War and Conflict

Renaissance and the Enlightenment

What was the Great Northern War?

It was a war undertaken at the beginning of the eighteenth century that challenged Sweden’s absolute monarchy and imperialism. During the seventeenth century, Sweden had become a power in the Baltic region, gradually bringing more and more territory under its control. Even the Peace of Westphalia (1648) had granted some German lands to Sweden. But much of Sweden’s prosperity and expansion during this period had been under the rule of Charles XI (1655–1697). When he was succeeded by his young son, Charles XII (1682–1718) in 1697, the tides were about to turn for Sweden.

In 1700 an alliance formed by Denmark, Russia, Poland, and Saxony (part of present-day Germany) attacked Sweden, beginning the Great Northern War. Sweden readily defeated Denmark and the Russians that same year. But Poland and Saxony proved to be more formidable foes, and Charles XII spent almost seven years fighting—and eventually defeating—them. But the Russian army was to have another chance at the Swedish, and this time they were successful, defeating Charles XII’s forces in 1709 at Poltava (Ukraine). Charles fled the country as the war continued and did not return until 1714. Four years after that, the monarch was killed as he observed a battle (in what is present-day Norway). Much of the country’s lands in the Baltic were surrendered, and Sweden’s period of absolute monarchy came to an end.


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