Charles XI, also Carl (Swedish: Karl XI; 24 November 1655old style – 5 April 1697old style), was King of Sweden from 1660 until his death, in a period of Swedish history known as the Swedish Empire (1611–1718).
Charles was the only son of King Charles X of Sweden and Hedwig Eleonora of Holstein-Gottorp.
His father died when he was five years old, so Charles was educated by his governors until his coronation at the age of seventeen. Soon after, he was forced out on military expeditions to secure the recently acquired dominions from Danish troops in the Scanian War.
Having successfully fought off the Danes, he returned to Stockholm and engaged in correcting the country’s neglected political, financial and economic situation, managing to sustain peace during the remaining 20 years of his reign. Changes in finance, commerce, national maritime and land armaments, judicial procedure, church government and education emerged during this period.
Charles XI was succeeded by his only son Charles XII, who made use of the well-trained army in battles throughout Europe.
The fact that Charles was crowned as Charles XI does not mean that he was the 11th king of Sweden who had the name Charles.
His father’s name (as the 10th) was due to his great-grandfather, King Charles IX of Sweden (1604–1611), having adopted his own numeral by using a mythological History of Sweden.
This descendant was actually the 5th King Charles.
The numbering tradition thus begun still continues, with the present king of Sweden being Carl XVI Gustaf.
On 6 May 1680, Charles married Ulrika Eleonora of Denmark (1656–1693), daughter of King Frederick III of Denmark (1609–1670).
He had previously been engaged to his cousin, Juliana of Hesse-Eschwege, but the engagement was broken after a scandal.
Charles and Ulrika were engaged in 1675 in an attempt to smooth over longstanding hostilities, but the Scanian War soon broke out.
During the war, Ulrika Eleonora gained a reputation for loyalty to her future home country by exhibiting kindness to Swedish prisoners: she pawned her jewelry, even her engagement ring, to care for the Swedish prisoners of war.
Her personal merits and continued charitable acts throughout her tenure endeared her to the Swedish people and eased some of the difficulties brought on by her Danish background.
In the peace negotiations between Sweden and Denmark in 1679, the marriage between her and Charles XI was on the agenda, and ratified in 26 September 1679. They married in Stockholm on May 6, 1680 in a hasty and humble ceremony.
Charles and Ulrika Eleonora were very different. He enjoyed hunting and riding, while she enjoyed reading and art, and is best remembered for her great charitable activity. She was also limited by ill-health and numerous pregnancies.
Charles was very active and busy and while Charles was away inspecting his troops or pursuing his pastimes, she was often lonely and sad. The marriage itself, however, is considered a success, with the King and Queen being very fond of each other.
As queen, Ulrika Eleonora had little political involvement and was placed in the shadow of her mother-in-law. During “The Great Reversion” to the crown of counties, baronies and large lordships from the nobility, Ulrika tried to speak on the behalf of the people whose property was confiscated by the crown.
But the king told her that the reason he had married her was not because he wanted her political advice. Instead, she helped people whose property had been confiscated by secretly compensating them economically from her own budget.
However Charles XI’s confidence in her grew over time: in 1690, he named her future Regent, should his son succeed him still a minor.
Instead Ulrika Eleonora predeceased him by almost four years. At the time of her death she was personally supporting 17,000 people.
It is said that on his death bed, Charles XI admitted to his mother that he hadn’t been happy since Ulrika Eleonora’s death.
The marriage produced seven children, of whom only three outlived Charles:
Hedwig Sophia (1681–1708), duchess of Holstein-Gottorp and grandmother of Tsar Peter III;
Charles XII (1682–1718), his only surviving son and the future king;
Charles Gustav (1686–1687)
Ulrika Eleonora (“the younger”, 1688–1741), who ultimately succeeded her brother on the Swedish throne.
Ulrika Eleonora (the elder) was sickly, and the many child births eventually broke her.
When she became seriously ill, in 1693, Charles finally dedicated his time and care to her.
Her death in July that year shook him deeply and he never fully recovered.
Her infant son Ulric (1684–1685) had been given Ulriksdal Palace, which was renamed for him (Ulric’s Dale).
Charles XI had complained of stomach pains since 1694.
In the summer of 1696, he asked his doctors for an opinion on the pain as it had continuously become worse, but they had no viable cure or treatment for it.
He continued to perform his duties as usual, but, in February 1697, the pains became too severe for him to cope and he returned to Stockholm where the doctors discovered he had a large, hard lump in his stomach.
At this point there was little the doctors could do except alleviate the King’s pain as best they could. Charles XI died on 5 April 1697, in his forty-first year.
An autopsy showed that the King had developed cancer and that it had spread through his entire abdominal cavity.
Charles XI has sometimes been described in Sweden as the greatest of all the Swedish kings, unduly eclipsed by his father and his son. In the first half of the 20th century, the view of him changed and he was regarded as dependent, uncertain, and easily influenced by others.
In the most recent book, Rystads biography from 2003, the king is again characterized as a strong-willed shaper of Sweden through economic reforms and achievement of financial and military stability and strength.
Charles XI is commemorated on the 500-kronor bill. His portrait is taken from one of Ehrenstrahl’s paintings, possibly the one displayed on this page. The king is pictured on the bill since the Bank of Sweden was founded in 1668, during Charles’ reign.
The fortified town of Carlsburg near Bremen, at the site of modern Bremerhaven, was named after Charles XI.
Charles’ Church in Tallinn, Estonia, is dedicated to Charlex XI.