Queen Kristina of Sweden (born Kristina Augusta, renamed Christina Alexandra after she converted to Catholicism) is the one I’m aiming to submit a piece about, and she, as Margrete, left a legacy of cranky ladydom behind. She is a bit different in that she didn’t have to sneakily trick her way to power, which is a good thing because I’m not sure she had it in her. She wasn’t subtle and she wasn’t sneaky, but damn if she didn’t get what she wanted either way. She was lucky in that her father, Gustaf II Adolf, had arranged to make her reigning queen if he died before having a son, that has to be said. You can also argue that her being born almost 300 years after Margrete, in 1626, also helped, but we actually didn’t get the whole queens-as-leaders as opposed to queens-looking-pretty written into law until 1980. So you know. It’s still pretty remarkable.
Kristina was raised as a prince, was interested in subjects like languages (there is a letter to her father written when she was six — in German), politics, philosophy and history, and enjoyed riding, hunting and other traditionally male pursuits. She wore men’s shoes, forgot to brush her bushy hair, hated and/or failed miserably at any typically female pastime she attempted, and spent hours and hours studying and discussing non-ladylike topics. (Politics, you know. Penis required to understand it.) There are accounts of her walking, talking, behaving and even riding like a man, and I’m pretty sure that I read somewhere that after she abdicated she cut her hair short and was never seen wearing skirts again. But then again, everything surrounding Kristina seems to have been propaganda. On one hand she’s described as incredibly intelligent and politically aware, as determined, chaste (of course) and very competent. Other accounts talk about her as being too proud, too headstrong and far from above average in intelligence. These stories either describe her as promiscuous (with men), a lesbian, or, if they wanted to be a bit more on the polite side, a ‘hermaphrodite’.
(Interlude: I hate that word and would never use it myself, but apparently that was how you did it back then. It was also, according to at least one book I’ve read, a lot less taboo than being a lesbian.)
It’s pretty interesting, these different accounts. People seem to have a lot of differing opinions about her, down to the reason she abdicated in 1654. She did cause a scandal when it came out that she had become a Catholic, about a year after she left Sweden, but she also refused to marry, she definitely wasn’t interested in producing heirs, and some have suggested she was simply bored of the lack of culture in Sweden (she attempted to change this, with mixed results) or that she was tired of the many responsibilities that came with ruling a country. People can’t seem to agree about her sexuality either; some claim the love of her life was Ebba Sparre, a female lady-in-waiting. Others talk about the male Cardinal Azzolino. Some claim she was transgender or intersex, and others that she emphasized her traditionally male attributes in order to be seen as more competent. Because that she did. In her biography she went on and on about all the ways she was better than women in general. She was smarter than them, better than them, she chose to be raised a boy (debatable; it was actually her father’s instructions), she was awful at sewing and other lady things, she was grateful to God that he had not let the weakness of her sex touch the strength of her soul, and so on. She also seems to have been of the opinion that the body and soul didn’t necessarily had to be the same gender — which is something historians often use as ‘proof’ of her not being cisgender. This has been so debated that her bones were dug up at one point to determine whether her skeleton was biologically male or female. (It was the latter, by the way.) I read somewhere that people back then believed that if a woman acted manly enough she would become one — some historians claim this was what she was hoping for. Whether or not this was true is hard to say, but there is no doubt that she had no interest in conforming to traditional gender roles.
Kristina spoke at length about how the idea repulsed her, and even claimed that she was too proud to sleep with or have a relationship with a man, in the way that she simply had no interest in being dominated by or controlled by a man. Which, yes, isn’t how sex works, we all know that now, but back then? Yep. That’s how it was seen. With this also comes a quote, in which she said that she didn’t want to be used by a man like a farmer cultivates his land — note that the word for ‘use’ and ‘cultivate’ in the farming sense of the word is the same in Swedish.
I could go on and on here, but the fact is that Kristina was a woman who not ruled a country in an age when it was unheard of, she also did it in her own way. Some accounts seem to believe that Gustaf Adolf put her on the throne with the intent of her marrying early to some competent dude who could said ruling, which may very well have been true, but it didn’t matter in the end. Kristina wouldn’t have any of it, after all. She was repeatedly pushed into considering marriage by her council, and abdicated rather than letting herself be talked into it. I found a statement made by her at age twenty-two, which I found really interesting. From the book Christina, Queen of Sweden by Veronica Buckley:
I’m telling you now that it is impossible for me to marry. I am completely sure of it. I will not state any reasons. My nature simply isn’t made for marriage. I have asked God to change my disposition, but it’s impossible for me to get married.
This far too long already and that’s with me having cut out about half of what I originally wrote, so let’s just say that she spent her last few decades in Rome, being friends with the pope, scandalising people, wasting money she didn’t have, writing biographies about her own awesomeness and, when she got bored, attempting to conquer Naples.
Basically, if Kristina wasn’t a cranky woman, I don’t know what she was. The things she accomplished in her lifetime were many, and although they were occasionally of the more questionable kind (randomly executing people in one of the French king’s palaces? Selling paintings right off the walls in a building she didn’t own? Becoming a Catholic after her father more or less died for Protestantism? Telling a blushing ambassador she had a woman as a ‘bed fellow’? Check, check, check and check), I still maintain that living this kind of life takes a special kind of woman. She may have been fickle and impatient, with a quick temper and too much pride for her own good, but really? I don’t think a woman could’ve gotten away with half of this today. The fact that she did it almost 400 years ago speaks volumes. I haven’t even touched on her political competence or the things she managed before abdicating, but let’s just agree that she was amazing in her own right, shall we? Because honestly, I could go on all day about her.
This post is the first part (because why limit yourself?) as part of the Cranky Ladies of History (and also Women’s History month!) blog tour. If this sort of thing makes you squee you should go help fund the Pozible campaign for the anthology with the same name, to be published by FableCroft Publishing in 2015.
The list of cranky Swedish women I’ve put together are courtesy of the Swedish non-profit organisation Rättviseförmedlingen, created to help correct the imbalance of gender in media, culture, business and so on. You can read more about them here and see the list of historical women I pulled these names from here. That first link is in English, fyi.