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The Kalabalik

Fresh from his defeat by the Russians, Charles XII, the King of Sweden, and a body of faithful adherents took refuge in the Turkish Empire. Dennis J. McCarthy describes how he he remained there for five years, an increasingly unwelcome guest.

The last of the warrior kings, styled by his contemporaries “the Lion of the North,” Charles XII of Sweden was a brilliant and daring commander in the field, who none the less lost an empire and reduced his kingdom to a third-class power. Of statesmanship and grand strategy he was ignorant; for overwhelming odds, he had nothing but contempt. He was a hero of legendary proportions, the doer of great and fantastic deeds; and one of these was the Kalabalik.

A combination of two Turkish words, Kalabalik means “tumult” or “the hunting down of dangerous game.” Here the “game” was King Charles, who, with only fifty men, did battle against ten thousand or more Turks and Tartars. The time was February 1st, 1713; the place was near Bender, then a fortress-city in the Ottoman Empire, now Bendery in the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic.

This episode was the climax of an adventure story that had begun sixteen years earlier when Charles became King at the age of fifteen. The accession of a boy-King, who seemed to be interested only in riding and hunting, tempted the enemies of Sweden to seize Swedish provinces they had long coveted. Peter the Great of Russia, Augustus the Strong, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony, and Frederick IV of Denmark conspired to relieve Sweden of her lands on the eastern and southern shores of the Baltic Sea.

The conflict that ensued is called the Great Northern War (1700-1721). But Charles soon proved to be a formidable fighter. Within a few weeks, the Danes were obliged to quit the war when Charles brought his army to Copenhagen. He then led eight thousand Swedes to rout a Russian horde of fifty thousand at Narva, in Estonia; and Tsar Peter fled in panic at the news of the Swedes’ approach.

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