Queen Christina of Sweden

Christina of Sweden, about 1650
Christina of Sweden, about 1650. From a painting by David Beck. Hulton Fine Art Collection / Fine Art Images / Heritage Images / Getty Images

About Queen Christina of Sweden:

Dates: December 8 or 17, 1626 - April 19, 1689
Queen of Sweden November 6, 1632 - June 5, 1654
Crowned 1644 or 1650
(dates are found in conflicting sources)

Occupation: Queen of Sweden

Known for: Ruling Sweden in her own right, patronage of art and philosophy, abdication, conversion to Roman Catholicism, part in Thirty Years' War; rumors of lesbianism and intersexuality

Also known as: Christina Vasa; Kristina Wasa; Maria Christina Alexandra; Count Dohna; Minerva of the North; Protectress of the Jews at Rome

More About Queen Christina of Sweden:

Born to King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden and his wife, Maria Eleanora of Brandenburg, she was her father's only heir. Her childhood was during the long cold spell in Europe called the "Little Ice Age."  Her childhood was also during the time of the Thirty Years' War (1618 - 1648), when Sweden sided with other Protestant powers against the Habsburg Empire, a Catholic power centered in Austria.

Maria Eleanora, a German princess, had been sought as a bride for a prince of Poland and for Charles Stuart, British heir.

Christina's father ordered that she be educated as a boy would be, she became known for her learning and for her patronage of learning and the arts as the "Minerva of the North" and Stockholm became known as "Athens of the North."  

Career as Queen of Sweden:

When her father was killed in battle in 1632, the six-year-old girl became Queen Christina.

Her mother was excluded, over her own protestations, from being part of the regency, and she was described as "hysterical" in her grief.  Her parental rights were terminated in 1636. She continued to attempt to visit Christina, who tried to settle her first in Denmark then back to her home in Germany, but her homeland would not take her until Christian secured for her an allowance to support her.

Ruling at the head of government as regent until Queen Christina was of age was Axel Oxenstierna, who continued as her advisor after she was crowned. It was against his advice that she initiated the end of the Thirty Years War, culminating with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.

Queen Christina launched a "Court of Learning" by her patronage of art, theater, and music. The French philosopher Rene Descartes came to Stockholm, where he lived for two years. His plans for an Academy in Stockholm came to nothing when he suddenly became ill and died in 1650.

Christina's coronation was delayed until 1650, and her mother attended the ceremony.

Relationships:

Queen Christina appointed her cousin, Carl Gustav (Karl Charles Gustavus) as her successor. Some historians believe that she was romantically linked to him earlier, but they never married, and instead, her relationship with lady-in-waiting Countess Ebbe "Belle" Sparre launched rumors of lesbianism.

Surviving letters from Christina to the Countess are easily described as love letters, though it is always difficult to apply modern classifications like "lesbian" to people in another time when such classifications were not known. Though they shared a bed at times, this practice did not at that time necessarily imply a sexual relationship.

The Countess married and left court before Christina's abdication, but they continued to exchange passionate letters.

Abdication:

Difficulties with issues of taxation and governance, and problematic relations with Poland plagued Christina's last years as Queen of Sweden, and in 1651 she first proposed that she abdicate. Her council convinced her to stay, but she had some sort of breakdown and spent much time confined to her rooms, consulting with Father Antonio Macedo. She finally did abdicate officially in 1654. Her actual reasons for abdicating are still argued by historians.Her mother opposed her daughter's abdication, and Christina provided that her mother's allowance would be secure even without her daughter ruling Sweden.  Maria Eleanora died in 1655.

Christina in Rome:

Christina, now calling herself Maria Christina Alexandra, left Sweden a few days after her official abdication, traveling in disguise as a man.

She made her way to Rome, where she lived in a palazzo filled with art and books and which became a lively center of culture as a salon.

Converted to Roman Catholicism perhaps by 1652 but certainly by the time she arrived in Rome, the former Queen Christina became a favorite of the Vatican in the religious "battle for the hearts and minds" of 17th century Europe. She was aligned with a particularly free-thinking branch of Roman Catholicism.

Christina also embroiled herself in political and religious intrigue, first between the French and Spanish factions in Rome.

Failed Schemes and Royal Aspirations:

In 1656, Christina launched an attempt to become Queen of Naples. A member of Christina's household, the Marquis of Monaldesco, betrayed plans of Christina and the French to the Spanish Viceroy of Naples. Christina retaliated by having Monaldesco executed summarily in her presence, defending her action as her right. For this act, she was for some time marginalized in Roman society, though she eventually became involved again in church politics.

In another failed scheme, Christina attempted to have herself made Queen of Poland. Her confidant and advisor, Decio Azzolino, a cardinal, was widely rumored to be her lover, and in one scheme Christina attempted to win the Papacy for Azzolino.

Christina's Death:

Christina died in 1689, aged 63. She named Cardinal Azzolino as her sole heir. She was buried in St. Peter's, an unusual honor for a woman.

Christina's Reputation:

Christina's "abnormal" interest (for her time) in pursuits normally reserved for males, occasional dressing in male attire, and persistent stories about her personal relationships, have led to many disagreements among historians as to the nature of her sexuality.

In 1965, her body was exhumed for testing, to see if she had signs of hermaphroditism or intersexuality, but the results were inconclusive.

Places: Stockholm, Sweden; Rome, Italy

Religion: Protestant - Lutheran, Roman Catholic, accused of atheism

Books About Queen Christina of Sweden

  • Veronica Buckley. Christina, Queen of Sweden: The Restless Life of a European Eccentric. 2005.
  • Joanne Mattern.  Queen Christina of Sweden. 2009.
  • Marcia Landy and Amy Villarejo. Queen Christina.  1995.
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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Queen Christina of Sweden." ThoughtCo, Dec. 26, 2016, thoughtco.com/queen-christina-of-sweden-3530306. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2016, December 26). Queen Christina of Sweden. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/queen-christina-of-sweden-3530306 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Queen Christina of Sweden." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/queen-christina-of-sweden-3530306 (accessed December 14, 2017).