Queen Kristina of Sweden reigned from 1644 to 1654.
Queen Kristina holds a unique position among Swedish monarchs. Her contributions toward Sweden’s national development during her brief reign have received far less scholarly attention than her abdication and controversial conversion to Catholicism, her problematic attitude toward women’s role, and her lasting impact as one of the significant seventeenth century patrons of culture. Whereas previous generations have focused on Queen Kristina’s abdication and religious conversion and even viewed her as a national traitor, current scholarship takes a more positive approach, viewing her as a European who transcended both national and cultural boundaries.
Kristina was the sole surviving child of Gustav II Adolf and his wife Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg. When Gustav Adolf was killed at the battle of Lützen in 1632, Kristina succeeded him as Sweden’s monarch. There were no constitutional obstacles nor was there any expressed opposition to the five-year-old Kristina’s assumption of the throne. A statute from the Norrköping meeting of 1604 had enshrined the legality of a female successor to the throne where a male heir was lacking. The statute had been enacted in order to ensure that the Swedish crown remained in Karl IX’s bloodline.
After the king’s death a minority regency was established under the leadership of Axel Oxenstierna, Chancellor of the Realm. Gustav Adolf had left instructions for his daughter’s upbringing and had selected her guardians and tutors. It was seen as fundamental that they should comprise native men – Axel Banér was appointed guardian and Gustaf Kristersson Horn af Åminne was her deputy guardian. The teacher who had the most longlasting influence on the queen was the theologian Johannes Matthiae Gothus who taught the queen classical languages, history and religion. Kristina’s education as impending monarch was regulated by the estates of the realm through their deliberations held on 24 March 1635. Although Kristina was to be informed on foreign customs, as they would be necessary for her rank and position, she was initially to be trained in native traditions. The core of her studies was to be the word of God, the Christian articles of faith and all the Christian virtues. It was emphasized that she should not be infected by “Popish or Calvinist aberrations”. From his return from Germany in 1636 onwards Axel Oxenstierna devoted three to four hours daily to Kristina’s education in the art of ruling and he remained a role model for the rest of her life.
Kristina’s relationships to her teachers and guardians were largely positive, but the same cannot be said of her relationship to her mother, the Queen Mother Maria Eleonora. Kristina spent the first three years after her father’s death with her mother, but in August 1636 the privy council decided that her mother was a damaging influence on her. Gustav Adolf’s half-sister, Katarina Zweibrücken, took over caring for the young queen in her stead. Katarina was married to Johan Casimir Count Palatine of Zweibrücken, and the couple resided at Stegeborg castle. From 1636 to 1638 Kristina enjoyed a harmonious family life and became particularly close to the couple’s son, her cousin Karl Gustav. However, this happy phase came to an abrupt end when her foster mother suddenly died in December 1638.
Kristina came of age in 1644. The Swedish court underwent a notable period of “internationalization” during her reign. The intellectually and culturally ambitious young monarch soon became known as the “Minerva of the North”. The French philosopher René Descartes, who spent a number of months in Stockholm from late 1649 until his death in early 1650, was probably the most famous of the queen’s guests, but well-known philologists such as Isaac Vossius, Nicolaus Heinsius and Claude Saumaise also figured, as did the artists Sébastien Bourdon and David Beck. When Kristina assumed her reign the fashions of the French court dominated and French had begun to replace Latin as the international court language. Kristina not only introduced new concepts to the Swedish court but also French titles for certain functionaries. Several of her changes did not, however, survive her reign.
Kristina’s majority coincided with the run-up to the peace negotiations at Münster and Osnabrück which would bring the Thirty Years’ War to a close when the peace of Westphalia was agreed in October 1648. The peace treaty was the dominant concern of foreign policy during Kristina’s personal reign, and opinions are divided as to the extent of her influence on the developments. Kristina was hailed, in propaganda, as the “Queen of Peace” but the Italian negotiator in Münster, Fabio Chigi (later Pope Alexander VII) believed that it was actually the chancellor of the realm who was in charge of the Swedish line during the negotiations. The French diplomat Pierre Hector Chanut, who was at the Swedish court between 1646 and 1651 and was very close to Kristina, believed that she was fickle. Her vacillating desire for either a peace treaty or for the war to continue depended entirely on the current state of Swedish military success.
Within domestic policy the main issues were Kristina’s marriage plans and a successor to the throne. From 1647 to 1648 several potential candidates were considered for the position of her consort: Prince Frederick William of Brandenburg, the Duke of Saxony, and the queen’s cousin, the Elector Palatine Karl Gustav. Kristina delayed a decision and focused instead on preparations to name Karl Gustav as her successor.
In 1650 a parliament was called in conjunction with Kristina’s coronation ceremony, which had been postponed while the country was still at war. A politically and economically sensitive matter at the time was the alienation of royal property to the nobility. The commons had been calling for a reduction in this practice since 1634 and this had intensified during the early years of Kristina’s reign, particularly at the 1650 parliament. Kristina cleverly manipulated the commoners in order to achieve her main goal of having Karl Gustav named as her successor, a move which the nobility opposed. On 9 October a proposition was accepted which established Karl Gustav and his male descendants as heirs to the throne. Kristina had probably already decided to abdicate when she was crowned queen of Sweden on 20 October 1650.
She first attempted to abdicate in 1651. On 7 August she made her plans known to the privy council for the first time. Around the same time she initiated formal contact with the Catholic Church by corresponding with the Minister General of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). The messenger was Antonio Macedo, the priest for the Portuguese embassy. In her letter Kristina expressed her admiration for the order and requested further contact with some of its members. Paolo Casati, a scientific researcher at the Collegio Romano, and Francesco Malines, a nobleman used to moving in court circles, arrived in Stockholm in early 1652. They quickly ascertained that Kristina had largely accepted the Catholic articles of faith. They believed that any remaining obstacles were merely practical ones.
During her last years as Queen of Sweden Kristina’s interest in her role as monarch noticeably declined. Before she abdicated on 6 June 1654 she placed herself under the protection of the Spanish King Philip IV and then left Sweden almost immediately. The abdication agreement, which had only been completed a few days earlier, ensured a generous, life-long maintenance provision for Kristina from appanages in Sweden, Pomerania and what is now the Baltic region. The Swedish crown was thus transferred to Karl Gustav and his male descendants, thereby ending the first 50 years in Swedish history where a female successor to the throne was legally enshrined.
Kristina spent the intervening period of almost one and a half years in the Spanish Netherlands before she publicly admitted her conversion to the Catholic teachings. She became a Catholic in a private ceremony in Brussels on Christmas Eve 1654, and later underwent a public ceremony in Innsbrück in November 1655. Pope Alexander VII demanded that she be recognized as a Catholic throughout Europe before he received her. The celebrations that took place when Kristina entered Rome during the Christmas period of 1655 became an expression of revenge for the losses endured by the house of Habsburg and the wider Catholic world as a result of the Thirty Years’ War, and thereby added to the propaganda which portrayed Kristina as a monarch who had sacrificed her powerful throne for the sake of the true faith.
The meeting between the puritanical and devout Alexander VII and Queen Kristina was a mutual disappointment. Alexander had, in good faith, chosen the similarly-aged, linguistically-talented and sophisticated Cardinal Decio Azzolino the younger (1623-1689) to serve as the conduit for introducing Kristina to the Roman court and its etiquette during her initial period in Italy. Azzolino had been promoted Cardinal in 1654 and subsequently emerged at the head of a faction within the college which sought to re-establish the pope’s lost neutrality and independence in relation to the Catholic powers. The faction normally comprised eleven to 14 members. At the time they held the balance of power within the College of Cardinals and could influence the papael election and church politics by allying themselves with one of the pro-French or pro-Spanish factions. Kristina met some of the faction members during her first journey through the church state in the winter of 1655 and was impressed by their plans. Her personal encounter with Decio Azzolino sealed her future role as the faction’s royal protector. This meeting with Azzolino also led to a romantic friendship between the two which lasted for the rest of their lives. He was appointed as her heir but died just a few weeks after Kristina herself.
Kristina’s short-lived and rather opportunistic cooperation with Spain ended within a few months after her arrival in Rome. She re-established a good relationship with the French court and Cardinal Jules Mazarin. During the following years her political ambitions were largely met in her role as protector of the Squadrone Volante faction. It can be definitively proven that she influenced the outcome of the papal election of 1667 when she orchestrated collaboration between the French court and the Squadrone Volante while she was in Hamburg. This led to the selection of one of the members of the faction as the next pope, namely Clement IX.
During her years in Rome Kristina made two visits to her homeland: the first was in 1660 before King Karl X Gustav’s funeral, and the second was in 1667 in connection with a financial review. In the course of her last brief visit in 1667 the parliament forbad any future return to Sweden on her part until the reigning king (Karl XI) had attained his majority. Although this never came to pass, her correspondence and contacts with her homeland remained characterized by goodwill.
During Kristina’s final decades in Rome her involvement in church politics declined while her cultural activities increased. In 1674 she founded a learned academy – which had been an ambition of hers since her time as monarch in Sweden – the Accademia Reale (the royal academy). It was at this time that she authored her own literary work: an incomplete memoir primarily concerned with her childhood years (La vie de la reine Christine, faite par elle mesme), two collections of maxims composed in French (Ouvrage de loisir, sentiments héroîques), a short history of the Vasa coat of arms and the Vasa lineage, and other minor writings.
Kristina died in Rome on 19 April 1689 and is buried in St Peter’s cathedral.
Kristina, drottning , www.skbl.se/sv/artikel/Kristinadrottning, Svenskt kvinnobiografiskt lexikon. Article by Marie-Louise Rodén. Retrieved 2021-06-30. CC-BY. Translated by Alexia Grosjean.
The King of Sweden from Nationalmuseum.