The winter of 1708-1709 was unusually cold throughout Western Europe with the low temperatures noted as early as October 1708.
Dunwich is located in Suffolk County on the east coast of England on the North Sea. Although it still exists, it is now a small village with just a few houses. Previously it was one of the leading ports on the east coast, however it has been subject to sea erosion for many years. In 1328, during a major storm, the sea washed many houses away. In 1677, the sea entered the marketplace and in the early years of the 18th century, St. Peter's Church and St. Francis Chapel collapsed into the sea. Sea erosion is not an unknown occurrence in England and there are legends in many places that tell of being able to hear the bells of submerged churches during storms.
Charles XII succeeded to the
throne of Sweden in 1697 upon the death of his father. Due to
his youth (18), neighboring Denmark, Poland and Russia attacked
Sweden in 1700. With the help of England and Holland, Charles
first defeated Denmark. He then turned to Russia and defeated
them at Narva. Charles had an army of 10,000; the size of the
Russian army is under dispute with 40,000 being the lower number
and 80,000 the higher. Charles' attention was now on Poland which
he defeated by 1704. Sweden resumed hostilities with Russia in
1707. A successful invasion of Russia was met by the usual scorched
earth defense by the Russians. The privations of the winter of
1708-1709 were exacerbated by the harsh cold and when Charles'
supply train was ambushed and abandoned, things became more difficult
for the Swedish army. Contemporary diaries tell of horrific conditions.
In the summer of 1709, Charles lost to the Russians at the Battle
of Poltara which marked the end of Sweden as a major European
military power. Charles escaped to Turkey where he prevailed
upon the Turks to bring war against Russia; however after some
early successes, Turkey made peace with Russia.