The perils of giving a teenager ‘absolut’ power

I finished my biography of Karl XII of Sweden.  I mentioned his spectacular Battle of Narva earlier and it apparently was that event which set into motion events which would signal the death knell for the Swedish Empire.

Because it seems that after the battle he got the notion in his head that he need not compromise a bit, he could engage all of his enemies at once and refuse all allies.  He undertook a foolhardy invasion of Russia and when he was defeated and unable to return home (that would be retreat after all, and Karl was most definitely NOT going to retreat) he went down to the Ottoman Empire and hung out there for several years playing silly games while Sweden was getting the snot kicked out of it by its neighbors and careening towards complete fiscal collapse.

At one point he was at war with Russia, Prussia, Denmark, and Saxony and refused offers from Britain and others to mediate a truce.  Sweden’s diplomats pulled off amazing offers of peace from its many belligerents only to have them rebuffed by the king who demanded the most outrageous concessions.

He seems to have had some serious psychological problems with an outsized affinity for war and a bit of a death wish (he would typically set up his tent within range of enemy guns) and he died while observing his forces engaged in a siege at Fredriksten, very close to the enemy fortifications.  Repeated pleas by his men to take cover were ignored and he was shot in the head by the Norwegian defenders.

So, if you’re ever in a moment of reverie about the Enlightenment, remember this whole enlightened monarchy thing was all still a crap shoot.

Still, there’s nothing saying Sweden’s glory days are over.  While the current king is a bit too nice to take up the conquering trade, but the next in line for the throne has got some military chops under her belt.  And Norway has to be even more attractive now that it has all that oil…


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