1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Christina of Sweden

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CHRISTINA (1626–1689), queen of Sweden, daughter of Gustavus Adolphus and Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg, was born at Stockholm on the 8th of December 1626. Her father died when she was only six years old. She was educated, principally, by the learned Johannes Matthiae, in as masculine a way as possible, while the great Oxenstjerna himself instructed her in politics. Christina assumed the sceptre in her eighteenth year (Dec. 8, 1644). From the moment when she took her seat at the head of the council board she impressed her veteran counsellors with the conviction of her superior genius. Axel Oxenstjerna himself said of her, when she was only fifteen: “Her majesty is not like women-folk, but is stout-hearted and of a good understanding, so that, if she be not corrupted, we have good hopes of her.” Unfortunately her brilliant and commanding qualities were vitiated by an inordinate pride and egoism, which exhibited themselves in an utter contempt for public opinion, and a prodigality utterly regardless of the necessities of the state. She seemed to consider Swedish affairs as far too petty to occupy her full attention; while her unworthy treatment of the great chancellor was mainly due to her jealousy of his extraordinary reputation and to the uneasy conviction that, so long as he was alive, his influence must at least be equal to her own. Recognizing that he would be indispensable so long as the Thirty Years’ War lasted, she used every effort to bring it to an end; and her impulsive interference seriously hampered the diplomacy of the chancellor, and materially reduced the ultimate gains of Sweden. The general peace congress was not opened till April 1645. The Swedish plenipotentiaries were Johan Oxenstjerna, the chancellor’s son, and Adler Salvius. From the first the relations between them were strained. Young Oxenstjerna, haughty and violent, claimed, by right of birth and rank, to be caput legationis. The chancellor, at home, took his son’s part, while Salvius was warmly supported by Christina, who privately assured him of her exclusive favour and encouraged him to hold his own. So acute did the quarrel become that there was a violent scene in full senate between the queen and the chancellor; and she urged Salvius to accelerate the negotiations, against the better judgment of the chancellor, who hoped to get more by holding out longer.

The longer Christina ruled, the more anxious for the future fate of her empire grew the men who had helped to build it up. Yet she gave fresh privileges to the towns; she encouraged trade and manufactures, especially the mining industries of the Dales; in 1649 she issued the first school ordinance for the whole kingdom; she encouraged foreign scholars to settle in Sweden; and native science and literature, under her liberal encouragement, flourished as they had never flourished before. In one respect, too, she showed herself wiser than her wisest counsellors. The senate and the estates, naturally anxious about the succession to the throne, had repeatedly urged her majesty to marry, and had indicated her cousin, Charles Gustavus, as her most befitting consort. Wearied of their importunities, yet revolting at the idea of submission to any member of the opposite sex, Christina settled the difficulty by appointing Charles her successor, and at the Riksdag of 1650 the Swedish crown was declared hereditary in Charles and his heirs male. In the summer of 1651 Christina was, with difficulty, persuaded to reconsider her resolution to abdicate, but three years later the nation had become convinced that her abdication was highly desirable, and the solemn act took place on the 6th of July 1654 at the castle of Upsala, in the presence of the estates and the great dignitaries of the realm. Many were the causes which predisposed her to what was, after all, anything but an act of self-renunciation. First of all she could not fail to remark the increasing discontent with her arbitrary and wasteful ways. Within ten years she had created 17 counts, 46 barons and 428 lesser nobles; and, to provide these new peers with adequate appanages, she had sold or mortgaged crown property representing an annual income of 1,200,000 rix-dollars. Signs are also not wanting that Christina was growing weary of the cares of government; while the importunity of the senate and Riksdag on the question of her marriage was a constant source of irritation. In retirement she could devote herself wholly to art and science, and the opportunity of astonishing the world by the unique spectacle of a great queen, in the prime of life, voluntarily resigning her crown, strongly appealed to her vivid imagination. Anyhow, it is certain that, towards the end of her reign, she behaved as if she were determined to do everything in her power to make herself as little missed as possible. From 1651 there was a notable change in her behaviour. She cast away every regard for the feelings and prejudices of her people. She ostentatiously exhibited her contempt for the Protestant religion. Her foreign policy was flighty to the verge of foolishness. She contemplated an alliance with Spain, a state quite outside the orbit of Sweden’s influence, the firstfruits of which were to have been an invasion of Portugal. She utterly neglected affairs in order to plunge into a whirl of dissipation with her foreign favourites. The situation became impossible, and it was with an intense feeling of relief that the Swedes saw her depart, in masculine attire, under the name of Count Dohna. At Innsbruck she openly joined the Catholic Church, and was rechristened Alexandra. In 1656, and again in 1657, she visited France, on the second occasion ordering the assassination of her major-domo Monaldischi, a crime still unexplained. Twice she returned to Sweden (1660 and 1667) in the vain hope of recovering the succession, finally settling in Rome, where she died on the 19th of April 1689, poor, neglected and forgotten.

See Francis William Bain, Queen Christina of Sweden (London, 1890); Robert Nisbet Bain, Scandinavia (Cambridge, 1905); Christina de Suède et le Cardinal Azzolino (Paris, 1899); Claretta Gaudenzio, La Regina Christina de Suezia in Italia (Turin, 1892); Hans Emil Friis, Dronning Christina (Copenhagen, 1896); C. N. D. Bildt, Christina de Suède et le conclave de Clement X (Paris, 1906); Drottning Kristinas sista dagar (Stockholm, 1897); and J. A. Taylor, Christina of Sweden (1909). (R. N. B.)