ScotWars - Scottish Military History and Re-enactment
Tomboy Queen of Sweden

She shocked the nobles and broke all rules of royal behaviour; but to her humbler subjects Christina was the queen who could do no wrong

“It’s a boy!" Ladies of the court rushed through the palace to tell Gustavus Adolphus, the warrior King of Sweden, that the son promised by all the astrologers had at last been born.

Then the ladies looked at the baby, instead of merely listening to its lusty yelling. It was, in fact, a girl.

Nobody was at all anxious to tell the King and brave his expected wrath. But at last his sister, Princess Catherine, went to break the news. She received a pleasant surprise. "Let us thank God, my sister," said the King. "I hope my daughter will be as good as a son to me." And he added wryly: "She ought to be clever, since she has taken us all in."

Christina, as the baby was called, was certainly clever, and she should certainly have been a boy.

As a tiny child, she loved the sound of the cannons roaring a salute. As she grew older, she liked to dress as a boy, in breeches, jacket and cap, instead of the pretty clothes that delighted most young girls. She became a superb horsewoman, and expert pistol shot and swordswoman. She had tireless energy, riding or hunting for ten hours a day, often studying for twelve hours, and needing, she boasted, only three hours' sleep.

Bitter Struggle

But Gustavus Adolphus was never to know all this. At that time the Thirty Years' War was raging in Europe, a bitter struggle between Catholic and Protestant, and Sweden's warrior King was the champion of the Protestant cause. In 1630, when Christina was four, he marched off to fight. He never saw her again. Two years later he was killed.
Christina's mother, Queen Marie Eleanora, shut herself and her daughter in her apartment in deep mourning. The walls were draped with black hangings, the windows covered with black curtains. Wax candles burned night and day. The Queen wept most of the time and above her bed she hung her husband's embalmed heart, in a silver box.

Gratefully, Christina escaped to her studies as early as she could each morning; until finally, after two years, the ruling Council of Regents took Christina way from her mother, banished Queen Marie Eleanora to a remote country estate, and began to train her daughter for her future life as queen.

Christina, who became Queen of Sweden at the age of 18, was very hard-working, very clever and very tough.

She worked hard at state affairs and she also tried to attract to her court the best scholars of Europe, among them the elderly French philosopher Descartes. Anxious to discuss philosophy, Christina asked him to come to the palace three times a week to instruct her-but the only free time she had was at five o'clock in the morning.

Three times a week, the miserable Descartes drove shivering through the bitter winter night to Christina's bleak, cold palace. Before the end of the winter, he had died of congestion of the lungs.

Even Christina could not endure the gruelling pace of work, study and exercise for ever. She began to suffer from fainting fits and fevers, and only improved when a French doctor advised her to try a little frivolity. She took to frivolity with enthusiasm, but her crude practical jokes and capriciousness, and the money she squandered on entertainment, began to anger her nobles.

However, Christina was growing tired of her crown. She was also growing tired of the role she had inherited from her father-a great Protestant leader. In church, bored with the interminable sermons, she talked, read a book or played with her dogs.

When she announced her intention to abdicate, many of the nobles were not sorry to see her go; but when the Riksdag, the Swedish Parliament, met to hear her decision, the leader of the peasant party shuffled forward. A simple countryman, he spoke from his heart.


"What are you doing, Your Majesty?" he asked. "If you leave such a large kingdom, where will you get another? You have governed us very well and we love you with all our hearts. I pray you, Madam, do not leave us."
But Christina had made up her mind. Leaving her country to be ruled by her cousin Charles Gustavus, she rode off-her hair cut short, wearing boy's clothes-to make a new life for herself.

If the news that Christina had abdicated had spread like wildfire through Europe, the news that she had changed her religion and become a Catholic spread even faster, and caused an even greater sensation. The same sensation might be caused today, if the leader of a great Communist country left his homeland to embrace Western capitalism.

The Pope and Catholics everywhere, were beside themselves with joy at their important new convert. They gave her a magnificent state entry into Rome; but they were less joyful when she arrived on her white horse, and strode up the steps of the Vatican wearing a man's shirt and breeches.

Catholic Pope and bishops found Christina no easier to deal with than her Protestant nobles had done. Soon, she was talking and laughing, reading a book and playing with her dog in the Catholic church, just as she had done in the Protestant church.

Besides this, her wild parties, her coarse language and crude practical jokes, her extravagance and her debts, and her many conflicts with the Pope, soon gave her a bad reputation. When everyone in Rome grew tired of her, she toured the Catholic courts of Europe, scandalising them too.

Only towards the end of her life did Christina grow more mellow. She filled her palace in Rome with art treasures, filled her salon with scholars, artists and writers, and became known once more as a clever scholar. When at last she died, in 1689, the church bells in Rome tolled for 24 hours.

In Sweden, however, hardly anyone remembered the Queen who had caused such a scandal by giving up her throne and her religion, 35 years earlier.

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