Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Great Leaders: Who was Peter the Great? (Part 3): The Great Northern War

Peter the GreatWith the Battle of Poltava, Russia stroke a crippling blow to Sweden and its King. But the war was not over, it dragged on for another decade, and even threatened to erase what Peter had built. Explore how Peter led his country for the following decade of the Great Northern War.

Aftermath of the Battle of Poltava

With the Swedish army in ruins and its King in hiding in Moldavia, Russia and its allies advanced against Sweden. With Charles XII trapped away from home, Swedish forces throughout his conquest lands found themselves leaderless. Peter and his allies took the opportunity to retake the lands they lose and take what they can from the Swedes.

A month after the defeat of Charles XII in Poltava, King Augustus II marched backed to Krakow with a new Saxon army. He retook his Polish crown and reentered the conflict to expel Swedish forces from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. At the same, other allies also mobilized against Sweden.

The Danes also reentered the war at the same time as King Augustus. King Frederick IV invaded Scania in Sweden itself. After which, he joined forces with the Norwegians to advance further inland.

Peter on the other hand took as much cities and lands as he could. By late 1709, they began to invade Finland and advanced to Swedish Livonia and Ingria. In April 1710, Russians took Viborg. In July 1710, they captured the vital Swedish held city of Riga. All of what Charles XII had gained from the past decade had been taken back by Peter and his allies.

Turkish Interlude

The Turkish Ottoman Empire, however, threatened Russia as the war turned into her favor. The Ottoman Empire had hosted King Charles XII to a settlement in Bender, in the Turkish controlled Moldavia. Charles urged the Ottoman Sultan Ahmed III to declare war against Russia. The Ottoman’s had an interest to favor Charles XII’s demand. Previously, Peter had taken the Turkish held fort of Azov that laid in the mouth of the Don River. Following the fall of Azov, Russia made the Sea of Azov into its own lake, and cemented it by establishing the city of Taganrog. The Turks wanted to retake the Sea of Azov.

On October 29, 1710, the Ottoman Empire declared war against Russia. The Sultan ordered the arrest of the Russian ambassador Peter Tolstoi and raised a 200,000 man strong army to attack southern Russia. In 1711, Peter commanded an army of 25,000 to 40,000 army to face the Ottoman threat. But in a decisive battle in July, 1711, Peter the Great suffered a humiliating defeat since the Battle of Narva a decade ago.

Peter had no choice but to negotiate with the Turks. But luckily for Peter, the terms of the Peace of Pruth did not came severely. The only severe terms from the treaty was it forced Russia to abandon Azov and its newly founded city of Taganrog. The agreement ended the Turkish interlude to the Great Northern War to the dismay of Charles XII. The Treaty of Adrianople in 1713 cemented the Peace of Pruth by re-affirming its terms.

Charles XII tried his best to keep the Ottomans fighting the Russia so that Sweden could take chance to launch a counter-offense against the allied countries of Russia. But his urging became so frantic that it irritated and annoyed Turkish officials. In addition, the Swedish contingent in Bender had become notorious to the Turks.

In annoyance over the attitude of the Swedes, the Turks arrested Charles XII in 1713 and kept him until 1714. Only then that Charles XII manage to escape from captivity and began his journey back to Sweden and to lead his country directly again.

The Turkish interference in the war led to Russia's loss of its gains in the Black Sea during the last decade of the 17th century. Nevertheless, the Russians still had some benefit when in the end, the Turks decided to arrest Charles XII and delayed his return to his country and threaten Russia again.

Continuing Victories and Beginning of the End

The war dragged on for another decade after Peter’s defeat in the Pruth River. Sweden refused to negotiate for peace. Moreover, King Charles XII managed to leave the Ottoman Empire and return to his homeland in 1714 to lead his troops. By 1714, Russia had continued to gain more territories. By May of the same year, Russia controlled most of Finland. 

In July 27, 1714, the Russians struck a resounding naval victory against the most powerful navy in the Baltic, the Swedish Navy, in the Battle of Gangut or Hango as called by some. In the battle, Peter the Great’s new Russian Navy under Admiral Feodor Apraxin captured several Swedish warships. Since then, Russian warships harassed Swedish coastlines. The Danes and her Norwegian allies continued to distract Charles XII in the west. Meanwhile, in 1715, Peter gained more allies when Prussia and Great Britain joined the anti-Swedish alliance. In effect, Europe battered Sweden.

The beginning of the end of the Great Northern War came in the 1718. In November 30, 1718, during the siege of Frederikshald, the great Swedish warrior King Charles XII had been gunned down. Following his fall, her sister Ulrika and her husband Frederick I began to negotiate with other countries to end the long conflict that engulfed the Baltic region. In 1719, Sweden concluded peace with Prussia in the Peace of Stockholm. Another treaty followed in 1720, when Sweden and Denmark signed the Peace of Frederiksborg. Poland ceased to participate in the war by 1719. Russia, however, scored another naval victory in the Battle of Grengham before finally negotiating with the Swedes resulting to the Treaty of Nystad.

The Treaty of Nystad cemented Russia position as the dominant force in the Baltic region and as the great power in European politics. Under the Treaty, Russia gained control of the lands from Riga to Viborg. It meant that Russia controlled the half of the Gulf of Finland and gained access to the Baltic Sea. It controlled Estonia, Livonia, Ingria, and Karelia. In consideration to the Swedes, Peter agreed to return Finland to Sweden. Russia gained substantially from the treaty.

Aftermath of the Great Northern War

The Great Northern War brought greatly affected Peter the Great’s reign and Russia. In a larger perspective, Russia emerged as the superpower in the Baltic and a great power in the European stage. Peter got what he wanted – access to the Baltic Sea. The testament to Peter’s access to the Baltic became visible with his foundation of the new capital city St. Petersburg. Peter’s prestige grew tremendously in the international stage. In 1721, after the war, Peter declared Russia an Empire and he and his successors became Emperors and Empresses.

The Romanovs married off to several high ranking nobles. Such as Princess Anna Ivanovna Romanovna (the future Empress Anna I) who married the Duke of Courland in 1710. Catherine Ivanovna Romanovna married the Duke of Mecklenburg in 1716. And Prince Alexei Petrovich Romanov married Charlotte of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel.

Russia also emerged with a strong and mighty military. It had large army in terms of servicemen and in effect, one of the largest armies in Europe. But the Russian army did not just grew in numbers but also in weaponry. Peter established numerous arms factories to produce modern weapons. He realized his dream of a Russian Navy, with its several warships dominating the Baltic Sea.

But from the view of the majority of Russians – the peasants and the serfs – the Great Northern War brought the worst conditions that they ever imagined. Men from each household had been dragged to serve in the army for 25 years. These men faced battle and threat of hunger, fatigue, and exposure to the elements. Not to mention, harsh treatment and abuses that they might face from their officials. If some did not end up in the military, they ended up working in mines, factories, and shipyards. Conditions there paralleled that of soldiers. Besides losing a family member, heavy taxes to finance the war added insult to injury for many Russians. Many also loss their homes and their livelihoods much to the credit of the scorched-earth policy of Peter in 1708 and 1709 to weaken the Swedish advance.

For better or for worst, the Great Northern War defined Peter the Great’s rule. It showed the resilience of its people and that of its ruler. It showed Peter the Great’s energy to mobilize a country to its full potential and make it from a backwater to a great power. It showed also the greatness of the Russia people to survive the two decade conflict. Indeed, the outcome that Russia emerged as a great power showed the greatness of Peter and his people.

Explore also:
“Great Northern War.” In Wars of the Age of Louis XIV: 1650 – 1750. Edited by Cathal Nolan. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2008.

Boterbloem, Kess. A History of Russia and Its Empire: From Mikhail Romanov to Vladimir Putin. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2014.

Bucher, Greta. Daily Life in Imperial Russia. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2008.

Buskovitch, Paul. A Concise History of Russia. New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Gilbert, Adrian. Encyclopedia of Warfare: From Earliest Time to the Present Day. London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2000.

Kort, Michael. A Brief History of Russia. New York, New York: Facts On File, 2008.

Moss, Walter. A History of Russia Volume I: To 1917. London: Anthem Press, 2005.

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