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social sciences

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Christina of Sweden (1626-1689)  
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Abdication and Conversion to Catholicism

As early as 1651 Christina considered abdicating in favor of her cousin Charles Gustav. He had not yet married but was not, like Christina, opposed to the idea. He had, in fact, expressed interest in marrying her.

Despite this early indication, Christina's final decision to abdicate in favor of Charles Gustav was considered stunning. It prompted all manner of speculation.

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Within days after attending her cousin's coronation on June 6, 1654, Christina left Sweden. Before her departure she had her hair cut off and assumed masculine attire. She then journeyed to Denmark under the name of Count Dohna.

She continued to Brussels, where on December 24, 1654, she was baptized in a private ceremony into the Catholic faith, a religion illegal in Sweden at the time.

Word of her conversion spread, and on September 22 of the following year she had a second, public, baptism in the presence of a representative of Pope Alexander VII.

Christina was a prize convert, and the pope himself welcomed her when she arrived in Rome in December 1655.

Life in Rome

The Italian capital became Christina's home for the rest of her life, although she traveled around Europe on several occasions. Particularly in France her unorthodox ways drew comment. Because of her mannish clothing and assertive manner she was called an "Amazon." She is also reported to have made amorous advances toward several women during her journeys.

Even after her abdication Christina retained political ambitions. She negotiated with French minister Cardinal Jules Mazarin to be named King of Naples, but the plan came to naught due to an uproar after she ordered Giovan Rinaldo Monaldeschi, a member of her retinue, executed for treason. He had probably tried to shop his knowledge of Christina's quest for Naples for his personal gain, but details of the incident are unclear.

When the throne of Poland became vacant in 1668, Christina made a half-hearted attempt to vie for the elective post of king at the urging of Cardinal Decio Azzolino, a powerful churchman whom she had befriended in Rome.

The loss of the Polish election caused little dismay to Christina, who preferred to remain in Rome, where she had founded the Accademia Reale (now called the Accademia dell'Arcadia) to promote the study of literature and philosophy.

Patronage of the Arts

Christina was an active patron of the arts. Her extensive collection of paintings was noteworthy for its numerous depictions of women in erotic poses.

She turned a former convent called Tor Di Nona into a theater where plays and operas were produced. Instead of using castrati for the female roles in the operas, Christina brought beautiful and talented local young women to the stage.

Christina became a devoted admirer of Alessandro Scarlatti after hearing a performance of one of his early works. She made him her choirmaster, and it is she who suggested the theme for his opera Pompeo (1683).

Christina also championed Arcangelo Corelli, who conducted the orchestra at a concert that Christina gave in 1687 in honor of James II of England.

Death and Subsequent Speculation

Christina died in Rome on April 19, 1689 after a short illness. She had requested a simple funeral, but Pope Innocent XII arranged an elaborate ceremony. Throngs lined the route as a large procession of clergy and leading scholars brought her to St. Peter's Basilica for interment in an ornate tomb.

The fascination with Christina has not diminished over time. In Rouben Mamoulian's Queen Christina (1933) another enigmatic Swede, Greta Garbo, portrayed the monarch on screen. Christina's love for Ebba Sparre is shown by a passionate kiss between the two women. In the film, however, Sparre soon betrays the love of Christina, who then becomes the lover of the Spanish ambassador.

The ambassador, Antonio Pimentel, is one of a number of people--men and women alike--whose relationships with Christina were the subjects of rumor during her lifetime. Apart from the clear expression of love in the letters to Sparre there is little evidence to support the considerable speculation.

Speculation about Christina's sexuality has indeed been present, however, from the very day of her birth when she was mistaken for a boy. Some have suggested that she may have been a .

In 1965 Christina's body was disinterred and examined. Investigators were able to determine that the skeleton was that of a woman, but because of decomposition and the fact that the embalmers had removed some of the internal organs, analysis of the soft tissue was not possible. In death as in life Christina had retained her ability to confound.

Linda Rapp

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social sciences >> Overview:  Sweden

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Åkerman, Susana. Queen Christina of Sweden and Her Circle. New York: E.J. Brill, 1991.

Goldsmith, Margaret. Christina of Sweden: A Psychological Biography. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1935.

Peterson, Andrea L.T. "Christina of Sweden." Lesbian Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia. Bonnie Zimmerman, ed. New York: Garland, 2000. 170.

Quilliet, Bernard. Christine de Suède: un roi exceptionnel. Paris: Presses de la Renaissance, 1982.

Russo, Vito. The Celluloid Closet. Rev. ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1987.


    Citation Information
    Author: Rapp, Linda  
    Entry Title: Christina of Sweden  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated November 24, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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