KEYWORDS: Christina of Sweden, Patronage, Sweden, Rome, 17th Century, queer.
SHE THOUGHT IT
Christina reigned as Queen of Sweden from 1632 until her abdication in 1654. During her reign, she attempted to make Stockholm “the Athens of the North”, developing its cultural life and scientific institutions. She supported arts and sciences and invited prominent intellectuals, most notably the French philosopher René Descartes, to Stockholm. The acquisition of new books and notable artworks,1 and the founding of scientific and cultural institutions, such as the first Academy of Sweden and a Royal Academy in Turku that would become the first university in Finland,2 left a lasting legacy in the intellectual history of the Swedish Empire. Christina was highly educated and broadly interested in different topics from philosophy to alchemy. She mastered several foreign languages; apart from Swedish she spoke Latin, German, French, Italian, and Spanish. Fitting for a daughter of the warrior-king Gustav II Adolph, Christina was also educated in equestrianship, fencing, political theory, and military strategy. She shocked the whole Christendom by abdicating the Swedish throne in 1654, and by converting from Lutheranism to Catholicism later the same year. During her exile from Sweden Christina travelled around Europe, setting a permanent residence in Rome. She continued as a prominent patron of arts, sponsoring music, theatre and cultural life in Rome.3 Christina founded The Arcadia Academy (Accademia dell’Arcadia) for philosophy and literature, which still exists, as well as the first public opera house in Rome. She was renowned, too, for her liberal views on personal and intellectual freedom, for her charities, and known as the protectress of the Jews in Rome.4 During her life Christina was in correspondence with notable intellectuals, such as Pierre Gassendi and Blaise Pascal. Even though Christina is mostly remembered as a patron of arts and sciences, she was also an author and thinker in her own right.5 She wrote an unfinished autobiography, as well as essays on her heroes Alexander the Great, Cyrus the Great and Julius Caesar, and on art and music.
Christina was born on the 18th December 1626, and at the moment of her birth was first, mistakenly, declared as a boy. Why it was thought that Christina was a boy is unclear, but the most common reasons given at the time was that she was “hairy” and had a “big nose” and “deep voice.”6 This story is of more than anecdotal importance as it was often reiterated by Christina herself (p. 38)7 and received a lot of attention from her later biographers, leading to speculation on whether she might have been intersexual8 9. Christina was educated as a royal male would have been. She received an education fit for a royal heir, and apart from languages and philosophy, she was also educated in sports, politics and military strategy. After her father, the king Gustav II Adolph, fell in 1632 in the battle of Lützen in the Thirty Years War, Christina succeeded him as the ruler of Sweden. Being only six years old, a regent government led by chancellor Axel Oxenstierna was put in place and it ruled Sweden until Christina’s coronation on the 20th October 1650. She was however introduced to the matters of the kingdom from early on, working with and learning from Oxenstierna.10
During her reign the young queen invited important artists and scientists to her court, most notably the French philosopher Rene Descartes. She was privately tutored by the philosopher, although it soon became clear that the two did not get along well; apart from her disapproval of his mechanical view, he did not appreciate her interest in Ancient Greek and was exhausted by her strict daily schedule, as he was invited to the draughty castle early in the mornings to discuss philosophy and religion.11 Descartes contracted pneumonia and died on the 11th of February in Stockholm. Christina collected learned men, books and manuscripts around her almost manically. She was studying ten hours a day, sleeping very little and living ascetically.8 In 1651 the continuous stress and overworking resulted her health to collapse, which forced her to slow down. Her court physicians advised the twenty-five-year-old queen to enjoy life, get sufficient sleep, warm baths, and healthy meals. To adapt the new lifestyle with personal philosophy, Christina – who had been a stoic – now became Epicurean.12
The Thirty Year War on the continent finally ended in the peace of Westphalia 1648, where Sweden emerged as one of the greatest winners. Apart from a large sum of money, Sweden received Western Pomerania, Wismar, and the Prince-Bishoprics of Bremen and Verden. Christina’s Sweden now exercised territorial control over much of the Baltic region, making it one of the great European powers of the time. Christina abdicated the Swedish throne, apparently after a lengthy but secret private consideration, in 1654, leaving it for her cousin Charles Gustav. The reasons are still debated by biographers and historians, but among them were her planned conversion to the Catholic faith, decision not to marry, and the growing disapproval of her arbitrary ways of appointing new nobles and her expensive lifestyle, as well as lavish spending on arts and science.4
Apart from her interest in philosophy, sciences and arts, during her reign Christina was secretly studying Catholicism, smuggling texts and letters, and having secret meetings with Jesuits (p. 176)13. Since Sweden was one of the leaders of the protestants in the war and the intellectual climate violently against anything else than the most orthodox Lutheranism, Christina’s interest in Catholicism was a well-guarded secret. Her consequent conversion to Catholicism following her abdication was thus a shock for her former subjects and the whole Christendom, and was heavily utilised by the catholic church for propaganda purposes for the counter reformation.14 In 1655 she was received by Pope Alexander VII in Rome with all baroque splendour fit for a famous convert. Christina however also rejected the role of a virtuous hero of the Catholic church, refusing public manifestation of piety.4 After settling in Rome she continued to keep a lavish court and extravagantly sponsoring art, which led her to continuous financial difficulties. The revenues due from Sweden also came very irregularly. She travelled extensively, was involved in scandals and pursued far-fetching political aims. After the death of her cousin she demanded the Swedish crown back, which was impossible since she was catholic, made an attempt to gain the crown of Poland, and lobbed herself as the ruler of Naples. While Christina’s political pursuits were mostly unsuccessful, as a close friend of four subsequent Popes and an active political figure,4 Christina must be considered as a major political player in the mid-17th century European political scene. Christina died on 19 April 1689, after suffering from different health problems for several years. She is one of the few women buried in the Vatican grotto, again at the end of her life becoming a symbol of the Counter Reformation. She was embalmed and displayed on a lit de parade for several days. In 1702 Pope Clement XI commissioned a monument for Christina in the St. Peter’s Basilica, which highlighted her bravery for relinquishing the Swedish throne in order to embrace Catholicism.15
Christina’s life and legacy are obscured behind myths and anecdotes, often concentrating on her sexual and gender identity. While we do know that she rejected the traditional female role and often consciously fashioned her personality as androgynous, labelling her in modern terms as intersexual or transgender is highly speculative. Her sexuality is also a matter of interest to some historians and biographers, and she is said to have had relationships with women and men, although some have labelled her as asexual. In any case, these speculations are a testament to Christina’s unconventional behaviour and originality, and show that it was possible and maybe even necessary for her to take up a more masculine identity. Her enigmatic, contradictory personality and fierce love of independence has fascinated historians, artists and biographers since her lifetime, and she has inspired several plays, films, and fictitious and nonfictional books. Deeply in love with knowledge and wisdom, Christina was also one of the most learned women of her time.
SHE SAID IT
At her abdication: “Which crime has the female sex committed to be sentenced to the harsh necessity which consists of being locked up all life either as a prisoner or a slave? I call the nuns prisoners and the married women slaves.”
Philemon, Torrey (ed.) (1999), “Quotations about and by Queen Christina of Sweden”, The Ancient Sites Celebration of Women.
http://www.windweaver.com/christina/chrisquotes.htm [last accessed 12 Jan. 2018].
“I love the storm and fear the calm.”
“To obey no one is a greater happiness than to command the whole world.”
Christina Queen of Sweden (1907, original 1680), Maxims. J. Lane. London, New York (p. 31)
Available from: https://archive.org/details/maximsofqueenchr00chri
“The most pardonable of all idolatries is that of the sun.”
ibid. (p. 41)
“We should make use of men of letters as if they were living libraries, and as such we may esteem them and take counsel of them, never forgetting, however, that they are but poor advisers in affairs of the great world”
ibid. (p. 26)
THEY SAID IT
Madame de Motteville, French memoir writer: “She swore to God, slouched in her chair, stretched her legs this way and that, hung them over the arm of her chair…She fell into deep reveries, let out profound sighs, then all of a sudden collected herself like someone who waked up with a jerk.
She’s completely extraordinary….Nearly all her action are in some way extravagant…in no way does she resemble a woman, she hasn’t even the necessary modesty. She seems rough, brusque…and libertine in all she says, but….there is nothing in Christina that is contrary to the honor that depends from chastity. It was not difficult to pardon all her irregularities…”
Philemon, Torrey (ed.) (1999), “Quotations about and by Queen Christina of Sweden”, The Ancient Sites Celebration of Women [cited 12 January 2018]. Available from: http://www.windweaver.com/christina/chrisquotes.htm
“Pope Alexander II on Christina: “A woman born of a barbarian, barbarously brought up and living with barbarous thoughts…. with ferocious and almost intolerable pride.” Ibid.
“In spite of her extreme consciousness of her own royal rank, Christina’s birth also singles her out from among the majority of contemporaries. Christina’s courage, her belief in rights and liberties, rare in her day, her recognition of religious and spiritual values, and her generosity went far to mitigate her glaring faults, which she paid for with a life of great unhappiness.”
Masson, Georgina (1968), “Queen Christina” Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd; (p.372-3)
Nini, Alessandro (composer) (1840), “Cristina di Svezia”
Lillo, Giuseppe (composer) (1841) “Cristina di Svezia“
Foroni, Jacopo (composer) (1849), “Cristina, regina di Svezia”
Thalberg, Sigismond (composer) (1855) “Cristina di Svezia“
Estrada, Jade Esteban (2004), “ICONS: The Lesbian and Gay History of the World Vol. 2.” VORTEX & Vicarious Productions, Austin, Texas.
Zacharias Topelius (1899), “Stjärnornas Kungabarn. En tids- och karaktersstudie från drottning Kristinas dagar”, Stockholm. An allegorical novel
Kaari Utrio (1969), “Kartanonherra ja kaunis Kirstin”, Tammi. Finnish novel set in Christina’s time.
Enevoldsen, Herta J. (1975), ”Heltekongens Datter” and (1976) “En Dronning Værdig”. Danish novels about the life of Christina.
Flint, Eric (February 2000 – ongoing) ”The 1632 series”. Alternative history series, where Christina is a major character.
Plays and Films:
Strindberg, August (1901), Kristina. Play
Ruohonen, Laura. (2003) Queen C/Kuningatar K. Play
Mamoulian, Rouben (dir.) (1933), Queen Christina, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), controlled by Loew’s Incorporated, A Rouben Mamoulian Production.
Simonelli, Giorgio (dir.) (1952), Amori e veleni (eng. Love and Poison), Herald Pictures, Ideal, La Perla, Rocket Films
Bouchard, Michel Marc (2012) Christina, The Girl King. Play.
Kaurismäki, Mika (2015) The Girl King, Marianna Films, Triptych Media
Åkerman, S. (1991), Queen Christina of Sweden and her circle : the transformation of a seventeenth century philosophical libertine New York: E.J. Brill
Buckley, Veronica (2004), Christina; Queen of Sweden. London: Harper Perennial
Essen-Möller, E. (1937), Drottning Christina. En människostudieur läkaresynpunkt. Lund: C.W.K. Gleerup.
Goldsmith, Margaret L. (1935), Christina of Sweden; a psychological biography. London: A. Barker Ltd.
Meyer, Carolyn (2003), Kristina, the Girl King: Sweden, 1638.
Stolpe, Sven (1996), Drottning Kristina. Stockholm: Aldus/Bonnier.
Englund, Peter (2006), Silvermasken, Jan Biberg
- Andersson, Åsa, “War booty – Kungliga biblioteket”, National Library of Sweden [last accessed 17 Jan. 2018] http://www.kb.se/codex-gigas/eng/Long/handskriftens/war-booty/#Looting%20in%20Prague
- University of Turku (ed.), “The History of the University of Turku”, University of Turku [last accessed 16 Jan. 2018] http://www.utu.fi/en/university/traditions/history/Pages/home.aspx
- See e.g. Popp, Nathan Alan (2015), Expressions of power: Queen Christina of Sweden and patronage in Baroque Europe, PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) thesis, University of Iowa.
- Stephan, Ruth (2017), “Christina, Queen of Sweden”, Encyclopædia Britannica. [last accessed 17 Jan. 2018] https://www.britannica.com/biography/Christina-queen-of-Sweden
- Simmonds, George P (2016), “A Swedish Virago: Queen Christina of Sweden on Dualism and the Passions”, The Oxford Philosopher. A Philosophic Periodical [last accessed 17. Jan. 2018] https://theoxfordphilosopher.com/2016/09/13/a-swedish-virago/
- Conliffe, Ciaran (2017), “Queen Christina Of Sweden, Lesbian Troublemaker”, Headstuff [last accessed 17 Jan. 2018] https://www.headstuff.org/history/queen-christina-of-sweden-lesbian-troublemaker 7. Zirpolo, Lilian H. (2005), “Christina of Sweden’s Patronage of Bernini: The Mirror of Truth Revealed by Time”, Woman’s Art Journal, Vol. 26, No. 1 pp. 38-43
- See e.g. Buckley, Veronica (2004), Christina, Queen of Sweden: The Restless Life of a European Eccentric, HarperCollins 9. In the 1960’s Christina was briefly exhumed, and her remains examined. The examination revealed no indication of intersexuality, since her skeletal structure was “typically female”. Her physicians had also recorded that she menstruated normally. Hjortsjö, Carl-Herman (1966), “Queen Christina of Sweden: A Medical/Anthropological Investigation of Her Remains in Rome” Acta Universitatis Lundensis, Lund: C.W.K. Gleerup. p. 15-16
- Wetterberg, Gunnar (2006) “Den mäktige Axel Oxenstierna”, Populärhistoria [last accessed 18 Jan. 2018] http://popularhistoria.se/artiklar/tema-stormaktstid-den-maktige-oxenstierna
- Shorto, Russell (2008), Descartes’ Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict between Faith and Reason, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group 12. Orr, Lyndon (2010-2013), “By subtle means Bourdelot undermined her principles” [Internet] In: Famous Affinities of History — Volume 1. freefictionbooks.org [cited 2018 January 15] http://www.freefictionbooks.org/books/f/2947-famous-affinities-of-history-%C3%A2%E2%82%AC%E2%80%9D-volume-1-by-orr?start=32
- John Gorman, Michael. (1999) “From ‘The Eyes to All’ to ‘Usefull Quarries in philosophy and good literature’: Consuming Jesuit Science, 1600-166” O’Malley, John W. et. al. (ed.) The Jesuits: Cultures, Sciences, and the Arts, 1540-1773, Volume 1. University of Toronto Pres 14. See e.g. Garstein, Oskar (1991), Rome and the Counter-Reformation in Scandinavia: The Age of Gustavus Adolphus and Queen Christina of Sweden, 1622-1656”, Brill. 15. St. Peters Basilica.info (ed.), “Monument to Christina of Sweden”, http://stpetersbasilica.info/ [cited 2018 January 17] http://stpetersbasilica.info/Monuments/ChristinaofSweden/ChristinaofSweden.htm