Christina of Sweden

(b. 1626 - d. 1689)


Christina of Sweden was born on December 8, 1626 in Stockholm, Sweden.  Christina was the daughter of King Gustav II Adolf and Maria Eleonora of Brandonburg.  Christina's birth had many implications in that at first the midwives thought she was born a male.  As the kingdom celebrated the birth of the heir to the throne, they realized that in fact the baby was a female (Stolpe 37).  As a child, her father had insisted on such a course in order to prepare her for the throne.  Although Christina devoted much time to studying she also committed equal time to male-identified activities, such as hunting and sport.  In her own words, Christina claimed to be, "an ineradicable prejudice against everything that women like to talk about or do.  In women's words and occupations I showed myself to be quite incapable, and I saw no possibility of improvement in this respect" (Stolpe 40).

After the death of her father, Christina became the queen-elect at the age of six.  Five agents headed by the chancellor Axel Oxenstierna governed the country.  When Christina came of age and was crowned queen in 1644, she opposed Oxenstierna and there was constant friction between them thereafter, in particular concerning the Thirty Years War.  Although many significant powers opposed ending the war, Christina found it was necessary.  She was the prime mover in concluding the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 and ending the war.

Pressured with the notion of naming her successor or marrying, Christina appointed Charles Gustavus to succeed her.  When the question of her succession had finally been settled, Christina turned with a clear conscience from politics to literature and science.  Christina called for learned men to form her court of learning.  Christina also sponsored artists and musicians, and financed hundreds of theatrical and operatic performances.  For several years learned men, specialists in all branches of knowledge arrived in Stockholm and formed the Court of Learning.  Because of this Sweden became known as "Athens of the North" (Goldsmith 104).

In her Court of Learning, Christina had many influential men of the time but the most popular and Christina’s favorite was Rene Descartes. Christina became very fond of Descartes and enjoyed their discussions. Descartes presented plans of the Academy to Christina in 1650.  However, he contracted pneumonia and died only ten days later.  Christina was profoundly depressed by his death.  Descartes death marked the failure of her wild scheme to import learning into a barbaric country, such as Sweden. 

In 1650, Oxenstierna fell ill and Christina was left with plans of her coronation as well as busying herself with the thought of abdication.  After her coronation, Christina began to worry about the Polish Question, a problem that had haunted Europe forever.  John Casimir, the new Polish King was furious when Christina proclaimed Charles Gustavus as her successor.  The Poles threatened war, and it was only by asking France to act as an intermediary that Christina prevented open hostilities.  At a peace conference in Luebeck in 1651, the Poles refused to refer to Christina as the "Queen of Sweden."  Casimir was threatening to occupy Danzing, and Christina was forced to send troops to Finland and Livonia while the conference was in progress.  The Swedes insisted that the poles finally recognize Christina as the Queen of Sweden, and turn over Livoniato them.  The Poles refused and the conference did not result in a permanent agreement.

In 1651, Christine's vague desire to abdicate had crystallized into a definite intention, but was discouraged by the council.  Christina suffered a sever breakdown and was confined to her bedroom.  She shocked attendants by asking frequently for Father Antonio Macedo.  They were afraid that, in her state of exhaustion, she would be extremely influenced by this ardent Catholic.

In 1653, Christina felt that the time had come for her to leave Sweden.  She knew that her abdication would involve weeks, or months, of official routine.  Late in March she sent for Gustavus and the abdication was complete.  Only days after the abdication, Christina left Stockholm, Christina traveled to several places, disguised as a knight, before arriving in Rome.  During her travels she explored Catholicism and talked with many clergy about her new religion.  Her intentions of adopting the Catholic faith were sincere, but the branch of Catholicism that she chose was that of libertines, the "free-thinkers" (Stolpe 183). 

Christina arrived in Rome on December 19.  However, Christina's inevitable reaction to her new mode of life was not long delayed.  Sensitive to the act that she was no longer the reigning Queen, she attempted to create notoriety for herself by contemptuous manners.  Missing the activity of ruling, Christina entered negotiations with the French chief minister, Cardinal Mazarin, and with the Duke di Modena to seize Naples, intending to become queen of Naples.  She promised to leave the throne to a French prince at her death.  This scheme collapsed in 1657.

Christina visited Sweden two times since she abdicated her throne.  On the second journey she had Pope Clement IX's support in an attempt to gain another crown, that of her second cousin John II Casimir Vasa, who had abdicated the throne of Poland, but her failure seemed to please her since this meant that she could return to her beloved Rome.  While back in Rome, Christina became friends with Cardinal Decio Azzolino, who was the leader of a group of Cardinals active in church politics.  She, too, became active in church politics, insisting for years that on the pursuance of the Christian war against the Turks.  Pope Innocent XI, who pushed this war to its victorious conclusion, stopped her pension at her own urgent request in order to add it to the war treasury.  In 1681, having secured a trustworthy administrator for her lands in Sweden.  For the rest of her life, Christina lived in Rome as a pensioner of the Pope.  Christina died on April 19, 1689 in Rome and in buried at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

Christina continues to be a great historical emblem for women.  She rose above many standards of her time, including refusal to marriage and converting to Catholicism.  Christina was a great supporter of the arts and sciences and pursued her wish to create the "Athens of the North."  Christina is also significant for her political power.  She exercised considerable political finesse in both internal and foreign affairs.  Committed to peace, she helped to end the devastating Thirty Years war by negotiating the Peace at Westphalia.  Christina was described by the director of the National Museum of Fine Arts in Stockholm as "one of history’s greatest rebels and one of Sweden’s first modern minds" (Lesbian News 52). 

Annotated Bibliography

Cartland, Barbara. The Outrageous Queen: A Biography of Christina of Sweden. London: Muller, 1956.
This book explains the life of Christina of Sweden in a narrative form. It begins with her father's life and continues into her own life until her death. It is a very thorough biography of Christina's life. There is much dialogue between characters and gives a good sense of reality. This book is recommended.

Goldsmith, Margaret. Christina of Sweden: A Psychological Biography. New York:  Doubleday 1933.
This book is a very factual book about Christina of Sweden's life. It is divided into chapters by years and is very useful for looking up certain events in her life. It is very precise regarding Christina's accomplishments, as well as her failures. This book is a good source of reference.

Harrison, Ada. Christina of Sweden. London: Howe. 1929.
This book is a beneficial in tracing Christina's life. It is an in-depth account of the time period in which Christina lived and how Christina was portrayed by her contemporaries. This book is very advantageous in respect to the struggles of Christina's ruling days as well as her abdication, and conversion to Catholicism. This book is recommended.

Stolpe, Sven. Christina of Sweden. New York: Macmillan, 1966.
In this book, the chapters are broken into subjects about Christina. It is very well written and gives the audience a sense of what Christina's life was really like. The book covers every topic regarding Christina and is a complete chronicle of her life as Queen, art lover, and converted catholic, as well as her abdication. This book is recommended.

"Queen Christina of Sweden." Lesbian News, May 1999, Vol. 24, Issue 10, p52.
This article portrays Christina in a very non-traditional way. It examines her relations with various men and women. This article gives biographical accounts of Christina's affairs with two particular people, Eva Sparre and Cardinal Decio Azzolino. This article is very informative about an aspect of Christina's life that very people would examine.

"Sweden Becomes a Great Power." Online. Internet. Available   
This website is a very short and narrow biography of Christina. It is very to the point but does not contain the issues that caused Christina to do so many things while in power. This article is not recommended.

"Distinguished Women of past and Present: Christina of Sweden." Online. Available   
 This website contains only a paragraph regarding Christina of Sweden. It is a very basic biography of Christina's life in general. It leaves many questions to the reader. It is not recommended.


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Written by Karen Woods, November 2000
Last Revision: 2003 July 3

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