Charles XI of Sweden Biography

Charles XI, also known as Carl or Karl XI, was the King of Sweden from 1660 to 1697. Despite ascending to the throne at a young age, he ruled with wisdom and brought about significant changes in the nation. Under his monarchy, Sweden experienced a prolonged period of peace, and he worked tirelessly to maintain harmony by forming alliances with neighboring countries. Charles XI was a modest king who prioritized the well-being of his citizens. He often disguised himself as a commoner to understand their struggles and ensure fair treatment. Through reforms in the government and military, he promoted equality among the people and helped Sweden achieve financial independence.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Carl XI of Sweden
  • Died At Age: 41
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Ulrika Eleonora of Denmark (m. 1680)
    • Father: Charles X Gustav of Sweden
    • Mother: Hedwig Eleonora of Holstein-Gottorp
    • Children: Charles XII of Sweden, Hedvig Sophia of Sweden, Prince Ulrik, prins Fredrik, Prins Gustaf 1683-1685, prins Karl Gustav, Ulrika Eleonora; Queen of Sweden
  • Born Country: Sweden
  • Died on: April 5, 1697
  • Place of death: Tre Kronor, Sweden
  • Ancestry: German Swedish
  • Cause of Death: Cancer

Childhood & Early Life

Charles XI was born on 24 November 1655 in the Stockholm Palace Tre Kronor. He was the only son of Charles X Gustav of Sweden and Hedwig Eleonora of Holstein-Gottorp. His father passed away when he was just four years old, leaving him as the designated successor and his mother as the queen regent. However, the Regency Council immediately challenged the former king’s will. Charles XI was not well-educated and had difficulty with foreign affairs due to a possible case of dyslexia. He relied on his mother to communicate in court as he could only speak German.

Coronation and Scanian War

Charles XI was crowned on 28 September 1675 at the age of 20. During his reign, Sweden was on the brink of war with Denmark. To avoid conflict, a marriage alliance was proposed between Charles XI and Ulrika Eleonora of Denmark. However, the Danish king still attacked Sweden after their defeat at the Battle of Fehrbellin. Charles XI spent his time strengthening the Swedish army for the upcoming Scanian War. Despite being outnumbered, the Swedish army achieved victories at the Battle of Halmstad and the Battle of Lund. Peace treaties were eventually signed with Denmark and Brandenburg.

Financial Restoration

Charles XI focused on maintaining peace and strengthening the economy during his reign. The Swedish economy had suffered greatly from the wars and was in a financial crisis. In 1680, he called upon the “Riksdag of the Estates” to discuss the terms of “reduktion.” This policy allowed the crown to reclaim land and titles that were originally its property. The nobles were unhappy with this decision as it required them to give up their lavish lifestyles. Charles XI implemented radical reforms to restore the financial stability of Sweden.

Governmental Reforms

Charles XI held the nobility accountable for their shortcomings in the Danish attack on Sweden. In 1680, the “Riksdag” declared Charles as the supreme leader of the kingdom, reducing the council to an advisory role. He introduced the “Table of Ranks” in 1680, promoting meritocracy over nepotism and making civil service more accessible to commoners. By 1682, the “Council of State” was renamed the “King’s Council” to assert his sovereignty.

Military Reforms

In 1682, Charles XI reformed the Swedish army into an allotment system. Landowners were required to maintain a standing army known as Caroleans. The regiment was known for its swiftness and agility, and Charles invested in modern warfare techniques. He sent his officers to foreign countries to receive training in contemporary warfare methods.

Family & Personal Life

Charles XI married Ulrika Eleonora of Denmark in 1680. They had seven children, but only three survived. His son, Charles XII, succeeded him as king. Ulrika was known for her charitable nature, and she and Charles had a cordial relationship. She passed away in 1693, and Charles himself suffered from severe stomach aches until his death in 1697. Autopsies revealed that he had abdominal cancer.

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