Christina, the Female King of Sweden

Christina of Sweden was five when her father King Gustav II Adolf fell in the battle of Lützen. Upon his death, her mother Queen Maria Eleonora was put under house arrest and exiled to castle Gripshom. On the express wish of the king, Christina was raised and trained as a prince and not a princess. At 16, she declined to co-rule with a regency council; instead she took full control at 18 when coming of age.





Christina was born on the 18th of December 1626 to King Gustav II Adolf of Sweden and Queen Maria Eleonora, Princess of Brandenburg; she was the only child of the couple to survive infancy. When Gustav II Adolf died in the battle of Lützen in 1632, Chancellor Count Axel Oxenstierna became regent and warden to the infant princess. He exiled manic depressive Queen Maria Eleonora to Castle Gripsholm and called on the late king’s sister Countess Palatine Katharina of Zweibrücken-Kleeburg to look after Christina’s upbringing.



Christina was invited by Oxenstierna to join the government on her 16th birthday but declined in deference to tradition. When she came of age in 1644, she took over the government, terminated the regency, and kept Count Oxenstierna as chancellor. There had never been a Queen regnant in the history of Sweden. Christina was therefore expected to marry and then abdicate in favor of her husband. Only when she had made it abundantly clear by declining offers in marriage from all over Europe that she really intended to take the crown as king did the coronation go ahead. In 1650, she was crowned as King of Sweden; not Queen, a female King, please note the difference.



While her Protestant grandfather Gustav I Vasa had greatly enhanced crown lands and tax income by secularizing all church held property, the disastrous spending spree of first her father and then Count Oxenstierna had left Sweden virtually destitute. She was constrained to give away scores of noble titles to faithful retainers for their support; during her reign, titled families doubled from 300 to 600. It is therefore not surprising that when the chance came in 1648 to end the 30 year war she was prepared and willing to end it at all cost.



All the same, she managed to acquire Bremen, Velden, and parts of Pomerania for Sweden in the peace treaties of Westphalia. By this, she became Duchess of Bremen and Princess of Velden, taking direct responsibility for the government of these states. She issued an edict for Bremen and Velden prohibiting the prosecution of witches. She left little doubt in the wording of her edict that she considered the prosecuting magistrates crazy; she even coined the expression ‘witch-craze’ in the sense we use it today.



Prior to her coronation, Christina named her cousin Count Palatine Carl Gustav of Zweibrücken-Kleeburg as her chosen successor. In 1554, she abdicated in his favor  The reasons for her abdication are unclear to this day. The nobles of Sweden had objected to Carl Gustav as heir presumptive, they objected again to her abdication; internal pressure for abdication therefore was minimal. Her later conversion to Catholicism might have been a reason, but this is highly dubious. She made it clear before her conversion that she wouldn't adhere to the tenets of the faith and she lived the rest of her life proving just that.



Christina had received the full education of a prince destined to rule as was common for boys in her time. She therefore was instructed in politics, history, philosophy, Christian religion, and Islam. She read Greek and Latin and was fluent in French and Italian. She was an excellent horse woman, and she fenced and shot like a man. Through pillage, her father had collected a vast library and the beginnings of an art collection. She continued these hobbies in a more conventional way.



Her father had studied under Galileo Galilei, and she called René Descartes to her court. She invited the French philosopher to Sweden for a summer visit. Instead, he arrived in October 1649. Christina was running a tight schedule, and her meetings with Descartes were invariably set for five o’clock in the morning in the unheated library. The cold climate weakened Descartes to the point where he contracted pneumonia of which he died early in 1650.



Christina’s mother Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg had been exiled to Gripsholm Castle in 1636. She fled the Castle with help from the Danish Royal Court and was graciously received by King Christian IV of Denmark and Norway but she really wanted to return to her home in Brandenburg. This move was blocked by her nephew Elector Frederic William of Brandenburg who expected to receive compensation for her upkeep from Sweden should he take her.



Contrariwise to the Elector's expectations and due to her defection, Count Oxenstierna had set in motion the immediate discontinuation of Maria Eleonora’s state pension and the confiscation of her lands in Sweden. Christina managed to get out of the impasse by confiscating the lands of her mother and compensating her with a Royal pension. Maria Eleonora returned to Brandenburg to find that she was not treated as a Queen (even an exiled one) but as a poor relative and decided to return to Sweden in 1648.



Christina bought Castle Makalös (Without-A-Fault) for her mother; well, sort of bought it. Instead of paying the very steep asking price, she kept on negotiating price and conditions and finally handed it back to its owners in 1652. Her mother died in 1655, one year after Christine's abdication.



When Christine took over government in 1644, Swedish finances were in total shambles due to the spending spree of first her father and later Chancellor Oxenstierna. As she was no frugal spender herself, Sweden was near bankruptcy by the time she handed the crown to her cousin. During her reign, she set the example for Sweden by often promising payments in the future while already looking for a loophole to default on them.



In the document detailing her abdication she is granted lands in Sweden and Pomerania to guarantee her income in return for her abdication and negation of all future claims to the throne. The lands would be administered by the government and the money would be forwarded to her at regular intervals. It was just unlucky for her that her government and her cousin had learned her way of paying all too well.



The ceremony of abdication was pompous to make sure everybody got the point that they would have a new king who nobody really wanted. Immediately after the abdication, Christina changed into men’s garb, took on the title of Count Dohna, and rode off into the sunset. Her servants and retainers meanwhile started packing up her personal belongings granted her in the abdication contract. By the time the new king and the government had found time to check on how she interpreted the clause in the contract detailing her personal possessions, the Dutch ship taking on her goods had already left harbor. The Royal castles in Sweden had been virtually stripped empty.



Christina's plan to travel through Danish territory to reach Antwerp had caused her to travel incognito disguised as a male noble. Having taken Gotland and Ösel from Denmark and Jämtland and Härjedalen from Norway, she doubted she would receive a hero’s welcome from King Christian IV of Denmark and Norway.



In Antwerp, she was greeted with great pomp by Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria. He was the representative and regent in the Netherlands for King Phillip IV of Spain. Despite being now politically powerless, she was seen by the Habsburg dynasties in Spain and the Holy Roman Empire as the ideal mediator in the Franco-Spanish war as well as between Catholic and Protestant Electors in the Empire. But the French immediately questioned her neutrality due to the fact that she was residing in Spanish territory. They suspected that her abdication had been instigated by the Spanish Court in offering her the regency in the Netherlands or the Royal crown of Naples; they went on the attack by issuing and distributing defamatory pamphlets about the person of Christina.



Christina preceded from Antwerp to Brussels where she converted to Catholicism on Christmas Eve 1654. The ceremony was held in secret as the Habsburg still held out hopes for her mediation which would have been compromised by her conversion. In Brussels, she met with the French Prince of Condé who had been her ally in the 30 years war.



Her personal spleens and eccentricities played havoc with Spanish and French court protocols alike. She soon decided to head for Rome to reduce friction with her hosts. Within moths, the Swedish government was already remiss with its payments to her. She teetered on the brink of bankruptcy and this state of affair would change little through all the time up to her death.



She set off from Brussels with her court in September 1655. You couldn't call it a household, as she still styled herself Queen, and she had hundreds of retainers and servants travelling with her. She descended on Cologne, Frankfurt, Rothenburg, Nördlingen, Augsburg, and finally Innsbruck. In Innsbruck, her conversion to Catholicism was made public with much pomp and circumstance. The festivities were stupendous and bankrupted Habsburg Archduke Ferdinand Charles of Austria-Tyrol. Her progress was much like that of a frivolous invading army or a swarm of locusts.



She proceeded to Rome where she was welcomed by Pope Alexander VII with all the honors due a reigning queen. The Pope demanded that she should adopt the names Alexandra Maria on her confirmation ceremony conducted by Alexander VII personally. She happened to dislike Maria and signed her confirmation document with Christina Alexandra instead.



In Rome, she moved into the Vatican until offered the Palazzo Farnese by Duke Ranuccio II of Parma and Piacenza. She resided in the Palazzo Farnese until she bought the Palazzo Corsini from the Sforza family. There is a funny story of her servants burning doors and selling paintings, silver, and other valuables from the Palazzo Farnese due to her constant lack of money, but they are apocryphal. It is true, though, that the payments from Sweden were constantly too late and too little, but she held herself above water by getting loans from just about every ruling Catholic family in Europe.



Christina settled down in Rome where she was still addressed as Queen of Sweden. Her court became a center for artists and intellectuals giving her the chance to further her studies and broaden her horizon. But the payments from Sweden were a constant niggle, arriving late or not at all. She didn't let a constant lack of money inhibit her spending patterns, though.



To get herself on solid financial ground again, she dabbled in politics, entering into a conspiracy with France to secure the crown of Naples for herself. To ease her financial output, she spent months on end at the French court for the negotiations in 1656 and 1657. The plan was for France and England to seize Naples from Spain and to put her on the throne. She in turn would bequeath the Kingdom to France.



The plan was leaked to the Spaniards by Margrave Giovanni Monaldeschi and Christina had him executed for treason at Fontainebleau. The French grabbed the opportunity to accuse her of murder and get her out of the country as the plan had become unfeasible after becoming general knowledge. To our modern way of thinking we might immediately follow the French in condemning her. But at the time rulers were chosen by the grace of God, and what God had given, man could not give away. Christine had actually been within her rights in the execution. The affair did not touch her friendship with either the Condé family nor the French King. It was all only politics after all.



She made a bid for the Swedish crown in 1660 after the death of her cousin. While she was granted entry to the country to renegotiate her abdication on that occasion, she was barred from entering the country until the new king had been crowned (Carl XI was 12 at the time) when she wanted to visit again in 1667. She spent her time in Hamburg looking after her Swedish possessions from there. In 1668, she made a further bid for a crown; this time it was for the Polish throne but had no success there either.



In Rome, she had become fast friends with Cardinal Azzolino. The acquisition of the Palazzo Corsini had been orchestrated and organised by him. He also brought Pope Alexander VII round to forgive her the Monaldeschi affair and to grant her a church pension.



While in Rome, she got Alexander VII's successor Clement X to sign an edict forbidding Romans to chase Jews through the streets during carnival week. When she found that the Jews in Rome were unduly harassed by the Roman population, she coolly published an edict of her own declaring all Jews as living under her personal protection. The edict was signed simply ‘La Regina’ (The Queen). When Louis XIV renounced the Edict of Nantes, she wrote him a furious letter and publicly accused him of acting like a criminal.



Christina died in 1689 of pneumonia. She had made Cardinal Azzolino her heir and executor of her will but he survived her only shortly. The task of cleaning up her mess was left to his nephew who sold her enormous library to the Vatican (including her memoirs and several tracts and essays written by her). He also sold her art collection partly to Sweden, but mostly to the Orleans family in France. Part of that collection can be viewed today in the Scottish National Museum.



Against her expressed personal wish, her funeral was a grand affair. Her body was embalmed and lay in state for four days at the Palazzo Corsini. She was then brought in procession to St. Peter where she was buried in the crypt of the Popes. Pope Innocent XII ordered a marble bust in her likeness to be displayed inside the cathedral. Both tomb and memorial can still be visited today.



Further reading
Elected Monarchs on Europe's Thrones