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Mata Hari: More Than a Prostitute
The greatest female spy in history may have actually never worked as a spy. It was presumably only due to her bad luck that Mata Hari got involved in a case of espionage during World War I; but even a century later the whole truth continues to elude histo
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Mata Hari’s defense was conducted by her former lover, the elderly Edouard Clunet, who burst into tears when the death sentence was delivered.
Mata Hari’s head was embalmed then it was put on display alongside other body parts of famous criminals. The mummified skull disappeared without a trace in the early 2000s.
The testimony of a nurse, Hanna Witting, was significant for the dancer’s death sentence. Overhearing the dialogue of two German spies, the nurse, who later became a celebrated actress as Claude France, alleged that agent H-21 was a dancer. France was rumored to have committed suicide in 1928 because of remorse.
WANT AD MARRIAGE
Born in 1876, Margaretha Geertruida Zelle (Mata Hari’s real name) had an easy childhood at first. Sources claim that her father, the owner of a popular hat shop, thoroughly spoiled his daughter; giving her, for example, an ornate carriage drawn by two trained goats for her sixth birthday. But the carefree early years soon came to an end. Margaretha was 13 years old when her parents divorced – a consequence of her father’s shady business dealings, which had left the family bankrupt. Her mother died two years later, while her father remarried. Margaretha ended up first in her godfather’s custody and went to school to become a teacher, but she later fled to her uncle in The Hague after she started an affair with the school’s principal – which her godfather frowned upon.
She would not remain there for long, however. She was only 18 years old when she noticed an advertisement in a local paper in which a Dutch military officer of Scottish descent serving in the Dutch East Indies (today Indonesia), a certain Rudolf Campbell Macleod, was seeking a wife. Less than three months later, Margaretha became his wife. He was twenty years older, a few centimeters shorter than her – but also in possession of a stable financial background. When seeking the reasons behind the swiftness with which she developed romantic feelings for Macleod, one must not omit the ever-seductive uniform, especially in light of the later history of the young Dutch girl.
At the end of his leave of absence Macleod returned to the island of Java, this time with his wife, who would soon grow to forever regret the fateful day when she spotted the lonely officer’s ad, as Macleod was not a man who aspired to break the mold: besides being a frequent visitor of his local native concubine and nearby brothels, he followed the millennia-old tradition of alcoholism combined with spousal abuse, regularly beating his wife. This was an outlet for the anger that grew out of his – not entirely unfounded – jealousy, since while the officer wasted no opportunity to cheat on Margaretha, he did not tolerate such infidelity from her.
The couple later moved to Sumatra, but when someone – most likely a servant unwilling to put up with Macleod’s abusive behavior – poisoned their two children, and only the girl survived, Rudolf and Margaretha’s marriage reached its breaking point. Their divorce was made official in the Netherlands. The man refused to pay child support, since he claimed that Margaretha had essentially betrayed and left him for no good reason. She was forced to leave her daughter behind in Macleod’s custody, and moved to Paris to find remedy for her financial woes. Which she did with considerable success.
THE DAME OF THE NIGHT
At first, besides posing for painters, she entertained crowds as a circus horse rider under the pseudonym Lady Macleod – a final dig at her husband – but soon realized that her gifts had predestined her for success in an entirely different segment of the entertainment industry. She thus took up the stage name “Mata Hari” (Malay for “eye of the day”, meaning the Sun) and became an erotic dancer. Margaretha had joined a dance group on Java, so her new profession was familiar territory, and her natural talent quickly got her noticed. Soon, throngs of businessmen, politicians, artists, military officers, and decent family men were lining up to watch Mata Hari’s performances with profound amazement, the saliva gracefully flowing down their chins signaling their awe at the masterful fusion of erotic convulsions and dance moves adopted from various eastern cultures.
Margaretha used her eastern features to make everyone believe she was an Indian princess who had found a European husband. The press loved the story, of course, and Mata Hari practically became a legend of nighttime Paris – and that was just the start. She also spent these years dazzling curious audiences in Berlin, Cairo, Madrid, Rome, and Monte Carlo, among others.
Meanwhile, she used quick liaisons to boost her already sizable income. After a while, when the aging woman no longer aroused men’s interest as a dancer the same way as before, such relationships became her main source of money. Of course, Mata Hari was much more than an ordinary prostitute: thanks to her intelligence and knowledge of languages, men would often view her not just as a means of satisfying their sexual desires, but as a conversationalist. In the 1910s, she was also considered one of the best courtesans in the world. Her clients included the father of the Ballets Russes, Sergei Diaghilev, as well as the heir to the throne and the foreign minister of Germany. She was often affiliated with bankers, but was always open about her preference for military officers, in spite of her mixed past experiences. But her turbulent relationships soon brought troubles that not even her radiant eroticism could get her out of.
DISINFECTANT AS CONTRACEPTIVE
When World War I broke out on July 28, 1914, Mata Hari was still living the relatively carefree life of a courtesan. Since she was from a neutral country, she could travel around Europe without considerable restrictions even at such a time. However, in an atmosphere dense with wartime psychosis, many people found this suspicious. This is where her story gets rather confusing.
One of the most popular theories suggest that Mata Hari was recruited first by the Germans, then the French. But the courtesan, working as a double agent, was ultimately assigned an ungrateful role. In January 1917 the military attaché of the German embassy in Madrid, Arnold von Kalle, who was intimately involved with Mata Hari, sent a report to Berlin telling about the great work Agent H-21 had done. The reply from the imperial capital contained an order that a check for 5 thousand francs be made out to the agent as a reward for her accomplishment. But the French had already broken the enemy’s code, and were thus among the first to hear about the outstanding work the courtesan was doing for the Germans.
Some say the Germans already knew that the French had broken their diplomatic code, and the messages were sent with this detail in mind. According to this theory, the likely motivation behind this was to frame Mata Hari in order to divert suspicion from real German spies, who could then continue their activities somewhat more safely. Another explanation is that the Germans simply wanted to get rid of a double agent.
This chapter in Mata Hari’s life coincided with one of France’s hardest years in the war. Military mutinies and strikes were becoming more frequent, and the Russian Revolution had allowed the Germans to reallocate considerable forces to the western front. The French thus badly needed a scapegoat who could be blamed for the growing troubles – and they found it in Mata Hari, a woman of questionable reputation and the embodiment of the millennia-old trope of “female unreliability”.
On February 13, 1917, she was arrested in her hotel room in Paris and charged with spying for Germany and thereby contributing to the murder of 50 thousand French soldiers. Among other things, the previously mentioned 5-thousand-franc check and a bottle of invisible ink were also recovered from the scene. Although in her testimony she insisted that the money was compensation for her performance as a lover and dancer, and what they believed to be ink was in fact a disinfectant that she used as a contraceptive, the prosecution was unmoved by her reasoning.
FACING THE FIRING SQUAD IN GLOVES AND A HAT
From her arrest until her trial, Mata Hari was held in the wing of the Prison Saint-Lazare usually reserved for heavyweight criminals. The military tribunal convened in the Palais de Justice in Paris on July 24, 1917, to hear the case of the alleged spy. The French prosecutor, André Mornet, was the one who named Mata Hari the greatest female spy in history and compared her to Messalina, the famously promiscuous wife of Emperor Claudius. The defense attorney had his work cut out for him, since he was not allowed to ask questions from either the prosecution’s witnesses or even his own. The former courtesan tried to prove her innocence, but the judges showed no mercy: she was sentenced to death by firing squad.
Mata Hari spent the next few months hoping for a positive turn of events. She was only able to sleep on Saturday nights, since there were no executions on Sunday and so she did not have to worry about being woken up by guards knocking on her door. Up until the final moments she hoped to be pardoned by the President of France, but her petition was rejected.
Her execution took place early in the morning of October 15, 1917. She was put on a truck and taken to the Vincennes Barracks, where she awaited the volley of bullets, her dress complete with a hat and gloves. When an officer tried to blindfold her, she asked if they could dispense with the formalities this once. The soldier blushed, mumbled something awkwardly, and stepped away from the femme fatale. A few moments later the squad opened fire. There were several subsequent rumors about her final moments: some said she had blown a kiss to the soldiers and opened her coat, and that the soldiers had fired with eyes closed lest they become enchanted by the woman’s beauty. Others claimed she had paid off the members of the firing squad and had them put blanks in their rifles – but one of them had changed his mind.
These rumors are presumably far removed from reality. Nevertheless, Mata Hari became a bona fide legend. She was portrayed by such icons of the silver screen as Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, and Zsa Zsa Gabor, while Kurt Vonnegut dedicated Mother Night, his brilliant novel about an abandoned American spy, to her. In 2001, 84 years after Mata Hari was executed, a spokesperson for the French Ministry of Justice informed the public that the late courtesan was innocent of the charges against her.
The greatest female spy in history may have actually never worked as a spy. It was presumably only due to her bad luck that Mata Hari (who was of Dutch descent and made her name first as an exceptionally talented erotic dancer in European bars, then as a favorite courtesan of bankers, military officers, and aristocrats) got involved in a case of espionage; but even a century later the whole truth continues to elude historians. Whatever she might have actually done during World War I, there is no doubt that as a result of a career built on her radiant sexuality that mesmerized hordes of men, as well as her rich life story, her figure occupies a special place in mankind’s collective cultural memory.
Armored vehicles disguised as water tanks, soldiers encountering flush toilets for the first time, Christmas ceasefires, and frontline appearances by taxis. World War I may be known as one of the most destructive armed conflicts in human history, with repercussions that influenced and defined peoples’ lives for decades – and which are still directly felt today – but the war also gave birth to a treasure trove of anecdotes. For the soldiers, unusual events that provided a change from merciless everyday routines and senseless killing were the only temporary escapes from a world of horrors that they experienced. The most beautiful moments were the ones when belligerents put aside their nationalistic emotions and, disobeying the orders of their superiors, started fraternizing with each other, realizing that the soldiers fighting on the other side were people just like them.
For a long time, most people seemed to believe that John Parr was the first British soldier to suffer a deadly wound in the war on August 21, 1914. However, recent research has shown that Parr most likely did not perish from enemy fire, as the nearest German or Austrian forces on that particular day were 10–15 kilometers away from his position. Although evidence suggests that he died from friendly fire, it is a strange coincidence that he rests in the same Saint-Symphorien military cemetery as two other soldiers: One was the last British casualty of the war and the other was the very last victim of the conflict from any side. The former, George Edwin Ellison, died 90 minutes before the ceasefire was announced at 11 o’clock on November 11, 1918, while the latter, George Lawrence Price, would have only had to stay out of the line of fire for just 2 more minutes.
It seems that neither Parr nor Ellison were carrying a Bible, for it is possible that it might have saved their lives. Pocket Bibles – most of which were sent to the frontlines by mothers back home – were often a part of British soldiers’ gear. While parents obviously had religious reasons for sending a copy of the Scriptures to their sons, sources tell of at least two cases where a Bible ended up saving its owner from being shot to death.
World War I may remind most people of widespread killing, but paradoxically the conflict also helped introduce many people to civilizational achievements that they had previously not been aware of. This, however, sometimes came at a price. Often, young Brits coming from the countryside – and thus being used to outdoor toilets – first saw a flush toilet at the barracks. According to an anecdote, one soldier had just started washing his socks in the toilet bowl when his comrades, barely able to hold their laughter, told him that by pulling the lever above the water tank he could have even more water to do his cleaning. The young Brit thanked them for the good advice and promptly flushed his socks. Of course, his mates finally broke out in laughter over his naiveté.
WHEN EVEN TAXIS CARRIED SOLDIERS
These days it might seem odd that, during the first months of the war, most of the soldiers plunged into battle with joy. Very few were able to avoid the effects of war psychosis, but some also had a hard time getting to the battlefield at all.
One of the most unusual events of the conflict happened in its early months. In accordance with the Schlieffen Plan, the German army entered Belgium and used the opportunity to initiate a flanking maneuver against the French, who hastily retreated towards Paris, only to stop on the southern side of the Marne River and start building up defensive positions. The Germans got so close to Paris that they were able to spot the top of the Eiffel Tower from 20 kilometers away.
However, they did not expect French forces to appear from the direction of Alsace-Lorraine, and by September 5, the day known as a major turning point in the war, it was the Germans who were at the risk of being surrounded. One day later, on September 6, 1914, the soldiers of the French Seventh Infantry Division were transported to the Marne battlefield in 600 Parisian taxis, which had been commandeered for the army by General Gallieni, Military Governor of Paris. The taxis of Marne occupy a prominent position in French war mythology, but the 6,000 soldiers who caught a ride to the front were actually only meant to reinforce the rear, and only a few of them saw any action.
The Battle of the Marne, which only lasted five days, saw over 2 million German and French soldiers, as well as nearly 70,000 Brits engaged in the fight, and so these 6,000 soldiers represented a negligible force. The anecdote, however, was taken up by the French government, which was working to create a strong bond between the army and the civilians – a “sacred union,” as they called it – in the war.
URINE-FILLED BOOTS AND ZEPPELIN BOMBERS
Even when the soldiers did make it to the frontline, marching proved to be quite an ordeal, for there were few pieces of clothing more uncomfortable than combat boots. Blisters and rashers on the feet became a part of everyday life for the troops, but the Brits found a rather bizarre means of making their stiff footwear easier on their feet: They urinated into their boots and left them that way for the night.
Of course, this did not always prove effective. Legend has it that one infantry trooper’s feet were so large that no boots would provide a comfortable fit, and even the largest boots available kept hurting his feet. The problem was finally solved by reassigning him to an artillery unit.
There were other machines helping soldiers besides the aforementioned taxis. Tanks, for example, were first deployed in September 1916 at the Somme. The top speed of these armored vehicles, which had been disguised as water tanks by the Brits when they were sent to the front, was less than 5 kilometers per hour at the time. Another unusual sight was deployment of the Zeppelin airship in battle: Germany started using it to bomb British cities in January 1915. This was the first offensive in history where a civilian population was attacked from the air, and some 1,400 Brits died in the air raids.
According to the legend, in September 1915 one Zeppelin attack saw the Germans drop not just bombs on London, but a piece of ham as well. The package said: “A gift from the well-fed German people.” The act was meant to demonstrate to the Brits that, despite the naval blockade, Germany was not starving.
THE LEGEND OF THE BARBARIC GERMANS
One of the most extreme examples of propaganda was the work of the Entente. In January 1917, British papers printed a rumor according to which German soldiers were using the fat of their fallen comrades as lubricant, and making mash feed for pigs out of their bones. But the outrage of the Brits over the alleged barbarism of German soldiers, accounts of which had already been circulating among the Allies, turned out to be unfounded, as the story was as false as they come. What had happened was journalists had translated the German word for animal carcass (kadaver) in the sense of human corpse – so the actual story was about the “recycling” of animals that had fallen on the frontlines, which was also a practice on the Entente side.
Of course, propagandists rarely went this far, as more sophisticated methods were usually sufficient to affect the psyche of their compatriots. In Germany, for example, every hotel with an English or French name was ordered to change it to something more Germanic sounding. They even attempted to Germanize the word “bonbon,” but the effort failed, just like that of the French leadership to change Eau de Cologne to Eau de Provence – in both cases, the population rejected the new names.
CHRISTMAS ON THE FRONT
Soldiers generally got a kick out of messing with the enemy in more lighthearted ways, but sometimes the camaraderie that connected the trenches actually managed to transcend nationalistic passions. One of the most well-known anecdotes of the war is about the Christmas of 1914, when soldiers on the western front decided to cease hostilities for a few hours and started fraternizing on the no man’s land between their trenches. They showed each other photographs, and offered chocolate and tobacco to their enemy. The peculiar ceasefire was ended by the sirens of the different central commands, which then did their best to prevent any other such incidents from happening.
Perhaps even stranger was the case when a French soldier shouted across the battlefield to the Germans, who were busy eating lunch in their trenches, to ask if they would mind if he joined them. The Germans appreciated the joke, and invited the French soldier to come over. The Frenchman actually took the invitation seriously, and for a couple days afterwards the Allied soldier went over to the other side for lunch – until a German officer eventually had enough of this unacceptable and subversive kind of camaraderie. From then on, the soldier could not go near the German trenches.
Russian soldiers under General Kuropatkin would have also been better off if someone had forbidden them to leave their trenches. Kuropatkin set out to defeat the Germans using a tried and true method of the Russo-Japanese War, but this time his plan bore catastrophic consequences for his soldiers. At the general’s orders, hundreds of powerful spotlights were turned toward enemy lines to blind the Germans and thus ensure an easy victory. But the lights actually made the Russian soldiers easier targets for the Germans because, instead of blinding the Germans, they highlighted the silhouettes of the Russians. As a result of Kuropatkin’s ill-considered plan, some 8,000 Russian soldiers died over the course of a single night.
Text by Paul Skates. We Love History Magazine / welovehistory.com
BEARD TAX AND CALENDAR REFORM
The first chapter in the reign of Tsar Peter I, who was later honored by posterity with the title “Great”, did not lead contemporaries to believe that they were dealing with a leader who would bring about a major shift for the country. His brother and predecessor had died without appointing an heir, which had the influential families of the Tsar’s court at each other’s throats. Finally, Peter I and his brother Ivan V captured the throne as co-monarchs, with their sister Sophia governing the country until the boys reached adulthood. Sources describe Sophia as a smart and talented but unattractive and immoral woman who had no desire at all to give up any authority. But Peter, already dissatisfied with his sister’s governance, began to demand power more loudly and forcefully. In 1689, he successfully removed Sophia as regent, and had her locked in a monastery for the rest of her life. Since his brother Ivan was a sickly, nearsighted man with a speech impediment who spent most of his time praying and with his wife, Peter became the single most powerful person in Russia. After Ivan’s death in 1696, he became the country’s sole ruler.
The Tsar had adored ships and the seas since childhood, and spent a lot of time in Moscow’s German quarter. The things he learned there inspired him to travel all across Europe, and in 1697-98 he went on a tour of the old continent, which included visits to the Netherlands and England. During his travels, he enjoyed visiting ship construction works and even worked with the carpenters to learn their craft, but he was interested in all other aspects of sailing as well. Upon returning from his trip, he announced that Russia would switch from the Orthodox to the Julian Calendar used by Catholics. He was also the one who introduced the famous beard tax of 50 rubles on anyone unwilling to shave their facial hair in spite of the new provisions.
Peter’s tour of Europe was actually part of a diplomatic mission. The Ottoman fortress of Azov by the Black Sea had stood successfully against previous sieges, but Peter had really wanted a southern maritime exit for Russia. After building a fleet capable of preventing supplies from reaching the defenders via the sea, Peter was finally able to capture the fortress in 1696. His European visit was meant to find allies for the continuation of his war, but when this effort failed he arranged a peace with the Turks in 1700 and turned his attention to the Baltic Sea.
BEARS AND ALCOHOL DON’T GO TOGETHER
Charles XII was merely fifteen years old when he became king in 1697. The young Swedish ruler did not inspire much confidence at first, as he initially devoted more attention to his own entertainment than to astute governance. Riding down the street, he found pleasure in knocking the hats off strangers’ heads and shooting out the windows of houses with his pistol. Despite his young age, he enjoyed alcohol and was regularly drunk. On such occasions, he had sheep brought to the castle and chopped off their heads. Some sources claim he hunted bears with a knife and even managed to capture one. But on one occasion, he also made his pet bear drink vodka, after which the poor beast, staggering inebriated, fell out of the castle’s window to its death. Perhaps due to his sadness over the loss of his bear, or perhaps due to the subsequent scolding by his grandmother, Charles XII never consumed alcohol again. His recklessness, however, did not wane, and he later took an active fighting role in many of his military endeavors, with no regard for his safety even in a hail of bullets as he tried to survey targets.
As a result, Sweden’s neighbors believed that the young and careless Charles XII would be an easy target, and a coalition against him came into being between Elector of Saxony and King of Poland Augustus II the Strong, Russian Tsar Peter the Great, and King of Denmark and Norway Frederick IV. But they had profoundly misjudged the Swedish king. Although Frederick immediately launched attacks on Swedish estates, Charles XII took to the sea with his army and landed near the Danish capital of Copenhagen. The Danes, under further pressure from the English and the Dutch, were forced to strike a peace with the Swedes.
Charles continued his military movements with characteristic swiftness. Augustus the Strong surrounded Riga, while Peter the Great put the city of Narva (a part of Estonia today) under siege, hoping that the Swedes would remain preoccupied with their war against Denmark. The Swedes, four times outnumbered, approached the 40-thousand-strong Russian army in a blinding November snowstorm. Charles recognized that the wind was blowing the snow in his enemies’ faces, and ordered his men to attack, catching the Russians by surprise: the general staff were eating lunch at the time, and Peter the Great was not even inside the camp, as he was not expecting an attack. The ensuing battle, which took place in November, 1700, was one of Charles XII’s most memorable victories. The loss of 7 hundred men on the Swedish side was dwarfed by the 6 thousand dead and 20 thousand captured Russian soldiers. Charles XII had good reason to believe that he had won a decisive victory, and turned south after the battle.
WAR AND PREPARATION
After the humiliating defeat, Peter the Great had plenty of time to devote his resources to making sure he would be more prepared for the next encounter, because the Swedish king stuck with his earlier strategy and sought to eliminate his adversaries one-by-one. In the wake of his victory at Narva, he marched against his only enemy still standing, Augustus the Strong. In July, 1702, he defeated the twice larger Saxon-Polish army at Kliszów, and took Krakow. With the successful invasion, Charles managed to get Stanisław Leszczyński elected King of Poland – but Augustus the Strong had not given up yet. The Swedes got mired in the Polish succession battle and won another victory against the Saxon army (which had been reinforced with Russian units) at Wschowa (Fraustadt) in 1706. Even though the Saxon elector sent his mistress to negotiate with Charles, the king remained unmoved. And thus, in the 1706 Treaty of Altranstädt, Augustus the Strong was forced to relinquish the Polish crown.
For Peter the Great, these years were not spent waiting idly on the sidelines. He had 23 thousand new recruits conscripted and introduced western-style reforms to military training. He ordered 30 thousand muskets from Britain and ordered Russian manufacturers to start copying the western weapons. He remained active on the battlefield as well, winning partial yet important victories during Charles XII’s Polish campaigns. In 1703, he drove the Swedes from the mouth of the Neva River and established Saint Petersburg. In 1704, he won a psychological victory when his forces took Narva. In 1707, he made a peace offer to Charles XII in which he offered to give back the Swedish king everything he had taken – except for Saint Petersburg. Charles refused.
THE FALL OF THE SWEDISH GREAT POWER
It is a lesser-known fact that, before Napoleon and Hitler, Charles XII also invaded Russia. The ultimate goal of his campaign against Peter the Great was no less than taking Moscow. The Swedish troops crossed the Vistula in January, 1708, beginning their long, many-thousand-mile journey through Russia. Charles enjoyed the support of Cossack Hetman (military commander) Ivan Mazepa and his men, who had turned on Peter the Great when he had attempted to impose his westernized military model on the Cossacks.
Charles wanted to force Peter into a decisive battle like the one at Narva but was unsuccessful, as the Tsar chose gradual retreat and a scorched earth strategy instead. The Swedes managed to win smaller battles, but were soon faced with severe food shortage, exacerbated by the Great Frost of 1708-09 – one of the harshest European winters in recorded history. By the time Charles realized that he would not make it to Moscow in time it was mid-September, so he retreated to Ukraine to spend the winter on the Cossacks’ land.
The next year saw Charles on the offensive once again, but the circumstances had changed drastically. The Swedish army continued to deteriorate in the subsequent battles and due to the harsh winter, eventually losing half its original strength, and there was no way to receive supplies and reinforcements from faraway Sweden. Meanwhile, the Russians were able to considerably outnumber them in every battle. In an attack on the Cossacks’ territory, the Russians mercilessly punished the Swedes’ allies for defecting to Charles under Mazepa’s leadership. As a result, the Cossacks ended up abandoning the king before the battle at Poltava, in which Charles decided to mount a siege on the fortress to force Peter into meeting him on the battlefield.
Charles’ calculations were correct: the Russians showed up with 40 thousand men and set up camp nearby. The Swedes had less than 18 thousand men. Making matters worse for Charles was a bullet wound in his leg he had suffered a few days before the battle while surveying the Russians lines, which left him bedridden, and there was also disharmony among his generals. On the morning of June 27, the Swedes launched a charge, surprising the Russians and capturing their ramparts. But a sudden heat wave stopped the momentum of the Swedish attacks, and their cannons went silent as the gunpowder ran out. Eventually, the Russians pushed forward on the flanks, surrounding and massacring the Swedish infantry. The remnants of Charles’s army – every single man – surrendered two days later.
Charles XII managed to escape, and found refuge in Sultan Ahmed III’s court. Peter demanded that the Swedish ruler be extradited, and declared war when he was refused. His campaign, however, ended in severe defeat, and only by bribing the Sultan and returning Azov to the Ottomans was he able to walk away unharmed.
Charles had to spend five more years as a guest of the Sultan, while his country faced hard times. As a result of the Swedish defeat at Poltava, both Augustus the Strong and Frederick IV came to believe that they had made peace with Charles too soon, and launched another war against Sweden. After his return home, Charles had some success fighting off the Danish-Norwegian armies, but he was killed on the battlefield in 1718 when he was struck in the head by a stray Norwegian bullet while surveying the fortress during the siege of Fredriksten. In 1721, Peter the Great got to sign the Treaty of Nystad as the victor, finally acquiring his long-desired Baltic Sea exit. He had four years to enjoy his success before his death in 1725.