Portrait by Jacob Ferdinand Voet
Christina (Swedish: Kristina Augusta; 18 December [O.S. 8 December] 1626 – 19 April 1689), later adopting the name Christina Alexandra, was Queen regnant of Sweden from 1633 to 1654, using the titles of Queen of Swedes, Goths, and Vandals, Grand Princess of Finland, and Duchess of Ingria, Estonia, Livonia and Karelia. She was the only surviving legitimate child of King Gustav II Adolph and his wife Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg. As the heiress presumptive, at the age of six she succeeded her father on the throne of Sweden upon his death at the Battle of Lützen. Being the daughter of a Protestant champion in the Thirty Years' War, she caused a scandal when she abdicated her throne and converted to Roman Catholicism in 1654. She spent her later years in Rome, becoming a leader of the theatrical and musical life there. As a queen without a country, she protected many artists and projects. She is one of the few women buried in the Vatican grotto.
Christina was moody, intelligent, and interested in books and manuscripts, religion, alchemy, and science. She wanted Stockholm to become the Athens of the North. Influenced by the Counter Reformation, she was increasingly attracted to the Baroque and Mediterranean culture that took her away from her Protestant country. Her unconventional lifestyle and masculine dressing and behaviour would feature in countless novels and plays, and in opera and film.
Christina was born in Stockholm in the royal castle Tre Kronor, and her birth occurred during a rare astrological conjunction that fuelled great speculation on what influence the child, fervently hoped to be a boy, would later have on the world stage. The king had already sired two daughters – a nameless princess born in 1620 and then the first princess Christina, who was born in 1623 and died the following year. Excited expectation surrounded Maria Eleonora's third pregnancy in 1626. There was much excitement when the baby was born and was first thought to be a boy as it was "hairy" and screamed, "with a strong, hoarse voice". Christina later wrote in her autobiography that, "Deep embarrassment spread among the women when they discovered their mistake". The king, though, was very happy, stating, "She'll be clever, she has made fools of us all!". From most accounts, Gustav Adolf appears to have been closely attached to his daughter and she appears to have admired him greatly. Her mother remained disappointed Christina was a girl.
Tre Kronor in Stockholm by Govert Dircksz Camphuysen. Most of Sweden's national library and royal archives were destroyed when the castle burned in 1697
Before Gustav Adolf left for Germany to defend Protestantism in the Thirty Years' war, he secured his daughter's right to inherit the throne, in case he never returned and gave orders that Christina should receive education normally only afforded to boys. Her mother, of the House of Hohenzollern, was a woman of quite distraught temperament and was melancholic. It is possible she was insane. After Christina's father died on 6 November 1632 on the battlefield, Maria Eleonora had him brought home in a coffin, with his heart in a separate box. Maria Eleonora ordered that the king should not be buried until she could be buried with him. As a result, he was not buried until 22 June 1634, more than 18 months later. She also demanded that the coffin be kept open, and went to see it regularly; patting it and taking no notice of the putrefaction. Eventually the embarrassed Chancellor, Axel Oxenstierna, saw no other solution than to have a guard posted at the room to prevent further episodes.
Christina then became the belated centre of her mother's attention. Having previously showed her daughter complete indifference, Maria Eleonora suddenly became perversely attentive to her. Gustav Adolf had decided that in the event of his death, his daughter should be cared for by his half-sister, Catherine of Sweden. This solution did not suit Maria Eleonora, who had her sister-in-law banned from the castle. In 1636 Chancellor Oxenstierna saw no other solution than exile the widow to Gripsholm castle, while the governing regency council would decide when she was allowed to meet her nine-year-old daughter.For the subsequent three years, Christina thrived in the company of her aunt Catherine and her family. After the death of her paternal aunt and foster mother, Catherine of Sweden, Countess Palatine of Kleeburg in 1638, the royal council appointed two foster mothers for the queen: countess Ebba Mauritzdotter Leijonhufvud and Christina Nilsdotter Natt och Dag.
On 15 March 1633 Christina became queen at the age of six, giving rise to the nickname the "Girl King". Christina was educated as a state-child. The theologian Johannes Matthiae Gothus became her tutor; he gave her lessons in religion, philosophy, Greek and Latin. Chancellor Oxenstierna taught her politics and discussed Tacitus with her. Christina seemed happy to study ten hours a day. She learned Swedish as well as German, Dutch, Danish, Frenchand Italian. Oxenstierna wrote proudly of the 14-year-old girl that, "She is not at all like a female" and that she had "a bright intelligence". From 1638 Oxenstierna employed a French ballet troupe under Antoine de Beaulieu, who also had to teach Christina to move around more elegantly.
The Crown of Sweden was hereditary in the family of Vasa, but from King Charles IX's time (reigned 1604–11) excluding Vasa princes descended from a deposed brother and a deposed nephew of his. Gustav Adolf's legitimate younger brothers had died years earlier; his only surviving brother was his father's extramarital son, and therefore there were only legitimate females left. There were no eligible living female lines descended from elder sons of King Gustav I Vasa, so Christina was the heiress presumptive. From her birth King Gustav Adolph recognized his daughter Christina's eligibility even as a female heir, and although called "queen", the official title she had as of her coronation was King.
In 1636–1637 Peter Minuit and Samuel Blommaert negotiated with the government about the founding of New Sweden, the first Swedish colony in the New World. In 1638 Minuit erected Fort Christina in Wilmington, Delaware; also Christina River was named after her. In December 1643, Swedish troops overran Holstein and Jutland in the Torstenson War.
The 16-year-old Christina as queen.
The National Council suggested that Christina join the government when she was sixteen; but she asked to wait until she had turned eighteen, as her father had done. In 1644 she took the throne, although the coronation was postponed because of the war with Denmark. Her first major assignment was to conclude peace with that country. She did so successfully; Denmark handed over the isles of Gotland and Ösel to Sweden, whereas Norway lost the districts of Jämtland and Härjedalen, which to this day have remained Swedish.
Chancellor Oxenstierna soon discovered that Christina held differing political views from his own. In 1645 he sent his son, Johan Oxenstierna, to the Peace Congress in Osnabrück and Münster, presenting the view that it would be in Sweden's best interest if the Thirty Years' War continued. Christina, however, wanted peace at any cost and sent her own delegate, Johan Adler Salvius. Shortly before the conclusion of the peace settlement, she admitted Salvius into the National Council, against Chancellor Oxenstierna's wishes. Salvius was no aristocrat but Christina wanted opposition to the aristocracy present. In 1648 Christina obtained a seat in the Imperial Diet of the Holy Roman Empire when Bremen-Verden and Swedish Pomerania were assigned to Sweden at the Treaty of Osnabrück. In 1648 she commissions 35 paintings from Jacob Jordaens for a ceiling in Uppsala Castle.
Christina's ineligible half-brother Gustav of Vasaborg
In 1649, 760 paintings, 170 marble and 100 bronze statues, 33 thousand coins and medallions, 600 pieces of crystal, 300 scientific instruments, manuscripts and books (including the Sanctae Crucis laudibus by Rabanus Maurus, the Codex Argenteus and the Codex Gigas) were transported to Stockholm. The art, from Prague Castle, had belonged to Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor and was captured by Hans Christoff von Königsmarck during the Battle of Prague and the negotiations of the Peace of Westphalia.
In 1649, with the help of her uncle, John Casimir, and her cousins Christina tried to reduce the influence of Oxenstierna, and she declared Casimir's son, her cousin Charles Gustav, as her heir presumptive. The following year, Christina resisted demands from the other estates (clergy, burgesses and peasants) in the Riksdag of the Estates for the reduction of tax-exempt noble landholdings.
Visit from Descartes, scholars and musicians
In 1645 Christina invited Hugo Grotius to become her librarian, but he died on his way in Rostock. She appointed Benedict (Baruch) Nehamias de Castrofrom Hamburg as her Physician in ordinary. In 1647 Johann Freinsheim was appointed. The Semiramis from the North corresponded with Pierre Gassendi; Blaise Pascal offered her a copy of his pascaline. To catalogue her new collection she asked Heinsius and Isaac Vossius to come to Sweden. She studied Neostoicism, the Church Fathers, Islam, and read Treatise of the Three Impostors, a work bestowing doubt on all organized religion and had a firm grasp of classical history and philosophy. Other illustrious scholars she invited to visit were Claude Saumaise, Pierre Daniel Huet, Gabriel Naudé, Christian Ravis, and Samuel Bochart.
In 1646 Christina's good friend, ambassador Pierre Chanut, corresponded with the philosopher René Descartes, asking him for a copy of his Meditations. Christina became interested enough to start correspondence with Descartes about hate and love. Although she was very busy she invited him to Sweden, Descartes arrived on 4 October 1649. He resided with Chanut, and had to wait till 18 December until he could start with his private lessons and gave her an insight into Catholicism. With Christina's strict schedule he was invited to the castle library at 5:00 AM to discuss philosophy and religion. The premises were icy, and on 1 February 1650 Descartes fell ill with pneumonia and died ten days later. Christina's rigorous philosophical schedule is why many blame her for Descartes death.
Christina, Queen of Sweden, 1645
Christina was interested in theatre and ballet. She was also herself an amateur actress. Plays had always interested her, especially those of Pierre Corneille. In 1647 Antonio Brunati had built a theatrical setting in the palace. Her court poet Georg Stiernhielm wrote her several plays in the Swedish language, such as Den fångne Cupido eller Laviancu de Diane performed at court with Christina in the main part of the goddess Diana. She invited foreign companies to play at Bollhuset, such as an Italian Opera troupe in 1652 with Vincenzo Albrici and a Dutch theatre troupe with Ariana Nozeman and Susanna van Lee in 1653. Among the French artists she employed at court was Anne Chabanceau de La Barre, who was made court singer.
Decision not to marry
Christina understood that it was expected of her to provide an heir to the Swedish throne. Her first cousin Charles was infatuated with her and they became secretly engaged before he left in 1642 to serve in the army in Germany for three years. Christina revealed in her autobiography that she felt, "an insurmountable distaste for marriage" and "an insurmountable distaste for all the things that females talked about and did". She slept for three to four hours a night and was chiefly occupied with her studies; she forgot to comb her hair, donned her clothes in a hurry and wore men's shoes for the sake of convenience. However, she was said to possess charm and the unruly hair became her trademark. Her closest female friend and noted passion of her youth was Ebba Sparre, whom she called "Belle". Most of her spare time was spent with la belle comtesse, and Christina often called attention to her beauty. She introduced Sparre to the English ambassador Whitelocke as her "bed-fellow", assuring him that Sparre's intellect was as striking as her body. Despite their relationship, Christina hosted Ebba's wedding to Jakob Kasimir De la Gardie in 1653; the marriage lasted only five years; Ebba visited her husband in Elsinore when he was shot and killed, and their three children all died young. When Christina left Sweden she continued to write passionate letters to Sparre, in which she told her that she would always love her. Christina, though, used the same emotional style when writing to men and women she had never met (those whose writings she admired) and there is conjecture as to the context of her letters to Sparre.
On 26 February 1649, Christina announced that she had decided not to marry and instead wanted her first cousin Charles to be heir to the throne. The nobility objected to this, while the three other estates — clergy, burghers, and peasants — accepted it. The coronation took place in October, 1650. Christina went to the castle of Jacobsdal, where she entered in a coronation carriage draped with black velvet embroidered in gold, and pulled by six white horses. The procession to Storkyrkan was so long that when the first carriages arrived at Storkyrkan, the last ones had not yet left Jacobsdal. All four estates were invited to dine at the castle. Fountains at the market place splashed out wine, roast was served, and illuminations sparkled. The participants were dressed in fantastic costumes, as at a carnival.
Queen Christina (at the table on the right) in discussion with French philosopher René Descartes. (Romanticized painting from the 19th century)
Religion and personal views
Her tutor, Johannes Matthiae, represented a gentler attitude than most Lutherans. In 1644 he suggested a new church order, but was voted down as this was interpreted as excessively Calvinist. Christina, who by then had become queen, defended him against the advice of chancellor Oxenstierna, but three years later the proposal had to be withdrawn. In 1647 the clergy wanted to introduce the Book of Concord (Swedish: Konkordieboken) - a book defining correct Lutheranism versus heresy, making some aspects of free theological thinking impossible. Matthiae was strongly opposed to this and was again backed by Christina. The Book of Concord was not introduced.
In August 1651, she asked for the Council's permission to abdicate, but gave in to their pleas for her to retain the throne. She had long conversations with Antonio Macedo, interpreter for Portugal's ambassador. He was a Jesuit, and in August 1651 smuggled with him a letter from Christina to the Jesuit general in Rome.In reply, two Jesuits came to Sweden on a secret mission in the spring of 1652, disguised as gentry and using false names. Paolo Casati had to gauge the sincerity of her intention to become Catholic. She had more conversations with them, being interested in Catholic views on sin, immortality of the soul, rationality and free will. Though raised to follow the Lutheran Church of Sweden, around May 1652 Christina decided to become Roman Catholic. The two scholars revealed her plans to Cardinal Fabio Chigi and King Philip IV of Spain and Spanish diplomat Antonio Pimentel de Pradowas sent to Stockholm.
After reigning almost twenty years, working at least ten hours a day, Christina had what some have interpreted as a nervous breakdown. She suffered with high blood pressure, complained about bad eyesight and pain in her neck. In February 1652 the French doctor Pierre Bourdelot arrived in Stockholm. Unlike most doctors of that time, he held no faith in blood-letting; instead he ordered sufficient sleep, warm baths and healthy meals, as opposed to Christina's hitherto ascetic way of life. She was only 25 and should take more pleasure in life. Bourdelot asked her to stop studying and working so hard and to remove the books from her apartments. The funny Bourdelot showed her the 16 sonnets of Pietro Aretino, which he kept secretly in his luggage. For years Christina knew all the sonnets from the Ars Amatoria by heart and was keen on the works by Martial. By subtle means Bourdelot undermined her principles. She now became an Epicurean.Her mother and de la Gardie were very much against the activities of Bourdelot and tried to convince her to change her attitude towards him; Bourdelot returned to France in 1653 "laden in riches and curses".
In 1651 Christina told the councils she needed rest and the country needed a strong leader. The councils refused and Christina agreed to stay on the condition the councils never again asked her to marry. Within weeks, Christina lost much of her popularity after the beheading of Arnold Johan Messenius, together with his 17-year old son, who had accused her of serious misbehavior and of being a "Jezebel". Instead of ruling she spent most of her time with her foreign friends in the ballroom on Sunday evenings and in the theater.
In 1653 she founded the military Amaranten order. Antonio Pimentel was appointed as its first knight; all members had to promise not to marry (again). In February 1654 she plainly told the Council of her plans to abdicate. Oxenstierna told her she would regret her decision within a few months. In May the Riksdag discussed her proposals. She had asked for 200,000 rikstalers a year, but received dominions instead. Financially she was secured through revenue from the town of Norrköping, the isles of Gotland, Öland and Ösel, estates in Mecklenburg and Pomerania. Her debts were taken over by the treasury.
Sébastien Bourdon, Christina of Sweden, 1653. This painting was given by Pimentel to Philip IV of Spain and is now in the Museo del Prado
Her plan to convert was not the only reason for her abdication, as there was increasing discontent with her arbitrary and wasteful ways. Within ten years, she had created 17 counts, 46 barons and 428 lesser nobles. To provide these new peers with adequate appanages, she had sold or mortgaged crown property representing an annual income of 1,200,000 rikstalers. During the ten years of her reign, the number of noble families increased from 300 to about 600, rewarding people like Lennart Torstenson and Louis De Geer for their war efforts and Johan Palmstruch the banker. These donations took place with such haste that they were not always registered, and on some occasions the same piece of land was given away twice.
Christina abdicated her throne on 5 June 1654 in favor of her cousin Charles Gustav. During the abdication ceremony at Uppsala Castle, Christina wore her regalia which were ceremonially removed from her, one by one. Per Brahe, who was supposed to remove the crown, did not move, so she had to take the crown off herself. Dressed in a simple white taffeta gown she gave her farewell speech with a faltering voice, thanked everyone and left the throne to Charles X Gustav, who was dressed in black. Per Brahe felt that she "stood there as pretty as an angel." Charles Gustav, who was crowned later on that day, proposed her again to marry. Christina laughed and left the country, hoping for a warm reception in Catholic countries. Charles Gustav had to move into an empty palace.
Departure and exile
In the summer of 1654, she left Sweden in man's clothes with the help of Bernardino de Rebolledo, and rode as Count Dohna, through Denmark. Relations between the two countries were still so tense that a former Swedish queen could not have traveled safely in Denmark. Christina had already packed and shipped abroad valuable books, paintings, statues and tapestries from her Stockholm castle, leaving its treasures severely depleted.
Christina visited Johann Friedrich Gronovius, and Anna Maria van Schurman in the Dutch Republic. In August she arrived in the Southern Netherlands, and settled down in Antwerp. For four months Christina was lodged in the mansion of a Jewish merchant. She was visited by Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria; the Prince de Condé, ambassador Chanut, as well as the former governor of Norway, Hannibal Sehested. In the afternoon she went for a ride, each evening parties were held; there was a play to watch or music to listen to. Christina ran quickly out of money and had to sell some of her tapestries, silverware and jewelry. When her financial situation did not improve the archduke invited her to his Brussels palace on Coudenberg. On 24 December 1654, she converted to the Catholic faith in archduke's chapel in the presence of the English exiled Catholic Priest Thomas Giles. Raimondo Montecuccoli and Pimentel, who had become close friends, were present. She did not state her conversion in public, in case the Swedish council might refuse to pay her alimony. On top of this, Sweden was preparing for war against Pomerania, which meant that her income from there was considerably reduced. The pope and Philip IV of Spain could not support her openly either, as she was not publicly a Catholic yet. Christina succeeded in arranging a major loan, leaving books and statues to settle her debts.
The Silver Throne of 1654, which Christina abdicated, is still today the formal seat of the Swedish monarch at Stockholm Palace.
n September she left for Italy with her entourage of 255 persons and 247 horses. The pope's messenger, the librarian Lucas Holstenius, himself a convert, waited for her in Innsbruck. On 3 November 1655, Christina converted in the Hofkirche and wrote to Pope Alexander VII and her cousin Charles X about it. To celebrate her official conversion L'Argia an opera by Antonio Cesti was performed. Ferdinand Charles, Archduke of Austria, already in financial trouble, was almost ruined by her visit. He was relieved by her departure on 8 November.
Christina settled down in the Palazzo Farnese, which belonged to the Duke of Parma, just opposite the church of Saint Birgitta, another Swedish woman who had made Rome her home. Christina opened an academy in the palace on 24 January 1656, called Academy of Arcadia, where the participants enjoyed music, theatre, literature and languages. Every Wednesday she held the palace open to visitors from the higher classes who kept themselves busy with poetry and intellectual discussions. Belonging to the Arcadia-circle was also Francesco Negri, a Franciscan from Ravenna who is regarded as the first tourist of North Cape, Norway. Negri wrote eight letters about his walk through Scandinavia all the way up to "Capo Nord" in 1664. Another Franciscan was the Swede Lars Skytte, who, under the name pater Laurentius, served as Christina's confessor for eight years. He too had been a pupil of Johannes Matthiae, and his uncle had been Gustav Adolf's teacher. As a diplomat in Portugal he had converted, and asked for a transfer to Rome when he learnt of Christina's arrival. However, perhaps the most illustrious of the eminent figures befriended and patronized by Christina was the sculptor-architect-painter, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the greatest artistic genius of the century, to whom the queen showed the highest of personal honors by visiting his home-studio on more than one occasion. "Whoever does not esteem Bernini is not worthy of esteem himself," she is quoted as saying by Domenico Bernini, son of the artist, in his biography, The Life of Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
However the arranged appanage from Sweden did not materialize; Christina lived off loans and donations. Her servants burned the wood from the doors to heat the premises; and the Santinelli brothers sold off works of art that came with the palace. The damage was explained away with the staff not being paid.
Celebrations for Christina of Sweden at Palazzo Barberini on 28 February 1656 when an opera by Marco Marazzoli was performed.
29-year-old Christina gave occasion to much gossip when socializing freely with men her own age. One of them was Cardinal Decio Azzolino, who had been a secretary to the ambassador in Spain, and responsible for the Vatican's correspondence with European courts. He was also the leader of the Squadrone Volante, the free thinking "Flying Squad" movement within the Catholic Church. Christina and Azzolino were so close that the pope asked him to shorten his visits to her palace; but they remained lifelong friends. In a letter to Azzolino Christina writes in French that she would never offend God or give Azzolino reason to take offence, but this "does not prevent me from loving you until death, and since piety relieves you from being my lover, then I relieve you from being my servant, for I shall live and die as your slave." His replies were more reserved.
At times, things got a bit out of hand. On one occasion the couple had arranged to meet at the Villa Medici near Monte Pincio, but the cardinal did not show up. Christina hurried over to Castel Sant'Angelo, firing one of the cannons. The mark in the bronze gate in front of Villa Medici is still visible.
Having run out of money and surfeited with an excess of pageantry, Christina resolved, in the space of two years, to visit France. Here she was treated with respect by Louis XIV, but the ladies were shocked by her masculine appearance and demeanour and the unguarded freedom of her conversation.
When visiting the ballet with la Grande Mademoiselle, she, as the latter recalls, "surprised me very much – applauding the parts which pleased her, taking God to witness, throwing herself back in her chair, crossing her legs, resting them on the arms of her chair, and assuming other postures, such as I had never seen taken but by Travelin and Jodelet, two famous buffoons... She was in all respects a most extraordinary creature".
Ceiling of the Galleria Farnese by Annibale Carracci in Palazzo Farnese
The death of Monaldeschi
In October, apartments were assigned to her at the Palace of Fontainebleau, where she committed an action which stained her memory – the execution of marchese Gian Rinaldo Monaldeschi, her master of the horse. Christina herself wrote her version of the story for circulation in Europe.
For two months, she had suspected Monaldeschi of disloyalty and secretly seized his correspondence, which revealed that he had betrayed her interests and put the blame on an absent member of court. Now she summoned Monaldeschi into a gallery at the palace, discussing the matter with him. He insisted that betrayal should be punished with death. She held the proof of his betrayal in her hand and so insisted that he had pronounced his own death sentence. Le Bel, a priest who stayed at the castle, was to receive his confession in the Galerie des Cerfs. He entreated for mercy, but was stabbed by two of her domestics – notably Ludovico Santinelli – in an apartment adjoining that in which she herself was. Wearing a coat of mail which is now on exhibition outside the gallery, he was chased around the room for hours before they succeeded in dealing him a fatal stab wound. Father Le Bel, who had begged on his knees that they spare the man, was told to have him buried inside the church, and Christina, seemingly unfazed, paid the abbey to hold Masses for his soul. She "was sorry that she had been forced to undertake this execution, but claimed that justice had been carried out for his crime and betrayal. She asked God to forgive him," wrote Le Bel.
Mazarin advised Christina to place the blame on Santinelli and dismiss him, but she insisted that she alone was responsible for the act. She wrote to Louis XIV about the matter, and two weeks later he paid her a friendly visit at Fontainebleau without mentioning it. In Rome, people felt differently; Monaldeschi had been an Italian nobleman, murdered by a foreign barbarian with Santinelli as her executioner. The letters proving his guilt are gone; Christina left them with Le Bel on the day of the murder, and he confirmed that they existed. She never revealed what was in the letters.
The killing of Monaldeschi was legal, since Christina had judicial rights over the members of her court, as her vindicator Gottfried Leibniz claimed. As her contemporaries saw it, Christina as queen had to emphasize right and wrong, and her sense of duty was strong. She continued to regard herself as queen regnant all her life.
Portrait of Christina; painted in 1661 by Abraham Wuchters.
Christina by David Beck