formidable power, crushing his enemies under him. And then he lost it all. At this time, Sweden covered modern day Norway, Finland and other Baltic regions such as Lavonia.
Charles ascended to the throne age 15 and his youth was subsequently exploited by neighbours Denmark, Poland and Lithuania who decided to snatch land from him. In retaliation, he quashed Denmark’s invasion of Sweden and put an ally on the throne. Then, he responded to Russia’s attempt to occupy Livonia and Estonia, and won a sweeping victory at the battle of Narva, under the cover of a blizzard.
After later defeating Poland and Lithuania, he then turned his sights again on Russia. Like his statue, he pointed East. This was a mistake. Up until now, it seems like he just retaliated but this time he waged a war. Hubris perhaps? It was to be his downfall.
Unfortunately for Charles, Peter the Great had regrouped and, in a grueling cold battle, the Russians beat the shit out of the Swedes. Rather like what happens on the ice hockey rink today. Charles fled to the Ottoman Empire but made himself unpopular there so fled back to Sweden, riding across Europe on horseback in just 14 days. Obviously not on the same horse.
Back in Sweden, he saw his nation crumble. Russia took Finland. Denmark took other Baltic regions.
On Nov 30th, 1718 he was shot and killed in modern day Norway, thus marking the short period of Sweden as a great European power. The ‘Swedish empire’ crumbled and territory was taken.
In modern day democratic, peaceful Sweden, Charles XII is sometimes criticized as a blood thirsty tyrant. His war-mongering contradicts strongly with the Swedish Brand of today. But history is history. Rewritten, retold and reinterpreted.
Whatever Charles was, there is no doubt he was a hard core ass kicker. On a historical website I found, the writer describes Charles XII in the following way:
‘Charles was pretty badass. He completely abstained from alcohol and sex and was pretty much uncomfortable doing anything other than leading his troops to victory or being stoic as fuck. He lived fast, died young and when he went down he took the entire fucking country of Sweden with him. What more can you ask for from a historical badass?’