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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.