Charles Xi, King Of Sweden
CHARLES XI, KING OF SWEDEN. (1655-1697), the only son of Charles X., and Hedwig Leonora of Holstein-Gottorp, was born in the palace at Stockholm, on the 24th of November 1655. His father, who died when the child was in his fourth year, left the care of his education to the regents whom he had appointed. So shamefully did they neglect their duty that when, at the age of seventeen, Charles XI. attained his majority, he was ignorant of the very rudiments of state-craft and almost illiterate. Yet those nearest to him had great hopes of him. He was known to be truthful, upright and God-fearing; if he had neglected his studies it was to devote himself to manly sports and exercises; and in the pursuit of his favourite pastime, bear-hunting, he had already given proofs of the most splendid courage. It was the general disaster produced by the speculative policy of his former guardians which first called forth his sterling qualities and hardened him into a premature manhood. With indefatigable energy he at once attempted to grapple with the difficulties of the situation, waging an almost desperate struggle with sloth, corruption and incompetence. Amidst universal anarchy, the young king, barely twenty years of age, inexperienced, ill-served, snatching at every expedient, worked day and night in his newly-formed camp in Scania (Skåne) to arm the nation for its mortal struggle. The victory of Fyllebro (Aug. 17, 1676), when Charles and his commander-in-chief S.G. Helmfeld routed a Danish division, was the first gleam of good luck, and on the 4th of December, on the tableland of Helgonabäck, near Lund, the young Swedish monarch defeated Christian V. of Denmark, who also commanded his army in person. After a ferocious contest, the Danes were practically annihilated. The battle of Lund was, relatively to the number engaged, one of the bloodiest engagements of modern times. More than half the combatants (8357, of whom 3000 were Swedes) actually perished on the battle-field. All the Swedish commanders showed remarkable ability, but the chief glory of the day indisputably belongs to Charles XI. This great victory restored to the Swedes their self-confidence and prestige. In the following year, Charles with 9000 men routed 12,000 Danes near Malmõ (July 15, 1678). This proved to be the last pitched battle of the war, the Danes never again venturing to attack their once more invincible enemy in the open field. In 1679 Louis XIV. dictated the terms of a general pacification, and Charles XI, who bitterly resented "the insufferable tutelage" of the French king, was forced at last to acquiesce in a peace which at least left his empire practically intact. Charles devoted the rest of his life to the gigantic task of rehabilitating Sweden by means of a reduktion, or recovery of alienated crown lands, a process which involved the examination of every title deed in the kingdom, and resulted in the complete readjustment of the finances. But vast as it was, the reduktion represents only a tithe of Charles XI.'s immense activity. The constructive part of his administration was equally thorough-going, and entirely beneficial. Here, too, everything was due to his personal initiative. Finance, commerce, the national armaments by sea and land, judicial procedure, church government, education, even art and science - everything, in short - emerged recast from his shaping hand. Charles XI. died on the 5th of April 1697, in his forty-first year. By his beloved consort Ulrica Leonora of Denmark, from the shock of whose death in July 1693 he never recovered, he had seven children, of whom only three survived him, a son Charles, and two daughters, Hedwig Sophia, duchess of Holstein, and Ulrica Leonora, who ultimately succeeded her brother on the Swedish throne. After Gustavus Vasa and Gustavus Adolphus Charles XI. was, perhaps, the greatest of all the kings of Sweden. His modest, homespun figure has indeed been unduly eclipsed by the brilliant and colossal shapes of his heroic father and his meteoric son; yet in reality Charles XI. is far worthier of admiration than either Charles X. or Charles XII. He was in an eminent degree a great master-builder. He found Sweden in ruins, and devoted his whole life to laying the solid foundations of a new order of things which, in its essential features, has endured to the present day.
See Martin Veibull, Sveriges Storhedstid (Stockholm, 1881); Frederick Ferdinand Carlson, Sveriges Historia under Konungarne af Pfalziska Huset (Stockholm, 1883-1885); Robert Nisbet Bain, Scandinavia (Cambridge, 1905); O. Sjõgren, Karl den Elfte och Svenska Folket (Stockholm, 1897); S. Jacobsen, Den nordiske Kriegs Krönicke, 1675-1679 (Copenhagen, 1897); J.A. de Mesmes d'Avaux, Négociations du comte d'Avaux, 1693, 1697, 1698 (Utrecht, 1882, etc.).
(R. N. B.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)