Christina was born in Stockholm on December 8, 1626 to Maria Eleanor of Brandenburg and King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, the “Lion of the North”. Her Hohenzollern mother was rather unkind to her and her father ordered that she be raised as a boy. A true military genius who became the Protestant champion of Europe during the 30 Years War he would have preferred Christina to have been a son. When her father was killed at the battle of Lützen she became Queen of Sweden at only six years old. As she grew up she quickly displayed an independent streak and a very active mind. Educated as a boy and taking her coronation oath as a king rather than a queen, as per the wishes of her father, Christina was often referred to at court as the Girl King. She had an interest in a variety of subjects and loved long discussions with educated people on any subject which caught her interest. She also loved ballet, opera, theater and riding horses which necessitated wearing more masculine styles of clothing.
Queen Christina continued to make tongues wag across Sweden, though her most controversial studies, on the topic of religion, were kept secret. She met with Jesuit priests to learn more about the Catholic Church and in it, for once, she found a faith she could sink her teeth into; one that satisfied her fiery intellect as well as her heart. Where others saw idolatry and traces of paganism, Christina saw faith alongside reason, mysticism along with philosophy. Eventually, she determined that the Catholic Church was the true Church and made up her mind to convert. However, she tread softly and slowly, wishing no harm to come to her beloved country. If word had got out prematurely it might have meant chaos, her own death or even civil war. She was, after all, Queen of an officially Protestant country where Catholics were put to death and she was the daughter of the Protestant champion of the 30 Years War, the undeniably great man Gustavus Adolphus.
In 1649 Queen Christina had named her cousin, Charles X Gustav, as her heir though he had no role in government at all so long as she was on the throne. This set the stage for her abdication as well as being a way to stop the various European princes who had been seeking her hand in marriage. She had no desire to marry and preferred to devote her time to the arts and education. She was also eager, frankly, to leave behind the prejudices of her government. Officials groaned over her lack of attachment to Lutheranism and the more deeply she came into agreement with the Catholic Church the harder she found it to disguise her low opinion of Protestantism. The government also objected over her proposed alliance with Catholic Spain in which Sweden was to share the spoils of a new invasion of Portugal. Some attributed this to a total lack of understanding of statecraft on her part, but Spain was a major power and could have been a useful ally. The real reason for the opposition seems to have been simply the fact that the Lutheran elites of Sweden were repelled by any friendliness to Spain which was long considered the Catholic champion of Europe.
Despite the efforts of her detractors to portray her as a woman out of control at the end of her reign, the care she felt for her country is clearly seen in the plans she put into effect over a considerable length of time to ensure a peaceful transition of power when the time came for her to leave. That time came on June 5, 1654 when Queen Christina abdicated the Swedish throne and passed power to her cousin who became King Charles X Gustavus. She disguised herself as a man under the name of Count Dohna and left the country on a transcontinental trek to Rome. At Innsbruck in the Spanish Netherlands she was met by a Church delegation and was officially received into the Roman Catholic faith taking the name Maria Christina Alexandra.
A little over a year after her arrival she traveled to France as the guest of the preeminent European monarch of the day King Louis XIV. The very proper and protocol conscious ladies of the French court were shocked by her casual manner and doing such outrageous things as not sitting properly and clapping at a ballet. Hardly what anyone today would consider shocking behavior. The French elites were impressed by her but often with the attitude of being impressed by an oddity rather than by her own merits. She let her hair down, as we might say, but there was nothing truly scandalous about her actions and she was undoubtedly enjoying the freedom of being beyond the control of her gloomy government ministers and stuffy bureaucrats. She lived essentially the life of an Italian Renaissance prince and of course no Italian Renaissance prince worthy of the name did not have some political intrigue under his belt and Queen Christina was no different.
In 1656 a plan was conceived to put Queen Christina on the throne of the Kingdom of Naples; that part of southern Italy nominally under the rule of Spain but long neglected and finally being contested by France. The French army promised her support and Cardinal Mazarin, the power behind the French throne, was involved in the enterprise. However, this scheme fell apart as the result of the treason of the Italian master of horse for Queen Christina at Fontainebleau. He learned of the plot and in 1657 made it known. He was called before the Queen and presented with evidence of his betrayal and was summarily executed by members of her household staff. This caused quite a stir in France and subsequent historians have made quite an issue out of it, however, it was perfectly legal in the time and place as the prince (or princess) of any court at that time was judge, jury and executioner over those of his or her household. The man had betrayed his mistress and such treason would have resulted in death one way or another in any court or country in the world at the time.
|Queen Christina and Pope Innocent XI|
In 1662 she again sent word out of her desire to return to her homeland even if she would not be Queen. However, the prejudiced government insisted on such restrictions placed on her residence that she would have been little more than a prisoner in her own home and for an independent woman like Queen Christina this was totally unacceptable. She remained in Rome, keeping up with the latest discoveries and theories as she always had done until her death on April 19, 1689. She left her massive library and exquisite art collection to the Pope and named her friend Cardinal Decio Azzolino, leader of the so called Catholic Flying Squad, heir to her estate. She was buried in the crypt beneath St Peter‘s Basilica and has a prominent monument on display there in her honor; Queen Christina being one of only three women to be so honored in the basilica.
Were all things as they should be, that is where the story of Queen Christina would end. Instead, there are the lingering, modern day controversies which must also be addressed. In the many works concerning her written long after her life she has been portrayed as a lesbian, a bisexual or owing to her occasions of wearing masculine attire as a transgender person. However, there is absolutely no factual basis for any of these accusations. As a matter of fact there is not one shred of hard evidence of her ever having a sexual affair with anyone. The most that can be presented are letters to female friends, none of which actually suggest anything more than strong personal friendship and her letters to her friend Cardinal Decio Azzolino, none of which, again, convey anything but strong friendship and one would have to do some extremely stretched reading between the lines to make anything more of them and in such cases one is usually able to find whatever one wishes, seeing things that are not there and twisting words so far out of proportion as to be totally unrelated to the original work.
As for Queen Christina dressing like a man and having male mannerisms, it must be remembered that she was purposely raised as a boy, encouraged to act like a king rather than a queen and many of her hobbies like horseback riding necessitated wearing something more practical than feminine attire. We should also keep in mind that by modern standards most of the men in her day dressed in a way we would consider feminine with long, flowing hair, earrings and lacey collars and cuffs. She also enjoyed study, learning and other things which were, at the time, considered the domain of men and her attire may have been no different from women today who are in big business that wear pantsuits to fit in better with their male counterparts and keep from drawing undo attention to their gender. As to the transgender issue itself, the body of the Queen was examined in our own time and no evidence of any sexual abnormalities were found. All in all the adoption of Queen Christina by the gay, lesbian or transgender communities as some sort of icon really represents nothing more than people grasping at straws in an effort to write themselves into the history books by claiming figures long gone as their own.
|Greta Garbo as Queen Christina|