Kristina Vasa (1626-1689)
By the time that Kristina Vasa came to the Swedish throne, the Vasa ruling family was a relatively new monarchial family. They had only come into power some 100 years beforehand. The first ruling Vasa was Gustav Erickson, who had come to the Swedish throne in 1523.
When the notorious Black Plague had circulated through Europe, Sweden was hit very badly in thr 14th century, and the population deteriorated. The people were superstitious and uneducated, most of them mere country farmers. Denmark saw this weakness in them and frequently attacked the northern kingdom until Queen Margarethe of Denmark brought Sweden under her power along with Norway in what was called the Kalmar Union, which only lasted a few decades. After the queen died the powers shifted, and Denmark began its attacks on Sweden again. In 1520, the "Stockholm Bloodbath" took place where most of the Swedish noblemen were executed after the Danes declared false amnesty. In this confusion, Gustav Erickson escaped the executions and fled to raise a Swedish army against the Danes. The Swedes were not interested, and may have well been scared to death to go against the mighty Danes, and so Gustav fled to safety in Norway on skis. The peasants reconsidered Gustav and his plans and sent two men on skis to catch up to him and bring him back, agreeing to help him. The armies were raised and within two years the Danes left Sweden and Gustav became King of Sweden, King Gustav I Vasa. He took the name Vasa, the Swedish word for a grain sheaf, which was also the Vasa emblem. King Gustav I modernized the Swedish army but he also took church properties to pay for large bills and taxes. He married three times, to: Katarina of Saxe-Lauenburg, Margareta Leijonhufvud, and Katarina Stenbock. From his marriages he had three sons, Erik, by Katarina of Saxe-Lauenburg, and John and Karl by Margareta Leijonhufvud.The three brothers were very hostile towards one another. Erik became King Erik XIV, and had John and his wife, the King of Poland's sister, imprisoned. Four years later, in 1568, they were freed. Erik died in 1577 of supposedly poisoned pea soup. Johan became King Johan III, and after his death in 1604, Karl became Karl IX, who died in 1611, but not before conquering the Baltic world. He had four children: Katarina, the daughter of his first wife, Maria of Palatinate, and 2 sons, Gustav and Karl, and a daughter, Marie Elizabeth, by his second wife, Kristina of Holstein-Gottorp. Gustav became King Gustav II Adolphus.
Gustav and Maria
Gustav was a military genius. He ended the Danish and Norwegian feuds with Sweden, recaptured Polish territories on the Baltic coast and southern parts of Sweden, and led Sweden into war against Germany in 1618, which would last 30 years.
Gustav fell in love for the first time with one Ebba Brahe, a young girl in his mother's entourage who had lost her mother. However, Queen Kristina, Gustav's mother, opposed the marriage, and so Gustav fell into the field of political marriage. Kristina had consulted an astrologer, who had said that Gustav should not marry until 25. And so Kristina held Gustav off until Ebba had been betrothed to Jakob de la Gardie, one of Gustav's generals.
Gustav's 25th birthdya passed and he still had no woman in mind. His advisors urged him to find a woman in Berlin, the sister of the Elector of Brandenburg. Gustav donned a disguise and travelled as Captain Gars. Gars stood for: Gustavus Adolphus Rex Seciae, Latin for Gustav Adolf King of the Swedes. 'Gars' came upon the sister of the elector one night, named Maria Eleanora, and was smitten. She was a beauty and very charming. The princess equally fell in love, and Gustav revealed his identity. The betrothal was made and a few months after the meeting, Maria and her attendants landed in Sweden at Kalmar, the greatest Swedish castle, set on the Baltic Sea, south of Stockholm. They travelled to Stockholm, where the wedding took place on November 25, 1620. Maria loved her new husband. However, she HATED Sweden in its entirity. Even when Gustav had the palace refurbished she was disguisted. She found the people uneducated, superstitious, and dirty. She found the climate unbearable and the castles atrocious. And in a way she was right in her judgements. Maria became queen, but for many years there was no heir, but many miscarriages. She went through three losses before she became pregnant in 1626. The astrologers predicted a boy.
An Unwanted Princess
On December 6, 1626, Maria Eleanor gave birth to what was thought to be a boy, as the truth was hidden by a caul. Fanfares pronounced an heir to the throne and celebrations began to celebrate a male heir. However, as gustav was drinking to the health of his baby boy, his half-sister, Katarina, held up to him his baby. A girl. Maria was incosolable. Her purpose was to give Sweden a boy, and she had failed. She called the baby ugly, a hideous monster. But Gustav embraced his baby girl, and decided that she would inherit the throne one day, and in doing so must be raised as a boy. He named the girl Kristina, after his mother.
Kristina is said to have had a low voice as a baby and clapped and giggled at the sound of cannons firing. She loved watching her father ride and shoot. Gustav loved his little girl, but Maria saw Kristina as a threat to her, as her failure. Although it has never bene proven, it is thought that Maria attempted to kill the young infant. Mysteriously, a wooden beam fell across Kristina's craddle, smashing it to bits but leaving her unharmed. And Maria's closest attendent who had accompanied her to Sweden, Frau Anna, dropped Kristina 'accidentally', leading to Kristina's shoulders to sag for the rest of her life.
Tragedy struck the small family in 1632. Gustav, who had been at war for a few months in his battles against Germany was found dead after he was lost in a wooded area and his horse came galloping back without him. Kristina, at the age of 6, was now the ruler of Sweden. She was presented to the Riksdag, the body of Swedish noblemen and peasants who aided the king in his ruling of the country, and was proclaimed KING of Sweden. Queens were merely there to make heirs, kings ruled countries.
'King' of Sweden
Kristina would not become the crowned ruler of Sweden until she was 18, which was not for another 12 years. Her incosolable mother, who went frantic at the detah of her husband and confided Kristina into her household where Kristina suffered numerous nightmares and was forced to mingle with Maria's 'court': hunchbacks, dwarves, and deformed beings.
After a year of this unbearable living style, Kristina was removed from Maria's household by her regent, and lifelong friend of her father, Count Axel Oxenstierna, and brought to live in Stockholm at the royal palace, the Castle of the Three Crowns, with her aunt, Katarina, her uncle, Count Johan, and her four cousins, Karl, Marie Euphrosyne, Eleanore, and Adolf Johan. But she did not have much time to play with these four children, as she spent sometimes up to 12 hours a day studying, rising before the sun at 4 AM frequently and not stopping until she was summoned for dinner. She studied the works of Cicero, Cato, Caesar, and Plutarch, she studied many languages, varying from Swedish to Latin to French, and she studied diplomacy, art, and history. She also had time to learn men's sports. She became a skilled rider, among other sports: fencings, swordsmanship, shooting, and hunting. Kristina was frequently interviewed by the Rad, a delegation of men assembled to see to it that Kristina was excelling in her studies and that she could be trusted to become the ruler of their country one day.
Kristina found women's work dull and could not see how anyone found it entertaining. She attempted stiting and embroidery, but yearned for horses instead. Not surprisingly, she became good friend with her cousin, Karl, and his friend, Magnus de la Gardie (the son of her Kristina's father's first love), and to her aunt's annoyance, constantly disguised herself as a male, sometimes to ride astride, which shocked many as it would hurt her chances of carrying a child, which Kristina vowed she would never do.
Although Count Oxenstierna did not approve, Kristina did visit her mother sometimes, although the visits often ended in Kristina being sick, dreary, or even hysterical.
Two shocks came to the family in 1639. First, Aunt Katarina fell sick with a mysterious illness and died. Then, Maria Eleanore escaped her confinements that Oxenstierna put her in and attempted to make an alliance with Sweden's lifelong enemies, the Danes. Maria was brought back to Sweden, but escaped again. She became a hardship for Sweden, and a threat. Kristina attempted to be kinder to her estranged mother, and Maria was relocated to a secluded Swedish castle.
After Katarina's death, Kristina was cared for by the Rad, who hardly knew how to raise a teenaged girl. They urged her to become the crowned ruler of Sweden at 14, but she decided to hold it off until her 18th year.
And so, Kristina was crowned the queen, or 'king' as she liked to call herself, when she was 18, on December 8, 1644. However, even before her accension, she was seriously reconsidering renouncing the throne in favor of converting to Roman Catholicism, which was a forbidden religion in Sweden (Lutheranism was the Swedish state religion and Kristina found the sermons dull, bleak, and dark). In Kristina's reign she brought about great reformations. She founded the first Swedish newspaper, helped end the Thirty Years' War with the Treaty of Westphalia. Kristina became a woman dedicated to the arts, earning her nickname 'Minerva of the North'. She attempted to make Stockholm a center for European arts and ideas, but many artists and celebrated men saw the voyage to Stockholm as perilous and dangerous. An example of this was when Rene Descartes, the French philosopher, died of pneumonia upon arriving Stockholm.
Kristina decided for the best to abdicate, and did so amid protests from the Riksdag. On June 6, 1654, after only 10 years as 'king', Kristina entered the Hall of State at Uppsala Castle where she was officially enthroned not long beforehand and, carrying the orb and scepter and wearing her royal regalia, renounced the throne and gave it to her cousin, Karl. Oxenstierna could not bring himself to take the crown from Kristina's head and she did so herself, placed it on Karl's head, curtsied, and left the hall.
Kristina left Sweden abruptly and scandalously. She rode astride, refused to have a chaperone, and dressed as a man. She arrived in Rome, where she converted to Catholicism and took the name 'Christina Alexandra'. Oxenstierna died brokenhearted a little after Kristina abdicated. Kristina's beloved tutor, Johannes Mathiae, who had become the Bishop of Strangnas, was blamed for Kristina's conversion and was stripped of his titles. Kristina's mother died the year after Kristina left Sweden, in 1655.
Kristina found Rome and Catholicism more strict than she imagined. Devout Catholics found her rude and flamboyant style scandalous and insulting.
Kristina continued to live in Rome despite the gossip and rumors, most spread by strict Spanish Catholics, and fell in love for the first time with one Cardinal Azzolino when she held a meeting to dicuss the natures of love. Kristina was given apartments by the Pope, Alexander VII, at the Palazzo Farnese by the Vatican, and was in his favor for the time being.
However, Kristina's reputation was ruined when she planned to attack the Kingdom of Naples and crown herself queen. In order to do so, she traveled to Spain and France, in order to win their favor, hoping that when she became the Napolitan queen France and Spain would aid her. She took advantage of her time in France and met with numerous thinkers and artists and became very interested in theories about the fabled 'philosopher's stone'. She visited Fontainebleau frequently, often making stops at the college. However, her plan to gain France's and Spain's favor was unfoiled when her servant, Monaldesco, betrayed her. She had him brutally murdered and when the news leaked out Kristina was seen not only as even more scandalous and insulting as she had already been known but was now a condemned murderess. Gossip began that Monaldesco was actually Kristina's lover and that Kristina had been many lovers but she murdered them when she tired of them (infact Kristina only loved one other man besides Cardinal Azzolino, a swordsman named Pimentel from Sweden, and was a reputed virgin). Kristina was asked to leave her Vatican apartments by the Pope, which was an embarassing situation, and was consoled only by her good friend, Cardinal Azzolino. Kristina found refuge in the Palazzo Riario, and the next year, 1660, brought about a shock. Her cousin, Karl, had died in Sweden. His son, the thirteen year old Karl XI, became king. Kristina attempted to return for the coronation but was turned away, as she was a Catholic and had Catholics in her retinue. For the next 2 years, Kristina resided in Hamburg, Germany, where she lived through many financial difficulties and the loss of Ebba Sparre, her childhood friend. Kristina decided to pick up a love for sciences at this point. She studied astronomy with Lubenitz, alchemy, and biology. She also found that being away from Cardinal Azzolino made her love him even more and she found herself completely devoted to him. Her supreme power had drained away and now she was at the mercy of men, which she vowed would never happen to her when she was a little girl.
In 1668, Pope Alexander VII died and Kristina moved back to Rome where the new pope, Clement IX, gave Kristina a pension because he always had a liking for her. Kristina built an astronomy tower on her palazzo and wrote manifestos to support Jews. Kristina blossomed at this time in her life. She sponsored archaeological digs, built theaters (which were famed for their extroidanary but scandalous performances), wrote her Maxims, built an academy for arts and sciences, and built the first public opera house in Rome. During this time Pope Clement IX had died and Clement X had ascended and Kristina found an interest in Quietism due to Migual Molinos's 'Spiritual Guide'. In 1676, Pope Clement X died and Innocent XI became pope, and being very conservative, he shut down all the theaters. In 1680, Kristina continued her active patroness of the arts ways all the while aiding her friend, the sculptor Bernini who was being discredited as she had been not so long before, and finding an interest in spiritual ways, looking up to Catherine of Siena and Catherine of Genoa. She continues to write her Maxims and highlights of her short reign in Sweden.
Kristina adopted the Quietism belief around the time that Migual Molinos went on trial in 1687 under charges of heresy. She defended the thinker before the Inquisition, that is until he revealed his sexual aberrations. She did manage to keep her devotion to him, though she was not pleased by his ways. In 1685, Kristina decided to celebrate the crowing of King James II of England by paying for a cantata to be performed by 100 singers and an orchestra of 150. Kristina's income was drastically falling around this time, and the cantata certainly did not help raise it.
Kristina's health began to deteriorate that year, and equally failed even more when the pope ordered her favorite, Angela, to take the vows of a nun. Knowing that she will soon die, Kristina decided to put all of her affairs in order and apolgized to all those she offended, including the pope who found Kristina's behavior overwhelmingly scandalous.
Kristina died on April 19, 1689, with her love, Cardinal Azzolino at her side. She asks for a simple burial but Azzolino disregards her wishes and has her buried in St. Peter's Church in Rome. Azzolino himself died a month afterwards, most likely heartbroken from the loss. Kristina's Maxims were published after her death.
Today she is remembered as an acivist, a patroness, and a role model for women. She is revered by Swedish feminists, and remembered as a woman with radical ideas who rejected the image of women in her time. Ironically, Kristina renounced her throne for a better life when most people were willing to give up their lives for the throne
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