Researchers clear up Swedish King’s mysterious death from 1718

King Charles XII was shot to death over 300 years ago in a battle in Norway. Ever since, debate has raged as to whether he was hit by an enemy bullet or assassinated by an ally. Now, two Finnish researchers claim to have solved the mystery once and for all.

Researchers clear up Swedish King's mysterious death from 1718
Charles XII in Kungsträdgården, central Stockholm. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

On a foggy November evening in 1718, Charles XII was killed during a siege in Norwegian Fredrikshald, now Halden. Ever since, his death has been shrouded in mystery.

The Swedish warrior king died from a bullet to the head, but there has been a great deal of speculation over the years as to whether the bullet was fired from an enemy weapon or a Swedish soldier tired of battle.

Now, researchers from Uleåborg University in Finland claim that they have solved the riddle by test-firing different kinds of ammunition, according to a study published in the PNAS Nexus scientific journal. According to Finnish researchers, Charles XII was killed by an iron bullet with a diameter of over 20 millimetres, and based on the bullet hole left in his skull, the bullet was probably travelling at a speed of around 200 metres a second.

The hole in Charles XII’s skull, pictured in 1917. Photo: Scanpix/TT

This proves, the researchers claim, that the bullet came from the enemy fortress around 200 metres away from where the King died – and not from one of his own soldiers.

Over the years, a number of theories around the King’s death have been presented. As recently as 1998, Danish experts claimed that he was killed by a Swedish bullet, as the hole in his skull supposedly matched the caliber used in Swedish muskets.

Another stubborn rumour which has raged throughout the centuries is that Charles XII was assassinated using a button from his own uniform.

The King’s body has been exhumed and autopsied three times, most recently in 1917, when his skeleton and skull were X-rayed.

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Viking silver treasure uncovered outside Stockholm

A thousand-year-old silver hoard -- including eight "extraordinarily well-preserved" neck rings -- has been found during the excavation of a Viking-era hamlet in a Stockholm suburb.

Viking silver treasure uncovered outside Stockholm

The treasure was found during the archeological excavation of a Viking Age settlement in Viggbyholm, Täby, in an area thought to have been inhabited between about 400 AD, through the Viking Age (800–1050 AD), and into the early Middle Ages. The archeologists have found more than 20 houses and buildings at the site. 

“This is something you probably only experience once in a lifetime”, said Maria Lingström at The Archaeologists, National Historical Museums, in Sweden, in a press release

Archeologists at the dig found the coin buried under what was once the wooden floor in a building, with silver coins stored in a pouch made of linen, which, together with the jewellery, was stored in a small ceramic pot. 

Photo: The Archaeologists, NHM

“When I started to carefully remove the neck rings one by one, I had this extraordinary feeling of ‘they just keep coming and coming’,” Lingström said. 

In total there were eight high quality torque-style neck rings, two arm rings, one ring, two pearls and 12 coin pendants (coins used as jewellery) in the pot.

Photo: The Archaeologists, NHM

The archaeologist John Hamilton said it remained unclear why people had buried some of their most valuable objects underground in this case. 

“One common interpretation is that people hid and buried their treasures in difficult and tumultuous times,” he said. “We have yet to see if that was the case here.” 

Photo: The Archaeologists, NHM

The coins are yet more evidence of the extensive trading relations which flourished in Viking Age Scandinavia. There are coins in the pouch from England, Bohemia and Bavaria, as well as five Arabic coins called dirhams.

One of the European coins is extremely rare and was minted in the city of Rouen, in Normandy, France.