The Baldwin Library
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CHARLES THE TWELFTH OF SWEDEN.
FROM A CONTEMPORARY PORTRAIT.
LIBRARY FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
CHAMBERS'S LIBRARY FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
THE STIFF-NECKED KING
STORIES FROM THE
LIFE OF CHARLES XII. OF SWEDEN
TRANSLATED FROM THE GERMAN OF
BY JOHN HENDERSON
WILLIAM AND ROBERT CHAMBERS
LONDON AND EDINBURGH
Printed by*W. and R. Chambers
THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
ON the west coast of Sweden, opposite the
Skager-Rack, and at the entrance of the
Cattegat, lies the small and rocky island of
Marstrand, upon which stands a light-house,
whose lofty and massive tower has resisted the
storms and waves for more than a century,
while its clear light has been the means of
warning passing vessels off the rocks and shoals
of that dangerous coast, and of saving many a
valuable ship and crew from danger and ruin.
It is more than a hundred years ago since the
old man who had the charge of the light-house
came out of his little cottage at the foot of the
tower as evening was approaching, and going to
10 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
the edge of the rock on which the tower stood,
cast a searching glance towards the sea, and
then upwards at the sky. After a few minutes'
consideration, he shook his gray head doubt-
"It looks very black yonder in the north-
west," said he quietly to himself. "The sun is
going down in a red haze, and there's a storm
brewing that will blow out the light of life for
many a poor fellow to-night. I wonder if there
are any ships in sight !"
So saying, he took a telescope out of his
pocket, drew it out to its full length, and looked
carefully all round. His hand was perfectly
steady, and his spare but tall and athletic
figure shewed that, although time had left deep
furrows in his weather-beaten countenance, it
had not succeeded in undermining his health
and strength. He stood erect and firm, and
his martial appearance, added to the dark-blue
uniform which he wore, shewed that he had
been a soldier in his younger days. A heavy
moustache, which had retained its original
dark colour, gave his countenance a severe
aspect, greatly softened down, however, by the
mildness of his blue eyes, which combined an
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 11
eagle's keenness of glance with a child-like
and good-natured expression, that attracted all
beholders. Firm and yet kind, Richard Roos,
the keeper of the light-house, was a favourite
with every one who knew him. Even the
children of the little town of Marstrand ran to
meet him whenever he made his appearance,
and stretched out their little hands to receive
some of the treasures which he always carried
in his pockets for them; and many of the older
boys and youths of the town visited him fre-
quently, and often spent whole afternoons in his
For this there was a very good reason. Roos
had been a soldier in his youth under the brave
Charles XII. of Sweden, and was never weary
of relating the various adventures, battles, and
sieges he had passed through. The old man
was very proud of his old commander, and could
never bear to hear any one say a word against
him, although, in spite of all the love and
reverence he felt for him, he was by no means
backward in speaking of his faults, and blaming
them as they deserved. I may be allowed to
say so," he often said, "for I have told him so
to his face, although he sometimes made me
12 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
feel thoroughly frightened by that piercing
look of his. But he was a great hero after all;
even his bitterest enemies must allow that, no
matter how often they have been humbled at
his feet. It was only his obstinacy-his
obstinacy! That was the cause of all his
misfortunes. It is of no use in the world to
be stiff-necked, and to run one's head against
the wall. Remember that, boys! You will
always find that the wall is the hardest, how-
ever strong your skulls may be. The king
tried it, and even he had to give way at last."
But on the occasion of which we are speak-
ing, the old man had no leisure to think about
his former sovereign; for while surveying the
sea with his telescope, his attention was
arrested and absorbed by some vessels in the
distance, which appeared to the naked eye
like white specks on the North Sea.
"Poor fellows !-poor fellows! You will
have a rough evening and a rougher night, I'm
afraid," he said to himself. "In half-an-hour's
time the storm will burst, and drive you right
on to the rocks. But they are taking in their
sails, I see. I hope they have not waited too
long. They seem active and resolute, so they
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 13
may get through it all right, after all. May
God be with them in their danger !"
That is a friendly wish, Mr Roos," said the
powerful voice of a tall man in the uniform of
a colonel, who, accompanied by a youth, had
approached the old man unobserved, and had
heard the last words he had spoken. The
light-house keeper turned round quickly, and
gave his visitors a military salute.
Good-evening, Colonel Sparre," said he in
a cheerful tone. "What has procured me the
honour of this visit? for, if it is not anything
very particular, I would really recommend you
not to lose much time in getting home. We
shall have such a storm in a quarter of an
hour that you will be wet to the skin, and your
uniform will get such a thorough soaking, that
it will scarcely be fit to be seen again."
"That would not be a very serious loss, my
friend," replied the colonel, smiling. "But I
see that you are right, and that a storm is
beating up, so I won't stay any longer.-Do
you think those vessels yonder are in any
"They are in very great danger, colonel,
unless God is with them, and they have brave
14 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
and skilful captains," answered Roos. "I
understand a little about the weather, you
know, for during the twenty years I have been
here, I have had plenty of opportunity to watch
it. It will be a wild night, and the pilots and
fishermen ought to keep a sharp look-out, and
be ready to give any help that may be needed.
There, the rain is beginning! Had you not
better step into my cottage, or will you go back
to the fort ?"
"I can't wait," replied Colonel Sparre, the
commander of the fort and harbour of Mar-
strand, casting a rapid glance at the sky, which
seemed to grow blacker every moment, while
the roll of distant thunder, and the dashing of
the waves against the rocks, betokened the
rapid approach of the storm. "I must go into
the fort, where my presence may soon be neces-
sary; but my son Olaf will remain and keep
you company, if you please. And I will send
you two or three other youngsters, that may be
of service to you, if you have any Tnessages to
send me from time to time.-Good-bye, Olaf; I
will send up your friends Elfdal and Ronne."
"They will all be very welcome either by
day or night," said the light-house keeper,
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 15
shaking hands cordially with the young man,
who wore the uniform of a Swedish cadet, and
might be about fifteen or sixteen years of age.
"They are three fine fellows, colonel, and your
Olaf is not the worst among them.-But would
you like to stay here, Olaf ?"
What a question, Mr Roos! exclaimed the
youth, pressing heartily the rough hand of the
old man. "We are always glad to be here,
especially when you begin to tell us stories;
and as we shall have a nice long evening,
perhaps you will spin us a long yarn."
"I shall be very glad to do so," said the old
man in a friendly tone; but we must wait till
the others come up."
"I will send them up immediately," said the
colonel, shaking hands with his old friend; "but
.don't forget to keep a sharp look-out while you
are spinning your yarns. Farewell till to-
"I hope you will tell us some jolly and
laughable tales," said the.young man.
"No, no, my boy; nothing laughable in such
a night as this is likely to be, when the lives of
hundreds of men will be in danger," said Roos
seriously. "It would be very improper for us
16 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
to be joking and laughing, when the raging sea
is dashing against the rocks at our feet, and the
cry of the drowning mariners mingles with the
howling of the storm. No-no fun or frolic
this time; but I will tell you and your com-
panions something that you will like to hear-
You don't mean your adventures with the
king ?" said Olaf, interrupting him.
Yes, that is exactly what I mean," replied
the old man, as he looked at the light which
had been just kindled, and stroked his beard
thoughtfully. The king was a great man and
a brave prince, and it was only his obstinacy
and stubbornness that brought all the ruin and
humiliation upon us which we have suffered.
The story will do very well for to-night, and
you shall hear it. He was great and powerful,
and as impetuous as the sea that is foaming
around us; but as dangerous and unapproach-
able as the stormy sea, when his self-will had
taken possession of him. It is a wonderful
history that of Charles XII., and fortune
favoured me so much, that I was a sharer in
many of his adventures. I think the story of
his life has a great many points that may be
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 17
instructive to you, and as I hear the door
shut down below, I suppose your friends have
Yes, here we are, Mr Roos," said a young
cadet in a bright and cheerful tone, as, accom-
panied by another in similar uniform, he opened
the door of the tower. We are going to have
a stormy night, and it was no joke coming here
in such a pouring rain."
But Mr Roos has promised to tell us about
Narva, Bender, and the Turks," said Olaf; "so
you had better sit down quietly and listen."
"I will do that with all my heart," replied
Elfdal.-" Is it really true, Mr Roos ?"
"Yes, yes," said the old man, as he noticed
with pleasure the enthusiasm of his young
visitors: "I will tell you about Charles's youth,
and his active daring life, and then of his
sad death, which plunged the land in distress
and sorrow. And you must pay special atten-
tion, Elfdal, for there is a great deal of
obstinacy and stubbornness in your character,
I'm afraid, for I have very often seen you
strongly inclined to run your head against the
"Oh, oh !" exclaimed the young cadet, "you
18 TIIE STIFF-NECKED KING.
are coming down on me rather strong. You
know, sir, boys will be boys."
"But they must remember that they will
some day be men, if their lives are spared,"
replied the old man; "and the sooner they
begin to be sensible and prudent the better.
If Charles had always asked himself if his plans
were wise and reasonable, he would have saved
himself a great deal of misery, and Sweden
would not have sunk to its present low condi-
tion. I shouldn't have been here for the last
twenty years watching this light, if Charles had
lived a few months or weeks longer. But as it
is so, I must be satisfied with it.-But now,
take off your cloaks, and hang them up to dry,
and then we will sit down comfortably."
The young men obeyed his instructions; and
having taken a long and careful look seawards,
and attended to the light, old Roos sat down,
while the storm was raging without, and began
the story which his youthful companions were
so anxious to hear.
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 19
"BEFORE I tell you anything about King
Charles," said he, "I ought to say how it was
that I came into contact with him, and how he
came to know me, and think me worthy of any
favour and regard.
It was in this way. I was a young fellow,
about a year or two older than yourselves, for I
had passed my sixteenth birthday, when I went
to Stockholm and joined the army. I was tired
of the quiet drudgery of farming life, and had
no taste or liking .for the plough or the sickle,
To ride a horse, and handle a sword or musket,
was my great desire. My mother was dead, or
she would perhaps have kept me at home in
Dalecarlia by her tears and entreaties; but my
father had been a soldier in his youth, and used
often to speak of the pleasures and enjoyments
he had experienced; besides this, he was poor,
his farm was very small, and as my elder
20 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
brother would be entitled to the first share, and
nothing but a beggar's life was in prospect for
me, he was very glad that I felt such a longing
for a soldier's life, and the excitement of the
camp, and instead of discouraging me, he
painted the military life in such bright colours,
that my desires grew stronger every day.
At last my father said to me: 'Well,
Richard, if you are really in earnest, we will
start off to-morrow morning, and I will go with
you to General Steenbock, who used to be my
captain, and say a good word for you. But
remember, my boy, there is no compulsion. If
you become a soldier, you do so of your own
.' It is not only my own free will,' I replied,
'but my greatest wish. So let us go to Stock-
We were ready for the journey the next
morning before the sun had peeped over the
top of the hill into our valley, and my brother
Sven came with us part of the way. We parted
with tears, for we loved each other as brothers
should; but it was impossible that we could be
always together. If I had remained at home, I
should have had to go as servant on some farm,
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 21
and I thought to myself it was better to serve
After Sven had parted from us, we proceeded
on the journey to Stockholm, which we reached
safely. As my father knew the town well, we
were not long in finding our way to the gene-
ral's quarters. My father having given his
name as an old soldier of the 12th Regiment,
we were soon admitted. The general looked at
him for a few seconds, then smiled, and shook
'Roos, my good old friend, are you still
alive ?' he exclaimed. 'I had some difficulty in
recollecting your face; but age doesn't make us
'Pardon me, your excellency,' answered my
father; 'you have not become younger, but I
should have known you had I met you in the
street; for the old look, and the moustache, and
the upright gait are there still. Your excellency
has often enough frightened us with your
'There were plenty of good-for-nothing fel-
lows among you,' said the general, laughing;
'and it was necessary to be strict with them.
But you were always a brave fellow, Roos; I
22 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
recollect you well. What has brought you to
Stockholm? Is there anything that I can do
'Yes, your excellency,' replied my father.
'Look at this youngster. Do you think he will
make a soldier ?'
I may say without vanity that at that time I
was a tall good-looking fellow, with well-formed
limbs, and in excellent health. When my
father began to speak about me, I drew myself
up to my full height, and gave the general a
military salute, in accordance with the instruc-
tions my father had previously given me. The
general looked at me from top to toe, and
,'Your son, Roos?'
'My flesh and blood, your excellency.'
'Well, I think we shall be able to make
something of him,' he said in a friendly tone.
'He can stay here, and if he conducts himself
properly, he shall go into the crown-prince's
regiment of guards. You need not give your-
self any anxiety about him, Roos. He shall be
well looked after and taken care of, if he behaves
He then called a soldier from the adjoining
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 23
room, told him to take charge of me as a recruit,
and to see that I was well drilled, but, at the
same time, kindly treated. I said farewell to
my father, who parted from me with a few
heart-felt words, exhorting me to be brave and
attentive to my duties, and I saw no more either
of him or my brother Sven.
My new life was very uncomfortable at first.
I was pleased with the uniform, but the ever-
lasting exercise soon wearied me. But I did
my duty, and found a great many things of
service which my father had taught me, so that
my officers were very well satisfied with my
progress, and gave a good account of me to the
general, who inquired about me several times.
As soon as I had learned the drill, I was put
into one of the companies, which pleased me
much better than being a recruit; and, through
my good behaviour, I was soon looked upon as
one of the best men, and received the favour of
the general, who in a short time kept the
promise he had made to my father, and sent
me into the regiment of life-guards, which
was under the command' of the Crown-prince
The prince was then eleven years old, but I
24 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
soon observed that. he knew as much about
military affairs as many officers who had served
for several years. The regiment consisted en-
tirely of picked men, and we were diligently and
severely drilled under his own command. We
had to work hard, but every one did his duty
willingly, for Charles knew us each by name,
and never asked us to do more than he did
himself. It was easy to see that he would
make a thorough warrior. He did not live like
a prince at all. His. uniform was very simple,
and was only distinguished from ours by a
shoulder-strap of gold lace. Instead of a bed of
eider-down, which he could easily have had, he
preferred a simple mattress with a light cover-
ing, under which he slept summer and winter.
He paid but little regard to the weather. When
the hour came, we had to go on parade, no
matter whether it was storm or sunshine-
whether we were melted by the heat, or
benumbed with the cold. But he treated us
very well, and we had the less reason to com-
plain of anything, from the fact that he was
always with us himself; and every man was so
devoted to him, that I believe we would have
gone through fire and water to please him.
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 25
This is not a mere figure of speech, for I
once went into the water for him without his
orders, but just because I liked him so much.
It happened thus: I was standing sentry at the
gate of the palace leading out to the garden,
when the crown-prince came out to play at ball
with some of his companions, among whom were
the young Count Brahe, Count Sture, Count
Oxenstiern, and others belonging to the best
families of the land. I was glad to see that the
prince was the cleverest of them all. But after
they had enjoyed themselves for some time, the
prince struck the ball with such force that it
went over the head of Count Sture-who ought
to have caught it-and fell into the lake. The
prince was very angry, and told Count Sture to
get the ball out again. 'It is worth more than
a hundred thalers to me,' said he, 'for I
received it as a present from my grandfather
only yesterday. Into the water at once, Sture,
and fetch it!'
The poor young fellow stood there blushing
and confused. 'I can't swim, your highness,'
he murmured. 'I should be drowned, and your
highness cannot possibly wish that.'
'Drowned or not, I must have my ball again,'
26 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
cried the prince in a fury. 'If you can't get it
out, then let some one else. You, Brahe, or
Oxenstiern; I must and will have it!'
With this he stamped on the ground, and
looked as angry as if he would have flayed them
all alive. For their part, however, they shewed
very little inclination to spoil their fine clothes
for the sake of a miserable ball-not to mention
the risk of losing their lives-and moved away
from the edge of the water. Seeing, that the
prince was almost mad with rage, I thought it
was time enough to step in and offer my ser-
vices, especially as I could swim like a duck.
Besides which, I had noticed the spot where the
Pardon me, your highness,' said I; 'if you
will give me permission, I think I can dive for
the ball easily.'
This restored peace and smiles to the party,
and the prince asked me if I could swim,
saying at the same time that the lake was
'If it were twice as deep, your highness should
have your ball again,' said I. 'But your high-
ness is well aware that I cannot leave my post
without orders, and'-
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 27
'You are quite right,' said he, interrupting
me.-' Sture, relieve him, and take his musket.'
To stand as sentinel for a few minutes was
far more pleasant to the young count than
jumping into the water; so he took my place,
and, pulling off my coat, I plunged into the
lake; and finding the ball, swimming to the
bank, and returning it to the prince, was the
work of only a few minutes.
'You have done that first-rate, Roos,' said he.
'You please me very much. There is a thaler
for you.-And now,' he continued, turning to
the others, 'you can take out your purses and
recompense my brave guardsman for sparing
you a cold bath. For, if he had not done it,
one of you would have had to jump in as sure
as I am the Crown-prince of Sweden.'
The ypung gentlemen were very glad to get off
so easily, and, having received four or five thalers,
I put on my coat again, intending to resume my
post, but the prince would not hear of that.
'March to your quarters,' said he. 'You
mustn't stay here in wet clothes, and get your
death of cold.'
'But the guard, your highness ?'
'Don't trouble yourself about that; we will
28 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
mount guard till the next relief comes.-You
can take the musket now, Count Brahe,' said
he, and Oxenstiern will take it next.-Fare-
The prince was responsible for my having left
my post, and I went to the guard-house to
report myself. The officer in command stared
when I told him what had happened, and sent
a patrol at once to the gate; but the prince
sent it back again; and from that time forward I
was in high favour with him. He often sent for
me when I was off duty, and asked me to tell
him stories, over which he sometimes laughed
heartily. He was generally in a very good
humour; but whenever a spirit of obstinacy took
possession of him, he was very difficult to deal
with, I can tell you.
I was a witness one day of a quarrel between
him and his grandmother, whom he generally
regarded with the greatest respect and affection.
He wore the uniform of his regiment, and, as I
stood sentry at the door of the palace, I noticed,
from the way in which he spoke to one of the
servants, that he was in a passion. The door
being ajar, I could hear everything that went
on; and when his grandmother made her
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 29
appearance, he flew at her, as if glad to have
some one to vent his rage upon.
'My coat is black, is it not ?' he asked.
'No, my boy,' the lady replied, in a soft and
friendly tone; I think you will find that it is
'It is black!' screamed the little fury.
'It is blue,' repeated his grandmother.
'But I tell you it is black!' exclaimed the
prince, stamping with his foot, and making such
a noise that everybody in the palace wondered
what was the matter. The good old lady had
to give way at last, and declared that the coat
was black, although it was the colour of the sky
'Well,' thought I to myself, 'if you weren't a
prince, what a sound thrashing you would get
for such behaviour. But I took good care not
to let him see what I thought, especially as I
saw that for the least trifle he would have flown
in a rage at me. Fortunately, however, my
uniform was all right, my musket clean, and
everything in order; so that he could find no
fault with me, even if he had wished to do so.
SBut I was not to get off, for, seeing perhaps that
I didn't approve of his conduct, he got as red
30 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
in the face as a turkey-cock, and roared out:
'Roos, is my coat black or blue ?'
'I beg your highness's pardon,' said I, hoping
to get out of the affair; 'a soldier under arms is
not allowed to have any opinion.'
'But I command you to give me an answer,'
he exclaimed, with a look that was rather
threatening. 'Black or blue ?'
I was vexed that he spoke to me in such an
angry way, and was determined not to give up
everything to the obstinate fellow, so I said:
'Black, your highness! As black as a corn-
For the first moment he seemed annoyed,
then he smiled, and all his passion disappeared.
'Black as a corn-flower, you scoundrel ?' said he
in the best humour in the world. You are a
brave fellow, Roos. If you had said I was
right, it would have been all over between us.
I am satisfied with you, as I was before about
the ball at the lake.'
'I am very fortunate in being able to give
your highness satisfaction,' said I; 'but you
shouldn't put a poor soldier to such a test, when
he aren't venture to contradict you.'
'You are quite right,' he replied; and I saw
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. S1
him afterwards offer his hand in the most polite
way to his grandmother, and lead her into
another room, where I have no doubt he begged
Thus was it always with him. Violent and
foaming, stubborn and obstinate, when he met
with opposition, and yet a person that could be
wound round one's little finger with a little care
and management. He had a very peculiar dis-
position, and retained it almost unaltered to the
end of his life.
On another occasion, on a bitterly cold day
in winter, he took a fancy to go out for a sleigh
ride, and took me with him, greatly against my
will. I rode behind him in the sleigh, cracking
a long whip, and two mounted servants followed.
We dashed through the streets at such a rate,
that every one flew to the windows to see what
was the matter; but, paying no attention, we
went on and on until the horse stopped, and
positively refused to stir another step. It
turned out that a low wall was in the way,
which the prince had not seen on account of its
being nearly covered with snow. The prince
tried all he could do to urge the animal forward,
but it wouldn't move; and one of the servants,
32 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
who longed to be home again, suggested that he
should turn back, and try some other road.
Get off your horses, you lazy fellows,' he
answered in a rage. 'Tear down the wall at
once You shan't be able to say that the crown-
prince turned back from a miserable wall.'
The servants drew very long faces, for the
orders of the prince were by no means agreeable
on such a cold day; but it was useless to object,
and in a short time the obstacle was removed,
and we continued our drive without turning.
He acted in this way so often, that it was
evident his head was not formed of the usual
materials. But, on the other hand, he fre-
quently shewed that under proper guidance
his determination could be productive of the
best results. His tutor had very great difficulty
in teaching him Latin. The prince refused to
learn, and utterly detested the grammar. After
exhausting all his reasoning powers, the tutor
gave the matter up, telling his royal pupil that
he could neglect Latin if he pleased, but would
never be regarded as a great monarch.
'How is that ?' he inquired.
'The answer is very simple,' replied the tutor
drily. 'Every great monarch knows Latin, and
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. S3
even your neighbour, the king of Denmark,
speaks it fluently.'
Give me the grammar, then,' said he; and
from that time he devoted himself to the
language with a diligence that was as great
as his obstinacy had been. It was just the
same way with French. He could be led as
easily as a child, if people only knew how to
stimulate and satisfy his ambition.
The love of war took possession of his soul at
a very early age. Nothing pleased him so much
as to read about battles and sieges. Alexander
the Great was a special favourite of his; and I
once heard him say to his grandmother, that he
would be satisfied to die at the age of thirty,
like Alexander, if only he were famous like
The worthy lady was alarmed at such a
remark, and tried by all the means in her power
to turn his wishes into another channel; but
she might just as well have tried to carry water
in a sieve. General Steenbock saw what a
liking the prince had for fighting and warfare,
and made him a present of twenty-four snall
metal cannon, with powder-waggons, balls, and
everything complete. I happened to be posted
84 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
at his door, and saw the glee with which he,
unpacked them, and had soon to put my musket
in the corner, and load the cannon for him,
while he pointed them and fired, jumping with
joy whenever he hit the mark, which, to tell the
truth, he rarely missed. The next morning
before daybreak he went to the general to thank
him for his capital present, and soon became so
expert, that he would have been a match for
the first artilleryman in the army.
It was about this time that he gave another
striking proof of his obstinate determination.
There were two maps hanging in his father's
cabinet-one of a town in Hungary, which the
Turks had taken from the Emperor Leopold;
and the other of the town of Riga, which at
that time belonged to Sweden. Under the first
were written the words of Job: 'The Lord gave,
and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the
name of the Lord.' Charles read the inscription,
and looked thoughtfully at the two maps for a
few minutes, then, seizing a pencil, wrote under
the map of Riga: 'The Lord gave, but no d-1
shall take it away.'
He had the misfortune to lose his father when
he was only fifteen years of age. According to
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 35
the law of the land, he was old enough to ascend
the throne; but, out of regard to the recklessness
he had always shewn, his father ordered in his
will that he should remain under the guardian-
ship of his grandmother till he was eighteen.
The young prince was very indignant at this;
but, being fond of the old lady, he yielded
without hesitation for a year, and would have
gone on quietly for five years more, had not
some one stirred up the desires that were smoul-
dering in his heart, and fanned them to a flame.
He was present at a review on one occasion, and
was so lost in thought, that Piper, a councillor of
state, who rode beside him, inquired the cause.
I was thinking,' replied the young king
quietly, that I am old enough to command
these brave fellows myself, without being under
the government of a woman.'
'If your majesty will permit,' said Piper
hastily, 'I will wager my head that within.
three days you shall be proclaimed sovereign.'
Charles looked at him with some astonish-
ment, but said nothing. His silence was enough
for the artful politician, who laid all his plans
cleverly; and in three days Charles was pro-
claimed king of Sweden. When the Archbishop
36 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
Svebilius had anointed him in the cathedral,
and was about to crown him, his face grew red
with anger, and seizing the crown, he put it on
his head himself.
He was now king; and the world was soon to
find out that he intended to be a ruler, and not
a puppet. Up to this time, he had not troubled
himself about state affairs. He had been pres-
ent sometimes at the meetings of the council;
but as he had always spent the time in joking
and laughter, nobody thought that he had the
least talent for government. Foreign powers
looked upon him as a light-headed boy, whom
it would not be difficult to deprive of a large
slice of his kingdom; and Russia, Poland, and
Denmark prepared to make war against him.
The excitement in the Swedish council was most
intense, and Charles attended the meeting which
was called upon the receipt of the news. The
councillors were in the greatest state of alarm
at hearing of the preparations that were being
made by the neighboring powers, and no one
seemed able to suggest any measures of defence.
While they all sat dumb and distracted, the
young king rose from his seat, and addressed
the council with great dignity.
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 37
'Gentlemen,' said he, 'I have never been
inclined to commence an unjustifiable war; but
I shall never conclude peace with any foes who
may provoke me to a contest, until I have
humbled them in the dust. I will attack the
first one that declares war against me; and
when I have vanquished him, I hope that all
the others will be afraid to follow his example.
-My decision is made. May God protect the
He left the council without another word, and
soon gave proof that he.had not uttered empty
phrases. While he was engaged in bear-hunting,
a pursuit of which he was very fond, a courier
brought him word that the Saxons had fallen
upon Livonia, and that the king of Denmark
had attacked his brother-in-law, the Duke of
Holstein. In an instant he was all fire and
flame. The hunt was at once given up, and in
a very short time Charles resolved to go to the
rescue of his relative. We received orders to
embark without loss of time; and on the 8th of
May 1700, the young king, accompanied by an
immense crowd of his people, who regarded him
with wonder and admiration, went down to the
harbour, and set sail for Copenhagen. He went
38 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
forth to earn his first laurels, and victory at-
tended his footsteps; but Stockholm, his capital,
he was never more to see.
Every one on board the fleet was in good
spirits and full of hope, and we reached Copen-
hagen without any accident, where we were
reinforced by some English and Dutch ships,
and immediately blockaded the port. The
Danes were not a little surprised at our bold-
ness; but they began to be seriously alarmed
on finding that Charles was preparing to land.
The water being too shallow for the large vessels
to approach the shore, he went on board a small
sloop with a party of grenadiers, and made his
way to the land amid a shower of bullets.
I was able to see everything that happened,
for as soon as I saw the king make preparations
for a land attack, I managed to get into the
same boat, and was so near to him that I could
have touched him. Monsieur Guiscard, the
French ambassador-a brave man, who was
always true to the Swedes--stood beside him,
and I could easily hear every word that was
In the first excitement, the king paid very
little attention as to whether any one followed
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. S9
him or not, and was rather surprised to find
Monsieur Guiscard standing behind him.
My dear ambassador,' he exclaimed, 'you
have nothing to settle with the Danes. Pray,
'No, no,' answered the brave Frenchman;
'my master the king has sent me to your
majesty, and I hope I shall not be refused per-
mission to attend a court which was never so
brilliant as now.'
Charles laughed, and made no further objec-
tion. And we should soon have reached the
shore had not the water again become so
shallow that we were in great danger of stick-
ing fast. The king grew very impatient,
grasped his sword, and leaped into the sea,
crying: Let every brave Swede follow his
We all rushed after him, and waded on shore,
with the water up to our waists, in the face of
a vigorous fire from the Danes, who had in-
trenched themselves on the banks. On the way
I heard the king ask General Stuart, who
marched at his side, what caused the whizzing
noise that he heard.
'The bullets, your majesty,' was his answer.
40 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.'
'The sound pleases me,' said the king. 'It
shall be my music for the future.'
He had scarcely uttered the words when a
ball struck General Stuart on the shoulder, and
a lieutenant, who was on the other side of the
king, fell dead on the spot. With one spring I
was at the side of the general, but couldn't
help observing that the king took the affair,
which was certainly no joke, in a very cool way,
and seemed no more alarmed than if he had
encountered a shower of peas.
'Bravo, Roos!' he exclaimed. 'Assist the
general.-Forward, my boys-forward! The
sooner we get out of this, the sooner we shall be
able to drive the Danes out of their intrench-
To get fairly on shore, and put the enemy to
flight, was the work of a few moments, and we
soon had such a position as gave us a complete
mastery over the town. We had no sooner
made preparations for the bombardment, than
they sent deputies begging that the town might
be spared; and Charles, who was neither cruel
nor blood-thirsty, agreed to withdraw his troops
on condition of receiving four hundred thousand
thalers, and a regular supply of provisions for
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. '41
his soldiers as long as he remained, which he
promised to pay for on delivery.
It was scarcely necessary for the king, to
make the latter promise, for he was master,
and might make any demands he chose; but it
was so faithfully kept that the peasants brought
so much food into our camp, that even the
inhabitants were glad to come and buy
Of course, there were a great many who
would very gladly have got the food and kept
their money; but they knew well that any
disobedience would have brought them to the
gallows in five minutes. In such things Charles
was very rigorous, and the best possible ,order
and discipline was constantly maintained.
We very soon settled with the Danes. When
the king, who was in Holstein, heard what was
going on at Copenhagen, he found that it was
necessary to make peace with us without delay.
In less than six weeks, Charles had silenced his
first opponent, and was able to say, like Casar:
' Veni, vidi, vici !'
But there were other enemies far more power-
ful than Denmark to contend with. The Czar
Peter of Russia laid siege to the town of Narva
42 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
with a force of eighty thousand men. Charles,
however, never inquired the number of his
army, but led us against him. When Peter
heard that we were marching to attack him, he
was afraid that his large army would not be
strong enough, and hastened into the interior
to bring up forty thousand more, to repulse our
handful of Swedes, leaving the troops before
Narva in the command of General Croy.
It would have been a matter of very little
difficulty for a general with such an army, and
nearly a hundred and fifty guns, to have taken
a small fortress like Narva, which was only
defended by two thousand Swedes. But they
were commanded by General Horn, a brave
and determined man, who had kept his ground
for nearly two months, notwithstanding the
overwhelming force opposed to him. It was a
point of honour for Charles to march to the
help of his beleaguered general; while Croy did
all he could to hinder our advance, by sending
thirty thousand Russians against us, who were
posted about five miles from the town, and were
supported in the rear by twenty thousand Stre-
litzers, behind whom there was another force
of five thousand men; so that before we could
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 43
reach Narva we had to defeat and disperse an
army of sixty thousand.
That was a hard nut, and it required pretty
good teeth to crack it. But Charles had shewn
us at Copenhagen that he had strong jaws, and
we should have followed him blindly without a
particle of doubt into the face of death itself.
On landing in Livonia we were twenty thou-
sand strong; but the king was far too impa-
tient to march with such a force against the
enemy. He selected four thousand cavalry,
and the same number of infantry, and started
with eight thousand Swedes to attack eighty
thousand Russians who were strongly posted.
For every Swede there were ten Russians; and
the enterprise might justly be reckoned fool-
hardy in the extreme. The common soldiers,
and especially those of us who belonged to the
life-guards, disregarded the number of the
enemy, looking upon the king as an army in
himself; but the officers were not so sure of
success, and an old general shook his head
seriously. When Charles observed this-for
very little escaped his notice-he rode up, and
looking at the general sharply, said: 'Do you
doubt, general, that with eight thousand brave
44 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
Swedes I can conquer eighty thousand Rus-
'Your majesty was certainly very successful
at Copenhagen,' he replied; 'and, after all,
nothing is impossible with God.'
'Then I may take it for granted that you are
of my opinion,' continued Charles. 'You see
I have two advantages over the enemy-in the
first place, they will not be able to use their
cavalry; and secondly, they have no oppor-
tunity in such a narrow space to employ so
many men, and so I shall really be the
The old general seemed satisfied with the
explanation, when another officer remarked that
a French general, under whom he had fought,
used to say before battle that if the Almighty
remained neutral, the enemy would be thor-
But instead of being praised for his irrever-
ence, the officer was rather startled when
Charles turned round upon him with a severe
glance, and replied curtly: 'Monsieur Siquier,
that general of yours spoke like a great
The blockhead had forgotten that the king
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 45
was as much distinguished by piety and the
fear of God as by bravery.
We soon reached the advanced-guard of the
enemy, posted in a narrow defile, which a few
hundred men could have defended against an
army; but such was the fury of our attack,
that they fled in the utmost confusion before
us, scattering terror and panic through the
ranks of the troops in the rear, and the whole
multitude retreated without offering any opposi-
tion, so that the march of the king to relieve
Narva was only hindered for about an hour,
although fifty or sixty thousand men had been
arrayed against him.
Thus far we had succeeded; but the hardest
work was still to be done. After a long march,
we had before us an intrenched camp of eighty
thousand men, supported by a hundred and
fifty guns; but, without giving us time to take
breath, Charles gave the order, 'Forward!' and
the watchword, 'With God's help and away
The sight of the enemy's camp was not very
encouraging; but the king gave us no oppor-
tunity to indulge any fears or fancies. As soon
as our guns had made a breach in the Russian
46 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
breast-works, the attack was ordered, and we
went in at the double with fixed bayonets. It
was a perfect miracle that we were not slaugh-
tered, every man of us. But God's help was
with us. The confidence of our leader in the
God of Battles was not to be put to shame. A
tremendous snow-storm came on, and the wind
being at our backs, drove the snow into the
faces of the Russians; and the weather being
dreadfully cold, they were blinded and be-
numbed, and could make no resistance after the
first half-hour, during which, to tell the truth,
they stood their ground manfully. Charles
fought like an old general, and shewed an
amount of heroism and cool bravery that aston-
ished even his own men, and inspired their
courage to the uttermost. He seemed to be
in every part of the field at once, encouraging
and directing us. A spent shot struck him on
the shoulder; but he simply screwed up his face
a little, had the wound hastily bound up with a
handkerchief, and was into the thickest of the
fight again, when his horse fell dead under him.
Seizing another, he mounted again, but had
scarcely done so, when a cannon-ball took off
the poor creature's head. He then mounted a
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 47
third horse, saying quietly: 'I really believe
those fellows wish to teach me horsemanship!'
He was not alarmed in the least at the danger
to which he was exposed, and was always at 'our
head, where the fire was the hottest. Soon
afterwards, his horse fell with him in a swamp;
and in getting up again one of his boots stuck
fast in the mud. I was close behind him, and
seeing that he had lost a boot, pulled off one
of mine, and offered it to him; but he refused
it, and continued the battle with one boot on
and the other off.
At last, after three hours, which I shall never
forget as long as I live, we were masters of the
field. The Russians fled. But the fight was
not over, for we had only had to do with one
wing of the enemy's army. Charles, however,
was not to be hindered. With four thousand
men, he attacked the remaining forty thousand,
and drove them to the river Narva. They
poured over the bridge in the wildest con-
fusion, so that it broke down, and many
of them perished in the icy waters. Flight
was now impossible, and the remainder of
the army surrendered. The king received
the generals courteously; and having kept
48 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
the principal officers, sent the rest to their
Charles shewed on this occasion that he was
not destitute of humanity. When the question
was being discussed after the surrender, as to
what was to be done with the prisoners, one of
the generals savagely proposed to make mince-
meat of them; but the king turned round upon
him with indignation, saying: 'If thine enemy
hunger, feed him;' and gave orders that they
should all be supplied with food-an act of
kindness which saved the lives of many who
had escaped the sword, only, as it seemed, to
die from hunger-and then told his adjutant,
Baumann, to read aloud the latter part of the
eighteenth chapter of Matthew, containing the
parable of the servant that owed ten thousand
talents. 'Do you hear. that, general?' said he.
'If the Lord has given us ten thousand talents,
we need not grudge our fellow-servants a
That was the sort of man our king was!
Always devoted to God's Holy Word, which
he carried with him constantly, and never
neglected even when engaged in warfare. I
often used to see him reading it, and always
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 49
found him friendly and good-natured after-
wards. A brave and noble man, if only that
accursed obstinacy hadn't spoilt everything!
Well, in the meantime night had come on,
and the king rolled himself in his cloak, and
slept on the bare ground, notwithstanding the
cold. The newly-fallen snow was his bed, and
the clouds of heaven his covering. His dreams
were not likely to be very pleasant, for the
right wing of the Russians was still in full
force, and able to crush us altogether, had it
been the will of God. But that very night we had
a proof of what a wise thing it was to be kind
to our enemies. General Vede, who commanded
the right wing, having heard of the mildness
with which Charles had treated the prisoners
who had fallen into his hands, sent an envoy
to the young conqueror, and offered to submit
upon the same conditions. The king sent him
word that he would be satisfied if the general
appeared at the head of his troops, and laid
down arms and colours before him. Accord-
ingly, thirty thousand Russians marched past
the king and his officers with bare heads, and
laid down their weapons at his feet. Our army
of seven thousand men--for a thousand had
50 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
been killed or wounded in the engagement-
stood under arms in parade order, and we were
not a little proud of the astonishing success of
our young king's bravery.
The czar was not very well pleased to hear of
the defeat of his large army; but he was a great
man, and bore the news with composure. 'I
know,' said he, 'that the Swedes will often beat
us again, but they will teach us at last how to
You may well suppose that the battle of
Narva was an unpleasant subject for a long
time to the Russians. When they had recovered
from their first astonishment, they were at a
loss to conceive how it was possible that an
army of eighty thousand men could be so com-
pletely routed by such a handful of Swedes;
and many of them declared that we had used
some magical influence, and that our king was
in league with Satan, and was proof against
musket-balls and sword-thrusts. But this was
mere childish folly. Our magic consisted only
in the heroism of the king, and the favour of
Heaven in sending the snow-storm to blind and
confuse our foes.
Everything prospered with us then. After
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 51
thrashing the Danes and Russians, we gained a
great victory over Augustus, the king of Poland
and elector of Saxony, in the year 1703; and
having taken possession of Poland, and put
Stanislaus on the throne, we concluded a peace
which secured great advantages to Sweden.
Charles was then at the summit of his power
and fame. The whole world feared and respected
him, and his army was regarded as the bravest
and most devoted in Europe. The emperor of
Germany sent ambassadors to the court of
Sweden, and granted complete freedom of con-
science to the Protestants of Silesia, at the
request of Charles. Everything seemed to com-
bine to increase his glory, and he stood in
the sight of all Europe as the most envied of
monarchs. But everything suddenly took a
different turn, and the star of the king's fortune
began to pale. The season of prosperity and
success was over, and a long day of sorrow and
distress was before us. We were doomed to fall
beneath the power of the Russians, whom we
had so signally defeated at Narva.
What a blessing it would have been had
Charles been content to live in peace and enjoy
his laurels! But fate seemed to urge him
52 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
onwards. We had been quartered in Saxony
for more than a year at the expense of the
inhabitants, and the king had not only accumu-
lated a large. amount of treasure, but had
strengthened his army by twenty thousand
men, when orders came for us to prepare to
march. We were all in the greatest glee,
expecting to return to Sweden, from which we
had been absent for so many years; but our
hopes were soon dashed to the ground. We
marched into Poland, and soon found out that
war against our old enemy, the Russian
emperor, was the order of the day. It was
not long before we came to hard blows. At
Hollowsin, in the neighbourhood of the river
Dnieper, we encountered General Menchikoff,
with twenty thousand Russian grenadiers, and
nine regiments of cavalry. An attack seemed
impossible, for they were protected in front by
a small but greatly-swollen river and a wide
morass, and on each side by thick woods. Some
of our generals proposed to bring up the
artillery, and construct pontoon-bridges; but,
as usual, the king would hear of no delay; and
without even waiting till all the infantry had
come up, he plunged into the stream, followed
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 53
by the guards and all the army. We got
safely across, although the water was up to our
breasts, and attacked the Russian intrench-
ments with great energy. They stood their
ground with great bravery, and drove us back
half-a-dozen times; but nothing daunted, we
rushed upon them again and again, and at last
carried all before us. The enemy fled in con-
fusion, leaving us in possession of eight thousand
men and thirty-six guns.
This was a very promising beginning, and
the czar even sent a messenger with an offer of
peace; but Charles was so lifted up with pride,
on account of the victory, that he haughtily
replied: 'I will talk about that after I have
entered Moscow.' Peter was greatly incensed
at such an answer to his proposition, and
said to his officers: 'My good brother
Charles always imagines himself to be Alex-
ander, but I hope he will not find me a
But I see the lamp is beginning to burn
dim, young gentlemen, and before I go on any
further, we must attend to it; for if it were
once to go out, there is no knowing what would
54 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
be the consequence, especially on such a night
The interruption was not very pleasant to
the young cadets, but they jumped up promptly
and assisted their old friend; and in a few
minutes the light blazed out over the face of
the storm-tossed sea as brightly as ever.
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 55
HAVING attended to this important part of
his duty, the light-house keeper carefully sur-
veyed the stormy scene without, and listened
attentively for any signals of distress from
vessels in danger; but nothing was to be heard
save the roar of the hurricane, and the dashing
of the surf at the foot of the rock on which the
tower was built. He was therefore able with
a quiet conscience to resume his seat and his
"We left off," said he, "at the point where
Peter had made a proposal for peace and
friendship with our king, which he rejected so
indignantly. It was a great mistake to do so,
for he might have obtained almost any terms
from the czar without firing another shot; and
he had won so many battles, that there was no
need of another victory to establish his fame.
56 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
But he was determined to have his own way;
and, as I said before, his obstinacy was the ruin
We might have done very well, nevertheless,
had we marched straight on Moscow without
delay; but our plans were disturbed by a secret
envoy from Mazeppa, the hetman of the
Ukraine. This man, whose history had been
very romantic, had been made prince of the
Cossacks, a large and semi-barbarous tribe to
the south of Russia; but as the Russian yoke
was very distasteful to him, he had determined
to shake it off, and become the independent
ruler of the Ukraine. He assured Charles that
if he would enter his country, he would support
him with an army of thirty thousand men in
breaking the power of Peter. In an evil hour,
Charles suffered himself to be dazzled by the
proposal; and instead of marching upon Moscow,
we turned our steps towards the Ukraine, where
we were to receive provisions, money, clothing,
and whatever else we might stand in need of.
To tell the truth, we were in a very different
condition from that in which we left Saxony;
and there is no doubt that the promises which
he received from Mazeppa of a full supply of all
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 57
the munitions of war, was the principal reason
which induced Charles to go so far out of his
way. The numerous marches, skirmishes, and
all the other hardships of war had reduced our
forces to the appearance of a horde of ragged
beggars. We were destitute of shoes and stock-
ings; and the attempts to protect ourselves with
the skins of wild animals, made us look more
like a parcel of savages, than the orderly army
whose discipline had a short time before been
the wonder of Europe. But we kept up our
spirits, for we were going, as we thought, to a
land flowing with milk and honey, ahd were
in daily expectation of Lowenhaupt with rein-
forcements and help from Poland.
But our luck was turned, and everything
seemed to go against us. I would rather go
anywhere, or suffer anything, than experience
the horrors of that march a second time.
Hungry, and almost naked, we wandered
through woods and swamps, losing our way,
and, what was worse, losing our cannon in the
boggy ground. At last, after twelve terrible
days, we reached the banks of the Desna; but
instead of meeting Mazeppa at the head of a
Cossack army, and furnished with an abundant
58 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
supply of provisions, we found ourselves face to
face with a large force of Russians, prepared to
give us a warm reception.
What was to be done ? Retreat was impos-
sible, for we should have died of misery and
starvation. It was evident that we must
either conquer the Russians, or be utterly and
for ever destroyed; and we did conquer them,
although it was with great loss, and turned out
to be of very little advantage to us in the long-
run. Peter had discovered Mazeppa's treason,
and prevented him from carrying out his inten-
tions by sending an army to the Ukraine.
After we had defeated the Russian forces,
Mazeppa joined us with five thousand men,
instead of the thirty thousand he had promised.
His men were as badly off as ourselves for food
and clothing, and were entirely destitute of
the courage and determination which made
us more than a match for our enemies. The
Russians had seized a large magazine of pro-
visions which Mazeppa had gathered for us,
hanged hundreds of his followers, and dis-
persed the rest. He himself had been declared
an outcast, and hung in effigy on the gallows,
his capital reduced to ashes, and another
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 59
prince elevated to the sovereignty of the
Such were the tidings which our promising
ally brought with him, and you may well sup-
pose that they did not tend to raise our spirits,
or give us much confidence in the success of the
General Lowenhaupt was our last resource.
If he succeeded in bringing up his reinforce-
ments and supplies, all might yet be well. We
waited day after day, and hope deferred made
our hearts sick. At last he came, but in what
a pitiable condition He had left Poland with
fifteen thousand men and several thousand
provision-wagons; but Peter had heard of his
movements, and fell upon him with a large
force as soon as he made his appearance.
Lowenhaupt repulsed the attack with astonish-
ing bravery; but the Russians hung upon his
rear, and at last surrounded him in a swampy
part of the country that was almost impassable,
and renewed the attack, headed by the czar.
The energy of the Swedish forces was so great,
that the Russians began to recoil from their
desperate blows, when Peter declared that
every one should be shot who attempted flight.
60 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
'You may shoot me,' he exclaimed, 'if I should
be such a coward !'
This gave renewed courage to his men, and
they poured down upon the Swedish battalions
like a swarm of locusts. Lowenhaupt defended
himself with the bravery of despair till night-
fall, and then secured a few hours' rest by in-
trenching himself behind the baggage-wagons.
With the first gleam of daylight the attack was
renewed; and finding it impossible to secure
his stores, he attempted to set fire to them,
but the fire did not gain sufficient hold before
the Russians obtained possession of nearly the
whole. Peter offered honourable terms to
Lowenhaupt if he would surrender; but, scorn-
ing such an idea, he pressed on, repulsing the
enemy six times before he succeeded in reach-
ing our quarters.
Instead of improving our position, however,
he made it a great deal worse, for he had lost
the supplies on which we were depending for
our very existence, besides six thousand men,
seventeen guns, and a great many colours.
Our whole force now consisted of twenty-eight
Thousand men-too few for defence against the
enemy, but far too many for our stores of food.
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 61
Up to this time every one of us had borne
the privations and hardships of the campaign
without murmuring, but at last a spirit of
discontent began to make itself felt. It was an
easy thing to fight the Russians, but to battle
with hunger and cold was very different. One
of the officers complained of getting no news
from Sweden. 'What!' said Charles, 'are you
getting frightened at being so far from home ?
If you are a brave soldier, I will lead you to
such a distance from Sweden that you will
scarcely be able to get news from home for
One of my comrades, who had been accus-
tomed to good living when young, ventured to
shew the king a piece of black, mouldy bread,
which was not very plentiful into the bargain,
and asked him if it was fit to eat. The king
took a little of it, ate it quietly, and answered:
' Well, it certainly is not very tempting, but it
is quite fit to eat.' And so we had to eat it
whether we enjoyed it or not, and to be thank-
ful we were not worse off. Our horses had a
very hard time of it, and were obliged to con-
tent themselves with food that no respectable
animal would look at. We could count their
62 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
ribs at a hundred paces off, and many of them
forgot the taste of oats for ever.
Several of the generals begged the king to
retire into Poland, and take up winter-quarters,
instead of remaining any longer in such a
waste-howling wilderness. But Charles refused
to listen to reason, and closed his ears obsti-
nately against their recommendations. Retire
into Poland!' said he; 'that would just look
as if I had run away from the Russians The
winter will soon be over, and I must lose no
time in making my way to Moscow.'
But alas! Charles neither found his way to
Moscow, nor gained any power in the Ukraine,
and the winter proved to be dreadfully severe.
The terrible cold of 1709 will never be for-
gotten by any of those who passed through it,
and least of all by us soldiers who suffered from
it so frightfully. The frost was so intense from
the beginning of January to the middle of
February, that a great many of our men were
frozen to death. The Baltic Sea was frozen
over as late as the beginning of May, so that
people could travel upon it in sledges, and even
spirits of wine froze during some of the coldest
THE STIFF-NECKED KING; 63
You can form some idea from this what our
sufferings must have been. The abundance of
wood was our only comfort; and the terrible
frost was in one way a benefit to us, for it
prevented either army from carrying on any
operations, and thus maintained an armistice;
but, notwithstanding the large fires that we
kept up, two thousand of our poor fellows lost
their lives, and thousands more would have died
of hunger, had it not been for the help of old
Mazeppa, who proved himself a faithful friend
to us in our distress, and gathered forage and
provisions for us in all directions.
Charles had determined on conquering Mos-
cow, and his iron obstinacy would not permit
him to give way, although our army had shrunk
down to sixteen thousand men by the time that
spring returned. But before we could reach
Moscow, we had to lay siege to Pultava, which
Peter had strongly fortified and provisioned.
The czar tried to induce Mazeppa to return to
his allegiance by a promise of a full pardon, and
reinstatement in his former dignity. But the
old Cossack remained true to his new ally, and
we commenced our movements. Our road led
us through the country of the Laporavian
64 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
Cossacks, whose assistance was wished by both
Charles and Peter. The latter gave them sixty
thousand florins to secure their services. The
rogues took the money, and then, yielding to
the manoeuvres of Mazeppa, who thoroughly
understood how to deal with such uncivilised
people, came over to our side. They were of
very little use to us, but they at least did us
no injury. Two thousand of them joined our
troops, and Charles hired two thousand Wal-
lachians besides, and, with this motley crowd,
we marched upon Pultava like a pack of hungry
wolves on a,store of food, which no army in the
world knew better how to use.
We commenced the siege of Pultava without
delay, but were not rewarded with that ,success
which we hoped for. The town was well forti-
fied, and had a garrison of more than eight
thousand men. We had no guns fit to bombard
the walls, and not men enough to carry the
place by storm. -Our entire artillery consisted
of eighteen guns and mortars, and we were so
wretchedly short of balls, that we actually had
to wait till some were fired at us, but it was a
weary business gathering them up and returning
them to the Russians from our own guns.
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 65
There seemed to be no other way of forcing
the garrison to surrender but by starving them
out, and that not only required a great deal of
time, but great patience, for the Russian stores
were very large.
Everything seemed to go against us. In the
month of June, some Russian troops came to the
relief of the fortress, and General Stackelberg
was sent-against them with orders to crush them
at all hazards; but, unfortunately, Stackelberg
was crushed himself, and our hopes of success
became worse than ever.
The proverb says, 'Misfortunes never come
alone,' and we were doomed to experience the
truth of the words. Charles had been so for-
tunate in all his battles and skirmishes, that he
began to look upon himself as invulnerable, so
that no ball could hit him or sword pierce him.
But this idea was very rudely dispelled at
Pultava, and, when once misfortune set in,
there seemed to be no end to it.
In one of the skirmishes, the king was
wounded by a musket-ball in the left foot, but
no one observed it, and he remained on horse-
back leading the troops for several hours without
paying any attention to it. At last some one
66 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
noticed the blood running from his boot, and
went for a surgeon, and meanwhile the pain had
become so great that the king was obliged to
dismount. After looking at the wound, the
surgeon gave it as his opinion that the foot
must be taken off. But Charles would not hear
of that, and disputed a long time with the
surgeon, till it occurred to me to go for Neu-
mann, the surgeon of our regiment. It was
fortunate that I did so, for Neumann gave hopes
of a cure if several deep cuts were made in the
flesh. To this Charles had no objection. He
took hold of his foot with both hands, clenched
his teeth, and said: Now then, cut away, and
don't be afraid!'
The surgeon performed the necessary opera-
tion, while the king looked quietly on, without
moving a muscle. In the meantime, the news
came that the czar was in movement with his
entire army. Charles shewed his habitual self-
command on hearing this. 'Very well, then,'
he said quietly, 'we must fight a battle to-
morrow.' That was his only answer."
Just at this moment the narrative of the
light-house keeper was suddenly, interrupted.
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 67
He started to his feet, opened the window,
and put his head out, without troubling himself
about his gray hairs being soaked with the rain,
and blown about by the wind.
"Whatever is that ?" exclaimed Olaf Sparre,
who had hastened to the window with Elfdal
"It is a gun being fired by some ship in
distress," answered the old man. "There is
"I see the flash of another gun," cried Elfdal.
"Listen-you will hear the report in a second
"It is a ship that is in danger of running on
the rocks," said old Roos. "But it may be
saved if a pilot puts off immediately to the
assistance of the crew.-Run down to the fort,
Olaf, and ask your father to send off a pilot.
If they get help in time, they may yet be
Olaf seized his cap, and was off with the
greatest speed. Elfdal and Ronne were about
to follow him, when Roos exclaimed in a prompt
tone: "Elfdal may go, but Ronne must stay
with me; I may want help, and two are quite
enough to go down to the fort."
68 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
The young man returned without hesitation,
while his two companions flew, upon their errand
as if they had been carried upon the wings of
"If the pilot-boat is in readiness," said the
old man, "we don't need to fear for the safety
of the vessel and her crew. In the meantime,
let us look after the light again."
They went up to the lantern, and while they
were engaged in attending to the light, the
weather appeared to moderate. The rain ceased
by degrees, the clouds broke up, and allowed a
few stars to be seen here and there; and soon
the moon shone down upon the heaving bosom
of the sea, which was white with foam, and
revealed in the distance'the form of a large ship
with closely-reefed sails, which seemed to be
struggling bravely against the fury of the storm.
There she is-there she is said the light-
house keeper, pointing towards the sea. "Do
you see her, my boy ? If they only keep out of
mischief for another ten minutes, all will be
"I see two pilot-boats going off, sir," exclaimed
the youth. They have hoisted sails, and are
flying across the waves like sea-gulls."
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 69
"Where, where?" inquired the old man.
"One must have good eyes to see such nut-
shells on a dark night.-Yes; there.they go.
The danger's all over, I think. They must be
bad pilots if they don't get her safe into the
harbour, now that they have our light and the
moon too. We shall soon see how they steer,"
he continued, as he stood gazing at the vessel.
Unfortunately, however, a blaqk cloud came
over the face of the moon, and shrouded every-
thing in darkness. But the wind continued fresh,
andin a few minutes the sky was once more clear.
The old soldier uttered a loud cry of joy.
"There, my boy, it is all right," said he. "They
have just passed the rocks, and will be able to
anchor quite safely in a quarter of an hour.
The help came to them just when they most
needed it. If Colonel Sparre had not sent you
up here this evening, we should very likely have
had to mourn the loss of hundreds of lives; for,
although they could hear the guns in the fort,
they couldn't see where the vessel in distress
was. How your. two friends must have run!
They couldn't have been more than five minutes
getting to the fort. The ship has come to an
anchor. All is safe!"
70 TIlE STIFF-NECKED KING.
The vessel which a few minutes before had
been in the greatest danger was now riding
securely; and the light-house keeper, having
taken a sharp look all round, to satisfy himself
that no other ship was in sight, or exposed to
any peril, returned with his young friend to his
"I think there is nothing more to fear this
time," said he, smiling. "The storm seems to
have exhausted itself, and the sky is getting
clear, so that the outline of the coast is quite
plain-so, if you wish to rejoin your companions
now, I have no objection."
"But it is only just ten o'clock, Mr Roos,"
replied the young man; "and I daresay Olaf
and Elfdal will be back directly, for they will
want to hear the rest of your story."
"Oh, -it's the story that keeps you here,
then!" said the old man in a pleased tone.
"Well, you shall hear it, and the others too, if
they come back, but I fancy they will stay down
"No, no; they are not so stupid as that,"
exclaimed the fresh clear voice of Olaf Sparre,
as he returned with Elfdal and a stranger.
" We are back again-a little wet certainly, but
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 71
quite well and lively, and we shall soon get dry.
Father sends you his compliments, and.is much
obliged for sending us at the time you did. A
few minutes later, and all would have been lost.
He will take care that your watchfulness is
reported to the proper quarter; the pilots got
on board just in time to get her clear of the
"We saw it quite plain from the tower," said
Roos. "It is a very dangerous spot to anybody
who doesn't know the right channel. What is
the name of the ship ? She seems to be a large
"Yes, that she is," replied Olaf. "She is the
Torstensohn, a sixty-gun frigate, and one of the
finest in the Swedish navy. And this gentle-
man that we have brought with us came as a
passenger, and will be glad to listen to your
story, if you will permit him to do so."
Mr Roos looked at the stranger, who was
rather young, and of a very attractive and
winning appearance, and then gave him a
cordial greeting, and begged him to be seated.
I can offer you very little,'".said he, but a
warm room, and a little chat about some of my
72 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
"That is exactly what I shall enjoy," replied
the stranger. "I heard from my young friends
here that you had been a companion-in-arms of
our heroic king, and took the liberty of coming
to make your acquaintance. I hope you won't
let my presence disturb your narrative, for I
knew the king, and saw him shortly before he
received that unfortunate wound at Fredericks-
"Is it possible ?" asked the old man aston-
ished. You must have been very young then."
"Yes, I was with my father, who was in
the king's service, and wished me to become
acquainted with the toils of a soldier's life."
"Then we are old comrades," said the keeper;
"for I was at Frederickshald, and helped to carry
the king into his tent. I am really delighted
to see you."
Preparations were then made for tea, and,
after the meal was over, the old man took up
the thread of his tale where it had been inter-
rupted by the guns of the Torstensohn.
"It was at Pultava that I left off, if I mistake
not," he began. "Well, while Charles was under-
going the operation upon his foot, he heard of
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 73
the Russian preparations; and, without per-
mitting the pain he suffered to interfere in the
slightest way, he laid his plans for the following
day. In the evening, he gave the necessary
orders, and then lay down to sleep, as if nothing
particular had either happened or was to be
expected. At daybreak hl gave orders for the
advance. We were not deficient in firmness,
but our forces were so ridiculously small, that
we had no hope of winning the day agaifist the
host that opposed us. The czar was advancing
with an army of sixty-five thousand men, and
a hundred and thirty cannon; while we had only
four cannon and a very small body of troops,
part of whom had to be left behind, to prevent
our being attacked in the rear.
Our hearts sank within us when we saw the
enemy: the field was covered with them as far
as the eye could reach. Retreat was, however,
impossible, and we determined to conquer or
die. The generals rode from rank to rank
inspiring our courage, and reminding us of
Narva, where eight thousand Swedes had
defeated eighty thousand Russians; and the
king, who refused to stay behind, cheered us by
his presence. As he was unable to ride, he was
74 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
carried in a litter, and commanded the army in
person. The battle commenced by an attack
from our cavalry, under General Schlippenbach,
upon the Russian cavalry, which was conducted
with such force, that their squadrons were
broken and scattered like chaff before the wind.
We shouted that the day was ours, and so it
certainly would have been, if one of our generals
hadn't made a mistake. He should have attacked
the fugitives in the flank with five thousand
horse, but he allowed the right moment to pass,
and the czar took advantage of the opportunity
to re-form them, and succeeded in breaking the
ranks of the Swedes, and taking Schlippenbach
prisoner. The infantry was then ordered to
advance; but we were received with such a
volley from the Russians, that whole ranks were
mowed down at once, and the remainder; unable
to face such a deluge of fire, gave way. One
misfortune came after another. Menchikoff
forced his way with a large body of troops
between us and the fortress, and thus cut us off
from the rearguard of our army and the bag-
gage. Everything fell into the hands of the
Russians. The king seemed to be everywhere at
the same time, especially where the danger was
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 75
the greatest. The horses attached to his litter
were shot soon after the litter itself was
shattered-but he never wavered. He had
himself removed to another, and still continued
to direct the operations of the soldiers, who were
being rapidly reduced in numbers. But all his
bravery was of no avail against such overpower-
ing forces, and the whole Swedish army turned
and fled. The king persisted in remaining,
although he was unable to fight; but at last,
almost by main force, he was mounted on a
horse, and, collecting five hundred cavalry, we
forced our way off the field through several
Russian regiments. Even during his flight, the
unfortunate king was followed by mishaps.
The horse was shot under him, but we got
possession of a carriage, and succeeded in escap-
ing with him from the scene of death and ruin.
'Let us go to Turkey,' said he. 'The day is
It was a sad truth: the battle was lost, and
the whole Swedish force also. It was an un-
happy day that 8th of July 1709. General
Lowenhaupt afterwards rallied the scattered
remnants of our men, but only to be captured
76 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
When so many blows were going, it was not
surprising that I should get one or two, but I
managed to keep close to the king all through
that miserable flight. The sun was intolerably
hot, and we had to make our way through
sandy deserts where not a human being was to
be seen, and where both food and water were
very difficult to get. Our journey lasted five
terrible days, and we were followed by the Rus-
sians the whole time. Even when we reached
the Turkish frontier, our difficulties were not
over; for the Turkish authorities wouldn't permit
so many strangers to cross without permission
from the seraskier of Bender, and so much time
was lost in sending to and fro, that the Russians
managed to take several of our party prisoners
before we gained refuge among the unbelievers.
There we were at last, fugitives under Turkish
protection! Our great king, who had always
been a conqueror whenever he drew the sword;
who had dethroned one monarch, and purposed
a similar fate for the Russian czar; who had
dictated laws to the Roman emperor, and made
all the rulers of Europe tremble; he who had
known no opposition to his will, was sunk so
low as to be thankful to escape with his life!
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 77
I don't know whether Charles ever repented
the obstinate ambition which had received such
a terrible check, for not a word of complaint or
sorrow ever escaped his lips. He was always as
quiet and composed as, if he had still been at
the head of an invincible army; but the objec-
tions which his generals had made to his last
fatal expedition must have often occurred to his
mind. He often sat with wrinkled brow and
clenched teeth, and seemed to be in a deep
reverie, from which he woke with a start when
any one entered the room. At such times, the
reflection must have forced itself upon him, that
had he been satisfied with the position he had
reached after the battle of Narva, when all
Europe envied him, much misery would- have
been spared, and many lives saved. But as
I just now said, he never gave the least
sign of having encountered any misfortune;
and whatever his inward thoughts may have
been, his countenance was always calm and
The Turks gave us a most cordial and friendly
reception. As soon as the seraskier, or gover-
nor, of Bender heard of the arrival of Charles,
he sent a general to welcome him, with the
78 THE STIFF-NEaKED KING.
assurance that everything he might wish was at
his service. He was received like a conqueror.
The whole garrison marched in review before
him, a royal salute was fired, and the finest
building in the town was given to him for his
residence. Instead of this, however, Charles re-
quested that tents might be pitched for him in
an open spot near the fortifications; which was
immediately done, although his followers had
increased in the meantime to nearly two
thousand, and there we camped in the open air,
and lived like Tartars. Our wants were abund-
antly supplied, for besides giving us large
quantities of provisions, the sultan sent a purse
of gold to the king every morning, containing
about three hundred thalers. But in spite of
all these comforts, it was impossible for us to
forget that we were poor fugitives, and more
like prisoners than anything else.
This did not seem to trouble Charles, though,.
for he was already engaged in devising new
plans of carrying out his designs against Russia,
in which he hoped to secure the assistance of
the Turks. He sent an ambassador, to Con-
stantinople, to use all the efforts that were
possible to induce the sultan to declare war
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 79
against the czar; but although he succeeded in
gaining the influence of the mother of the
sultan, weeks and months passed by, and noth-
ing was done. We might easily have returned
home by sea in some ships that the French
ambassador offered to the king, which would
have been the wisest course to follow; but
Charles had unfortunately made up his mind to
drive the czar from his throne with the help of
Turkey, and it would have seemed shameful to
him to go back to Sweden again like a returned
fugitive, and so we remained, and got by degrees
quite at home. Our camp was gradually changed
into a regular little town; for the officers and
men began to build cottages, partly for the sake
of greater comfort, but principally because they
were thoroughly weary of doing nothing for so
long a time.
This, however, lasted only until the king's
foot was better. As soon as he could mount
his horse again, the old restless soldier's life
began once more. He was up before daybreak,
tired out three or four horses every day with
his incessant riding, and had us drilled till we
were ready to drop with fatigue. He was
always in a good humour when this was going
80 THE STIFF-NECKED KINGi
on, and his -head was filled with the most ex-
tensive plans for the future. There was no
scarcity of money. The sultan sent him large
subsidies, and the French ambassador also, and
his credit was good with the merchants in
Constantinople. Unfortunately, however, all
this money ran through his hands like water.
It was necessary to bribe the Turkish pachas
and other great men, to induce them to support
his plans; and no sooner had he received any
supplies than they were scattered with the
greatest profusion. Baron Grothusen was his
treasurer, and squandered the royal funds with
the greatest recklessness. On one occasion he
laid an account for sixty thousand thalers
before his master, with the remark that eigh-
teen thousand had been divided among the
Swedes and janizaries, and the rest spent in
'That's the way I like to have accounts,'
said the king; 'but when Muller has anything
to pay, he makes me read over page after page
of figures, all about a few thousand thalers.'
'But, your majesty,' said I-for I had been
ordered on duty in the king's tent-'if Baron
Grothusen manages the money long in that
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 81
way, I fear that we shall soon have to take up
the beggar's staff.'
'Don't you talk about things that you don't
understand, Roos,' he replied laughing, and
giving me a -box on the ear, which he often
did when he was in a good humour. 'I only
give my money to people who know how to
'But it will be a serious matter, your majesty,'
said I, when all the money is gone.
'Oh, it won't be so bad as that, Roos,' said
he in a more earnest tone. 'Besides, money is
only the'means to gain an end, and whoever
wishes the end, mustn't spare the means.'
Our talk was thus ended, and the squandering
of the money went on just as it had done
We continued to live very comfortably in our
little camp, and there was no lack of visitors
from Constantinople and other places, attracted
by curiosity to see the king, whom they stared
at like a wild beast; and when they found that
he drank no wine, and celebrated divine worship
twice every day, they declared that he was a
. In the meantime, we thought that the Turks.
82 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
would at last draw their swords, and join us
against the Russians. But our hopes were dis-
appointed. Our ambassador at Constantinople
had nearly succeeded in his object, for the
grand-vizier, or prime-minister of the, sultan,
gave him a purse of a thousand ducats, and
said: 'I will take your king in one hand, and
my sword in the other, and lead him to Moscow
at the head of two hundred thousand men.'
But we soon found that his fine words meant
nothing. He took bribes from us and from the
Czar Peter at the same time. Peter had cap-
tured a large amount of treasure from us at
Pultava, and. with this he was able to play a
very important part against us; so that, from
the moment he began to make presents to the
vizier, all hopes of a Turkish alliance with
Sweden were at an end. The Russian envoy soon
grew bold enough to demand that Mazeppa, the
noble old fellow to whom we had been indebted
for our lives, should be given up to him; and I
am very much afraid that the Turks would have
yielded to this outrageous demand, had the poor
man, who was threescore years and ten, not
died just at the very time. He went on further
to say openly that we were only prisoners: of
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 83
state in Turkey, andthat the Turkish regiments
which the sultan had sent were not a token of
honour, but were rather a guard to prevent our
escape. The rage of the king when he heard
of this may be easily imagined; but what could
we say or do ? The fact was that the Russian
envoy spoke the truth; Charles would very
gladly have gone to Constantinople himself-
but there was just the difficulty-he had to
remain quietly at Bender against his will!
Yes; we were doomed to be humbled to the
uttermost! Charles, who had hitherto been
so powerful and absolute, had to stoop to
petition the sultan. Supposing that he was
ignorant of the bribes which his grand-vizier
had taken, our envoy was instructed to inform
him, and to complain of the way in which we
were treated. But this could only be done in
a round-about way, which was very disgrace-
ful. Count Poniatowsky, the Swedish am-
bassador, wrote a letter to the sultan in the
name of his sovereign, and paid a Greek a
large sum to force his way through the guards,
and put the letter into his hands as he went
into the mosque. But instead of a satisfactory
answer, Charles received a present from the
84 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
sultan of five-and-twenty Arabian horses, one
of which was saddled and bridled in the most
sumptuous style, and a letter filled with flowery
compliments which was so devoid of meaning
that he tore it to pieces in a rage. In addition
to this the grand-vizier behaved as if he were
entirely ignorant of the complaints which the
king had made, and sent him also five splendid
horses. The king accepted the sultan's present,
but sent back the others with the message:
' Go and tell your master that I never receive
gifts from my enemies !'
In this way we spent a couple of years in
Turkey; and it seemed as if we were doomed
to grow old and gray there, since Charles had
made up his mind not to stir until he had a
Turkish army under his command. He never
troubled himself about the state of affairs in
Sweden. He received his regular subsidies-
which, however, he did not look upon as an
alms, but rather as tribute from the Turks-and
left everything else to the care of Providence.
At last, affairs seemed to become a little
brighter. The sultan had convinced himself
that his grand-vizier was a great scoundrel,
and had made him a head shorter, and:
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. '85
appointed Kiuperli as his successor-an honest
and honourable man, and very favourably dis-
posed towards us. He sent the king a large
sum of money, with the friendly advice to use
it for his travelling expenses, and not to
lose time in returning to his home and king-
dom. Charles took the money, but persevered
in his iron obstinacy, refusing to move from
the spot without a Turkish army. Soon after
this, Kiuperli was dismissed, and another'vizier
appointed, who, having ascertained that the
mother of the sultan was in favour of Charles,
determined to attach himself to the Swedish
interests; and succeeded so far in this respect
that the Turks actually declared war against
There were, several very good grounds of
complaint on the part of Turkey. The Russians
had not respected the Turkish frontier as they
were bound to have done, and had committed
several depredations. No sooner was war de-
clared, than the Russian ambassador and all
his attendants were made prisoners, and an
army of two hundred thousand Turks marched
against Peter, who had only fifty thousand men
under his command. The delight in our camp
86 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
was unbounded, and was only damped by the
fact that we were obliged to remain quietly
Everything was successful. The Turks soon
surrounded the Russian forces, so that they
found themselves unable to move. In addi-
tion to this, they had only provisions for a few
days, and therefore gave themselves up for lost.
Count Poniatowsky, who accompanied the Tur-
kish army, advised the Turkish general not
to fight, but to starve the enemy into submis-
sion, like mice in a trap; and sent a courier to
Charles with the news of the hopeless condition
of the Russian army.
But while Charles was full of hope, and his
enemy Peter was sunk in despair, the Ruler of
nations was arranging everything-' Man pro-
poses, but God disposes.' Peter shut himself
up in his tent, and gave strict orders that no
one should disturb him. Everything seemed
lost; but it was the will of Heaven that he
should be saved from ruin, and that through
the instrumentality of his wife Catharine. When
all the generals and councillors, and even the
czar himself, were at a loss to know what to
do, she forced her way into her husband's tent.
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 87
in spite of all the orders to the contrary, and
implored him with tears to permit her to make
one attempt to secure peace. She had written a
letter to the grand-vizier, who was in command
of the Turkish forces, and begged the czar
to sign it, assuring him that matters could not
possibly become worse than they already were.
After much difficulty, she induced him to com-
ply with her request; and then, having gathered
together all the money and jewels that she
could get, she sent them with the letter to the
Turkish camp. Two hours passed away, the
messenger did not return, and the general
anxiety became overpowering. Catharine at
last gave up all hope, and Peter came to the
determination to force his way through the
surrounding troops at the break of day on the
following morning, and ordered all the baggage
to be burned, to prevent its falling into the
enemy's hands. The women in the Russian
camp began to weep bitterly when they heard
the order, lamenting that nothing was before
them but death or slavery. The officers did all
they could to cheer up their men, exhorting
them to sell their lives as dearly as possible,
although their own hopes were at a very low
88 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
ebb. The whole camp was in a state of the
greatest excitement and alarm, from the czar
down to.the drummer-boys, when suddenly all
their fears were changed to joy and gladness,
by the officer's return with a favourable answer
from the Turkish headquarters. Catharine's
letter and presents had worked wonders, and
the grand-vizier sent back the comforting reply
that he would grant a suspension of hostilities
for six hours, if the czar would send him his
prime-minister to arrange conditions of peace.
This was like a message from Heaven to
Peter and his whole army, but was at the
same time a complete frustration of all the
schemes of our envoy, and he tried his utmost
to put every hindrance in the way of the nego-
tiations. But it was all of no use. The grand-
vizier came to terms very quickly, for he had
no love of fighting; and he thought he had
done quite enough in securing the return of
all that Turkey had lost in the former war with
Russia. At first, he had demanded that the
czar should surrender with his whole force,
which he could easily have compelled him to
do; but he afterwards yielded; and, in spite
of Poniatowsky's threatening and dictation,
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 89
concluded a treaty which was very favourable
to Peter. The Russians were permitted to
retire with drums beating and colours flying,
and received abundant supplies of food from
the Turkish camp.
While this was going on, the courier arrived
who had been sent by Poniatowsky to Charles
with the news of the Russians being surrounded.
The impatience of Charles to witness the humil-
iation of his obstinate foe would not allow him
to rest. He mounted a horse, and rode off at
full gallop. So great was his eagerness to reach
the Turkish camp, that when he reached the
river Pruth, instead of crossing the bridge,
which would only have been half-an-hour's ride
out of his way, he dashed into the stream at the
risk of his life, and narrowly escaped being
carried away by the force of the current. He
wouldn't have been in such a terrible hurry had
he known all that had happened! When he
gained the Russian camp, they were just in the
act of marching out, but he rode through the
midst of them to the Turkish quarters, leaped
from his horse at Poniatowsky's tent, and there
heard of the shameful peace which Mehemet,
the grand-vizier, had concluded with the czar.
90 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
. Charles stood speechless, as if struck by light-
ning or transformed into stone, and positively
refused to believe what he had heard. At last
his rage found vent: his eyes glared like fire, his
lips trembled, and his cheeks. became as white
as newly-fallen snow. Rushing full of anger to
the tent of the grand-vizier, he overwhelmed
him with the bitterest reproaches, and urged
him to tear up the treaty and pursue the
Russians sword in hand.
'Good heavens!' he exclaimed, 'how could
you have made such a peace ?'
The vizier, who had preserved a calm and
undisturbed countenance in the midst of all the
angry and insulting remarks of the king, quietly
answered: 'That is my affair.'
But you had the entire Russian army in
your hands!' exclaimed the king.
'The Koran says,' replied the vizier with
unswerving gravity: "Give thine enemy peace
when he begs for mercy."'
But does it command you to conclude a
wretched and shameful peace ?' cried the king,
almost beside himself with rage. 'Could you
not have taken the czar to Constantinople as a
THE STIFF-NECKED KINO. 91
'Yes, quite easily,' was the reply. 'But who
would have governed his empire during his
absence? It won't do for all the monarchs of
Europe to be away from their kingdoms.'
This last remark went, as the speaker in-
tended, right to the heart of Charles, and,
throwing himself down on a divan, he cast a
scornful and contemptuous look at the vizier,
and after indulging in a few more expressions
of disappointment and rage, he remounted his
horse, and rode away with a heavy heart.
If Charles was dissatisfied with the treaty of
peace with Russia, the vizier had great cause
to fear the consequences, if a faithful report of
the matter should be made at Constantinople.
On this account, he did all he could to get us
out of Turkey. A passport through Germany
was obtained from the German emperor, and
an escort of eight thousand men was offered, in
case Charles preferred returning through Poland.
These efforts were of no use; he sent back the
answer, that without a hundred thousand men
he wouldn't stir. The seraskier of Bender was
then ordered to urge his immediate departure,
but the reply Charles made to all his representa-
tions was, that he would hang the first man
92 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
that came to him with any such dishonourable
propositions. In spite of his unfortunate posi-
tion, he was always very prompt in giving
On Charles's return from the Russian and
Turkish armies, he had found his camp at Bender
overflowed by the rising of the waters, and we
had consequently been obliged to move our
quarters to Varnitza, where we began to build
houses for ourselves, as if we had intended to
pass the rest of our lives there. The king him-
self erected a large and commodious dwelling,
and although he was no friend to splendour and
ornament, he furnished it in the most elegant
style, out of spite and opposition to the Turks.
In addition to this, he had a house with offices
built for his favourite, Baron Grothusen.
It was very evident to the grand-vizier that
his guest had no intention of sparing him
trouble, and he therefore did everything to
make his residence as uncomfortable as possible.
The seraskier of Bender was sent to threaten
Charles with the highest displeasure of the sultan
if he did not leave Turkey without delay. The
seraskier was a mild and good-natured man, and
although he was obliged to obey his orders, he
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 93
did so in the most pleasant way. But Charles
laughed at him, and said: 'Yes, yes, I will
leave soon; but Sultan Achmet must first make
me only two promises.'
And what are they ?' inquired the seraskier
pleasantly, hoping that his object was gained.
'Well, in the first place, he must punish the
grand-vizier, and then he must give me a
hundred thousand men to go as far as
The officer went away disappointed and aston-
ished at such a proof of obstinacy and stubborn-
ness, but Charles held fast to the idea which
'had taken possession of him. He had made up
his mind to have a hundred thousand Turks,
and nothing would change him; and, knowing
the extent to which hospitality to strangers was
enjoined by the Koran, he felt able to defy all
the threats of the governor.
The rage of the grand-vizier now began to
rise. He seized all the letters which the king
sent to Constantinople, first, that no complaints
against him might reach the sultan, and then,
that Charles might not be able to get any
money. He then took harsher measures, and
stopped the greater part of his daily supplies,
94 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
and threatened to stop them altogether if the
king remained obstinate. But this had no
effect. Charles gave orders that no expense
should be spared in his household arrangements,
and in order to carry out his determination, it
was necessary to borrow money at enormous
interest from Jews, Christians, and Turks, and
even from his own officers and men.
Charles soon had the satisfaction of causing
the overthrow of the vizier. Count Poniatowsky
drew up a report of the condition which the
Russian army had been in on the Pruth, from
which it was clearly proved that a much more
advantageous and honourable peace might have
been secured for Turkey, if the vizier had not
been a traitor. After some difficulty, this
report was brought to the knowledge of the
sultan, who ordered a strict investigation to be
made. The result was that the ring of the
Empress Catharine was found in the possession
of Osman, the adjutant-general of the Turkish
army, in addition to twenty thousand Saxon
and Russian gold coins. No further proof was
needed, and Osman and the vizier received the
well-deserved punishment of their treachery.
The new vizier, named' Jussuff, seemed to
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 95
promise great things for us. All the payments
that we had formerly received were resumed,
and he readily gave us :everything that we were
in need of. We began to hope that war would
be renewed with Russia, but this soon proved
a mistake; and a letter was received by the
king,'in which the sultan, in the most polite
terms, but with the greatest clearness, pointed
out to him that he must prepare to return to
Sweden before winter. Everything that Charles
required, such as men or money, horses or
vehicles of any kind, should be given to him,
and he was exhorted .to give orders to his sol-
diers to avoid the creation of any disturbance,
or any acts which might tend to a breach of the
There was no'other light in which such a
letter could be regarded than that of an order
to quit the country. But our stiff-necked king
was not in the least disturbed by it. He replied
that he should never forget the great kindness
which the sultan had shewn him, but that he
could not think that the Sublime Porte intended
to send him with a small escort through a
country that was still in the possession of the
enemies of Sweden. So matters remained; and
96 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
he made no preparations for his journey, although
the winter was fast approaching.
The seraskier of Bender pressed the king
more and more, and warned him that if he did
not leave soon, matters might take a very serious
'Well, I must pay all my debts first,' Charles
'What does your majesty require for that ?'
asked the seraskier.
'A thousand purses,' was the answer; nearly
half a million florins.
The seraskier immediately wrote to the sultan,
and -in reply received twelve hundred purses,
with the express condition that they were not
to be given to the king until all his preparations
were made for returning home. But the crafty
Baron Grothusen succeeded in coaxing the
money out of the hands of the easy-going Turk,
and in a very short time the whole of it was
scattered to the four winds of heaven, without
the debts being in any way diminished. We
were again in the same position, and Charles
repeated his request for money.
This was too much even for the patient and
long-suffering Turks. Upon. receiving this new
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 97
demand, the sultan summoned a council of
state, and the determination was formed to
compel the king by force to leave the Turkish
'Giving your majesty the money in opposition
to the strict orders of the sultan, will cost me
my head,' said the seraskier one day to the
'0 no,' replied Charles in a soothing tone,
patting the Turk on the shoulder good-naturedly,
'I will apologise for you to your sovereign.'
'Ah !' sighed the governor, 'your majesty is
not acquainted with my sovereign. He never
excuses those who make mistakes; he executes
When the seraskier received the last message
from the sultan, he returned to Varnitza, and
informed Charles that the patience of his master
was entirely exhausted, and that if he did not
leave without delay, he had received orders to
compel him to do so.
'Obey your master, if you have the heart to
do so,' answered the king; 'but leave mypresence
The seraskier went away with a troubled
look, and from that time our supplies of
98 THE STIFF-NECKED KING.
provisions were cut off, and the Turkish guard
of honour was removed. About four thousand
Poles and three thousand Cossacks who had
gathered round the king were ordered to leave
the camp immediately, and to put themselves
under Turkish protection at Bender, unless they
wished to die of hunger. The fear of starvation
was enough to induce them to comply with the
order without delay, and the king then found
himself supported only by his Swedes, who
remained faithful to him in all his troubles.
Although we were now in a most critical and
dangerous position, the obstinacy of the king
remained as stubborn as ever. Having no more
food for the horses, he ordered twenty of the
finest which he had received from the sultan to
be shot. The camp was then put in a position
of defence. The king's house was fortified as
strongly as possible, every one aiding in the
work from the king downwards; and when-
it was finished, he sat down quietly with
Grothusen and played a game of chess !
Meanwhile, four thousand Turks had taken
up a position opposite to us with fourteen guns
and two' mortars, and the' madness of opposing
them any longer was evident to every one but
THE STIFF-NECKED KING. 99
the stiff-necked Charles. We feared, however,
far less for ourselves than for him, and Baron
Fabrice, one of our officers, fell at his feet and
implored him not to throw away his life use-
lessly. His chaplain joined in the entreaty, and
called the Scriptures to his help to persuade
him not to expose himself to such serious
But Charles listened to these appeals with
the utmost indifference. 'It is your business to
pray for me;' said he to the chaplain, but not
to give me advice.'
Generals Haerd and Daldorf shewed him the
wounds which they had received at his side,
and begged him to give up such a fruitless
'I see,' he replied, 'that we have all fought
bravely together. Let us keep on steadily to
It was evident that Charles was not to be moved
by argument or entreaty, and we had therefore
to prepare ourselves for a hard fight. The
orders were given, and each person took up the
post assigned to him. The king defended his
own house, and the other buildings were assigned
to the different officers of his staff. I found
100 THE STIFF-NEOKED KING.
myself, as usual, in immediate attendance on
The Turks marched against us with loud cries
of 'Allah! Allah!' and, when they were within
hearing, shouted to the king to surrender.
But Grothusen went out to them without
any fear, and tried to quiet them by his
'Why, my old friends,' he exclaimed, 'are you
going to murder a handful of defenceless
Swedes ? Have you forgotten all the benefits
you have received from us? After having made
peace with a hundred thousand Russians when
they cried for quarter, you surely don't intend
to deal harshly with us. The king only asks
for three days' time, and the commands, of the
sultan are not so stringent as you have been led
'No, no; no delay!' cried the seraskier.
We then expected an immediate assault, and
prepared to defend ourselves to the utmost.
But the Turkish soldiers gave a proof of the
high esteem in which they held the king, and
the admiration they felt for his person, by refus-
ing to obey the command, and threatened to