Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Friday, June 5, 2015

Christina, Queen of Sweden, Decides to Quit

Queen Christina of Sweden (abdicates 5 June 1654)

For so many medieval and early-modern women, succeeding to the monarchy was difficult, if not impossible.

Christina as queen, c. 1640,
portrait by Jacob Henry Elbfas
But there was no opposition to the succession of Christina to the throne of Sweden. Born in December of 1626, the only surviving child of King Gustavus Adolphus and his queen, Maria Eleanora of Brandenburg, Christina became queen of Sweden on 15 March 1633, when she was just six years old.

After conflicts between her mother and her aunt, the king's half-sister Catherine of Sweden, in whose care her father had left her, the regency council eventually appointed Catherine the young queen's guardian. 

Christina flourished under her aunt's care. She was also, as her father had ordered, educated as a prince, tutored in religion, philosophy, the classical languages, modern languages (including German, French, and Italian), and, most importantly, in politics. Although the ruling council invited her to assume her full duties as queen when she was sixteen, she deferred, postponing until her eighteenth birthday (claiming her father's majority as a precedent).

Like her English predecessor, Elizabeth I, Christina determined not to marry--a decision she announced on 26 February 1649, even before her coronation. Unlike Elizabeth, however, Christina solved the question of succession by naming her cousin Charles as her heir. (And, in fact, he did become king after Christina.)

While Christina's reign was a successful one, it was not without its difficulties. Christina worked tirelessly as queen, and she began suffering from numerous ailments. Her unconventional behavior and personal relationships became a cause for concern, and she was also accused of being fiscally irresponsible, even wasteful, angering many in the nobility for her efforts to raise money to pay off her debts. And, more problematically, in 1652, after sending a secret letter to Rome and welcoming two disguised Jesuits to Sweden, she received them, underwent instruction, and formulated a plan to convert to Catholicism.

In 1651, Christina had broached the idea of abdication with her council, but had been dissuaded from so drastic a move. By 1654, she could no longer be dissuaded. Her abdication ceremony at Uppsala Cathedral took place on 5 June 1654.

The next day, Christina left Sweden, dressed as a man and under the assumed name of Count Dohna. On 24 December 1654, in Austria, she converted to the Roman Catholic faith. Her ultimate destination, though, was Rome, where she arrived in December 1655.

While she settled more or less permanently, she also traveled to France in 1656, but she was back in Rome by the spring of 1658. She returned briefly to Sweden in 1660 at the death of Charles, even suggesting that she might like to return as queen--but, given her conversion, that was an impossibility. She returned to Rome in 1662. In 1667 she considered one last return to Sweden, but conditions prevented her from traveling farther than Hamburg. She was back in Rome by the end of 1668.

Memorial monument to Christina,
St. Peter's Basilica,
Traveling in Campania, she fell ill and died on 19 April 1689. Over the years, aside from the possibility that she might wish to return to Sweden as queen, she had been considered for a variety of vacant thrones--maybe she could be queen of Naples? Or queen of Poland? But there were no second chances, at least not as a ruling monarch.

Queen Christina's life is far more complex and event-filled than a brief post like this one can summarize, much less detail.

Her involvement with contemporary intellectuals, like the French philosopher René Descartes, her role as a collector of art, her many political involvements, her pious and, then again, her scandalous behavior, her gender ambiguities--make her life story rich and compelling.

I recommend the biography by Veronica Buckley, Queen Christina: The Restless Life of a European Eccentric--the title just hints at what's in store for you!

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