This is the first in a new series of blog posts about lesser-known history of Scandinavian and Slavic History.
Growing up in Canada we mostly learned about the Royal History of Great Britain. After all, Queen Elizabeth II is on our quarters, and Canada maintained its strong ties with the Monarchy even after becoming independent.
I was a voracious reader as a child, and loved historical fiction. I gravitated toward the stories I knew little to nothing of, and when the animated Anastasia released in 1997, I was obsessed. The world that movie presented had colour and magic like I’d never seen, and drew me into a world where anyone could be a Princess. As an adoptee, this was especially prominent for me as I struggled to find my personal identity. I wondered: “Where am I from?” “Who are my people?” As a teen I would discover my Finnish and Ukrainian heritage.
Finland only became an independent country in 1917, but before then it was part of Russia, and before that, Sweden. When I searched for a Princess of Finland, I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for, but I did find someone who was quite possibly one of the most interesting historical figures I’d ever read about: Christina, Queen of Sweden.
Born in 1626 in Stockholm, Sweden, the details surrounding Christina’s life are as bizarre as they are intriguing.
Her father, King Gustav II Adolph, died when she was six in the Thirty Years War, but made arrangements for her to succeed the throne should he not return. Even though Christina was a girl and was spoken of as Queen, her official title was actually King of Sweden, and she was raised in the same manner as a boy would have been raised, with great education, learning to read, to ride horses, and how to hunt.
Her mother, Maria Eleanora, wanted to be buried with her husband, and left his coffin open while his body decomposed, which apparently didn’t stop her from visiting the body and caressing his face. Eventually the Chancellors were so embarrassed they buried him eighteen months later That’s a year and a half of having a decaying body hanging around.
Christina studied at least ten hours a day, and was a polyglot, speaking seven languages including her native Swedish, Arabic, and Hebrew.
Protestantism was the dominant faith at that time in Sweden, and Christina’s father had even died in the war fighting to defend it, but she became enamoured with Catholicism at a very young age, and in the act of celibacy. As she got older she decided she didn’t want to marry or have children, and chose her cousin Charles to be the heir to the throne, instead.
So much of who Christina was went against the norms of the time for women. She spent most of her time studying, wore men’s clothes, left her hair un-brushed and messy, and slept little, preferring to read and work.
It is also highly speculated that Christina was romantically involved with Ebba Sparre, one of her ladies-in-waiting. They wrote love letters and at one point Christina introduced Ebba as her bed-fellow. More importantly, Christina spoke of admiring Ebba’s intellect just as much as her body. Though it can never be proven whether or not the two were in a romantic relationship, Christina showed her fierce independence as her own woman, following her own will as opposed to what was socially normal.
In 1654 Christina abdicated the throne after her intense working lifestyle became problematic to her health. She made her way to Rome to continue her education and her interest in Catholicism, after officially converting. She traveled much of Europe, surprising and delighting, and likely also horrifying people along the way with her “masculine” attitude, confidence, and willingness to act as she pleased, and not as was expected.
She attempted returns to Sweden, and even taking over the throne once her cousin Charles died, but because she was now a Catholic, she was not allowed. She returned to Rome, where she would spend her remaining days. She was described as masculine in every way, how she spoke, how she dressed, how she rode a horse, as well as being disfigured. It’s possible she suffered from PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) as she had physically androgynous qualities including excess body hair.
Christina of Sweden was an absolute enigma, and the story of her life is one of travel and independence in a society where women were wives and socialites and maids. Every description of her either praises or condemns her ways, how she pursued what she wanted, how diligent she was of her own education, and how she loved the way she wanted to.
I look at Christina as a great source of inspiration, as paving the way for women to create our own paths, to love who we want, and to love how we want. True independence is not just wrapped by happiness and riches, but by living as though no one can control or change us, and being completely unapologetic about the ways we choose to live.
Her story pushes the envelope of what gender and sexuality really represent, concepts which are still being evaluated centuries later.
Read more about Queen Christina of Sweden on Wikipedia
Check out the 2015 film The Girl King