Charles XII was king of Sweden from 1697 to 1718. His time as king was dominated by the Great Northern War. After the sudden death of Charles XI, a five man regency governed Sweden. All five men had been trained by Charles XI but in November 1697, the senior nobility, the very men who had opposed the extension of royal absolutism, offered Charles full power and granted him his majority. Why did they do this?
It is generally believed that the high nobility thought that they could manipulate a fifteen year old boy rather than the 5 regents. After his coronation, the regency faded away but the high nobility badly misjudged Charles.
Despite his age, he was thoroughly versed in politics as Charles XI had frequently taken him on official business with him. Charles was also highly intelligent – fluent in German and Latin with a very good knowledge of philosophy, art, maths and architecture. Charles successfully continued his father’s policy of absolutism and the people of Sweden took to him making a popular rebellion all but impossible.
Charles was a devoted worker who practiced self-denial. He was also brave to the point of folly. Charles lead his men into battle believing that his example would spur on his men to follow his example. It was this belief that saw his death at Fredriksheld.
By 1700, Sweden was in decline when compared to her days under Gustavus Adolphus. Sweden had only prospered when other Baltic states were in disarray. Once states like Russia and Brandenburg got the internal stability that they had not had in previous centuries, Sweden’s position in the Baltic would be threatened. During the reign of Charles, he had to contend with Peter the Great and the rise to dominance of Brandenburg-Prussia under the Great Elector. To maintain her status in the Baltic, Charles embarked on the Great Northern War. He had said that he was “married to the army” and his death in 1718 heralded in a new era for Sweden. In 1719, the civil service, which had governed Sweden during his absence, passed new laws which established parliamentary government in Sweden thus introducing the so-called “Age of Liberty” which ended absolutism in Sweden.