The Gay Queen Who Abdicated The Throne & Did Whatever The F*ck She Wanted
Christina of Sweden was a Nasty Woman and unapologetic feminist 200 years before her time.
Our Unsung Heroes series brings history’s unknown badasses out of the footnotes and into the spotlight.
Queen Christina of Sweden was a badass. She knew eight languages, was the first tomboy queen in history, and abdicated the throne because the thought of marriage made her want to puke. Attempts at defining her generally fall into two categories: She was an impish eccentric, hellbent on shocking for the sake of it, manipulation for the thrill of it, and impudence for its novelty.
Or she was a strong-willed, enigmatic woman who dared to do whatever the hell she wanted, managing not only to merely survive but to vivaciously thrive in a world wholly dominated by men.
Most likely, she was a little bit of both.
Let’s start at the beginning
Christina was born on December 18th, 1626 in Stockholm Sweden. She was the only surviving child of King Gustav Adolf and Maria Eleonora, the former a heroic warrior, the latter a neurotic mess, who throughout her daughter’s formative years was unapologetically resentful towards her for having been born female (and, after having been widowed, hung her husband’s heart above the bed in which she and her daughter slept).
Before King Gus left for Germany to defend Protestantism in the deadliest religious war known to Europe, he made sure to secure Christina’s right to the throne — to which she was speedily elevated when he died just six years later. Her unchecked power from an early age combined with her precocious, headstrong personality made her a powerhouse within the court. She spent money frivolously, summoned world-class scholars to her court (Veronica Buckley’s biography would have you believe Christina’s callousness almost single-handedly caused the death of philosopher René Descartes) and, at age 27, scorned Sweden’s state religion of Lutheranism in favor of the Roman Catholic Church — obliging her to leave her country.
Her Highness abdicates the throne
Besides religious conversion, Christina cited illness, an aversion to the pressures of queendom, and a revulsion to marriage as several reasons for her abdication. Certainly these all played a role — but it also seems like she was just ready to have a little fun in sunny Rome. And fun she had! At this point, X-Tina strapped on a sword, chopped all her hair off, donned an enormous black wig, and went off to explore Europe, her hands and face smeared with the grime of the road.
Some notes on her appearance
According to Christina’s autobiography, she was born “completely hairy” with “a coarse and strong voice.”
Her shoulders were two different heights, due to a broken shoulder bone she believed to have been caused by a wet nurse dropping her as a baby.
It was said that she “walked like a man, sat and rode like a man, and could eat and swear like the roughest soldiers.” My kinda gal.
Her behavior after leaving Sweden was most scandalous and decidedly unroyal: She would reportedly sprawl her legs up on theatre chairs, talk to unseemly characters (read: poor people) and she associated with Jews. Très scandalous for the time.
A Renaissance woman
Although she gave up her right to reign, Christina never stopped seeking power. Throughout her life, she would unsuccessfully go after the crowns of no fewer than three (three!) other kingdoms, all while trying to regain her own.
As she traveled around Europe, haters abounded. In France, she was called “an ill-bred savage.” She infamously had a French marquis executed when she found out he had betrayed her plot to become Queen of Naples, garnering a distasteful reputation that was only expounded when she made plans to become the formal protector of Rome’s Jewish population.
No summary of Queen Christina of Sweden would be completely without mentioning her lifelong dedication to and adoration of the arts, in all its forms. She loved the theatre (even dabbling in acting), the opera (Scarlatti and Corelli conducted her private orchestra), and sculpture (Bernini, who crafted a bust of her, once testified that she knew more about sculpture than he did).
Her gender and sexuality
Although some historians have viewed Christina’s outward appearance and complete disregard for social norms to be proof of hermaphroditism, no such concrete evidence exists. More likely, she was an unabashed lesbian who frightened people because she forgot to brush her hair, enjoyed riding and hunting, and preferred pants to corsets.
Christina revealed in her autobiography that she felt “an insurmountable distaste for marriage” and “for all the things that females talked about and did.”
As a young girl, she spent most of her time with Countess Ebba Sparre, who she introduced as her “bed-fellow” and with whom she shared “a long time intimate companionship.” Some accounts note that she took several male lovers throughout her life, while others suggest that she probably died a virgin. Pamphlets of the time denounced her as “a prostitute, a lesbian, an atheist.”
In other words: Christina was the OG “Nasty Woman.”
So who was the real Christina?
Say what you will concerning a queen The New York Times book reviewer Bruce Bawer once graciously compared in countenance to Danny DeVito, but the fact remains: Christina of Sweden was certainly never boring, and she wouldn’t have given a damn what you thought, anyway.
As Frances Wilson wrote for The Guardian, Christina was a “serial dabbler.” She dabbled in politics, in travel, in religion and art and sex and she was ultimately scorned for it. In reality, she was a feminist 200 years before her time. Prematurely modern-thinking, ambiguous in sexuality, eager to find out who she was in a world that was all too ready to provide her its own definition.
“Women who rule,” she reflected in her unfinished autobiography, “only make themselves ridiculous one way or the other. I myself am no exception.”
We can’t help but think Christina underestimated herself—with her brains, pluck and confidence, we’re certain she would have killed the “ruling a country” game.