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Queen Christina of Sweden (1626-89)

(The following is a post by Taru Spiegel, Reference Specialist, European Division.)

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Kristiana [sic], Queen of Sweeden [sic], 1626-89. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

A colorful figure and the subject of much fascination, and scandalized conjecture over the years, Sweden’s Queen Christina (in Swedish, Kristina) was born in Stockholm in December 1626.  She was educated as befitted a royal male since, as an only child, she was expected to be the future ruler of Sweden.  Consequently, Christina developed an enlightened interest in scholarship, the arts, and politics—so much so that her motto was “Wisdom supports the nation.”  Despite all her seeming advantages, Christina shocked her contemporaries by abdicating at the age of 27.  Her lavish lifestyle and suspected romantic interests were soon considered outrageous, even for a period not known for its inhibitions.  Furthermore, she horrified Protestant Europe by converting to Catholicism.  This was particularly stunning given that her father, Gustavus Adolphus (1594-1632), “Lion of the North,” died during the Thirty Years’ War fighting for the Protestant cause.

Christina was only five when her father died, and because her mother, the highly emotional Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg (1599-1655), was considered an unsuitable parent, Christina was raised by her paternal aunt, Countess Palatine Katarina Vasa.  The Countess’ son, Charles (Karl) Gustav (1622-60), eventually became Christina’s successor.

Christina2

Kristina, Queen of Sweeden [sic], 1626-89. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

At this time Sweden was ably run by a regency (1632-44) until Christina’s official majority at the age of 18, although she had already started attending council meetings at 14.  It was also during this period that the colony of New Sweden was established in the Delaware Valley area in North America (1638)—a sign that Sweden wished to be considered an important force in European politics and commerce.  The powerful chancellor Axel Oxenstierna (1583-1654), one of the regents, was in charge of Christina’s political education.  As Christina grew older, important writers, musicians, and scholars were invited to her court, including the famous philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650).

This medal from 1665 depicts Queen Christina on one side, and a phoenix on the other. In a wordplay, the Greek letters spell out the Swedish word makelös (makalös), or “incomparable.”

This medal from 1665 depicts Queen Christina on one side, and a phoenix on the other. In a wordplay, the Greek letters spell out the Swedish word makelös (makalös), or “incomparable.” “Svenska bilder frȧn sextonhundratalet; anteckningar ur gamla papper,” by Elof Tegnér. Stockholm, F. & G. Biejer, 1896.

Medal 2

This medal from 1665 depicts Queen Christina on one side, and a phoenix on the other.

After naming her cousin Charles as successor, Christina abdicated and traveled to Rome at the invitation of Pope Alexander VII, who welcomed this important convert.  Rome was to become Christina’s primary residence during the rest of her life, and a place where she befriended several succeeding pontiffs, as well as important artists, thinkers, and writers.  After leaving Sweden, Christina traveled much in Europe, incurring ruinous expenses both for herself and her hosts.  While visiting the French court at Fontainebleau in 1657, she had her equerry, or senior attendant, summarily executed, again causing much shocked indignation.  She enthusiastically engaged in various international intrigues, unsuccessfully pursuing the thrones of Naples and Poland.

Christina’s most positive legacy lay in her sponsorship of the arts.  Witty, learned, multilingual, and liberal, this “Minerva of the North” presided over meetings of men of letters and founded the Accademia dell’Arcadia, now the Accademia Letteraria Italiana.  She was the sponsor of such musicians as Alessandro Scarlatti and Arcangelo Corelli, and protector of the sculptor and architect Giovanni Bernini.  Her palace, the Riario, contained notable works of art and an enormous library, now housed at the Vatican.  Christina died in 1689.  Her tomb is in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

The Library of Congress’ collections include a large number of books about Queen Christina, several of them written during her lifetime.  Works about the Queen may be found in the Library’s online catalog under search terms such as “Christina, Queen of Sweden, 1626-1689” or “Sweden–History–Christina, 1632-1654.” The Library also possesses the famous 1933 film, “Queen Christina” starring Greta Garbo.  Of special interest are two contemporary broadside manifestoes issued in the Queen’s name in 1636 and 1649.  The earlier one concerns Sweden’s copper industry, while the later one touches on North America, in that it abolishes the monopoly on the tobacco trade, while asserting the Crown’s right to tax this new and desirable luxury commodity.

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