When Charles XII ascended the Swedish throne in 1700, his country’s empire had dominated the Baltic for a century. An alliance of rivals led by Russia’s Peter the Great saw Charles’s youth and inexperience as the chance to break that dominance. The Great Northern War would last until 1721, but the decisive encounter took place at Poltava, in the Ukraine, in 1709. Up to that point, Charles had won a stunning series of victories against his opponents, but here Russia would inflict crushing defeat upon his outnumbered army. Charles fled into exile, but re-emerged, Napoleon-like, to fight again, only to be killed campaigning near Trondheim (1718). The Swedes were forced to sue for peace. At Stockholm (1719), they ceded Bremen and Verden to Hanover and much of Pomerania to Prussia. At Nystad (1721), Russia gained Estonia, Livonia, Ingria, and South Karelia from Sweden, while returning the rest of Finland.
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