The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda.
Just in time for the European royalty media feast, we found at a library book sale the diaries of a female ruler – Christina of Sweden – who had no interest in marriage (Scholastics series, by Carolyn Meyer).
Enjoy the story of Christina of Sweden (1626-1689).
Finally, after several miscarriages, Gustav Adolf II of Sweden and his German wife Eleanore had their first and only child Christina. A prophecy predicted the child would be a son. The newborn with a strong voice was initially identified as male. After days, her aunt Katherine carefully informed the father of the error. Nevertheless, he took her as heir to the thrown, had her instructed just like a prince including military education, languages (she was fluent in Swedish, French, Italian, Latin and Greek), religion, was taught in politics by a senior statesmen and art. He chose her teachers and the details of her education before going to battle, before she was 6.
In her diary, Christina did not consider herself beautiful and decided at an early age that she would not bear children, not marry, but become King not Queen of Sweden. She describes the every-day life, the overbearing attention of her emotionally unstable mother. She takes the reader through her adventures at the age of 10- 12, the bravery to see the castle’s dungeon disguised as a prison ward at a night when all were celebrating and having lots of alcohol. She brags how she was winning all the competitions with her cousin in fighting, horseracing, and later on in academics. She tells about the aftermath when her father died in war when she was 6, the horrendous years under her mother’s care and the years in her loving aunt’s household.
We see her progress from looking forward to be king, to understanding the big burden of ruling at the tender age of 15 and refusing the early offer of the Swedish parliament (rad = representatives of the four estates) to become king before the age of 18, then being crowned as king at the age of 18. She had a major influence in ending the 30-year war (1618-1648) and accepting the peace of Westphalia. She invited famous philosophers, scientists, mathematicians and artists to her court with the intention to improve Sweden culturally. Sweden was so far north, and isolated from the rest of Europe.
The state religion was protestant. Christina found that religion cold and admired Italian culture and the Catholic Church. She converted to Catholicism, gave her crown to her cousin Karl, who was her successor after 10 years of ruling and left her country. She never married or had children. She died at age 62.
She was the first foreign ruler and one of three women who were buried in St. Peter’s basilica in Rome in the papal grottoes.
Reading more on Wikipedia, see here.
The story gets far more complicated than portrayed in this marvelous Scholastic diary.
She is hailed as protagonist for the transgender movement and the nature of her physical gender is questioned despite the notion that she had menses. She refused to marry, preferred male company for discussions and included only few highly educated and beautiful women into her circles. Her best friend from childhood and beyond was Ebba Sparre to whom she stayed in correspondence throughout her life.
She donned male clothes when she left her country and rode on her horse unrecognized through Denmark to Belgium. Read here for a more partisan portrayal.
Coming from the Vasa line of Swedish kings (her great grandfather Gustav I rose to become king for his military efforts in the battle for Stockholm when attacked by Danes) and being superbly trained in military skill, she nevertheless worked for peace treaties first with archenemy Denmark. She sent her own delegate with instructions to Westphalia against the wishes of the older statesman Oxenstierna, who was her own advisor and teacher. This interference was instrumental to bring the 30-year war to an end. She accepted the peace of Westphalia. Sweden was involved in that war for 18 years, had won many battles for the European protestants, their own king Gustav Adolphus II died in the battle of Lutzen in 1632 (Christina’s father), but it also ruined Sweden financially. Sweden received at the Peace of Westphalia part of a state, Western Pomerania and many statesmen thought this as too small a war booty.
She was interested in arts and philosophy, brought several European theaters to the Swedish court and worked hard to bring the cultural life in Sweden to European standards. Rene Descartes followed her invitation and spend months in Sweden meeting Christina every morning at 5 am for conversations. He contracted pneumonia and died in Sweden, for which Christina was blamed.
Christina was an independent thinker, and was accused of being Calvinist as was her teacher Matthiae who had a gentler tolerant attitude. The clergy wanted a book of Concord to outline correct Lutheranism against heresy. Matthiae with backing of Christina was strongly opposed. The book was not introduced. Christina was for religious tolerance. She wrote an indignant letter to the French ambassador when Louis XIV abolished the rights of French Protestants (Huguenots) and interfered later in Rome on behalf of the religious freedom of Jews and took them under her patronage. Back in Sweden she met secretly with Jesuits to learn about Roman Catholicism. Her great grandfather converted to Protestantism taking the entire country with him (also enriching the country by confiscating church property). The country had fought at the side of other protestant countries against the hegemony of the catholic Habsburg Empire. Converting to Catholicism as ruler of Sweden was impossible.
With political skill she secured the transfer of her reign to her first cousin Karl, who committed to secure her income for the future (the nobility was against it, but the other 3 estates: the clergy, burghers and peasants accepted) and left the country.
Regarding the catholic faith, she herself remarked that her Catholic faith was not of the common order; indeed, before converting she had asked church officials how strictly she would be expected to obey the church’s common observances, and received reassurances. She respected the Pope’s position in the Church, but not necessarily his acts as an individual; Christina stated that Monte Cavallo (the pope’s summer residence) might rather be named Monte degli Asini (“Donkey mountain”), as she had never met a pope with common sense during her 30 years in Rome. Christina’s visit to Rome was the triumph of Pope Alexander VII and the occasion for splendid Baroque festivities.
Christina had given up her throne in Sweden, but not the intention to rule another country. Naples was in turmoil under Bohemian rule (remember the New Agenda piece on Johanna I). Christina worked for an arrangement with the French King Louis XIV that he would recommend Christina as queen to the Neapolitans, and serve as guarantee against Spanish aggression.
As Queen of Naples she would be financially independent of the Swedish king, and also capable of negotiating peace between France and Spain. However, unknown to her, another arrangement to ensure peace between France and Spain was made through marriage to a Spanish princess. While waiting for an answer from the French king in the summer of 1657 she herself returned to France. For two months, she had suspected Monaldeschi, her master of the horses, 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. 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. He entreated for mercy, but was stabbed by two of her domestics in an apartment adjoining that in which she herself was. Wearing a coat of mail, he was chased around the room for hours before they succeeded in dealing him a fatal stab. 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.
She wrote 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 an Italian domestic 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. 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. Her regarding herself queen regnant lasted all of her life.
She lived for the remaining decades mostly in Rome, with a few visits to Sweden like the one for the funeral of Karl X, whom she had given the throne.
In Rome she supported theatre and music, and had a huge collection of paintings (over 300). She was patron to musicians Scarlatti and Corelli who dedicated his first work to her. She opened an opera house in a former jail, Tor di Nona. Pope Clemens IX was a frequent visitor in contrast to his followers Clemens X and Innocent XI, who found the theatre having bad influence on morals and transformed her theatre into a house for grain storage. Christina then let women perform in her palace. In her basement she had a laboratory where she performed alchemy with her friend the Cardinal Azzolino, who was her closest friend to the end, stayed at her deathbed and became her single heir. Pope Alexander VIII ordered a burial in the papal grottoes of St. Peter’s basilica. Clement XI commissioned a monument for her to be placed in the basilica.