What is a Carolean?

A Carolean was a young military man fighting under King Charles XII of Sweden in the Great Northern War (1700-1721). Carolean comes from Carolus which is the Latin form of Charles.

Charles was neither an ordinary king nor an ordinary commander in chief. That he became king at 15, was not unusual in the 1600s. What was unusual, however, was that the Swedish government did not appoint a regent to rule on his behalf. Charles became the de facto ruling monarch upon the death of his father, Charles XI.

The playboy makes a promise

At first, he behaved predictably like a 1690s playboy king. He partied until all hours, he hunted bears with his friends and generally misbehaved. Then, during one of his soirées, a young cousin of his fell to his death out of a palace window.

Called before his grandmother, the formidable Queen Dowager Hedvig Eleonora, he showed up drunk and defiant. When he sobered up and realized what had happened, he begged her forgiveness and swore never to touch alcohol again.

He kept that promise.

Attacked on three fronts

One reason may have been that Tsar Peter of Russia attacked and tried to occupy the Swedish Baltic states, Estonia and Latvia. Convinced that a young, inexperienced fool sat on the Swedish throne, Charles’ cousins, August the Strong of Poland-Saxony-Lithuania, and Frederik IV of Denmark/ Norway allied themselves with the tsar.   

Fortunately, young Charles had some brilliant field commanders to assist him, like Field Marshal Carl Gustav Rehnstierna, his military mentor. The Swedish army first dealt with cousin Frederik at Humlebaek in Denmark. From there they went to Narva in Estonia and won a decisive battle against Tsar Peter and cousin August. Charles began to really enjoy warfare.

Not you average field commander

It was an era when his contemporary field commanders, like John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, held court off the battlefield in majestic tents. Their baggage train held trunks of precious china and other accouterments.

Charles ate sparsely on pewter plates or trenchers, often the same rations as his soldiers. While Marlborough and his ilk dressed in silk, velvet, and furs Charles wore the plain, double-breasted, blue and yellow uniform of any other officer in his army.

Military rockstar

His soldiers worshipped him. Charles became something of a rockstar among young military men at the time. Two von Wachenfelts fought along with him in those early days, Joachim, at Düna Bridge in Riga, Latvia, and his brother Carl Fredrik fought the Russians at Warsaw.

David Fredrik was younger and did not see any early action to speak of. He, like his older brothers, hung in there to the bitter end, and a bitter end it was.

Paul Fredrik, the baby of the family, joined the military as an adult, but he never became a Carolean.

When I was a little girl, I wished there were pictures of our forefathers in their military uniforms. I wanted to see what the battle-scarred family heroes really looked like.

But the heroes whom the writer Werner von Heidenstam referred to as “lads in blue” were no lads when they returned to Sweden. They were gravely injured in body and soul, and many, like our forebears, faced a new country, new language, famine, and poverty in the wake of King Charles’ wars. Sitting for portraits was not at the top of their lists of priorities.

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