Sunday, March 16, 2008

Queen Christina of Sweden (1626-1689)

Actually, her title was "king" not "queen," since in Sweden the sovereign was always called "king," regardless of gender. This is only one of many unusual things about Christina of Sweden. Her parents had desperately wanted a son and when she was born both were deeply disappointed. Her mother reacted by rejecting her. Her father decided that she would be raised as a boy, anyway. Christina's father, the warrior-king Gustavus Adolphus, died when she was only six, so Christina became "king" as a little child. Her self-absorbed mother emotionally neglected her, with the exception of occasional outbursts of neurotic affection.

Such neglect, combined with the fact that she was being raised to fight, ride, and think like a man, led Christina to have rough manners and often adopt masculine dress. She was incredibly unattractive and unkempt but she did not care, being devoted to intellectual pursuits. It is not surprising that in her hunger for affection she developed an adolescent infatuation with one of her ladies-in-waiting. However, there is no evidence that Christina was a lesbian, or that she had any lovers, at all. The most responsible biographers, such as Sven Stolpe, believe that she probably died virgin. Christina was afraid of marriage, although there were men she deeply loved.

Regardless of all the psychological confusion, Christina was a just and capable ruler. Her diplomatic endeavors brought an end to the horrors of the Thirty Years War. She was a patroness of artists, scholars, and philosophers, especially Descartes. She developed a fascination with the Catholic religion and secretly studied under the Jesuits.

Christina hungered for spirituality, which led her to abdicate her throne in 1654 in order to become a Catholic. She was impressed by the Church teachings on purity, saying: "How beautiful this religion is. I should like to belong to it." She went to live in Rome, being under the mistaken impression that in Rome she could have a free life and do whatever she wanted. There was, however, a high standard of deportment required of Catholic queens, especially if they happened to be in the Pope's domain. Christina refused to conform; she would not behave, but went on swearing, dressing like a man, and shocking everyone, on purpose.

The Pope eventually had to ask Christina to leave town (she had executed one of her servants). She traveled all over Europe, having many adventures and always creating a commotion. She eventually came back to Rome, probably because she was madly in love with Cardinal Azzolino. The Cardinal was the great love of her life, to whom she wrote volumes of obsessive love letters. In spite of this (and everything else) Christina found peace at the end of her life by finally conforming herself to Church teachings (she had dabbled in both alchemy and Quietism.) She died in the sacraments of the Church. Perhaps not one of the most edifying of converts, Christina is certainly one of the most enigmatic. Share