Queen Christina of Sweden, feminist icon
Queer? Check. Alchemist? Check. Queen at 15? Check. Discover historical feminist icon Queen Christina of Sweden and wear fealty.
Dear Queen Christina,
You fierceling, you. You ruled by the age of 15. You achieved impossibilities by the age of 21, even though your mother rejected you at birth – mostly for your gender and partly for your newborn ‘ugly’ looks.
Your list of achievements and daring adventures is spectacular. Ending a 30 year war, becoming a learned astronomer and alchemist, learning five languages, setting up a national newspaper, abdicating from a very cushy job as Queen of Sweden, embracing queerdom, killing your male lover for betraying your attempt to forcibly become the Queen of Spain, getting the Pope to think you were the most amazing person ever…
You did well, oh queen.
And all this from a ‘mere’ girl. We kneel in your honour.
Love, Mookychick xxx
Best Known For:
Being known as the Minerva of the North due to her intellect and love of scientific and artly things. Also well-known for putting herself about a bit, life-wise, and being played by Greta Garbo in the film Queen Christina.
Least Known For:
Being instrumental in the death of the famous french philosopher Descartes. True story, although it was totally by accident.
Queen Christina of Sweden quotes:
‘As you know, no-one over thirty years of age is afraid of tittle-tattle. I myself find it much less difficult to strangle a man than to fear him.’
‘Fools are more to be feared than the wicked.’
‘It is necessary to try to surpass one’s self always; this occupation ought to last as long as life.’
‘Life becomes useless and insipid when we have no longer either friends or enemies.’
Queen Christina seems like one of these inter-dimensional beings who have the energy of a million suns. We also like that she was running a country (and doing it brilliantly) by the time she was 15.
A potted history
Queen Christina, born in 1626, ruled Sweden from 1632 to 1654. Most rulers seem to end their post through terminal means, but Christina didn’t play to tropes. Instead she abdicated, converted to Catholicism and went to live in Rome.
She was born at the time of a rare astrological conjunction and astrologers predicted she would be a boy. She was also born with a membrane over her pelvis and was therefore initially believed to be male. Her mother rejected her because she was deemed ugly (and a girl). However, her father decided immediately that she should be raised as a prince. Huzzah!
When she was 5, Christina’s father was killed in the 30 Years’ War and Christina was crowned Queen, under the tutorship of the Chancellor. She began a 12 hours per day, 6 days a week regime of Lutheran sermons, study and sport. By the age of 9, she was seriously questioning Lutheranism and indicated a desire to be a Catholic (at that time illegal). By the time she was 11, her mother was suffering from severe mental ill-health and, suspected of a number of attempts on her life, was kept apart from her.
By 13, Christina was attending council meetings and began to run the country. By 15, she could write and speak five languages, only slept 3-4 hours a night and was a great sportswoman and huntress.
At 17, she fell in love with a man, Charles Gustav, but he had to work abroad. When she was officially crowned at 18, Christina led people to believe she intended to marry Charles Gustav but she was already planning her abdication and had become attached to an aristocratic young girl called Belle who was new to her court.
By 19, she had surrounded herself with bohemian adventurers and found a new male lover (though she and Charles Gustav remained friends for the rest of her life). At this time, Christina helped set up Sweden’s first newspaper and began challenging the ideas of Descartes with a correspondence via the French ambassador.
At 21, during a crisis of faith, she embarked on an intensive five year study of the world’s religions. The next year, she negotiated an end to the 30 Years’ War and assembled a group of scholars and freethinkers at her court.
At 24, she invited Descartes to Sweden, though the fact that she invited him at midwinter and would only see him at five in the morning leads to him catching pneumonia and dying. Oh no!
By 25 she was having secret meetings with Jesuits and thinking again about abdicating. The following year Don Antonio Pimentel de Pradol, the spanish envoy to Sweden, arrived and becomes the focus of Christina’s attention. The following year, it was believed that she and Pimentel were lovers and she had started sending some of her valuables outside Sweden. Her best friend Belle married, but continued to live with the Queen.
At 28, Christina abdicated and named her cousin, Charles Gustav as her successor. She left Sweden on horseback wearing men’s clothing and began her journey through Europe. Her only regret appears to be leaving Belle behind.
Once in Rome, however, things were far from rosy. Ex-Queen Christina was received by the Pope and given accommodation, and for a while she was the centre of society and one of the most famous women of the age, but her lack of conventional restraint caused gossip and slander, so she decided to move on. She wanted to be Queen of Naples and tried to persuade France to take it from Spain for her by force. But one of her men betrayed her plans and she personally killed him brutally.
Aristocratic society was horrified at the killing and rumours spread throughout Europe that she had a succession of lovers and killed each one when she tired of him. Other wild rumours circulated about her: that she was either a promiscuous lesbian, a promiscuous lover of men or totally celibate. All of which would have been considered very evil indeed.
Her reputation was damaged, her money was running out, she was heartbroken to hear that Belle had died in Sweden… so Christina started studying astronomy (surely the best way to deal with heartbreak) and returned to Sweden in a vain attempt to regain her throne. She tried to negotiate a way to be ruler of Poland, then moved to Hamburg and started studying alchemy. As one does.
Eventually, she returned to Rome and was reconciled with the new Pope. She became increasingly religious and died in 1689, at the age of 63 – shortly after the Pope had ordered her new female ‘favourite’ to go and live in a convent.
She was one of only four women to be buried in St Peter’s Basilica, alongside all the Popes.
The classic Greta Garbo film, “Queen Christina”, was a highly fictionalized portrait of her years of rule. In fact, making allowances for the fact it was 74 years old, Queen Christina was a brilliant (and sometimes gloriously camp) film. And curiously, just as Queen Christina had a lifelong love for Belle, Greta Garbo was also said never to have got over being rejected by Mimi Pollack. Life and art intertwined with tendrils of nuance…