Historical Figures- "King" Kristina
The book from which I first heard about her
Today, I'm going to give you some facts about a "king" of Sweden. Her name was Kristina and yes, her father had her named king and had her trained as a prince. Modern researchers refer to her now as a Queen but I like to think that King is still appropriate for her case.
The following blog post was adapted from a research paper I wrote back in high school. So I apologize for the length.
Kristina was born in Stockholm, on December 8th, 1626, to Maria Eleonora and Gustavus II Adolf.
Before she was born, her parents had already had two daughters who both died and so when her mother announced her pregnancy, there was a lot of excited because people hoped she would have a boy. The fervor and excitement around the speculation probably contributed to the nurses thinking she was at first a boy.
Another reason could have been that she was born with the fetal membrane wrapped around her. Other sources state that she was born completely covered in hair- called a caul.
The attendants were afraid to tell her father, King Gustavus, who was waiting in his study for the announcement to be made. So his sister, Princess Katarina, took the girl into his study and told him the news herself. The king was delighted with his new daughter- even though he had wished for a boy. But he made the announcement that the girl was to be named Kristina- after his mother- and trained as a prince. Weeks later, the king summoned the Riksdag- a ruling assembly of five hundred men- and declared Kristina the future king of Sweden.
On November 12th, 1632, Kristina’s beloved father died in the battle of Lutzen. On the night of Kristina’s sixth birthday, the news of King Gustavus’s death reached Stockholm. Early in February 1633, Kristina was presented to the Riskdag and pronounced King of Sweden.
In the spring of 1633, Kristina received news that she was to meet her grieving mother and her father’s embalmed body in the castle of Nykoping. When her mother arrived Kristina was informed that she would live at the castle with her mother- even though Gustavus had made it clear he had wanted Kristina to be raised by Katarina.
Shortly afterward, Maria ordered the walls and windows of the royal apartments to be draped in black and denied her sister-in-law entrance to the castle ( banishing Katarina, her husband Johann, and their children to the castle in Stegeborg, two days south of Nykoping) , keeping the young Kristina close to her in her mourning chambers.
Christina’s mother, upon her husband’s death had suddenly become obsessively devoted to her daughter. Sources allege that in her grief Maria kept the king’s heart in a gold box in her chambers. For eighteen months, Kristina’s mother refused to allow Gustavus’s body to the buried. It is said that Maria would spend hours having conversations with Gustavus’s corpse. Finally after more than a year, she relented Kristina’s father’s body to be buried in Riddarholm Church.
After two more unhappy years for Kristina, Gustavus’ chancellor, Alex Oxenstierna, became alarmed at the obsessive way Maria was treating her child. The chancellor banished Kristina’s mother to Gripshil Castle and invited Katarina and her family to stay, providing the young girl-king Kristina with a stable family life for the first time since her father’s death.
As for Kristina’s education, her father Gustavus had drawn up plans for her education before he had died. Kristina was to be trained as a prince. Axel Baner was assigned to Kristina as her governor who taught her the art of horsemanship, sword-work, and all other aspects of battle and sport (her equestrian talents were noteworthy and she engaged in both fencing and shooting) . Gustav Horn was her subgovernor who taught her languages ( Kristina had a talented tongue; foreign dignitaries often said she spoke their language better than themselves) . Johannes Matthiae was Kristina’s principal tutor.
Finally Axel Oxenstierna instructed her in the art of governing, and matters of foreign and domestic affairs. Being raised as a boy, Kristina had little patience or time for things that most girls her age did- although she was deeply interested in the arts; theater and ballet were among the things that she enjoyed. A French ballet troop was employed by her court as well as Italian and French orchestras. She adored plays, which were a favorite pastime of her court, and she, herself, was said to be an amateur actress. It is reported that Kristina spent twelve hours a day in study.
At the age of fourteen, Kristina was admitted to council meetings. But by her sixteenth birthday she had proved herself to the Riksdag and to the people of Sweden, that there was a large demand her for to be crowned. But Kristina recognized the burden and declined saying “I am not ready.”
Sébastien Bourdon, Christina of Sweden, 1653.
Ride on Kristina, ride on.
But by the time of her eighteenth year the demand for her to be crowned was so large that it was impossible for her to decline. So on December 8th, 1644, Kristina took the oath as king and began her rule- although she refused to marry which would always cause quite the scandal. Kristina is said to have more suitors than even Elizabeth I of England.
During her reign, Kristina was a driving force in ending The Thirty Year’s War. “She took in the reins of state herself and carried out a foreign policy of her own.” She had decided that Sweden had had enough of glory and must look to the enrichment and prosperity that came through peace. In 1648, Kristina exercised her royal power and ended the Thirty Year’s War by the Peace of Westphalia.
At this time, she was twenty-two and by just her own personal influence, she had ended one of the greatest struggles in history. But by ending the war, she did not weaken her country. In fact, Denmark gave Sweden rich provinces and Germany was compelled to grant Sweden the membership in the German diet. There came to be a time of improvement in the areas of commerce, economics in government, agriculture, and the opening of mines. She took an active part in politics and surrounded herself with intelligent people. Under her leadership, in 1645, the first Swedish newspaper was created.
Sometime soon after her official coronation, Kristina took an intense interest in Catholicism. Born a Lutheran, she was interested in the Catholic doctrine of free will. Eventually, she converted to Catholicism in secret, but the quiet conversion was a great stress on her.
In 1651, she announced that she had the intention of abducting in favor of her cousin, Karl Gustav. The matter swayed this way and that for three years but finally the Riksdag accepted the inevitable reluctantly. The tricky question of Kristina’s financial position had to be settled for the first time in her life, and for the first time she made effort to live within her means. Finally in 1654, the abdication ceremony took place in Uppsala Castle with Christina in her crown and her coronation mantle over a white dress.
Her royal regalia of sword and key, orb and scepter were set on a table but no one would come forward to remove her crown. After a pause she took it off herself. Two chamberlains removed her mantle and she descended from her throne. She proceeded to make an elaborate speech thanking God who had made her king and all who had served her, reducing many in the audience to tears. After that she urged Karl to seat himself on the vacant throne, which he courteously declined, and the two left the hall together. Karl was crowned king later that night in the cathedral. Her abdication at the young age of twenty-seven stunned everyone.
Next day she went to Stockholm and from there, wearing men’s clothes and set out on the path to Rome where she would annoy the Pope. Kristina after leaving Sweden journeyed to Denmark under the name of Count Pohna and dressed as a man. She continued to Brussels where on December 24, 1654, she was baptized in a private ceremony into the catholic faith- an illegal religion in Sweden at that time. In December later that month, she is received by Pope Alexander VII in Rome.
After her abdication, Kristina tried gain the right to rule Poland- but failed- , collect paintings and write her autobiography. In 1656, Kristina held an academy in France to discuss the problems concerning the nature of love. In 1657, Kristina attempted to seize Naples to become Queen. But while staying in Fontainebleau, she learned that her servant betrayed her plans to the Pope. She had her servant killed in her presence after given the last rights of absolution to him. The rest of the European world was horrified.
Portrait by Jacob Ferdinand Voet
Kristina died in Rome on April 19th, 1689, at the age of fifty-three, after a short illness. In brief, her life was pleasant. She was much admired for her tact in politics, her words were listened to in every court in Europe, and she made beautiful collections, and was regarded to be a privileged person who actions took no one amiss. She had requested a simple funeral, but the Pope Innocent XII arranged an elaborate ceremony. She was buried in St. Peter’s.
Kristina was never beautiful, yet she a most interesting child, with an expressive face, large eyes, an aquiline nose, and the blond hair of her people. A quiet child, people noted that she was very mature and wise beyond her years. She was apt to be overbearing, even as a little girl. Kristina had long been considered “mannish” because of her intellect and love of studying, and her manner reinforced that impression.
As tough as a plank, she loved riding and hunting, swore like a trooper, enjoyed dirty jokes, and despised all things feminine. She wore sword and armor in the presence of the soldiers, and she often dressed entirely in men’s clothes. She would take long, lonely gallops through the forest brooding over problems of state and feeling no fatigue or fear.
The end of my research paper (I copied this from a draft). After this I would like to add some more notable items that I did not mention in my research paper due to length of the paper for the class and other reasons.
Kristina is noted for never marrying much like Elizabeth I of England. And although Christina hated the idea of marrying, she became secretly engaged to her first cousin, Charles, before he left to serve in the army in 1642. But later when she decided to abdicate, she chose not to marry and instead made Charles her heir. Beyond that she never again became engaged although she held several intimate friendships.
Notably, her closest female friend was a woman named Ebba Sparre whom she called "Belle" and with whom she spent most of her free time. Even when she left Sweden, Kristina continued to write passionate letters to her although emotional letters were common at the time and Kristina wrote in the same style to people who she never met.
She was well accepted in Rome and was the object of much attention and gossip. She became involved with a Cardinal by the name of Decio Azzolino. The pope disapproved of his visits to her and despite this, they became lifelong, close friends. She was also known for being very tolerant of the beliefs of others.
Although historical accounts regularly include accounts of her physical features, mannerisms, and dress, some historians believe that these may have been over-represented in history. And according to Wikipedia, "as a result of conflicting and unreliable accounts, the way in which she is described is still a matter of debate."
She is described as having a bent back, a deformed chest, and irregular shoulders of differing heights. She was said to have the appearance and mannerisms of a man which was shocking to many people at the time although it was not unheard of. She didn't always wear clothes typical of a man though, she was also known for wearing low-cut dresses.
Another one of her controversies that has been much debated, especially among modern scholars, is the question of her sexuality. Modern biographies tend to consider her a lesbian as her passions with women were noted in her lifetime. But she also seemed to have a variety of other relationships, including non-sexual and bisexual.
Kristina even wrote in her autobiography, addressing rumors, saying that she wasn't male or hermaphrodite. Scholars have noted her relationship to Azzolino and that sometimes it seemed as if she was uncomfortable with sex.
Other scholars believe that she could have been intersex though studies of her remains have explained that she had a "typical female" structure and that people during her life noted normal female body functions. But it is also noted that even a examination of her skeleton may not prove if she wasn't intersex.
Other scholars believe that she could have had polycystic ovary syndrome, which can cause women to grow beards and hair elsewhere that commonly is just on men (which could explain why someone described her as having a little beard). Others believe she could have had Asperger's Syndrome or Disorder of Sex Development.
In any case and no matter what you come to think of her, King Kristina was certainly an interesting person and I think we can take away some lessons from her life. She didn't let people tell her what was right or how to live her life, she lived it in according to her conscious. And I think that's something to be admired.
Eckles, Carrie. “Biography: Christina, queen of Sweden.” www.Helium.com. Helium inc., 2002-2010. Website. 5 May 2010
Rapp, Linda. “Christina of Sweden.” www.glbtq.com/social-sciences/christina_sweden.html Glbtq, Inc. Chicago, IL, November 24, 2009. Website. 6 May 2010.
Åkerman, Susanna. "Kristina Wasa, Queen of Sweden." www. oregonstate.edu. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991. Website. 5 May 2010.
Orr, Lydon. “Queen Christina of Sweden.” www.authorama.com. Ncr, October 2003. Website. 8 May 2010
Cavendish, Richard. “Abdication of Queen Christina of Sweden: June 6th, 1654.” History Today 54.6 (2004): p54. Infotrac: Student Edition. Article. 7 May 2010.
Meyer, Carolyn. Kristina: the Girl King. NY: Scholastic Inc, 2003. Book.