Rehnsköld: "Will Your Royal Highness tell me, why Poltava should be under siege?"
King: "His Royal Highness the King of Sweden wants to amuse himself until King Stanislaus arrives."
Rehnsköld: "It is expensive as a pastime to have a lot of people shot. Your Majesty could have nicer pleasures."
King (smiling): "If it is my will, so will it be."

Fieldmarshal Carl Gustaf Rehnsköld in conversation with Karl XII at the siege of Poltava in the spring of 1709.

Read and listen

August Strindberg, Karl XII (1901)
Nationalupplagan av August Strindbergs Samlade Verk, 47
Norstedt 1993

Ernst Brunner, Carolus Rex. Karl XII
-hans liv i sanning återberättat

Albert Bonniers förlag 2005

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The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, SIPRI, is an independent international institute for research into problems of peace and conflict, especially those of arms control and disarmament. It was established in 1966 to commemorate Sweden’s 150 years of unbroken peace.



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Hard Rain    No 23    November 6, 2007
The sad tale of Carolus Rex
Ernst Brunner's well documented novel about the Swedish king Karl XII (1682-1718) is equally important and welcome. It is "an authentic field diary" that fascinates and frightens.
There is no lack of knowledge about the awful consequences of violence and war. Even someone completely without a history should at least wake up after last year’s tragedies in Lebanon and Iraq. But there is much indifference and a lot of blinders. That’s why strong stories about the horrors of war are needed.

Ernst Brunner’s novel about Carolus Rex is equally important and welcome. For the young man being trained for war from the age of six and who becomes an absolute ruler already as a teenager, history can only ”end in a bang”. The fact that his father, on his deathbed, urged him to avoid war at any price was quickly forgotten. He was very happy over his first clash with the Danes – and equally disappointed over the speedy peace treaty.

The forthcoming ”victories” appear from the outset to be casualties for everybody involved. At Narva 9 000 Russians were slain or wounded. The king found it really funny when the Russians in wild disorder tried to escape over a bridge that gave way, causing 3 000 soldiers to struggle in the water.

After the battle of Narva 18-year old Carolus felt invulnerable, but he doesn’t seem to be aware of his own strong personal protection, counting 200 elite soldiers. Only 63 of them survived – more or less wounded. He didn’t really want to acknowledge the diseases that followed. 1 200 Swedish soldiers died from field diseases just after a couple of days. The king's interest in his soldiers ended outside the field hospitals.

In Brunner’s novel the king himself tells the story. It becomes ”an authentic field diary” that fascinates and frightens.

Leaving Altranstädt in 1707 the Swedish army counted 40 000 men, but it wouldn’t be long until it was made up of 35 000 ”beggars”. Starvation and misery took heavy tolls on the roads towards Russia. After the defeat at Poltava only 500 remained from the brilliant army leaving Sachsen two years earlier. 7 000 had been killed at Poltava.

  But Carolus Rex was not discouraged. After a detour to Turkey he eventually returned to his native Sweden after 15 years on the battle field. And he still didn’t want peace.

A century before Brunner another Swedish writer, August Strindberg, gives the king a verbal verdict in his play ”Karl XII” (tableau II). He allows persons around the king, in an indirect way, to utter words like: ”enormous ambition, concealed behind a simple surface and a condescending way towards subordinates, whom he in fact despises, as he despises the whole humanity”. And furthermore: ”the most terrible indifference towards the sufferings of others”, ”not being able to forgive”, ”weakness disguised as an immense power, a desperate stubbornness not able to break down his own will”.

This disposition is definitely confirmed in Brunner’s novel. That is also why the novel, with all it’s revealing details, is so convincing. By letting the king himself describe what really happened the reader gets firsthand information from camps and battle fields. No false judgements, no extenuating circumstances, no censorship!

Strindberg places the king and those around him on a stage. It is revealing and credible. Brunner goes all the way. He gives us Carolus Rex live!

David von Krafft, 1706