Johann Reinhold Patkul, (1660-1707), a Livonian politician and agitator of Baltic German extraction, was born in prison at Stockholm, where his father lay under suspicion of treason. He entered the Swedish army at an early age and was already a captain when, in 1689, at the head of a deputation of Livonian gentry, he went to Stockholm to protest against the rigour with which the land-recovery project of Charles XI of Sweden was being carried out in his native province. His eloquence favourably impressed Charles XI, but his representations were disregarded, and the offensive language with which, in another petition addressed to the king three years later, he renewed his complaints, involved him in a government prosecution. To save himself from the penalties of high treason, Patkul fled from Stockholm to Switzerland, and was condemned to lose his right hand and his head. His estates were at the same time confiscated.
For the next four years he led a vagabond life, but in 1698, after vainly petitioning the new king, Charles XII of Sweden, for pardon, he entered the service of Augustus the Strong of Saxony and Poland, with the deliberate intention of wresting Livonia from Sweden, to which he had now no hope of returning so long as that province belonged to the Swedish Crown. The aristocratic republic of Poland was obviously the most convenient suzerain for a Livonian nobleman; so in 1698, Patkul proceeded to the court of the king-elector at Dresden and bombarded Augustus with proposals for the partition of Sweden. His first plan was a combination against her of Saxony, Denmark and Brandenburg; but, Brandenburg failing him, he was obliged very unwillingly to admit Russia into the partnership. The tsar was to be content with Ingria and Estonia while Augustus was to take Livonia, nominally as a fief of Poland, but really as a hereditary possession of the Saxon house. Military operations against Sweden’s Baltic provinces were to be begun simultaneously by the Saxons and Russians. After thus forging the first link of the partition treaty, Patkul proceeded to Moscow, and, at a secret conference held at Preobrazhenskoye, easily persuaded Peter the Great to accede to the nefarious league on November 18, 1699. Thoughout the earlier, unluckier days of the Great Northern War, Patkul was the mainstay of the confederates. At Vienna, in 1702, he picked up the Scottish general George Benedict Ogilvie, and enlisted him in Peter’s service.
The same year, recognizing the unprofitableness of serving such a master as Augustus, he exchanged the Saxon for the Russian service. Peter was glad enough to get a man so famous for his talents and energy, but Patkul speedily belied his reputation. His knowledge was too local and limited. On August 19, 1704 he succeeded, at last, in bringing about a treaty of alliance between Russia and the Polish republic to strengthen the hands of Augustus, but he failed to bring Prussia also into the anti Swedish league because of Fredrick I’s fear of Charles and jealousy of Peter. From Berlin Patkul went on to Dresden to conclude an agreement with the imperial commissioners for the transfer of the Russian contingent from the Saxon to the Austrian service. The Saxon ministers, after protesting against the new arrangement, arrested Patkul and shut him up in the fortress of Sonnenstein December 19, 1705, altogether disregarding the remonstrances of Peter against such a gross violation of international law. After the Peace of Altranstädt September 24, 1707 he was delivered up to Charles, and at Kazimierz in Poland October, 1707 was broken alive on the wheel, Charles rejecting an appeal for mercy from his sister, the princess Ulrica , on the ground that Patkul, as a traitor, could not be pardoned for example’s sake.