12-18-1626

Queen Christina of Sweden circa 1640-1642

On this date the Queen regnant of Sweden from 1632 to  1654 QUEEN CHRISTINA OF SWEDEN was born (d. 1689). The only surviving legitimate child of King Gustav II Adolf of Sweden and his wife Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg the midwives announced the birth of a baby boy. As the heiress presumptive, at the age of six, she succeeded her father to the throne of Sweden upon his death at the Battle of Lützen in the Thirty Years’ War. Her father gave orders that Christina should be brought up as a prince. Even as a child she displayed great precociousness. In 1649, when she was twenty-three, she invited the philosopher Descartes to Sweden to tutor her (so early in the morning, according to one popular account, that the lessons hastened Descartes’ death from pneumonia in 1650). Christina also took the oath as king, not queen, because her father had wanted it so. Growing up, she was nicknamed the “Girl King.”

Christina’s reign was controversial, and literature circulated during her lifetime that described her as participating in multiple affairs with both men and women. This, along with the emotional letters that she wrote to female friends, has caused her to become an icon for the Lesbian community (and inspired comedian Jade Esteban Estrada to portray her in the solo musical ICONS: The Lesbian and Gay History of the World, Vol. 2).

She was irrefutably, gender-variant, cross-dressing by her early teens. Of Queen Christina, Father Marmerschied, priest to the Spanish Ambassador, remarked, “There is nothing feminine about her except her sex. Her voice, her walk, her style, her ways are all quite masculine.”

Christina associated mostly with men, letting go of the ladies-in-waiting routine. But there was one particular romantic relationship she’d had since her teens. The Queen did not hide her affectionate bond, referring to her lover as her “bedfellow.” Ebba Sparre, countess, bedfellow. Queen Christina wrote to her, “…and if you remember the power you have over me, you will also remember I have been in possession of your love for twelve years; I belong to you so utterly, that it will never be possible for you to lose me; and only, when I die, shall I cease loving you.”

Too queer to be Queen, she abdicated (among some financial hanky-panky as well) and wandered Europe, dressed as a man, frequently under the pseudonym of Count Dohna. After having converted to Catholicism and abdicated her throne, she spent her later years in France and Rome, where she was buried in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Her unusual attire caused her to later become an icon of the Transgender community, even though Christina herself was not transgendered. During the 20th century, her grave was opened so that her death mask could be examined, and her bones were examined to see if sex abnormalities could be identified, but none identified. She was famously portrayed by another Swedish Lesbian icon, Greta Garbo in the 1933 MGM drama, where her affection for Ebba is thinly, if at all, veiled. It is tempting to use a still from that film as an illustration, but we’ll stick to the true history with our portrait.