La Regina, the woman in St Peter’s

In 1689 an old lady passed away in Rome, her life were not that of an ordinary woman leaving this world in Rome. Yet considering who she was, her life was not as special, as it could have been.  She is one of the few women buried in St Peter’s, and millions visit that church every year, but who was she??

I have to admit, I have never been to St Peter’s, nor do I know if the tourists are told about her while visiting it. But what I do know is that her place in history is much deserved, unfortunately is not very well-known among the general public today. That is why I am writing this week’s update about her. As you might know, this month we are doing monarchs which are not well-known, and this week is about a woman who reigned for a relatively short time, although she left an impressive mark upon history. Some of our readers might know her name, her origin or some of her deeds, but do you know it all? Well, to tell the truth I do not know her life that well, but I will attempt to give you an introduction to the women whose conversion lead to her exile, and yet she still kept a firm presence in political life both in her land of origins and her new home.

In 1626 Christina Wasa was born, a woman who according to my sources did not think a woman could ever be fit to rule a kingdom. Although she was born in an age of turmoil and violence, and as the daughter of one of the 17th century’s strongest protestant princes, she would not be known for her wars, nor for her religious intolerance, but rather for being the last Wasa to rule Sweden, and for her conversion to Catholicism. Christina was the only living child of Gustavus II Adolphus of Sweden and Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg,[1] and thus the hair to the Swedish crown, as the closest male hair to the crown was the, from a Swedish perspective, the hated Polish king.

When Gustavus II Adolphus of Sweden fell at the battle of Lutzen in 1632 Christina became Queen of the Swedish kingdom, yet she what only 8, so her father’s most notable noble allies in Sweden became the real rulers during her minority, an agreement that was based on the king’s letter to Axel Oxenstierna in 1630, where he was appointed her guardian in case the king died. Christina’s early reign was dominated by the council that governed the crown in her place until she took power herself in 1644 at the age of 18. In equality to, and as a continuation of her father politics, the council of her guardians continued Gustavus Adolphus’s politics towards the nobility, by giving them land for their war efforts and to continue the thirty year war, both things which Christina did not have to deal with in the 10 years she reigned alone. This evident in the doubling of noble families in Sweden from 300 to 600 during the 10 years she reigned from 1644 to 1654, as her father had divided out the crown land for good service; she was now forced to reward her servants with noble titles for their service instead. Additionally for her work for the peace treaty in Westphalia in 1648, where she went against the wishes of Axel Oxenstierna, who for the record wanted more war in Europe, and sent Johan Adler Salvius to negotiate the peace on her behalf.[2]

But it is not her reign that makes Christina so notable, for she could have been like all the other Swedish ruling queens if it has not been for her abdication and the reasons for it, for as I wrote above, her life was not so extra ordinary as it could have been if we compare to her other relatives who ruled Sweden, both her father, cousin and his heir’s left a much more intriguing legacy after their time on the throne of Sweden. So it is in fact her life after the abdication that is the most intriguing.

During Christina’s reign the famous French philosopher Descartes visited Sweden, and talked to the young queen, with the resulted that she sought to learn more about the religion that her ancestors had left behind over 100 years earlier; Catholicism. So in 1654 she abdicated, and left the crown to her cousin Charles X of Sweden and his heir’s. All due to her choice of religion, as Catholicism were outlawed in Sweden in 1607.  Yet officially she did not convert until she was out of Sweden. Her life afterwards lead her to Rome and to take part in a political dance with Mazarin, Louis XIV and several of the popes.  In Rome she filled her life with art, theater and music. It is said that it is due to her abdication and life in Rome, many paintings which were taken from Prague by Gustavus II Adolphus when he sacked the city, as many of the paintings kept in the royal palace in Sweden were lost in the fire in 1697. Her collections of books, paintings and art were the reason for her roman home to be seen as a scientific and cultural gathering point in Rome. In 1686 she wrote a declaration in which she stated that all Jews in Rome as the time were under her protection, and should not be prosecuted. Although she abdicated her Swedish throne many years before she still signed the declaration as; La Regina, (the queen). She attempted several times after her abdication to return to Sweden, but as a catholic she was not welcomed, so she always returned to Rome.

The woman who was born to become a queen and heir to one of the greatest kings in Swedish history ended her life in 1689 in Rome as a catholic Swede, and as a recognition of her importance she was given a burial in St Peter’s, like only 2 other women, after all she was the queen who abdicated to be able to stay true to her faith.

If you find Christina interesting, for example how could such a woman believe that no woman should ever rule? or want to know more about her life, her origins, legacy or destiny then there are some good books written about the topic, the latest one is from 2004, so why don’t you pick up a book and read about her, or other monarchs you don’t know a lot about? However, I do hope you will find time to visite our blog later this month as well, as we are encountering more monarchs that are not always remembered or often talked about.

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[1] http://snl.no/Kristina_Augusta

[2] http://snl.no/Johan_Adler_Salvius

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