Charles X of Sweden

From Academic Kids

Charles X or Karl X Gustav (16221660), king of Sweden, son of John Casimir, Margrave of Pfalz-Zweibrücken, and Catherine, half-sister of Gustavus Adolphus, was born at the Castle of Nyköping on November 8, 1622. He reigned as king of Sweden from 1654 to 1660. He was married to Hedwig Eleonora of Holstein-Gottorp (1634 – 1715), who produced his son and successor, king Charles XI of Sweden.

Karl X Gustav
Image:Charles X Gustav of Sweden.jpg
Portrait by Sébastien Bourdon (1653)
ReignJune 6, 1654-February 13, 1660
CoronationJune 6, 1654
Royal motto "In Jehovah sors mea, ipse faciet"
(In God my destiny - He shall perform it)
QueenHedwig Eleonora of Holstein-Gottorp
Royal HousePfalz
PredecessorChristina of Sweden
SuccessorCharles XI of Sweden
Date of BirthNovember 8, 1622
Place of BirthNyköping, Sudermannia
Date of DeathFebruary 13, 1660
Place of DeathGothenburg
Place of BurialRiddarholmskyrkan, Stockholm

Heir to the throne

He learnt the art of war under the great Lennart Torstenson, being present at the second battle of Breitenfeld (1642) and at Jankowitz (1645). From 1646 to 1648 he frequented the Swedish court, supposedly as a prospective husband of his cousin the queen regnant, Christina of Sweden (1626 - 1689, reigned 1632 - 1654), but her insurmountable objection to wedlock put an end to these anticipations, and to compensate her cousin for a broken half-promise she declared him her successor in 1649, despite the opposition of the Privy Council headed by the venerable Axel Oxenstierna. In 1648 he gained the appointment of commander of the Swedish forces in Germany. The conclusion of the treaties of Westphalia in October 1648 prevented him from winning the military laurels he so ardently desired, but as the Swedish plenipotentiary at the executive congress of Nuremberg, he had unrivalled opportunities of learning diplomacy, in which science he speedily became a past master. As the recognized heir to the throne, his position on his return to Sweden did not lack danger, for the growing discontent with the queen turned the eyes of thousands to him as a possible deliverer. He therefore withdrew to the isle of Öland till the abdication of Christina on June 5, 1654 called him to the throne.

Early days as King

The beginning of Charles X's reign concentrated on the healing of domestic discords and on the rallying of all the forces of the nation round his standard for a new policy of conquest. He contracted a political marriage on October 24, 1654 with Hedwig Leonora, the daughter of duke Frederick III of Holstein-Gottorp, by way of securing a future ally against Denmark. The Riksdag which assembled at Stockholm in March 1655, duly considered the two great pressing national questions: war, and the restitution of the alienated crown lands. Over three days a secret committee presided over by the king decided the war question: Charles X easily persuaded the delegates that a war against Poland appeared necessary and might prove very advantageous; but the consideration of the question of the subsidies due to the crown for military purposes was postponed to the following Riksdag.

War on Poland

On July 10, 1655, Charles quitted Sweden to engage in his Polish adventure, in what became the Northern Wars. By the time war was declared he had at his disposal 50,000 men and 50 warships. Hostilities had already begun with the occupation of Dünaburg in Polish Livonia by the Swedes on July 1, 1655, and the Polish army encamped among the marshes of the Netze concluded a convention on 25 July, whereby the palatinates of Poznan and Kalisz placed themselves under the protection of the Swedish king. Thereupon the Swedes entered Warsaw without opposition and occupied the whole of Greater Poland. The Polish king, John II Casimir of Poland, of the House of Vasa fled to Silesia.

Meanwhile Charles pressed on towards Kraków, which the Swedes captured after a two months’ siege. The fall of Cracow extinguished the last hope of the boldest Pole; but before the end of the year an extraordinary reaction began in Poland itself. On October 18 1655 the Swedes invested the fortress-monastery of Czestochowa, but the Poles defended it heroically; and after a seventy days’ siege the besiegers had to retire with great loss. This astounding success elicited an outburst of popular enthusiasm which gave the war a national and religious character. The tactlessness of Charles, the rapacity of his generals, the barbarity of his mercenaries, his refusal to legalize his position by summoning the Polish diet, his negotiations for the partition of the very state he affected to befriend, awoke the long slumbering public spirit of the country. In the beginning of 1656 King John II Casimir returned from exile and the reorganised Polish army increased in numbers. By this time Charles had discovered that he could more readily defeat the Poles than conquer Poland. His chief object, the conquest of Prussia, remained unaccomplished, and a new foe arose in the elector of Brandenburg, Frederick William I , alarmed by the ambition of the Swedish king. Charles forced the elector, albeit at the point of the sword, to become his ally and vassal (Treaty of Königsberg, 17 January 1656); but the Polish national rising now imperatively demanded his presence in the south. For weeks he scoured the interminable snow-covered plains of Poland in pursuit of the Polish guerrillas, penetrating as far south as Jaroslaw in Galicia, by which time he had lost two-thirds of his 15,000 men with no apparent result. His retreat from Jaroslaw to Warsaw, with the fragments of his host -- amidst three converging armies, in a marshy forest region intersected in every direction by well-guarded rivers -- proved one of his most brilliant achievements. But his necessities became overwhelming. On June 21, 1656 the Poles retook Warsaw, and four days later Charles was obliged to purchase the assistance of Friedrich I of Prussia by the treaty of Marienburg (23 June 1656). On 28 July-30 the combined Swedes and Brandenburgers, 18,000 strong, after a three days’ battle, defeated John II’s army of 40,000 at Warsaw and reoccupied the Polish capital. However this brilliant feat of arms proved altogether useless, and when the suspicious attitude of Frederick William compelled the Swedish king at last to open negotiations with the Poles, they refused the terms offered, the war resumed, and Charles concluded an offensive and defensive alliance with the elector of Brandenburg (Treaty of Labiau, November 20 1656) which stipulated that Frederick William and his heirs should henceforth possess the full sovereignty of East Prussia.

War on Denmark

Missing image
Charles X. Engraving after a painting by David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl

Labiau involved an essential modification of Charles's Baltic policy; but the alliance with the elector of Brandenburg had now become indispensable on almost any terms. So serious, indeed, had the difficulties of Charles X in Poland become that he received the tidings of the Danish declaration of war on June 1, 1657 with extreme satisfaction. The hostile action of Denmark enabled him honourably to emerge from the inglorious Polish imbroglio, and he could count on the zealous support of his own people. He had learnt from Torstensson that Denmark was most vulnerable if attacked from the south, and, imitating the strategy of his master, he fell upon her with a velocity which paralysed resistance. At the end of June 1657, at the head of 8,000 seasoned veterans, he broke up from Bydgoszcz in Pomerania and reached the borders of Holstein on 18 July. The Danish army at once dispersed and the Swedes recovered the duchy of Bremen. In the early autumn Charles's troops swarmed over Jutland and firmly established themselves in the duchies. But the fortress of Fredriksodde (Fredericia) held Charles’s little army at bay from mid-August to mid-October, while the fleet of Denmark, after a stubborn two days’ battle, compelled the Swedish fleet to abandon its projected attack on the Danish islands. The position of the Swedish king had now become critical. In July Denmark and Poland-Lithuania concluded an offensive and defensive alliance. Still more ominously, the elector of Brandenburg, perceiving Sweden's difficulties, joined the league against her and compelled Charles to accept the proffered mediation of Oliver Cromwell and Cardinal Mazarin. The negotiations foundered, however, upon the refusal of Sweden to refer the points in dispute to a general peace-congress, and Charles received encouragement from the capture of Fredriksodde, 23 October-24, whereupon he began to make preparations for conveying his troops over to Funen in transport vessels. But soon another and cheaper expedient presented itself. In the middle of December 1657 began the great frost, which would prove so fatal to Denmark. In a few weeks the cold had grown so intense that the freezing of an arm of the sea with so rapid a current as the Small Belt became a conceivable possibility; and henceforth meteorological observations formed an essential part of the strategy of the Swedes.

On January 28, 1658, Charles X arrived at Haderslev in South Jutland. His meteorologists estimated that in a couple of days the ice of the Little Belt would become firm enough to bear even the passage of a mail-clad host. The cold during the night of 29 January became most severe; and early in the morning of the 30th the Swedish king gave the order to start, the horsemen dismounting on the weaker spots of ice and cautiously leading their horses as far apart as possible, until they swung into their saddles again, closed their ranks and made a dash for the shore. Swedish arms quickly overpowered the Danish troops lining the opposite coast and won the whole of Funen with the loss of only two companies of cavalry, which disappeared under the ice while fighting with the Danish left wing. Pursuing his irresistible march, Charles X, with his eyes fixed steadily on Copenhagen, resolved to cross the frozen Great Belt also. After some hesitation, he accepted the advice of his chief engineer officer Erik Dahlberg, who acted as pioneer throughout and chose the more circuitous route from Svendborg, by the islands of Langeland, Laaland and Falster, in preference to the direct route from Nyborg to Korsör, which would have had to cross a broad, almost uninterrupted expanse of ice. Yet the Swedes did not embark upon this second adventure without much anxious consideration. A council of war, which met at two o’clock in the morning to consider the practicability of Dahlberg’s proposal, at once dismissed it as criminally hazardous. Even the king wavered for an instant; but, Dahlberg persisting in his opinion, Charles overruled the objections of the commanders. On the night of 5 February the transit began, the cavalry leading the way through the snow-covered ice, which quickly thawed beneath the horses’ hoofs so that the infantry which followed after had to wade through half an ell of sludge, fearing every moment lest the rotting ice should break beneath their feet. At three o’clock in the afternoon, Dahlberg leading the way, the army reached Grimsted in Laaland without losing a man; on 8 February, Charles reached Falster. On 11 February he stood safely on the soil of Zealand. Not without reason did the medal struck to commemorate the glorious transit of the Baltic Sea bear the haughty inscription: Natura hoc debuit uni. Sweden had achieved an exploit unique in history. The crushing effect of this unheard-of achievement on the Danish government found expression in the Treaty of Taastrup on 18 February, and in the Treaty of Roskilde (February 26, 1658), whereby Denmark sacrificed nearly half her territory to save the rest. But this seemed insufficient, and at a council held at Gottorp on 7 July, Charles X resolved to wipe from the map of Europe an inconvenient rival, and without any warning, in defiance of all international equity, let loose his veterans upon Denmark a second time.

On 17 July he again landed on Zealand and besieged Copenhagen with its king Frederick III of Denmark. To everybody's surprise however Copenhagen held out long enough for the Dutch fleet under Lieutenant-Admiral Jacob van Wassenaer Obdam to relieve the city, defeating the Swedish fleet in the Battle of the Sound on 29 October 1658. The Dutch in 1659 liberated the Danish Isles. As Baltic trade was vital to the Dutch economy they made clear to Charles they wouldn't allow such a powerful state as his to control the Sound.

The Estates in Gothenburg

Only after great hesitation would Charles X consent to reopen negotiations with Denmark direct, at the same time proposing to exercise pressure upon the enemy by a simultaneous winter campaign in Norway. Such an enterprise necessitated fresh subsidies from his already impoverished people, and obliged him in December 1659 to cross over to Sweden to meet the estates, whom he had summoned to Gothenburg. The lower estates murmured at the imposition of fresh burdens; and Charles had need of all his adroitness to persuade them of the reasonableness and necessity of his demands.

At the very beginning of the Riksdag, in January 1660, the king showed signs of illness; but he spared himself as little in the council-chamber as in the battle-field, till death suddenly overtook him on the night of February 13, 1660, in his thirty-eighth year. Sweden lost much with the abrupt cessation of such an inexhaustible fount of enterprise and energy; indications suggest that, in his latter years, Charles had begun to feel the need and value of repose. Had he lived long enough to overcome his martial ardour, and develop and organize the empire he helped to create, Sweden might perhaps have remained a great power to this day. Even so she owes her natural frontiers in the Scandinavian Peninsula to Charles X.


Charles X had one legitimate child by Hedwig Eleonora of Holstein-Gottorp: his successor Charles XI (1655 - 1697, reigned 1660 - 1697).

By Brita Allerts he had an illegitimate son: Gustaf Carlson (1647 - 1708), who became Count of Börringe and Lindholmen.

Preceded by:
King of Sweden
Succeeded by:
Charles XI
da:Karl 10. Gustav af Sverige

de:Karl X. Gustav (Schweden) nl:Karel X Gustaaf van Zweden ja:カール10世 (スウェーデン王) pl:Karol X Gustaw fi:Kaarle X Kustaa sv:Karl X Gustav


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