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…Carry the boy – oops, girl – born to be king…

Home, sweet home. The Castle Tre Kronor, Queen Christina’s main abode.

On December 18, 1626, the people of Stockholm were treated to a full royal salute. What with the auspicious stars, the populace was expecting a prince. a male heir to their glorious warrior king, Gustavus Adolphus. The child was received with joy; sturdy and lusty, hirsute and strong, it bawled loudly upon being expelled from its mother’s womb.
” A boy, a boy!” caroled the midwives.
“A prince, a prince.” chorused the courtiers witnessing the birth.
“A son, a son!” said the king. Except that it wasn’t. Upon closer inspection, the midwives were forced to conclude that the hapless child was a girl – a disappointment to all. Well, with one exception. It seems the king took the news regarding the baby’s true gender with aplomb and commanded that the festivities be as grand as they would have been for a son.

Queen Christina

It wasn’t easy for Christina to live down the events surrounding her birth. Obviously something had to be “wrong”, as otherwise why would the midwives have made a mistake? And as the child grew, she was found to be rather male, with a deep voice and strong features, far removed from the feminine ideals of the age. To further develop her masculine sides, Christina was educated to be a KING. Her father left strict instructions as to her education, having reconciled himself to the fact that his wife would give him no more children. Or maybe he didn’t want to try. Gustavus Adolphus was married to Maria Eleonora, and though pretty, the woman seems to have had quite the hysterical side which the king found very unattractive. Just how hysterical Maria Eleonora could be was proved upon her husbands death: for over a year she refused to have him buried, sneaking in at odd times to peek into his casket and chat with the decomposing king.

Christina became queen – king? – at the tender age of six. During her minority, the country was managed by Axel Oxenstierna, one of Sweden’s more famous and able regents. Axel had loved Gustavus Adolphus. I’m not sure what his feelings were for Christina, but it is a known fact that he detested the queen dowager, and as Maria Eleonora was considered a destabilising influence, Axel had her removed from court. Poor Christina; no father, no mother, and most of her life controlled by a man who saw it has first duty to raise a sovereign, not a human being. As Christina herself said ” A child that is born to the throne belongs to the state”. She experienced that first hand.

Christina had some family left to her; an aunt and her two cousins, Carl Gustav and Katarina. It is said she fell in love with Carl Gustav (they were even secretly engaged, her being 16, him being 19),  but dear old Axel sorted that by sending Carl Gustav off on one military mission after the other. As a consequence, Carl Gustav became quite the warrior, while Christina was left pining – or not. Gifted with a voracious intellectual appetite, Christina comforted herself with books, more books and even more books. In between she’d write, write some more and write yet some more. She corresponded with people all over Europe, she wrote her autobiography, she wrote about politics and martial history and… To further cram her days, Christina was also taught to ride and fence and dance and converse and  – poor child; her days must have been very long, her nights very short.

Ebba Sparre

No matter her wit and her healthy physique, Christina had one major drawback. She was a woman.  Yes, yes, we’ve all heard that one before, haven’t we? In Christina’s case, the solution was relatively simple; marry her off and hope she begat a healthy son or two. Christina wasn’t interested. She developed a crush on one of her ladies in waiting, Ebba Sparre, lauding her for her intelligence and charm, her bodily perfection and cheery nature. They shared a bed together, they spent their days together and were now and then seen holding hands. Aha! So Christina was homosexual. Not necessarily; in the 17th century most people shared beds, and for two young women to demonstrate their affection might have been nothing more than that – a demonstration of friendship. Whatever the case, Christina saw fit to marry off her favourite to one of the richer men in Sweden, and little Ebba went off to have 14 children with her husband, indication of a relatively happy marriage.

So; no cousin to love, no Ebba with whom to talk and spend happy days in the sun with. While Christina did take part in the governing of her kingdom once she came of age, most of the work and the decisions were taken by her council, so without Ebba with whom to while away time, Christina was left with something of a void in her life. And we all know voids require filling… Christina’s agile mind (and extra time) found a new passion. Religion.

Now, we must remember that Christina was the queen of Sweden, the nation that under Gustavus Adolphus had spearheaded the Protestant factions in the Thirty Years’ War. In Sweden, not being a Protestant was very, very difficult. The few Catholics that made it up to Stockholm were treated with mistrust – and a certain amount of pity, as everyone knew the poor papist would ultimately spend eternity in hell. As queen, Christina was expected to be more Protestant than most and great care had been taken in ensuring she was brought up right. Great care had (unfortunately, some might think) also been taken to give Christina a very broad education, and so she had been taught about all other relevant religions – mostly as a deterrent.

Being bright, curious and – I guess – somewhat bored, Christina developed a secret interest in Catholicism. She found ways to correspond with Jesuits (through diplomatic channels) and one day a Spaniard named Antonio Pimentel de Prado popped up, officially on a mission from the Spanish king Philip IV, unofficially to guide the young queen towards the light as represented by the catholic faith. Christina also invited Descartes, the famous French philosopher (you know “Cogito, ergo sum“) to Stockholm, ostentatiously to discuss philosophy, but Descartes was a devout Catholic and during the hours the queen spent closeted with him who knows what mysteries they pondered. Not that this pondering would go on for all that long, as Descartes took ill and died after a very short stay in Stockholm.

This portrait of Christina she gifted to Antonio Pimentel who gave it to his king and so it ended up in El Prado.

By now the young queen was well into marriageable age – borderline too old, actually, what with her being well over twenty! Pressure was brought to bear on her. She must marry. She must do her duty by her country. She must produce babies. She must marry. On and on it went. But Christina didn’t want to. A husband – and sons – would reduce her to being a royal brood mare, her position slowly but safely reduced as her husband (and son) grew into power. Besides, she was tired of her golden fetters, of being a state institution rather than a person in her own right. So after some years of dropped comments along the lines that she, being but a weak woman, was not perhaps capable of being a regent queen (Bah! Someone more capable than Christina is hard to envision) she abdicated. Just like that. Well, okay, not just like that, because first of all she had to convince the council which took her a couple of years, and then the abdication itself was almost as magnificent a ceremony as was her coronation some years before – Christina had a penchant for the theatrical. And off she went, adequately endowed with land and riches, leaving her dear cousin as king.

Carl Gustav – a man’s man!

Sweden heaved a sigh of relief. A nice conclusion to an unorthodox situation, and while Christina had been well-educated and relatively presentable – although rather mannish – it was much better to have rotund Carl Gustav on the throne, a true leader of men with the added benefit of being one as well.

A year or so later, Sweden went into an apoplectic shock when their former queen officially converted to Catholicism. They could forgive her for being born a woman, they applauded her for abdicating, but this, to turn her back on the only true religion, no, this was a sin so grievous it could never be forgiven. Not that Christina cared, busy with her new, exciting life in Rome. And so the girl born to be king ended up being a free woman instead – living out most of the remainder of her life very far from the land of her birth.

The pope – well, the entire Catholic church – rubbed its hands in glee. To have converted the daughter of Gustavus Adolphus to the True Church (see how they all believed – believe? – theirs is the true church?) carried huge symbolic value, although I think that as the years went by and the queen lived on there must have been certain mutterings about how expensive this particular convertite was proving to be – Christina enjoyed her luxuries.

Of course, had the midwives been right that December day in 1626, had the baby in fact been a boy, then things would have been pretty much the same. The child would have been raised to be a king, and once of marriageable age, pressure would have been brought on the young king to marry for state reasons rather than love – as his father did. But there would have been one major difference; the young king would not have had to worry about having his position usurped his spouse. After all, he was a MAN, and as everyone well knew, it was a man who wore the trousers – in all walks of life. Maybe that is why Christina is known to have resorted – now and then – to wearing breeches…

22 thoughts on “…Carry the boy – oops, girl – born to be king…”

  1. How very interesting – I’m particularly interested in the side-saddle portarit. Will pass to my daughter who rides aside (& competes in side saddle historical costume classes)

    1. Glad you liked it! Oh, BTW; Christina’s dad had an indirect influence on Scottish history. It was as Gustavus Adolphus’ field marshal that David Leslie learnt of modern warfare, something he then brought back to Scotland and put to good use when forming the Covenanter Army.

  2. This is a great story, Anna. I’m sure if Christina had been male things would have been very different – people’s views haven’t really changed that much 😉

  3. I love stories of independent women and especially the royals who were restricted by ‘golden fetters’. Thanks for sharing your country’s history, Anna!

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