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Christina Alexandra

Queen of Sweden

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Christina Alexandra, QUEEN OF SWEDEN, child of Gustavus Adolphus II of Sweden, b. at Stockholm, December 8, 1626; d. at Rome, April 19, 1689. Her father (d. 1632) was the famous soldier whose inter-position in the Thirty Years’ War wrought so much harm to Catholicism. Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg, her mother, had hoped for a son and was so disappointed at the birth of a daughter that she had little love for the child, who was left to the care of nurses. Gustavus Adolphus, however, was tenderly attached to his daughter; in 1630, when he sailed for Germany, he commended Christina to the loyalty of his people and put his sister Catherine, who held her court at Stegeborg, in charge of the child’s education. Three years later Maria Eleonora brought back the body of her husband, Gustavus Adolphus, to Sweden. For a while after this her love seemed to be transferred to the child, but this affectionate relation did not last long. In obedience to the command of her father, Christina was brought up like a boy and received instruction in the various branches of learning from distinguished men, among whom was the learned Dr. Matthiae, Bishop of Strengnas. The princess was an indefatigable student, and a great reader of good books. Feminine occupations and amusements had no attraction for her, and she was indifferent to dress and finery of all kinds. The mother wished rather to see her daughter lead a life of pleasure, and encouraged her in the enjoyment of wine and other stimulating drinks, so that the country was alarmed for the morals of the heir to the throne, and Christina was sent again to her aunt. When the aunt died she was put under the care of the sister of the celebrated chancellor Axel Oxenstiern. In her new surroundings the great talents of Christina rapidly developed. She soon mastered several languages, gained a comprehensive knowledge of history and politics, and showed, in particular, a strong liking for theologico-philosophical speculations. At the same time the masculine qualities of her character grew steadily more evident. Her favorite amusement was bear-hunting, and she could outride most men. At eighteen (December 8, 1644) she was of age and entered on the duties of government with a strong hand. It was not, however, until two years later that she was crowned, the ceremony taking place with great pomp at Stockholm.

At first Christina devoted herself to the affairs of state with most laudable zeal. It was owing to her intervention that the peace negotiations at Munster and Osnabruck were more quickly concluded than had been expected. Christina strove to raise her people to a higher plane of civilization, to promote their welfare in every way, and to insure their prosperity. Without lowering the dignity suitable to her station she treated all her subjects with justice and condescension. She drew to Sweden artists and scholars, among whom were the philosopher Descartes, and Hugo Grotius, the expounder of international law; by the payment of large pensions she kept these men attached to her court. The praise with which these scholars repaid their royal patron was often immoderate. As time went on Christina gradually lost interest in the task of government and developed an intense desire for new and exciting pleasures, often for those of a most costly character. The health of the queen suffered from the changed method of her life, and it was with great difficulty that her French physician, Dr. Bourdelot, effected a cure. In the meantime the debts thus incurred rose to a huge amount. The Swedish people wished the queen to marry and to give them an heir to the throne, but Christina was not willing to hear of this as she desired to preserve her personal independence. She was much more inclined to abdicate her position and to become a ruler in the realm of genius and learning. At the same time she showed a continually growing inclination to the Catholic Church, for she took no pleasure in the simple forms of the Lutheran belief which was all-powerful in Sweden. It is not possible to prove positively whether Dr. Bourdelot or the Spanish ambassador, Pimentelli, influenced Christina’s change of religious views. It is certain, however, that several members of the Society of Jesus, Fathers Macedo, Francken, Malines, and Casati, succeeded in removing her last doubts as to the truth of Catholicism. Christina perceived that she could not continue to reign in Sweden as a convert to Catholicism, and resigned the throne in favor of her cousin, Charles Gustavus of Pfalz-Zweibrucken, a member of the Wittelsbach family. On June 6, 1654, at Upsala, she transferred her authority to him with much ceremony, and on the following day started on her travels.

She bade farewell to her mother at Nylioping, then hastened to Halmstad, where she dismissed her retinue, and went to Brussels by way of Hamburg and Antwerp. At Brussels she made private confession of her belief in Catholicism; her public entrance into the Church took place in the beginning of November 1655, in the parish church of Innsbruck.

It was from Innsbruck that the European Courts were officially informed of her change of faith. On December 23 she reached the capital of Christendom, which was decorated in her honor. The pope came personally to meet her, administered the Sacrament of Confirmation, and added Alexandra to her name. At Rome Christina’s home was the Palazzo Farnese; during her residence here she sought to satisfy her intellectual ambitions as well as the longings of her devout and loving heart. She visited the sacred places to pray, went as a ministering angel into the hovels of the poor, and devoted herself to the study of the collections of art and the libraries. She drew into the circle of her fascinations the leading families of the Eternal City, arranged concerts and plays, and knew how to delight everyone by her acuteness and learning. She was not willing, however, to drop rough Swedish customs, and allowed herself to display various peculiarities of dress and manner, so that many people avoided her. In 1656 and 1657 Christina went to France, the first time with a retinue, the second time incognito. On the latter trip her conduct excited much displeasure, as among other eccentricities she dressed as a man. Much more severe censure was aroused by the trial, without proper legal forms, of an old servant, Monaldeschi, and his subsequent execution, although as a sovereign she had the right to pronounce sentence of death, or at least believed herself entitled to this authority. Returned to Rome she gradually fell under the displeasure of the pope, for like a true daughter of Gustavus Adolphus she at times defied foreign laws and customs in too arrogant a fashion. Christina suffered much annoyance from the failure to receive with regularity from Sweden the income to which she was entitled; sometimes no money came at all. Moreover a woman so active intellectually had no taste or time for keeping accounts. Dishonesty in the management of her money affairs naturally followed, and the disorder in her finances was not overcome until the Curia through Cardinal Azzolini provided her with a competent bookkeeper.

After the death of Charles Gustavus (1660) she returned to Sweden to have her rights again legally confirmed. A second visit home (1667) was not of long duration as, in the pettiest manner, difficulties were thrown in the way of the exercise of her religion. After this for a time she lived at Hamburg, but she made her continued stay in that city, then very rigidly Lutheran, impossible by organizing festivities in honor of the newly-elected pope which ended in tumult and bloodshed. In 1668 she returned to Rome and never again left the Eternal City. Her new home was the Palazzo Riario, and she filled her residence with great collections of books and objects of art. Her palace became a center both for the learned world and for artists and sculptors; to the latter Christina both gave aid and generously paid commissions. Her forethought and care were not limited to her acquaintances and the members of her household, the poor of Rome also found in her a charitable mother. As she grew older she fulfilled her religious duties with increasing intelligence and zeal, and the approach of death had no longer any terrors for her. Piously and bravely she prepared herself for the end; after arranging her worldly affairs she received the sacraments with humble devotion and died a true child of the Catholic Church. Against her express wish the pope had the body embalmed and brought to St. Peter’s, where it was buried under the high altar. Her ostentatious but not prepossessing monument is the work of Carlo Fontana. Christina made Cardinal Azzolini her principal heir, while the Papal See and various Catholic sovereigns also received legacies. Unfortunately, after the death of Azzolini much of her valuable art collection passed into the hands of strangers; the greater part of her very rich library is, however, in the Vatican. Pictures and plastic art of various kinds have preserved the knowledge of Christina’s features. Although not beautiful, yet in her youth her appearance must have been interesting. In later years she grew too stout to retain any trace of good looks. Only the flashing, piercing eye gave any evidence of the fiery spirit which the exterior concealed. In character the northern sovereign remained very much the same through life. Receptive for everything good and great, she unfalteringly pursued her quest after knowledge of the truth and after many wanderings found it in the bosom of the Catholic Church. She had a tender, sympathetic heart, yet was subject at times to fits of severity, even of cruelty. She was no saint, but was probably better than the members of her former confession pictured her. Any objective portrait of her will always bear out the judgment of Axel Oxenstiern, “After all she was the daughter of the Great Adolphus”, both in her faults and in her virtues.


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