The Swedish Empire: The Polman Family’s Bravery in Battle

Explore the Polman family bravery in battle in this action-packed exhibit, including stories of victory, triumph, capture, and injury on the battlefield.

The Polmans were a successful military family, rising through the ranks of the Kronoberg Regiment. They served the Crown in a number of battles, leading to their entrance into Swedish nobility in 1650. Explore their bravery in battle in this immersive exhibit, including the capture of Carl Gustaf Påhlman and his banishment to Siberia.

Table of Contents

1600 – 1611

1700 – 1721

1788 – 1790

Polish-Swedish War

Polish-Swedish War (1600 – 1611)

The Polish-Swedish War was a lengthy conflict between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Kingdom of Sweden from 1600 to 1611. The conflict was over control of Livonia and Estonia, as well as the dispute over the Swedish throne between Karl IX of Sweden and his nephew, Sigismund III of Poland. The war was marked by numerous battles and sieges, including the famous Battle of Kircholm in 1605, which saw a decisive victory for the Polish forces over the Swedish army.

Yet this victory eventually mounted to nothing, owing to the domestic dissensions which prevailed in the Commonwealth during the following five years. The army serving under the Grand Hetman of Lithuania, Chodkiewicz, had not received payment for years. As a result, they left him all at once, leaving the hetman to continue the war with only a small group of mercenaries that he paid for out of his own pocket. Eventually, the war ended when a truce was signed in 1611 after the death of Karl IX.

Jürgen Polman the Elder

Jürgen Polman was a loyal servant to Duke Karl, who went into his service at the turn of the 17th century. Eventually, Polman became Captain of Anzen (Anstla), in what is now southern Estonia. Early in the war, there was news of the recruitment by the Swedish crown of a larger troop of peasants from a part of Livonia which previously belonged to Poland.

Duke Karl wrote a letter to Jürgen Polman in 1601, expressing his delight that the Captain had succeeded in enlisting more than a hundred farmers to protect against the Poles. The Duke also mentioned that he would like to see more farmers involved, and recommended that Jürgen alleviate the dues of the peasants who were on military service and get in touch with an old warrior, Herman förare (a corporal rank), so that he could take charge of the peasants concerned. In 1604, Karl IX granted Jürgen parts of Sääksmäki parish in Finland – known for its manors and medieval stone church – as a reward for his loyal service.

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Great Northern War

Great Northern War (1700 – 1721)

The Great Northern War of 1700 was a conflict between Sweden and its allies against a coalition of Russia, Denmark-Norway and Saxony-Poland-Lithuania. It lasted for over two decades and was fought primarily in the Baltic regions of Europe.

The war was triggered by Sweden’s attempts to maintain its dominance in the region and the growing power of Russia, which sought to expand its reach into the Baltic Sea. One of the most significant events of the Great Northern War was the fateful Battle of Poltava, which saw the Swedish army suffer a crushing defeat at the hands of Russian forces. This was a turning point in the war, as it marked the decline of Sweden’s military power, the end of the Swedish Empire, and the rise of Russia as a major European power. The war eventually came to an end with the Treaty of Nystad in 1721, which saw Sweden cede large territories to Russia and other powers. 

Carl Gustaf Påhlman

Carl Gustaf Påhlman participated in several battles during the Great Northern War, including attacks on Rensbek, Holstein (1700), Vladislava, Poland (1703), the Saxons on Petrovien (1704), and against the Russians in Ukraine. He was gravely injured during the battle of Fraustadt in 1706, and again in Veprik in 1709.

Later that same year, he was taken prisoner in Perevolochna during the Battle of Poltava, with only a few including Karl XII managing to escape. Carl Gustaf, along with the majority of the Swedish army—including his elder brother, Goran—was banished to Tobolsk in Siberia. Over the next few years, many Swedish prisoners of war there were employed in construction, especially of the Kremlin built of stone. Carl Gustaf returned to Stockholm only in 1723, two years after the end of the Great Northern War, now a Major.

For the soldiers, much was at stake. A minute or two longer under fire could have disastrous consequences. The risk of being hit and being either killed or maimed increased the longer the enemy took . . . The fire of the Saxons caused a great loss of young and able officers in the regiment, among them a large number of lieutenants and second lieutenants: Bengt Bock and Carl Fleetwood—the latter only twenty years old—were killed; Nils Lindman and Sveckert Trolle were mortally wounded; Johan Joakim Faltzburg was wounded through the neck and Carl Gustaf Påhlman had been hit by “two fatal shots” from which he later recovered.

Excerpt from the book Fraustadt: 1706 by Oskar Sjöström (2008)

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Russo-Swedish War

Russo-Swedish War (1788–1790)

The Russo-Swedish War of 1788 was a conflict between Russia and Sweden that lasted from 1788 to 1790. The war was initiated by Sweden, as King Gustav III saw an opportunity to regain some of the territory that had been lost to Russia in previous conflicts. Sweden’s initial plan to attack Saint Petersburg and instigate a coup to depose Empress Catherine II did not materialise. The conflict began with a Swedish invasion of Finland, which was then part of the Russian Empire.

The turning point of the war came in 1789, when Russia, under the leadership of Catherine the Great, launched a counter-attack and began to make steady gains against the Swedish army. This culminated in the Battle of Svensksund in 1790, where the Russian fleet decisively defeated the Swedish navy. 

The war ended in 1790 with the signing of the Treaty of Värälä, which saw Sweden ceding parts of Finland and the Åland Islands to Russia in exchange for peace. Sweden’s loss of territory further weakened its position as a major European power, while Russia’s victory helped to cement its status as a dominant force in the region.

Adolf Fredrik Påhlman

Adolf Fredrik Påhlman was the Lieutenant Colonel at Kronoberg’s regiment and heavily involved in the affairs of the Russo-Swedish War. He was involved in the Battle at Fredrikshamm in 1788, commanded Kronoberg’s regiment in the affairs at Anjala, Uttismalm and Värälä in 1789, witnessed the encounter at Liikkala and contested for two and a half months during the most critical time of the campaign in the fall, guarding all posts between Anjala and Värälä. 

In 1790, Påhlman commanded Kronoberg’s regiment and took the lead in the Battle of Valkeala in Finland, where he was wounded in the foot by a scrap bullet at the beginning of the battle. Kronoberg’s regiment lost half of the 150 Swedes who fell and were wounded. Although wounded, he commanded Kronoberg’s, Hälsinge and Bohuslän’s regiments, and Swedish Cossacks in the attack at Nappa village. He witnessed the Battle of Keltis and was in charge of a distribution of 3,000 men at Jaala and surrounding posts for two months. 

AF Påhlman was presented with a Sword of Honour by King Gustav III in 1790 for his service during the war. 

Early in the spring of 1790 (at the end of April), Gustaf III made another incursion into Russian territory from Jala, which led to the battle at Walkiala on April 29. Kronoberg’s regiment participated in the same with great distinction. During the attack on the height where the enemy had taken up a firm position, the Swedish battalions were forced, due to the nature of the terrain, to approach in a narrow column. First Kronoberg’s battalion under Lt. Påhlman had the lead and had to endure the enemy’s worst fire, while the others advanced to the right and left of the same. Lt. Col. Påhlman was wounded, but Gen.-Major Pauli put himself at the head of the battalion and led it to attack. The second Kronoberg battalion was also among the 5 battalions that stormed the enemy height and thereby decided the battle.

Excerpt from the book Notes relating to the history of Swedish regiments by Julius Mankell (1866)

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