Peter the Great: Emperor of All Russia

By Ian Grey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXV
Grodno 1705-1706

THE years 1705-1709 were for Peter the most critical of the Northern War. Instinctively he played for time and withdrew his army whenever head-on conflict threatened. But he knew he was merely delaying the fateful battle. Meanwhile discontent among his own people broke out in rebellion which exposed him to the danger of having to weaken his forces just at the time when the Swedes seemed about to invade. It was a period of strain for him, aggravated by bouts of illness which showed that even his tremendous strength was under severe pressure.

The chief source of Peter's tension and anxiety at this time was the unpredictability of his enemy, Charles XII. The Swedish generals themselves were bewildered by their young King, but, while he flouted their advice, his brilliance and speed of action brought him a succession of devastating victories, which added to his renown and his reputation for invincibility.

From defeating the Russians at Narva in November 1700, Charles had gone into winter quarters near Dorpat. Seven months later he had routed the Saxon army under Field-Marshal Steinau on the banks of the river Dvina. Next he had invaded Courland and then had moved into Lithuania, and from there had occupied Warsaw. After defeating Augustus's Saxon-Polish army at Klissow ( 1702), Charles had marched to Cracow, where Gyllenstjerna joined him with reinforcements, so that he then had an army of twenty-five thousand experienced well-equipped troops. In the spring of 1703 he yet again de-

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