Early Modern Europe – Charles XII and His Retreat to Bender

Charles XII and Mazepa at the Dnieper River after Poltava by Gustaf Cederström

The conflict known as the Great Northern War began in 1700. King Charles XII was opposed to Czar Peter the Great of Russia, Frederick IV of Denmark and Augustus II of Saxony. While Denmark and Saxony were not a big concern for Sweden, this was not at all the case of Peter the Great’s Russia.

The greatest trial was the well-known battle of Poltava of 27 June 1709, when the 30.000 Swedes of Charles XII were defeated by the almost double in size army of Peter the Great . Several thousands prisoners were then taken by the Russians, while Charles XII and his ally , Hetman Mazepa , managed to save themselves by passing the borders into the Ottoman Empire and arriving in Bender (Tighina) together with approximately 1.500 troops.

Arriving in Bender

Certain difficulties arrived at the crossing of the Bug river, and the royal convoy had to resort to buying extraordinarily expensive, but extremely necessary nonetheless, supplies from the Ochakiv Pasha.

Charles XII reached Bender on the 1st of August 1709, when he was received with royal honours by his friend, the seraskier (General) Yusuf Pasha. Initially the Swedes were offered tents to live in, as it was the custom for the military camps of the time. Cannon volleys were shot in honour of the new guests and Yusuf Pasha warmly welcomed them in the name of Sultan Ahmed III, even offering Charles XII the keys of the city and inviting him to live within the city walls.

Why did Charles XII stay in the Ottoman Empire?

Provided King Charles XII really wanted to return to his territories it is hard to believe that he would have been stopped. The ongoing War of Spanish Succession was coming to an end, which meant that the attention of the other European Powers would again turn towards the East, and consequently to limiting Peter the Great’s ascension.

Almost all the Great Powers offered to help Charles XII when receiving news of his retreat to the Ottoman Empire: France offered to send a ship to the Black Sea in order to bring him home, while the Dutch came with a similar offer; Austria offered him free pass through Hungary and the Holy Roman Empire, but Charles XII refused all these offers, also maybe in the desire of avoiding a shameful appearance in his capital, after having achieved so many victories in the past.

Peter the Great and the Battle of Stanilesti (1711)

In 1711, Peter the Great’s army was joined by the army of the Moldavian Prince Dimitrie Cantemir. Together they would suffer a defeat at Stanilesti on the Pruth river (18-22 July 1711) , on which the Czar commented that it was just like Charles XII’s defeat at Poltava.

Charles XII visited the camp of Grand Vizier Mohammed Baltaci and Khan Devlet II Giray and congratulated them for the great host that they assembled, also noticing in irony that it is a pity that great army would not actually get to fight. He was referring to the Treaty of Husi that had been agreed upon by the Ottoman Empire and the Russians on the 21st of July 1711.

Charles XII’s Departure and Return to Sweden

Peter the Great’s breach of the Treaty of Husi made Sultan Ahmed III remove Mohammed Baltaci from the office of Grand Vizier, to which Yusuf Pasha , a statesman favorable to Charles XII, was appointed.

When the situation started looking like there would be a new conflict between the Russian and the Ottoman Empires, a new treaty was signed, to the dismay of Charles XII of Sweden, who started thinking it might be the time for returning to Sweden.

But now Augustus II the Strong of Poland and Peter the Great denied him safe passage, while the Ottomans were also not eager to meet his increasing demands (and escort of 6.000 sipahs and 30.000 Tatars, plus a loan).

Thus, King Charles XII of Sweden had to remain for another 2 years in the Ottoman Empire.

Initially he was “invited” to Demotika (or Demotiki ) (12 February 1713, near Adrianople, today Edirne), from where he would depart on 20 September 1714, passing to the Holy Roman Empire through Wallachia, and arriving back to Sweden, where in honor of his admiration for the Ottoman navy he would build the Jarramas (Yaramaz) and Jilderim (Ildîrîm) ships.


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