The Great Northern War, as it was called, dominated his life, and he was called “Alexander of the North” by his admirers. He devastated the armies of Denmark, Russia and Poland. In the Battle of Holowczyn, for instance, despite being outnumbered over three to one against the Russian army, Charles pulled out a victory. Other than his military acumen, he was known for two things, his abstinence from alcohol – and a similar abstinence from women.
Charles was also brave to the point of folly. He led his men into battle believing that his example would spur on his men to follow his example. Unfortunately, he was killed on the battlefield at Fredriksheld by a bullet to the head, directly above his right ear. He was 36 years old at the time. Without his leadership, Sweden’s involvement with the Great Northern War ultimately ended in defeat three years after his death.
While his admirers explained away his lack of interest in women by saying he was “married to the military,” Charles had a robust sexual taste for military men. Two of his lovers were military leaders from his army – General Behnsköld and General Stenbock (Count Magnus Gustafsson Stenbock). He also had a serious affair with Prince Maximillian of Württemberg, a younger admirer who had volunteered to serve in his army at the age of 14. Charles called him his “Little Prince” after Maximilian was wounded at age 19 trying to protect Charles from bullets. As well, Charles was involved in a relationship with the much older Swedish field marshal Count Axel Wachtmeister, who had been a close friend of his father.
Voltaire so admired Charles that he wrote a biography in 1731, thirteen years after Charles was killed on the battlefield in 1718, and Samuel Johnson praised Charles in his poem "The Vanity of Human Wishes" (1749).
The Gay Book of Days (1987) – Martin Greif
Queers in History (2009) – Keith Stern
Jonathan to Gide: The Homosexual in History (1964) – Noel Garde