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Christina of Sweden (1626-1689)  
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Christina of Sweden shocked the rest of Europe when she gave up her throne at the age of twenty-seven. The reasons for her abdication have been debated ever since, but among them was surely her strong aversion to marriage. She remained resolute on this point despite the persistent urging of her advisers that she wed and have children in order to ensure the line of succession.

Christina's parents, King Gustav Adolf and Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg, had been eager for an heir to the crown, but their first two children died shortly after birth. When the queen became pregnant for the third time, court astrologers predicted the birth of a healthy son who would succeed to the throne.

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Her Confusing Birth

The arrival of the royal infant on December 8, 1626 caused great elation--and some confusion. The baby, robust in body and voice, was originally thought to be a boy, which, Christina recalled in later years, "filled the Palace with false joy."

Gustav, however, showed no dismay upon learning that the child was a girl, instead declaring that his daughter would certainly be very clever since she had already fooled everyone.

The king treated Christina just as he would have a son: he called for national celebrations of the royal birth and within less than a month convened the Parliament to have Christina named the official heir to the throne.

Education and Succession

Gustav further decided that her education should be that of a prince. Thus, her lessons included languages, political and military science, riding, and shooting--all of which suited her much better than women's traditional activities such as needlework, for which she claimed to have no aptitude whatsoever.

The king showed pride in his daughter, but Maria Eleonora made no effort to hide her disappointment that her child was a girl and, in her opinion, an ugly one at that. Throughout her life Christina found dealing with her mother a great trial.

Gustav Adolf died in the battle of Lützen (Germany) on November 16, 1632. The following February the Parliament officially declared six-year-old Christina King of Sweden. (The term queen, by which she is commonly known, was technically the designation of the wife of a male monarch.)

During Christina's minority Sweden was ruled by a regency. Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna was the de facto head of state.

Young Christina continued to receive a rigorous education to prepare her to rule the nation. Her knowledge and inquisitive spirit impressed all who observed her. By the age of sixteen she was attending meetings of the State Council, where, in the words of biographer Margaret Goldsmith, "she held her own in argument against the Chancellor."

Christina began to rule in her own right on her eighteenth birthday. Soon after her accession she successfully negotiated a peace treaty ending hostilities between Sweden and Denmark. She also worked tirelessly to bring as quick an end as possible to the Thirty Years' War, which had been costly in both lives and money. Although Oxenstierna would have preferred to prolong negotiations until all of the country's demands had been met, the Peace of Westphalia was secured in 1648, with terms generally favorable to Sweden.

The beneficiary of a fine education, Christina understood the importance of learning. She encouraged scholarship; she bought books from all over Europe for Swedish libraries; and she invited prominent thinkers, including René Descartes, to Sweden. Her commitment to fostering education, art, and culture earned her the nickname "the Minerva of the North."

Affectional Preference

Even before Christina reached the throne, the question of succession was much on the minds of many at court. The monarch herself was in no hurry to wed and indeed turned down a number of proposed matches.

Christina had long been considered "mannish" because of her intellect and love of studying, and her manner of dressing reinforced the impression. She showed virtually no interest in fashionable clothing or hairstyles and often wore garments and shoes that were of a masculine style.

In spite of her "unfeminine" dress and demeanor and her increasingly vocal opposition to the idea of marriage, there were occasional rumors that she had a male lover. The true object of her affection, however, was Ebba Sparre, her lady-in-waiting and "bed-fellow."

That Christina slept with one of the women of her court meant nothing in and of itself: in the cold north it was a common and practical custom for people of the same sex to share a bed merely to keep warm. Christina's physical attraction to Sparre is made clear, however, in the loving letters that she wrote to her after leaving Sweden.

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Top: A portrait of Christina of Sweden by Sébastien Bourdon.
Above: A painting of Christina on horseback (1653) by Sébastien Bourdon.

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