Pierre-Denis Martin. “Battle of Poltava”
320 years ago, Russia entered the Northern War. The Swedish envoy in Moscow was arrested, a decree was issued on the arrest of all Swedish goods in favor of the Russian treasury. As a pretext for declaring war, “lies and insults” were indicated.
The need for a breakthrough to the Baltic
The Great Embassy 1697-1699 was organized with the aim of expanding the ranks of the coalition against Turkey. Sovereign Peter Alekseevich, after the capture of Azov, planned to break through further, to get access to the Black Sea. However, Europe at this time was preparing for another war – for the Spanish inheritance. In addition, at the same time, an anti-Swedish alliance began to take shape.
Peter was even more interested in the north than in the south. Therefore, instead of mastering the southern seas, the Azov and Black seas, it was decided to break through to the Baltic. To do this, it was necessary to end the war with the Ottoman Empire. With the Turks, after negotiations to Karlovitsy and Constantinople, it was possible to conclude peace in July 1700. Kerch and access to the Black Sea could not be obtained. Meanwhile, Peter in Moscow was energetically forging an alliance against Sweden. Each ally of Russia, Denmark and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had their own scores with Sweden.
The Russian kingdom under Ivan the Terrible tried to return the Baltic states to its sphere of influence, but the war was lost. Russia then had to wage war on several fronts at once with strong enemies: Lithuania and Poland (Rzeczpospolita), Sweden, the Crimean Khanate and Turkey. Troubles further weakened the Russian positions in the northwest. Russia in 1617 in Stolbovo concluded an unprofitable peace with the Swedes. Sweden received territory, vital for Moscow, from Lake Ladoga to Ivangorod. The Russian state lost Yama, Koporya, Oreshk and Korela. Enemy fortresses wedged deeply into the Russian state, Sweden received a strategic foothold for further expansion and pushing the Russians into the interior of the continent. Moscow lost access to the Baltic Sea, and now its contacts with Western Europe through these communications were completely dependent on the Swedes.
The Swedish king Gustav II Adolf, speaking in the Riksdag on the occasion of the conclusion of the Stolbovsky peace, complacently noted:
“And now this enemy will not launch a single vessel into the Baltic Sea without our permission. Large lakes Ladoga and Peipus (Chudskoe. – Author), Narva region, 30 miles of vast swamps and strong fortresses separate us from it; the sea has been taken away from Russia, and, God willing, it will be difficult for Russians to jump over this brook. “
During the Russian-Swedish war of 1656-1658. Russia tried to return access to the sea, but without success. At this time, Russia was associated with a protracted war with the Commonwealth. Sweden, taking advantage of the severe military-political and socio-economic crisis of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, attacked it. The Swedes secured Estonia and most of Livonia. It is clear that the Poles sought to recapture the lands of the former Livonia, the economic prosperity of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth depended on this.
The Saxon elector and the Polish king Augustus II had their own reasons to start a war with the Swedes. He needed a victorious war to strengthen his position both in Saxony and in the Commonwealth. In Saxony, he had many enemies who accused him of renouncing Protestantism and converting to Catholicism for the sake of the Polish crown. In Poland, many influential magnates joined against him, who believed that he was more a Saxon prince than a Polish monarch, and was inclined to put the interests of Saxony first. The Polish gentry determined the election of Augustus as king by his obligation to return Livonia to the fold of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Saxon army was supposed to solve this problem, although Saxony had no territorial claims to Sweden.
Denmark was Sweden’s traditional rival in the Baltic Sea. The Swedes captured the southern coast of the Baltic. The Baltic Sea was turning into a “Swedish lake”. Also, the Swedes captured Danish provinces and cities in the south of the Scandinavian Peninsula. Denmark was forced to abandon the collection of duties from Swedish ships passing through the Sunda Strait, which deprived Copenhagen of an important source of income. Another reason for the Swedish-Danish conflict was the Duchy of Schleswig-Holstein. In an effort to free themselves from the tutelage of their northern neighbor, the dukes focused on Sweden. In 1699, the Swedes brought troops into the duchy, violating previous agreements. Therefore, Denmark intensified preparing for war and looking for allies.
Swedish Empire at the end of the 17th century
Establishment of the Northern Union
In the summer of 1697, the Danish king Christian V, through his ambassador Paul Gaines, offered Moscow an anti-Swedish alliance. But the question hung in the air, since Peter at that time was on a trip abroad. Only in the fall of 1698 did the Russian tsar meet with the Danish ambassador. In February, negotiations were continued. On April 21, the agreement with Denmark was agreed. The two powers were to open hostilities against the “attacker and offender” near their borders. Russia planned to enter the war only after the conclusion of peace with the Turks. On November 23, 1699, the treaty was ratified at Menshikov’s house in Preobrazhenskoye. In Denmark, the Christian king died at this time, Frederick IV became the new monarch. He confirmed the course towards war with Sweden.
It should be noted that the time was favorable for the war. Sweden was in crisis. The treasury was empty. Aristocrats and nobles seized state lands. To improve finances, King Charles XI, with the support of other estates (clergy and townspeople), began the reduction of estates: checking documents for the right of ownership and returning to the treasury lands previously seized by the nobles. With this, the king, on the one hand, replenished the treasury, and on the other, strengthened his power, undermining the autonomy of the provinces and the aristocracy. The reduction was extended to Livonia, where there were two main categories of landowners: the German knights, who owned the land for centuries, and the Swedish nobles, who received estates during the capture of the Baltic by Sweden. Both categories were hit. The Swedish barons did not have documents that confirmed their rights. And the German nobles lost the relevant documents long ago.
The complaints of the knights and their deputations to Stockholm were ignored. As a result, a noble opposition formed in Livonia. She began to seek support abroad. The opposition leader was Johann von Patkul. He tried to defend the rights of the Livonian nobility in Stockholm, but was unsuccessful. He had to flee to Courland (it was under the protectorate of Poland). He became a political émigré who was sentenced to beheading in Sweden. Patkul wandered through European courts with plans to liberate Livonia from the Swedes. In 1698 he moved to Warsaw, where his ideas met with understanding and approval of August II. Patkul developed plans to fight Sweden and fueled the ambition of the Polish king. The army of Augustus was supposed to deliver the first blow to Riga.
August even before the arrival of Patkul reached an agreement with Peter. During the journey of the Russian sovereign in Europe, he met with the envoys of the ruler of Saxony in Amsterdam and Vienna. In August 1698, Peter the First held personal negotiations with Augustus in Rava-Russkaya. In September 1699, representatives of the Saxon prince arrived in Moscow: General Karlovich and Patkul. The Russian army was to invade Izhora land (Ingermanlandia) and Karelia, and the Saxon army was to take Riga. On November 11, at Preobrazhensky, the tsar ratified the treaty with the Saxon elector. The treaty recognized the historical rights of Russia to the lands that Sweden seized at the beginning of the century. The parties pledged to help each other and not to conclude peace until the demands for which the war began were met. The Russians were supposed to fight in Izhora and Karelia, the Saxons in Livonia and Estonia. Russia pledged to start a war after the conclusion of peace with Turkey.
At the same time, Moscow was negotiating with the Swedes. The Swedish embassy arrived in Moscow: King Charles XI died in Sweden, and Charles XII became his successor. The Swedes arrived in order for Peter to take the oath of confirmation of eternal peace. On November 20, Moscow confirmed the oath given in 1684. However, earlier the Riga administration carried out an unfriendly action against the Great Embassy, so Peter I had a reason to violate the agreement. In the summer of 1700, Prince Khilkov arrived in Sweden to inform the Swedes about the impending departure of the great embassy from Russia. At the same time, he was a scout, obtaining information about the Swedish army and fortresses, Sweden’s relations with other powers. Khilkov was arrested after Russia declared war, he spent 18 years under arrest in Stockholm and died. Thus, Russia concealed its true intentions towards Sweden and supported the opinion in Stockholm that nothing threatened them from the eastern neighbor.
The beginning of the war
It seemed that the timing of the war with Sweden was well chosen. Sweden had serious internal problems. The leading European powers (England, Holland, France and Austria) were preparing for the War of the Spanish Succession. They had no time for the war in northern Europe. Sweden found itself in isolation, so it could not get help from England or France. The Swedish throne was taken by the young Charles XII, who at first was considered a frivolous and weak monarch. Saxony and Russia were supposed to tie the enemy on land, Denmark – at sea.
However, these calculations did not come true. Firstly, it was not possible to speak in a coordinated and simultaneous manner. The Saxon army laid siege to Riga in February 1700, and Russia marched in August. Secondly, the young Swedish monarch showed outstanding military talents. The Saxons were unable to attack Riga quickly and unexpectedly. The Governor-General of Riga Dahlberg learned about the plans of the enemy, who were hovering around the border and managed to strengthen the city’s defenses. The surprise effect of the attack was supposed to be reinforced by the uprising of the people of Riga, but it did not happen. The Saxon prince himself frivolously amused himself with hunting and with women, was in no hurry to go to war. He arrived in the active forces only in the summer.
The Saxons were able to take the Dinamünde fortress – it blocked the mouth of the Dvina. But the siege of Riga dragged on, the Swedes held out. It turned out that the king did not have enough troops to storm the big city, he had no money to support the army. The morale of the soldiers and officers was low, everyone believed that Riga could be taken only with the arrival of Russian troops. In Moscow, news from Constantinople was expected. On September 15, 1700 August II lifted the siege from Riga.
Meanwhile, the Swedish king was able to withdraw Denmark from the war. In March 1700, the Danes brought troops into the Duchy of Holstein-Gottorp. While the main forces of the Danes were tied up in the south, Karl landed troops at Copenhagen. The capital of Denmark was almost defenseless. The Swedish king, contrary to the expectations of his opponents, showed a talent for a commander. With the help of the Swedish fleet and ships provided by Holland and England, he transferred troops to the walls of Copenhagen. Under the threat of bombing, the Swedish king on August 7 (18), 1700 concluded a peace agreement in Travendaela. Denmark terminated the alliance with Saxony. Copenhagen recognized Holstein’s sovereignty and paid an indemnity.
Thus, Russia’s entry into the war took place in an unfavorable military-political situation. On August 8, 1700, a courier arrived in Moscow with the long-awaited news from the Constantinople ambassador Ukraintsev. A 30-year truce was signed with the Ottoman Empire. The Russian tsar ordered the Novgorod voivode to start a war, to enter the enemy lands and take convenient places. The advancement of other regiments also began. On August 19 (30), Russia officially declared war on Sweden. Already on August 22, the Russian tsar left Moscow, two days later the army set out on a campaign. The first goal of the campaign was Narva – the ancient Russian fortress of Rugodiv.