LGBTQIA+ women leaders

Christina, Queen of Sweden

This weeks Illustrated Women in History was submitted by Katharina Röser @katharinaroeser​.

Christina, Queen of Sweden is remembered for her unconventional lifestyle, masculine dressing and behaviour and her lavish sponsorship of the arts and her influence on European culture.

When Christina was born, she was initially proclaimed to be the son her parents desired but after learning that she was infact, female her father said “She’ll be clever, she has made fools of us all!”

Christina became queen-elect around the age of 6, after her father, King Gustav II Adolf died in the Battle of Lützen. She was educated as if she were a prince, and tutored by learned theologian Johannes Matthiae who taught her religion, philosophy, Greek and Latin. She also received instruction from chancellor Axel Oxenstierna and French philosopher René Descartes. By the age of 14, she was participating in council meetings and her reign saw the creation of the first Swedish newspaper in 1645, the first countrywide school ordinance, an increase in the importance of science and literature; new privileges were given to the towns and trade, manufacturing and mining were able to make great advances.

In 1645, after hearing that Oxenstierna had sent his own son to try and encourage the continuance of the Thirty Years’ War she sent her own delegate, Johan Adler Salvius in order to bring about peace. That same year, Christina shocked everyone by abdicating the throne, appointing her cousin Charles X Gustav as her successor. She left Sweden immediately, and rode across Denmark dressed in male clothing so as not to draw attention to herself. She would continue to dress in this way for the majority of her lifetime.

Christina settled in Rome, where she became a guest of Pope Alexander VII who confirmed her as a Catholic. She could not stay away from the compulsion to rule for long. She attempted to take the throne of Naples, by way of negotiations with the French chief minister, Cardinal Mazarin, and with the Duke di Modena who intended to seize Naples (then under the Spanish rule). She was later offered the opportunity to rule Poland, after her her second cousin John II Casimir Vasa abdicated the throne but it is claimed that she loved Rome too much to leave.

Christina died in 1698, having never married. She is claimed to have had a number of lovers within her lifetime, both male and female and was known for the fact she “walked like a man, sat and rode like a man, and could eat and swear like the roughest soldiers”.

Christina had been a tireless supporter of the arts, and her palace, the Riario (now the Corsini, on the Lungara in Rome) had contained a huge collection of paintings of the Venetian school, as well as other notable artworks. It became the meeting place of men of letters and musicians. In addition to her collection of artworks, Christina also collected books and manuscripts which are now housed in the Vatican library. Christina also founded the Arcadia Academy (Accademia dell’Arcadia) for philosophy and literature, which still exists in Rome. She supported a number of charities, and fought for protection of personal freedoms as well as establishing herself as protectress of the Jews in Rome.

She also fought for the opening of the Tordinona, the first public opera house in Rome and when it was forced to close by the Pope, she held the performances in her own palace, ignoring his rule that no females should perform. Despite her flaunting of the rules, she was buried in the same Vatican graveyard as the popes and a monument to her stands in St Peter’s Basilica.

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