Christina, The Minerva of the North Who Abdicated Her Throne to Live Life by Her Own Rules
Christina was a Queen of Sweden who lived during the 17th century. As Christina ruled in her own right, she may be called a ‘queen regnant’. Christina inherited the Swedish throne about a month before her sixth birthday. At the age of 18, she was allowed to rule in her own right, though her coronation would only take place some years later.
Then, in 1654, at the age of 27, Christina decided to abdicate, and moved to Rome. Apart from her rule in Sweden, Christina is also remembered for a number of other things, including her ‘abnormal’ pursuits, i.e. activities which were at that time reserved for males such as hunting and sports, her patronage of the arts, and (perhaps less so) as a philosopher.
Christina was born on December 8, 1626 (according to the Julian calendar) in Stockholm, Sweden. Her father was Gustav II Adolf, the King of Sweden, whilst her mother was a German princess by the name of Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg. On November 6, 1632 (again based on the Julian calendar), Christina’s father was killed at the Battle of Lützen.
At that point of time, Christina was Gustav’s only surviving legitimate child, and was the only member of the Swedish royal family who was eligible to inherit the throne. Therefore, following the death of her father on the battlefield, Christina was made “by the Grace of God, Queen of the Swedes, Goths (or Geats) and Wends”.
Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. (Public Domain)
As a child, Christina was not capable of ruling by herself, which meant that the affairs of state were managed by a council of regency. This council consisted of five members, and was headed by the chancellor, Axel Oxenstierna. Christina was apparently admitted into the meetings of this council from the age of 14, and when the queen turned 18, she was allowed to rule in her own right.
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The 16-year-old Christina as queen. (Public Domain)
The early part of Christina’s reign saw the queen taking an active part in the running of her country. One of her achievements during this period was the conclusion of the Thirty Years’ War, as she desired to see an end to this conflict, and she was one of the principal parties involved in the signing of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.
Apart from politics, Christina was also interested in scholarship and the arts. The queen instituted a ‘Court of Learning’, and learned men, musicians, and artists were invited from all over Europe to Stockholm. Due to this, Sweden became known as the ‘Athens of the North’, and Christina, the ‘Minerva of the North’.
During the last years of her reign, Christina had contemplated abdication, though the actual reasons for this move are not entirely clear, and it is a question that is still being debated by historians. Amongst the reasons given for Christina’s abdication are difficulties with issues of taxation and governance, diplomatic problems with Poland, and her conversion to Roman Catholicism.
Charles X Gustav
Thus, on June 6, 1654, Christina abdicated in favor of her cousin, who succeeded her as Charles X Gustav. After her abdication, Christina travelled to Rome, the heartland of her new-found faith. She seems to have been well received by the Papal authorities, and received the sacrament of Confirmation from the Pope himself, following which she came to be known as Christina Alexandra. It was in Rome that Christina would spend much of the remainder of her life.
King Charles X Gustav of Sweden. (Public Domain)
Whilst in Rome, Christina continued to be a patron of the arts, and supported men such as Domenico Scarlatti, Arcangelo Corelli, and Giovanni Bernini. Old habits die hard, and Christina became involved in political and religious intrigue even during her stay in Rome.
For example, Christina once attempted to make herself the Queen of Naples. This plan failed, however, when she was betrayed by a member of her household. She had the traitor executed summarily in her presence, which resulted in her marginalization by Roman society for some time. In another scheme, Christina attempted to become the Queen of Poland, though this failed as well.
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Christina was also a philosopher, and has been most commonly presented as a pupil of René Descartes (who lived in Stockholm during the last year of his life). Nevertheless, Christina developed her own philosophical ideas as well, and left behind a disparate collection of texts, which were mainly written in French. Whilst she was interested primarily in the questions revolving round the nature of love, Christina also explores a wide range of other issues, including the nature of virtue, the civic tolerance of religious minorities, and the nature and proper exercise of authority.
Queen Christina (at the table on the right) in discussion with French philosopher René Descartes. (Public Domain)
Death of a Notable Woman
Christina in her old age. (Public Domain)
Christina died on April 19, 1689. She was buried in the Vatican grottoes beneath St. Peter’s Basilica. At present, only four females have been entombed in St. Peter’s Basilica (of which three can be found in the Vatican grottoes). This was an unusual honor bestowed upon the former Swedish Queen. Incidentally, Christina’s tomb was located next to the tomb of Pope St. John Paul II from 2005 until the latter’s relocation to the Chapel of St. Sebastian in 2011.
Christina's sarcophagus in the extensive papal crypt at the Vatican. (Public Domain)
Featured image: A portrait of Queen Christina by Jacob Ferdinand Voet. Photo source: Public Domain
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Available at: http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/abdication-queen-christina-sweden
Conley, J. J., 2016. Kristina Wasa (1626—1689). [Online]
Available at: http://www.iep.utm.edu/wasa/
Lewis, J. J., 2015. Queen Christina of Sweden. [Online]
Available at: http://womenshistory.about.com/od/rulerspre20th/p/queen_christina.htm
stpetersbasilica.info, 2016. The Tomb of Queen Christina of Sweden. [Online]
Available at: http://stpetersbasilica.info/Grottoes/Queen%20Christina/Queen%20Christina.htm
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Available at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03722a.htm
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Available at: http://departments.kings.edu/womens_history/christina.html