Queen Kristina of Sweden was one of the most controversial regents in Swedish history. Not only was she the first Queen regent of Sweden, but she was also an intellectual and brave woman, who would contribute enormously to the Swedish scientific and cultural scene and infrastructure. She was known for following her heart in many aspects of her life and truly lived a full life, always keeping her surrounding on their toes.
Kristina Vasa was born on December 18, 1626, at Tre Kronor Castle in Stockholm to King Gustav II Adolf, also known as Gustavus Adolphus, and Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg. She was the great-granddaughter of Gustav I Vasa through his son Karl IX.
After Kristina’s birth, Maria Eleonora noted in her diaries that she was embarrassed and sad for not having produced a living male heir. However, Gustav Adolf was said to be very attached to his daughter and was accepting of his daughter one-day becoming regent. Therefore, before leaving for Germany to defend Protestantism in the 30-year-old war, Gustav II Adolf secured his daughter’s right to inherit the throne, should he fail to return from the war.
Gustav Adolf wanted his daughter to have the same upbringing and education as a prince would. Preparing her to one day be “king”, she was educated in sciences, religion, political science, and languages. She was also trained to ride horses and handle weapons.
At the age of six, Kristina lost her father after he was fatally shot at the battle of Lützen in Germany.
Despite her young age, she would succeed her father as regent under the guidance of Axel Oxenstierna, who was also head of the regency council that would rule Sweden until Kristina had turned eighteen. It was also shortly after her father’s death that Kristina was separated from her mother, who was considered mentally unwell. Unfortunately, Kristina was never close to her mother, who had taken little interest in her growing up.
Oxenstierna expected to have a great influence over her once she ascended to the throne. However, Oxenstierna would later be disappointed. Kristina turned out to be a very independent person with great integrity, along with being a competent regent.
In 1644, Kristina turned eighteen and was ready to ascend the throne. Despite Axel Oxenstierna’s pleads for her to find a husband, Kristina refused to marry anyone. This caused a scandal at court but she would claim that the main reason for her decision was her unwillingness to become dependent on someone who could ultimately end up controlling her life. Instead, she managed to persuade her councilors to appoint her cousin Karl Gustav as heir to the royal crown after her.
During this time, the Thirty Years’ War was still raging on. Queen Kristina thus had to lead the great power, Sweden, through the last victorious years until the Westphalian peace in 1648.
Two years after the peace, Queen Kristina was crowned.
As a Queen, Kristina valued a rich, educated, and beautiful court in Stockholm, which was now a great power capital in Northern Europe. She would invite artists and scientists from different parts of Europe to Sweden with the intention of making Stockholm “Athens of the North”. She was known for her generosity, frequently gifting and giving away land and titles. Her extravagant way of living and giving would ultimately bring the state to the brink of bankruptcy. Because of this, Kristina would become increasingly unpopular with the Swedish population.
Ten years after her crowning, Kristina decided to abdicate the throne and hand the crown to her cousin, Charles X Gustav. Shortly afterward, Kristina left Sweden for Germany where she converted to Catholicism. She did not officially declare her conversion, worried that the Swedish council would stop supporting her financially, something that would have been devastating to an already financially struggling Kristina.
Her later years would be spent traveling between Sweden, Germany, and Italy. Upon her arrival to Rome, she was greeted with triumph by Pope Alexander VII. They would however have a falling out later on, which led to Kristina temporarily leaving Rome. During a visit back to Sweden, she tried to reclaim the Swedish throne after the death of her cousin, Charles X Gustav. However, because of her conversion to catholicism, this was impossible. She also tried to claim her right to the Polish throne with the support of the new Pope, Clement IX, who she had befriended.
In 1668, Kristina would return to Rome for the last time. She would live out her days making a huge impact on the cultural scene in Rome. In 1671, she would establish the first public theatre in Rome, Tor di Nona.
In 1689, Kristina died following a serious case of pneumonia at the Palazzo Corsini, which was her residence at the time. She had requested a simple burial at the Pantheon in Rome but was given a large celebration. Her body was embalmed, her face covered with a silver mask and a gilt crown was place on top of her. She lies in an ordinate sarcophagus in the Vatican.
This article is made in collaboration with the project ‘Sweden’s History’. The text has been edited by our editorial team but you can find the original version on Sweden’s History’s Instagram. Be sure to follow them for daily facts and stories about Swedish history.