Great Leaders in History: Charles XII

Proved in battle
Led my men to victory
No man alive or dead commands me
I answer to the Lord

Hear my orders
Question me and die
What I say was said in heaven
And so it shall be done

Sabaton – Carolus Rex

 

Imagine this: your age is fifteen, you are newly declared king, soon after this moment all your neighbors plan and attack your country. What would you do in this situation? You are young, inexperienced in the ways of life, politics and war and you are suddenly confronted with an avalanche of situations that require immediate and diligent solutions.

Charles XII pointing to Russia
Charles XII pointing to Russia. Image source: Wikimedia

This is how Charles’s XII reign started, king of Sweden from an early age and thrown into the Great Northern War between Sweden and  a triple alliance between Denmark-Norway, Saxony-Poland-Lithuania and Russia. Despite being outnumbered in most of the battles that he fought, he was victorious each time, one memorable battle being the Battle of Narva (1700) where Charles defeated a Russian three times larger than his. Let’s see what were the successful military tactics and the human and leadership qualities that Charles XII used in order to prevail against overwhelming odds.

  • He was known for his religious beliefs, his abstaining from alcohol and sex. His contemporaries reported his ability of withstanding pain, a good ability to have given the fact that he led his army from the front and got injured while doing so. He was also known for his sangfroid, cold blood, his composure during moments of danger and mastery over his emotions.
  • He was interested in everything related to war and was interested on how to apply math and science in order to improve the efficiency of his war machine.  He is credited with coming up with an octal numeric system, which is more suitable during the war because the boxes for materials like gunpowder were cubic.
  • During his stay in the Ottoman Empire – he found refuge there after he was defeated by the Russians at the Battle of Poltava – he played chess and studied the Ottoman Navy and naval architecture; his sketches and designs led to the creation of the famous Swedish war ships Jarramas and Jilderim. It should also be noted that during the battle of Poltava, Charles XII was in a coma resulted from the many wounds that he had.