Armfeldts Karoliner – the Swedish Caroleans

When you travel in the borderland mountains between Jämtland and Tröndelag you can sense a certain brotherhood that dates way back. One thing that affected both regions on the swedish and the norwegian side was the war campaign in 1718-1719, which lead to a disastrous retreat for the swedes in the middle of a blizzard.

Logolimpa Welcome

General Armfeldts campaign against Norway in 1718 was a lengthy drawn out affair and the tragedy has left its indelible mark on the region, whose memory remains entrenched on the souls of the local people of Jämtland and Tröndelag.

“It was a warm day in August 1718 when I was conscripted out to war”. General Armfeldt gathered a Karoliner army of conscripts that was assigned to take over Trondheim over a 6-week campaign. The regiment comprised of 10,073 men, 6,721 horses, and 2,500 cattle, and were mobilised in Duved and Åredalen Valley. King Karl XII had ordered Carl Gustav Armfeldt to head into Norway, from Trondheim and had given him 6 weeks to do so. The King himself would enter Norway via Oslo via a southern campaign. The troops, dressed in their royal blue summer uniforms headed across the difficult path and slogged the heavy military equipment, horses and cannons over the rugged mountainous terrain.”

Duved skans Alf Lannerbäck
The campaign started at the fortress of Duved, west of Åre. Illustration: Alf Lannerbäck.

Easy Gains and Limited Provisions

The troops occupied the Norwegian areas of Stene and Skåne after a few skirmishes, until the Norwegian troop retreated. The Karoliners continued the gruelling march along the boggy and waterlogged landscape towards Trondheim. As the siege dragged on, supplies ran out and the troops began to suffer from malnutrition and sickness as a result of the poor water quality. The troops received an order from King Karl XII to retreat to Trondheim and under the conditions of freezing weather, snow and malnutrition retreated backwards, only to be met by marauding attacks from the Norwegians, lead by General Budde. After a skirmish at Nidälven, the troops stationed themselves, awaiting their next order.


Krypskyttar Alf Lannerbäck
Norwegian villagers sneaking up on the swedish soldiers in the borderland between Norway and Sweden. Illustration: Alf Lannerbäck.

The King is Dead

The tragic news was announced that the Swedish king, Karl XII had been shot and killed at the Fredriksten fortress, in southern Norway. General Armfeldt then took the decision for a total withdrawal and retreat into Sweden. It was on New Years Eve that General Armfeldt, together with his band of weary, malnourished soldiers held a Christmas mass in their location in the village of Tydal. The situation was desperate amongst the troops as they readied themselves for the march back to Sweden and they plundered the villages for food and clothing. The troops left in the dead of night and in terrible weather and after three gruelling days march, reached Handöl. Amputations due to frostbite were rife, troops were starving and many of the soldiers were lost along the way.

Counting the costs

The war had devastating effects on the population of Jämtland and Tröndelag, with over 9000 lives lost to war, starvation, malnutrition and diseases. The march over the mountains alone took 4000 lives and many more lives were lost as soldiers succumbed to their wounds once they arrived home. The result on the local population was devastating due the effects of the war; an estimated 40% of the Jämtland working population was lost in the campaign.

Illustration: Alf Lannerbäck
The Caroleans stopped in Haltdalen, Norway on their way back to Sweden, asking the villagers for food. Illustration: Alf Lannerbäck.

Walk in the footsteps of the Karoliner’s

  1. There are numerous trails with marked paths and information that details the Karoliner campaign. Choose for example between the ”Entry march” stretch between Skalstugan (Sweden)-Feren (Norway)-Stene (Norway), or the “Death March” between Haltdalen (Norway)-Tydal (Norway)-Handöl (Sweden).
  2. Visitors can get a feel for the conditions at the Karoliner exhibit at the museum Teknikland in Östersund.
  3. Films, images and voice guided tours of the Karoliners can be obtained at the Åre library and tourist office, the Storulvån Fjällstation and Jamtli in Östersund.
  4. The Karoliner Monument is open to the public in Duved, the gathering point of the troops before their campaign.
  5. Hanriis Café in Handöl is the end point of the march and has a monument for the Karoliners. It is also the place where a mass grave of 600 soldiers, discovered in 1936

Swedish Diplomat with Early Interest in the Caroleans

According to Björn Häger´s book “Uppdrag Bildt: En svensk historia” (released August 2017), the Swedish Diplomat Carl Bildt grew up reading everything he could get his hands on regarding military history. Among the literature was Karl-Aage Schwartzkopfs book on Karl XIIs war campaign in Norway. The author also held a march every year in remembrance of the Carolean march against Trondheim leading Carl Bildt to his first ever journey to Jämtland Härjedalen. He was only 14 when he went on his own to Duved to attend Schwartzkopf march in 1963. The march was 70 km long and took two days to finish. Apparently the march was to his liking as Carl Bildt decided to spend his next summer in Duved.

Illustration: Alf Lannerbäck
The military surgeon was busy as soldiers entered the village Handöl with frozen arms and legs as they came down from the snowstorm in the border mountains. Illustration: Alf Lannerbäck.
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