The Deluge, in the mid-17th century, was a particularly troubled time for Poland. The western part of the country was overrun by Sweden, and the eastern part was invaded by disgruntled Cossacks. The Poles were down to their last stronghold at Lvov. Yet, they managed to re-organize their armies, and drive back the overextended Swedes. This, despite the fact that the Swedes were allied with Brandenburg, the Cossacks, and Transylvanians, to Poland's north, east, and south.

In the early 18th century, Poland was again overrun by Swedish forces under Charles XII. Here, it was Poland who had allies in Denmark and Russia. Also, its king was Augustus the Strong of Saxony, who controlled both countries through a "personal union." Yet, despite this favorable line-up, Sweden was able to drive Augustus out of Poland, and in fact invade and occupy Saxony.

Of note is the fact that Polish cavalry played a leading part in winning the Battle of Vienna against the Turks in 1683. Yet, no Polish army rose up to defeat Charles XII, who lost to the Russians instead.

Why was Poland able to repel Sweden the first time around, and not the second time?

  • 1
    It was exhausted by internal conflicts Jul 21, 2016 at 6:30
  • Sweden came within a wisker of taking Vienna during this time actually. "Poland" has moved around a lot over the years. It wasn't until Louis XIVth that you really got a "Super Power" in Europe though...which very much served to stabilize the Continent imo. Jul 25, 2016 at 21:49

1 Answer 1


I have no definitive answer, but I can point to a few differences.

First, as you noted, Poland of 1665-1660 had indeed very little in the way of allies, whereas in 1700-1712, they were at least allied to Russia, and in some manner to Saxony. However, the Polish-Saxon king Augustus had only declared war as Polish king, so while Saxony was a safe home ground for him, he could not use it fully. Even so, the war did not end until Charles decided to ignore this technicality and invaded Saxony. The Russians, for their part, were largely busy trying to capture and hold on to land around present day St Petersburg, and sent relatively little help to Poland (they were probably happy that two of their strongest neighbours duked it out with eachother; they would certainly make sure to gain from the weaknesses of both later).

Second, in 1665, Sweden was the aggressor, while in 1700, Poland was the aggressor. It is possible that the Poles found it easier to gather to defend against an enemy that they did not feel had been forced on them by their king.

Third, the Swedish army was wastly different. The army of 1665 was essentially similar to the one that had fought the Thirty years war: mostly mercenaries and some conscripts. It was thus dependant on plunder (this was part of the reason the Swedes invaded from the start: they needed a new war to pay for the old one), and needed a peace which guaranteed enough money that it could be paid off. The army of 1700 mainly consisted of croft soldiers, which could be kept in the field almost indefinately, were very well drilled, and had no special conditions for stopping to fight (more on this below). The main drawback was that it was hard to replace if it suffered defeat, which would later prove to be fatal, but worked very well during this part of the war. Thus, the army of 1700 was overall more well trained, more disciplined, and was not about to complain about lack of pay. This made it possible for Charles to fight where and when he chose, even in the face of setbacks.

Fourth, Charles XII was a vastly different creature from Charles X Gustaf, and their goals were different. Charles XII saw it as his mission to punish Augustus until he no longer was a threat to Sweden. Charles X Gustaf mostly wanted to conquer and plunder, preferably as quickly as possible. However, once the war had dragged on for several years, with no peace in sight (Poland's political division for once was a kind of advantage), and the opportunity came, he prefered to cut his losses in Poland and try to march against Denmark instead (with results beyond what anyone could have reasonably expected).

Thus, while I can not really point to any deciding differences on the Polish side, the Swedish armies were so different that they might be considered from different countries. One wanted to make a quick grab of land and valuables, while the other wanted to make sure that Poland learnt a lesson about going to war with Sweden. When the first failed in it's goal, it was better to move on to another target, while the latter could keep trying until it was soundly defeated.


The above was written of the top of my head, but a good account of the deluge is Peter Englund's Den oövervinnerlige, "The Invincible" (not sure if it is available in English). For the Great northern war, Frans G. Bengtsson's biography Karl XII:s levnad, "The life of Charles XII, King of Sweden" is somewhat old, not very scholarly, but for the most part very readable.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.