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Queen Christina of Sweden Site Relocated: 
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Queen Christina Wasa of Sweden ruled from 1640 - 1654, then abdicated her throne to Charles Gustavas and converted to Catholicism, which was illegal in Sweden. After abdicating, she lived in Rome, and was an active proponent of religious freedom and a patroness of the arts. 

Unconcerned with appearances, and daring to live a life of almost total freedom, Christina was one of the most highly independent, unconventional, and outrageously colorful women in history. The Greta Garbo film, Queen Christina, is a highly fictionalized portrait of her last years as queen.

Contributions             Personal Life              Issues of Religion

Her Contributions

As a ruler
As a ruler, Christina was a competent and decisive ruler, who exercised considerable political finesse in both internal and foreign affairs. Committed to peace, she helped to end the devastating Thirty Years War by negotiating the Peace at Westphalia.

As an advocate of religious freedom
Christina's religious tolerance, lack of racial prejudice, and commitment to the rights of members of other religious traditions was unheard of in her day. Not only did she support other forms of Protestantism than the Swedish-sanctioned Lutheranism,  but she openly converted to Catholicism, illegal in Sweden at the time. After her abdication, she supported the rights of minority religious groups.  She publicly condemned Loius XIV for dragooning French Protestants to make them desert their faith, and treated Jews as equal to Gentiles, issuing a proclamation in 1686 taking the Jews of Rome under her protection.

As a patroness of the arts and sciences 
Throughout her life, Christina had a passion for the arts and for learning, and surrounded herself with scholars, musicians, writers and artists. She founded the Accademia dell'Arcadia and several salons for literary and philosophical discussions. She sponsored artists, writers, musicians and philosophers (including Bernini, Scarlatti and Corelli), and financed hundreds of theatrical and operatic performances. 

Christina had an impressive collection of sculpture and paintings, and was highly respected for both her artistic and literary tastes. She also wrote several books,  including her Letters to Descartes and Maxims.  Her home, the Palace Farnese, was the active center of cultural and intellectual life in Rome for several decades.

Although the arts were her primary interest, Christina was also drawn to learning from philosophers, theologians, scientists and mathematicians. She supported several archaeological excavations, and hired astronomers to work in her own observatory.

Although Christina was indeed an elitist, she did not, like her contemporaries, value people in accordance with their birth, titles, status, appearance and income. Rather, she recognized and honored artistic and intellectual talent and skill, and was herself always striving for excellence.

Personal Life

In her biography of Queen Christina, Georgina Masson wrote:  "Christina's courage, her belief in rights and liberties, rare in her day, her recognition of religious and spiritual values, and her generosity, went far to mitigate her glaring faults, which she paid for with a life of great unhappiness."

What were her glaring faults? Certainly, some were the reverse side of her unique virtues. She wanted to be known for her merit, and shunned frivolity, denigrating the lives and interests of most women. She possessed enormous courage and strength of will, but insisted on total personal freedom, and refused to acknowledge any authority but her own. She had seemingly unlimited energy and maintained a nonstop pace, but frequently suffered from bouts of illness, and exhausted everyone around her. She seemed incapable of moderation. Whether engaged in study or entertainment, Christina pursued her interests with intense fervor.

Christina also seemed to delight in shocking others by both her behavior and appearance. Intolerant of  the "superficial" and the "feminine," she paid little attention to her own dress and personal appearance, and frequently appeared slovenly. Although surrounded by luxury and  priceless treasures of art and architecture, she usually dressed plainly in severe grey dresses and  men's trousers. Nervous and restless, she was constantly on the move, and spoke in a loud, deep voice, often voicing her libertine opinions and refusing to respect social or religious propriety. In appearance, voice and manner, she was quite masculine.

Most of her life, Christina was a queen without a realm, and often without reliable income. She depended entirely on her own political and interpersonal finesse in order to gain the means to support herself and her causes, and could be ruthlessly manipulative and deceptive in order to serve her own ends - ends which did, nonetheless, frequently benefit others. She was, after all, devoted to those she loved, and usually had a circle of friends and followers around her.

Did she have a love life? Although Christina fell in love with Charles Gustavas when she was an adolescent, and with a number of men and one woman afterwards, she decided by age 17 that she would never marry. Because of her outrageous appearance and behavior, and her apparent intimacy with a succession of men, she was the target of considerable sexual gossip. But Christina valued chastity and purity, and abhorred the thought of "submitting" to a man physically; she also found pregnancy and childbirth repugnant.  Despite her numerous declarations of love toward her favorites, Christina's numerous passions were most likely platonic; she may indeed have been a virgin throughout her life.

Christina at age nine, to her preacher: "Tell me the truth. All those things they tell us about religion - are they just fairy-tales like that of the last judgment?" And upon being told about the beliefs of Catholicism and respect for virgin purity, "How beautiful this religion is. I should like to belong to it."
From her biography: "I could not bear the long Lutheran sermons. When I grew older I made a kind of religion for myself, and thus waited for that religion which Thou would'st bestow on me, and to which I felt my nature powerfully attracted."
From her Maxims: "If we let God act within us, how good it would be - for everyone who harkens to Him and obeys.... What miracles would God not work within us and outside of us!"

After her father's death, Christina grew to detest the constant long sermons of Sweden's Lutheran religion, and the years of mourning rituals that preoccupied her mother. By age nine, she was questioning the truths of many religious teachings; several years later she began studying theology, and learning about world religions. Inspired by Descartes, a Catholic philosopher who was able to reconcile faith and reason, Christina began to secretly arrange meetings with Catholic priests, in order to learn more about the religion to which she would eventually convert. 

For many years before her abdication, she surrounded herself by libertine thinkers who likewise were questioning religious teachings. Although no significant spiritual experiences motivated her conversion, Christina was led by her mind, and sought a religion which made sense to her intellectually, and which allowed her a greater freedom of belief than she found in Lutheranism.  Catholicism did not prove to be a freethinking as Christina had imagined, but she nevertheless did convert and at least initially embraced its sacraments.

Did Christina abdicate because of her desire to convert to Catholicism in a country in which Catholicism was illegal and Catholics were frequently condemned as traitors? Most scholars today believe that her leaning toward Catholicism was only one of several factors influencing her abdication. She also yearned to be free from the restrictions of royal duties and pursue a life focused on the arts and philosophy. Her love for Italian art and culture beckoned her to Italy. 

Above all, Christina felt incapable of marriage, and a result, could not produce an heir, which was her royal duty as Queen. All of these factors, and her insistence upon a life of personal freedom, influenced her decision to abdicate, which she had made even before her official coronation as Queen of Sweden.

Christina's spirituality nonetheless deepened considerably during the last decade of her life when, disillusioned with worldly pleasures and power, she adopted the contemplative Quietist lifestyle and devoted herself to God. Her faith was now real and heartfelt, and she expressed her own spiritual beliefs in her Maxims.

copyright 1999 by Torrey Philemon (Tracy Marks)
Images are copyrighted and may not be reproduced.

This site was originally created for The Ancient Sites Celebration of Women. 
Ancient Sites community folded March 30, 2001. The web sites of Tracy Marks as TorreyPhilemon of Ancient Sites are now being moved to other locations.

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