Christina of Sweden

Portrait of 14 year old Christina by Jacob Heinrich Elbfas (1640). Image Credit: WikiCommons.

By Catherine Capel

Christina, Queen of Sweden was perhaps one of the most enigmatic monarchs of seventeenth century Europe. She ruled from 1632, when she was just six years old, until her abdication in 1654. She was the only surviving child of King Gustav Adulphos and Maria Eleanora and was mistaken for a boy when she was born. Growing up, Christina enjoyed typically masculine pastimes such as hunting, fencing and horse riding.

Her father died in November 1632, during the Thirty Years War, and his corpse was bought home, but her mother would not allow for the king to be buried and his body began to decay.

Christina reached her majority in 1644 and she flourished as a patron of the arts and literature, with philosopher Rene Descartes being present at her court in 1649.

She famously dressed in men’s clothing and encouraged rumours that she was having a passionate relationship with Ebba Sparre. Christina declared she would never marry and so in 1649 she named her cousin, Charles Gustav, as her heir.

After her abdication in 1654, she converted to Catholicism and travelled widely around Europe. In her later life, Christina settled in Rome and continued her passions of learning and the theatre whilst remaining involved in political matters.

She died in 1689 and became one of only three women to be buried in the Vatican alongside Matilda of Canossa (d.1115) and Maria Clementia Sobieska (d.1735).

You can find out more about the representations of Christina of Sweden in this blog post by Amy Saunders!

Portrait of Christina by Sebastien Bourdon (1653). Image Credit: Museo del Prado.

Recommended Reading

Amy Saunders, “The Afterlife of Christina of Sweden: Gender and Sexuality in Heritage and Fiction,” Royal Studies Journal 6 (2019): 204-221

Amy Saunders, “Queen Christina of Sweden”, History Gems podcast, 12th May 2021,  

Valeria De Lucca, “Strategies of women patrons of music and theatre in Rome: Maria Mancini Colonna, Queen Christina of Sweden, and women of their circles,” Renaissance Studies 25 (2011): 374-392

Veronica Buckley, Christina Queen of Sweden: The Restless Life of a European Eccentric (London: Harper Perennial, 2011).

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