The Great Northern War is one of those important European wars that is almost unknown in Britain. Taking place at the same time as the more famous War of the Spanish Succession, it ended Sweden’s time as a great power, and helped establish Peter the Great’s Russia as a major Baltic power as well as playing a part in the long term decline of Poland-Lithuania, which became one of the major battlefields for the war.
The scale of the war becomes clear when you look at the chapter list, which has nine chapters covering at least eleven different armies! Admittedly the last three only played a minor role in the war, and were dragged into it during Charles XII’s period of exile in the Ottoman Empire, but even so this was a conflict that involved Russia, Sweden (then a great power holding most of the Baltic coast), Poland-Lithuania (at that time a massive state, although one in decline), the combined Denmark-Norway and four German states, including the rising power of Prussia.
I found the sections on the Russian and Swedish armies to be the most interesting, mainly because those armies were markedly different to the European standard for this period. In the case of Russia the army was going through a period of rapid reform under Peter the Great, so we see the ‘before’ and ‘after’ versions of the army. One thought provoking aspect of these reforms is that the inefficient Streltsy troops that Peter was determined to replace had themselves been created during a previous period of reform under Ivan the Terrible, originally as an elite unit. In the case of Sweden the way in which many units were raised is of interest, with groups of farms having a duty to provide soldiers.
This is a useful companion to any general history of this important war, giving a clear idea of how the different armies varied, and how the Russian army in particular changed over the course of the war, becoming much more effective as Peter the Great’s reforms took effective.
The Russian Army
The Swedish Army
The Saxon Army
The Polish & Lithuanian Armies
The Danish & Norwegian Armies
The Hanoverian Army
The Prussian Army
The Holstein Army
Cossacks, Tatars & Danubian Principalities
Author: Gabriele Esposito