Open main menu

CHRISTINA, queen of Sweden, the only legitimate child of Gustavus Adolphus who survived infancy, born in Stockholm, Dec. 8, 1626, died in Rome, April 19, 1689. She was but six years of age when her father died at Lützen, and she was early separated from her mother, and sent to be educated under the eye of her aunt, the princess Catharine, sister of Gustavus and consort of the count palatine John Casimir. She remained under his guardianship until the death of her aunt in 1638. The young queen's early education does not appear to have been judicious or effective. The palatine court rather sought its own aggrandizement. The son of the princess, Charles Gustavus, afterward Charles X. of Sweden, was betrothed to Christina during this guardianship. She was educated in deep distrust of the guardians appointed by the diet to have charge of her youth, and to govern the kingdom, during her minority. In 1636 the diet declared its opinion concerning the mode of educating the young queen. Christina herself relates that her father had ordered that she should receive a masculine education. Her tutor, whom he had himself appointed, was John Matthiae, at first a professor in the college of nobles, and afterward the king's court preacher. Her progress in accomplishments of every kind was remarkable. At 18 she read Thucydides and Polybius in the original, and wrote and spoke Latin, German, and French. In council and administration she showed much acuteness; while the grace of her manners and personal demeanor at this period exercised great influence over all who approached her, although she affected rather to slight than to assert outward dignity. Her portrait during the height of her renown was elaborately drawn by Chanut, a French ambassador at her court. “Her countenance,” he says, “changes with every change of mental emotion. For the most part she is pensive, and in every change of aspect she preserves something that is agreeable. If she disapprove of a remark made, her face is covered for a moment as with a cloud, which inspires terror. Her voice, usually mild, can nevertheless assume the strength of a man's. Her spirit is filled with incredible love of virtue, and she is passionately fond of honor. She talks about virtue like a stoical philosopher. There are times when she seems to lay her crown beneath her feet.” Chanut then praises her gift of comprehension and retentiveness of memory; her love for the society of learned men and scientific conversation; her reserve in the treatment of public affairs, and in council; her valuation of secrecy, and her power to preserve it inviolate; her apparent mistrust, and the difficulty with which she was made to change her mind; her power over the senate and her council of state. She was a great horsewoman, often ten hours at a time in the saddle, and no hunter in her kingdom was a better marksman. Her character was essentially masculine, always avoiding the society of her court ladies, and ever seeking conversation with men. She had a high sense of the value of time, devoting not more than a quarter of an hour to her toilet. Her observers at this time declare that she valued nothing but honor and virtue, and predicted that her extraordinary merit alone would make her reign illustrious, independent of foreign conquest and the valor of her armies. Such was the bright promise of her youth, the more remarkable from contrast with coming shadows. The administration of the regency during the minority of Christina was confided to a council of five members, at the head of whom was Oxenstiern, the chancellor of the late king. The death of this sovereign betokened great changes in the state of Europe. The German Protestants, now without a leader, were at once split up into factions. Their imperialist enemies, though worsted at Lützen (1632), prepared vigorously to renew the war. Oxenstiern was appointed by the Swedish regents to be “legate plenipotentiary of the Swedish crown in the Roman empire, and with all the armies.” He proceeded to the theatre of war, and devoted all his great genius to finding resources for the support of the Protestant cause. Christina assumed the exercise of sovereignty Dec. 6, 1644. Her reign was begun most auspiciously under the guidance of the greatest statesman of the age. Her ingratitude was not slow to follow. The last victories of her army in Germany were hailed with rapture at home, and won for the commander his sovereign's cordial and graceful acknowledgments. Torstenson had overthrown the main army of the imperialists under Gallas. The remaining three years of the war were less brilliant in victories, but more remorselessly vindictive than the other periods. The closing year (1648) found France more than ever united with the Swedes. Turenne received orders to support the new Swedish general Wrangel with his whole force. They effected a junction after much difficulty, and carried on a war of utter devastation against Bavaria. Charles Gustavus, the cousin of the queen, arrived from Sweden with reënforcements, and with the commission of generalissimo. Christina had sent him to command the army in order to rid herself of his importunate courtship. He laid vigorous siege to Prague, which must soon have fallen had not the emperor Ferdinand III., dreading this catastrophe and the certain loss of Bohemia consequent upon it, resolved to arrest it by accepting terms of peace. The Swedes and French had overthrown every other power in Germany, and it remained for the emperor to make the best terms he could. Accordingly the treaty of Westphalia, securing Protestant liberty, was signed Oct. 24, 1648, simultaneously in Osnabrück and Münster. Sweden received money equivalent to $5,300,000 for payment of her troops, and retained possession of Upper Pomerania, Rügen, Lower Pomerania up to the Oder, the delta of this river, with Stettin, Gartz, Wismar, Bremen, and Verden, all as fiefs of the empire. Christina's desire for peace had been ardent during the negotiations. It was destined, however, to bring her greater cares and anxieties than she had suffered during the war. Throughout her dominions the great conflict left behind it internal derangements so vast that she soon resolved to commit the task to other hands. The war had been totally disproportioned to the forces of the country. A proper distribution of the burden became an insolvable problem. The internal balance of the state was profoundly disturbed, and there needed a creative spirit like that of Gustavus Adolphus to restore it upon new foundations. Oxenstiern had withdrawn from court, having lost favor with the queen. His influence had been eclipsed by unworthy favorites, and although he shortly returned to his post and to the direction of affairs, he failed to satisfy the country; less indeed from the infirmities of great age, as has been said, than from a new order of things which in its operations jostled him aside. The most deserved reproaches have been heaped upon Christina for her capricious and dissolute conduct at this time; but during great trials to which she was exposed, she gave proof of intellect and courage. She had brilliant merits to reward and many wrongs to redress, and the care which she gave to old and wounded soldiers demands great praise. She was young, vivacious, and liberal without stint. The registers of her reign are filled with deeds of alienation of crown property, patents of nobility, tokens of grace and gifts of every sort. But it was soon evident that personal favor was to become the source of benefactions exceeding all others in amount. A young favorite, the handsomest of her courtiers, Magnus de la Gardie, was enriched with an annual income of 80,000 rix dollars in landed estate alone. Other favorites in time eclipsed him. Her father had already offered to Grotius an asylum in Sweden; and Christina invited learned men to her court from every quarter of Europe. Among the number, Descartes was with the young sovereign at 5 o'clock every morning for two months, and the impression which this philosopher made upon her mind has been said to have given her the first bias to skepticism. The origin of her new tendency, however, is with better reason ascribed to her physician Bourdelot, who, having rescued her from a dangerous illness, prescribed gayety of life for the future, and imparted to his patient his own scorn of all religion. This man took the place of De la Gardie, and through him presently all the favors of the throne were dispensed. She was constantly urged by the diet and her council to marry. The prospects of the monarchy now inspired much apprehension; but although her hand was sought by many princes, the queen resolutely declined a matrimonial alliance. Her father had intended her for Frederick William, afterward the great elector of Brandenburg. The popular wish was for her cousin, Charles Gustavus, who moreover appears from his own account to have desired to marry her from motives independent of ambition. She made light of his affection, and told him he talked “nonsense—a chapter from a romance.” The result was his positive rejection; but at the same time the queen resolved to abdicate the throne in his favor. She forthwith demanded that the diet should name her cousin successor to the throne. Oxenstiern and Torstenson in vain entreated her to abandon this purpose. The resolution naming her cousin successor to the throne was passed; and Oxenstiern, when obliged to sign it, declared that he would rather sign his own death warrant. He foresaw her abdication. One year later she made known this purpose. An independent life in other lands was now Christina's great desire, which was quickened by a fear that if she delayed, her renunciation of the crown would lose the lustre she wished to shed upon it through its perfect spontaneity. It began to be thought that the act might soon be forced upon her by the machinations of her enemies. A revolt was threatened, and Christina, desiring to quell this, and to abdicate voluntarily thereafter, allowed another diet to assemble without communicating to them her resolution. She carried out her purpose in the manner indicated; but the remainder of her reign was employed as though she had determined not to be regretted. Every species of abuse and license became her daily practice. The public treasure was squandered most dishonestly. She declared she would rather see the devil than her secretary with despatches. Months elapsed without her holding a council of state. She created in all 460 new nobles, among them the court tailor. The court was crowded with dancers, comedians, and singers. Ballets, in which the queen danced, and lascivious entertainments of every description, occupied the time of court and council. Public discontent began to rise to a formidable pitch, and at length Christina, in the 28th year of her age, announced that the time had arrived when she should carry out her purpose of abdication. The diet, assembled at Upsal, offered the usual remonstrances, but at length acceded, the high chancellor adding, “If this is to be, then the sooner the better.” The solemn act of renunciation was to be on June 6, 1654, and the interim appears to have been spent by Christina in coming to terms in regard to her future allowance of money. The diet assigned her an income of 240,000 rix dollars a year; but before the matter could be definitely settled, it produced some altercation between the queen and council. At the ceremony of abdication Christina appeared in robes of state, with crown and sceptre, and after an address of farewell laid aside, one after the other, the various regalia. Descending then from the throne, she desired to see her successor, Prince Charles, take her place immediately. She begged him to mount to the royal chair. This he would not do in her presence; but after attending Christina to her chamber, he returned to the great hall, and was crowned forthwith. Oxenstiern wept as the queen departed. “She is daughter still of our great Gustavus,” he exclaimed. Twelve ships of war had been equipped to convey her across the Baltic; but she took her way by land to Denmark, dismissing all her Swedish attendants except four. On reaching a brook which then formed the southern boundary of Sweden, she alighted from her carriage, and leaping across it, she cried out, “Now I am free and out of Sweden, which I trust never to see again.” Her country, however, soon became more estranged from her than she from it. Twice she revisited it, and on both occasions she was received and dismissed with distrust, if not with contumely. Carrying with her everything curious or valuable from the palace of her fathers, she abandoned her country as the abode of ignorance and barbarism. She travelled through Germany in the dress of a man, after having embraced the Catholic religion secretly at Brussels. Her public renunciation of Lutheranism was made soon after at Innspruck. The Catholics regarded the fact as a great triumph, while the Protestants were shocked at the conduct of the daughter of Gustavus Adolphus. She was cordially welcomed by the pope, Alexander VII., and at her confirmation by him adopted the name of Alexandra. In 1656 she went to Paris, where she was received with much and various sensation. Her talents and learning were the wonder of that capital. The learned men of Europe continued to be her subjects, as it were; but she seemed to become more and more unsexed. Her masculine air and libertine conversation kept women of delicacy at a distance. Ninon de l'Enclos was the only woman in Paris whom she noticed with any marks of esteem. She offered to mediate between France and Spain; but Mazarin declined the offer, and, under various pretexts, caused her visit to Paris to be shortened as much as possible. In 1657 she returned, and the contempt with which she had now come to be regarded was changed to detestation and horror by a murder which she caused to be perpetrated at Fontainebleau, in the great gallery, almost in her own presence. Monaldeschi, her grand equerry and favorite, was believed by her to have betrayed her confidence. She sent for him, showed him a priest, and told him to prepare for death. The Italian, overcome with terror, cast himself at her feet and begged for mercy; but she, inexorable, ordered Sentinelli, the captain of her guards, to put him to death. The order was executed on the spot. The court of Louis XIV. expressed its displeasure at the act, and during two months she did not show herself publicly in Paris; but the crime was allowed to pass, not only without punishment, but without inquiry. In 1658 she returned to Rome, where she received news that her revenue was cut off on account of the war between Sweden and Denmark and Poland. Pope Alexander VII. assigned her a pension of 12,000 scudi, and appointed Cardinal Azzolini to take charge of her finances. Her pride could not brook this state of affairs, and she demanded troops of the emperor to march against the Swedes. Not succeeding in her ambitious designs, she settled down to a life of literary ease and sensual indulgence. In 1660, on the death of the king of Sweden, she went to Stockholm, and began to intrigue for the recovery of the crown, but was compelled to sign another formal act of abdication. In 1666 she visited Sweden again, but found it prudent to return without going to Stockholm. On the death of John Casimir she aspired to the throne of Poland, but the Poles paying little attention to her demands, she returned to Rome and made her permanent residence there. She spent the rest of her life in the culture of letters and in correspondence with learned men, made vast collections of works of art and of books, and founded the Arcadian academy. (See Academy.) She bequeathed her fortune to Cardinal Azzolini. She was interred in the church of St. Peter, and over her remains a magnificent monument bears a long inscription, although she had expressed a wish to have these simple words: Vixit Christina annos LXIII. Her collections of art were sold and scattered about the world; 900 precious MSS. are in the Vatican, and the most valuable of her paintings were removed in 1722 to Paris, having been bought by the duke of Orleans, regent of France. She left some writings (collected and published by Archenholz in his memoirs of her life, 4 vols. 4to, 1751), which, says Geijer, exhibit a soul ardent and untamed by years, striving in all things after the extreme and the supreme, but submitting at last. “The feminine virtues,” he adds in conclusion, “which she despised, avenge themselves upon her good name; yet was she better than her reputation.”—See Geyer's Svenska Folkets Historia; Lacombe's Histoire de Christine, and D'Alembert's Memoires et reflexions sur Christine, reine de la Suède (both based upon the memoirs of Archenholz); Catteau-Calleville's Histoire de Christine, reine de la Suède; Grauert's Christine, Königinn von Schweden, und ihr Hof (2 vols., Bonn, 1838-'42); and sketches in the works of Bayle and Voltaire.