QUEEN CHRISTINA OF SWEDEN AND THE MARQUIS MONALDESCHI
Sweden to-day is one of the peaceful kingdoms of the world, whose
people are prosperous, well governed, and somewhat apart from the
clash and turmoil of other states and nations. Even the secession
of Norway, a few years ago, was accomplished without bloodshed,
and now the two kingdoms exist side by side as free from strife as
they are with Denmark, which once domineered and tyrannized over
It is difficult to believe that long ago, in the Middle Ages, the
cities of southern Sweden were among the great commercial centers
of the world. Stockholm and Lund ranked with London and Paris.
They absorbed the commerce of the northern seas, and were the
admiration of thousands of travelers and merchants who passed
through them and trafficked with them.
Much nearer to our own time, Sweden was the great military power
of northern Europe. The ambassadors of the Swedish kings were
received with the utmost deference in every court. Her soldiers
won great battles and ended mighty wars. The England of Cromwell
and Charles II. was unimportant and isolated in comparison with
this northern kingdom, which could pour forth armies of gigantic
blond warriors, headed by generals astute as well as brave.
It was no small matter, then, in 1626, that the loyal Swedes were
hoping that their queen would give birth to a male heir to succeed
his splendid father, Gustavus Adolphus, ranked by military
historians as one of the six great generals whom the world had so
far produced. The queen, a German princess of Brandenburg, had
already borne two daughters, who died in infancy. The expectation
was wide-spread and intense that she should now become the mother
of a son; and the king himself was no less anxious.
When the event occurred, the child was seen to be completely
covered with hair, and for this reason the attendants at first
believed that it was the desired boy. When their mistake was
discovered they were afraid to tell the king, who was waiting in
his study for the announcement to be made. At last, when no one
else would go to him, his sister, the Princess Caroline,
volunteered to break the news.
Gustavus was in truth a chivalrous, high-bred monarch. Though he
must have been disappointed at the advent of a daughter, he showed
no sign of dissatisfaction or even of surprise; but, rising, he
embraced his sister, saying:
"Let us thank God. I hope this girl will be as good as a boy to
me. May God preserve her now that He has sent her!"
It is customary at almost all courts to pay less attention to the
birth of a princess than to that of a prince; but Gustavus
displayed his chivalry toward this little daughter, whom he named
Christina. He ordered that the full royal salute should be fired
in every fortress of his kingdom and that displays of fireworks,
balls of honor, and court functions should take place; "for," as
he said, "this is the heir to my throne." And so from the first he
took his child under his own keeping and treated her as if she
were a much-loved son as well as a successor.
He joked about her looks when she was born, when she was mistaken
for a boy.
"She will be clever," he said, "for she has taken us all in!"
The Swedish people were as delighted with their little princess as
were the people of Holland when the present Queen Wilhelmina was
born, to carry on the succession of the House of Orange. On one
occasion the king and the small Christina, who were inseparable
companions, happened to approach a fortress where they expected to
spend the night. The commander of the castle was bound to fire a
royal salute of fifty cannon in honor of his sovereign; yet he
dreaded the effect upon the princess of such a roaring and
bellowing of artillery. He therefore sent a swift horseman to meet
the royal party at a distance and explain his perplexity. Should
he fire these guns or not? Would the king give an order?
Gustavus thought for a moment, and then replied:
"My daughter is the daughter of a soldier, and she must learn to
lead a soldier's life. Let the guns be fired!"
The procession moved on. Presently fire spurted from the
embrasures of the fort, and its batteries thundered in one great
roar. The king looked down at Christina. Her face was aglow with
pleasure and excitement; she clapped her hands and laughed, and
"More bang! More! More! More!"
This is only one of a score of stories that were circulated about
the princess, and the Swedes were more and more delighted with the
girl who was to be their queen.
Somewhat curiously, Christina's mother, Queen Maria, cared little
for the child, and, in fact, came at last to detest her almost as
much as the king loved her. It is hard to explain this dislike.
Perhaps she had a morbid desire for a son and begrudged the honors
given to a daughter. Perhaps she was a little jealous of her own
child, who took so much of the king's attention. Afterward, in
writing of her mother, Christina excuses her, and says quite
She could not bear to see me, because I was a girl, and an ugly
girl at that. And she was right enough, for I was as tawny as a
This candid description of herself is hardly just. Christina was
never beautiful, and she had a harsh voice. She was apt to be
overbearing even as a little girl. Yet she was a most interesting
child, with an expressive face, large eyes, an aquiline nose, and
the blond hair of her people. There was nothing in this to account
for her mother's intense dislike for her.
It was currently reported at the time that attempts were made to
maim or seriously injure the little princess. By what was made to
seem an accident, she would be dropped upon the floor, and heavy
articles of furniture would somehow manage to strike her. More
than once a great beam fell mysteriously close to her, either in
the palace or while she was passing through the streets. None of
these things did her serious harm, however. Most of them she
luckily escaped; but when she had grown to be a woman one of her
shoulders was permanently higher than the other.
"I suppose," said Christina, "that I could be straightened if I
would let the surgeons attend to it; but it isn't worth while to
take the trouble."
When Christina was four, Sweden became involved in the great war
that had been raging for a dozen years between the Protestant and
the Catholic states of Germany. Gradually the neighboring powers
had been drawn into the struggle, either to serve their own ends
or to support the faith to which they adhered. Gustavus Adolphus
took up the sword with mixed motives, for he was full of
enthusiasm for the imperiled cause of the Reformation, and at the
same time he deemed it a favorable opportunity to assert his
control over the shores of the Baltic.
The warrior king summoned his army and prepared to invade Germany.
Before departing he took his little daughter by the hand and led
her among the assembled nobles and councilors of state. To them he
intrusted the princess, making them kneel and vow that they would
regard her as his heir, and, if aught should happen to him, as his
successor. Amid the clashing of swords and the clang of armor this
vow was taken, and the king went forth to war.
He met the ablest generals of his enemies, and the fortunes of
battle swayed hither and thither; but the climax came when his
soldiers encountered those of Wallenstein--that strange,
overbearing, arrogant, mysterious creature whom many regarded with
a sort of awe. The clash came at Lutzen, in Saxony. The Swedish
king fought long and hard, and so did his mighty opponent; but at
last, in the very midst of a tremendous onset that swept all
before him, Gustavus received a mortal wound and died, even while
Wallenstein was fleeing from the field of battle.
The battle of Lutzen made Christina Queen of Sweden at the age of
six. Of course, she could not yet be crowned, but a council of
able ministers continued the policy of the late king and taught
the young queen her first lessons in statecraft. Her intellect
soon showed itself as more than that of a child. She understood
all that was taking place, and all that was planned and arranged.
Her tact was unusual. Her discretion was admired by every one; and
after a while she had the advice and training of the great Swedish
chancellor, Oxenstierna, whose wisdom she shared to a remarkable
Before she was sixteen she had so approved herself to her
counselors, and especially to the people at large, that there was
a wide-spread clamor that she should take the throne and govern in
her own person. To this she gave no heed, but said:
"I am not yet ready."
All this time she bore herself like a king. There was nothing
distinctly feminine about her. She took but slight interest in her
appearance. She wore sword and armor in the presence of her
troops, and often she dressed entirely in men's clothes. She would
take long, lonely gallops through the forests, brooding over
problems of state and feeling no fatigue or fear. And indeed why
should she fear, who was beloved by all her subjects?
When her eighteenth year arrived, the demand for her coronation
was impossible to resist. All Sweden wished to see a ruling queen,
who might marry and have children to succeed her through the royal
line of her great father. Christina consented to be crowned, but
she absolutely refused all thought of marriage. She had more
suitors from all parts of Europe than even Elizabeth of England;
but, unlike Elizabeth, she did not dally with them, give them
false hopes, or use them for the political advantage of her
At that time Sweden was stronger than England, and was so situated
as to be independent of alliances. So Christina said, in her
harsh, peremptory voice:
"I shall never marry; and why should you speak of my having
children! I am just as likely to give birth to a Nero as to an
Having assumed the throne, she ruled with a strictness of
government such as Sweden had not known before. She took the reins
of state into her own hands and carried out a foreign policy of
her own, over the heads of her ministers, and even against the
wishes of her people. The fighting upon the Continent had dragged
out to a weary length, but the Swedes, on the whole, had scored a
marked advantage. For this reason the war was popular, and every
one wished it to go on; but Christina, of her own will, decided
that it must stop, that mere glory was not to be considered
against material advantages. Sweden had had enough of glory; she
must now look to her enrichment and prosperity through the
channels of peace.
Therefore, in 1648, against Oxenstierna, against her generals, and
against her people, she exercised her royal power and brought the
Thirty Years' War to an end by the so-called Peace of Westphalia.
At this time she was twenty-two, and by her personal influence she
had ended one of the greatest struggles of history. Nor had she
done it to her country's loss. Denmark yielded up rich provinces,
while Germany was compelled to grant Sweden membership in the
Then came a period of immense prosperity through commerce, through
economies in government, through the improvement of agriculture
and the opening of mines. This girl queen, without intrigue,
without descending from her native nobility to peep and whisper
with shady diplomats, showed herself in reality a great monarch, a
true Semiramis of the north, more worthy of respect and reverence
than Elizabeth of England. She was highly trained in many arts.
She was fond of study, spoke Latin fluently, and could argue with
Salmasius, Descartes, and other accomplished scholars without
showing any inferiority to them.
She gathered at her court distinguished persons from all
countries. She repelled those who sought her hand, and she was
pure and truthful and worthy of all men's admiration. Had she died
at this time history would rank her with the greatest of women
sovereigns. Naude, the librarian of Cardinal Mazarin, wrote of her
to the scientist Gassendi in these words:
To say truth, I am sometimes afraid lest the common saying should
be verified in her, that short is the life and rare the old age of
those who surpass the common limits. Do not imagine that she is
learned only in books, for she is equally so in painting,
architecture, sculpture, medals, antiquities, and all curiosities.
There is not a cunning workman in these arts but she has him
fetched. There are as good workers in wax and in enamel,
engravers, singers, players, dancers here as will be found
She has a gallery of statues, bronze and marble, medals of gold,
silver, and bronze, pieces of ivory, amber, coral, worked crystal,
steel mirrors, clocks and tables, bas-reliefs and other things of
the kind; richer I have never seen even in Italy; finally, a great
quantity of pictures. In short, her mind is open to all
But after she began to make her court a sort of home for art and
letters it ceased to be the sort of court that Sweden was prepared
for. Christina's subjects were still rude and lacking in
accomplishments; therefore she had to summon men of genius from
other countries, especially from France and Italy. Many of these
were illustrious artists or scholars, but among them were also
some who used their mental gifts for harm.
Among these latter was a French physician named Bourdelot--a man
of keen intellect, of winning manners, and of a profound cynicism,
which was not apparent on the surface, but the effect of which
last lasting. To Bourdelot we must chiefly ascribe the mysterious
change which gradually came over Queen Christina. With his
associates he taught her a distaste for the simple and healthy
life that she had been accustomed to lead. She ceased to think of
the welfare of the state and began to look down with scorn upon
her unsophisticated Swedes. Foreign luxury displayed itself at
Stockholm, and her palaces overflowed with beautiful things.
By subtle means Bourdelot undermined her principles. Having been a
Stoic, she now became an Epicurean. She was by nature devoid of
sentiment. She would not spend her time in the niceties of love-
making, as did Elizabeth; but beneath the surface she had a sort
of tigerish, passionate nature, which would break forth at
intervals, and which demanded satisfaction from a series of
favorites. It is probable that Bourdelot was her first lover, but
there were many others whose names are recorded in the annals of
When she threw aside her virtue Christina ceased to care about
appearances. She squandered her revenues upon her favorites. What
she retained of her former self was a carelessness that braved the
opinion of her subjects. She dressed almost without thought, and
it is said that she combed her hair not more than twice a month.
She caroused with male companions to the scandal of her people,
and she swore like a trooper when displeased.
Christina's philosophy of life appears to have been compounded of
an almost brutal licentiousness, a strong love of power, and a
strange, freakish longing for something new. Her political
ambitions were checked by the rising discontent of her people, who
began to look down upon her and to feel ashamed of her shame.
Knowing herself as she did, she did not care to marry.
Yet Sweden must have an heir. Therefore she chose out her cousin
Charles, declared that he was to be her successor, and finally
caused him to be proclaimed as such before the assembled estates
of the realm. She even had him crowned; and finally, in her
twenty-eighth year, she abdicated altogether and prepared to leave
Sweden. When asked whither she would go, she replied in a Latin
"The Fates will show the way."
In her act of abdication she reserved to herself the revenues of
some of the richest provinces in Sweden and absolute power over
such of her subjects as should accompany her. They were to be her
subjects until the end.
The Swedes remembered that Christina was the daughter of their
greatest king, and that, apart from personal scandals, she had
ruled them well; and so they let her go regretfully and accepted
her cousin as their king. Christina, on her side, went joyfully
and in the spirit of a grand adventuress. With a numerous suite
she entered Germany, and then stayed for a year at Brussels, where
she renounced Lutheranism. After this she traveled slowly into
Italy, where she entered Borne on horseback, and was received by
the Pope, Alexander VII., who lodged her in a magnificent palace,
accepted her conversion, and baptized her, giving her a new name,
In Rome she was a brilliant but erratic personage, living
sumptuously, even though her revenues from Sweden came in slowly,
partly because the Swedes disliked her change of religion. She was
surrounded by men of letters, with whom she amused herself, and
she took to herself a lover, the Marquis Monaldeschi. She thought
that at last she had really found her true affinity, while
Monaldeschi believed that he could count on the queen's fidelity.
He was in attendance upon her daily, and they were almost
inseparable. He swore allegiance to her and thereby made himself
one of the subjects over whom she had absolute power. For a time
he was the master of those intense emotions which, in her,
alternated with moods of coldness and even cruelty.
Monaldeschi was a handsome Italian, who bore himself with a fine
air of breeding. He understood the art of charming, but he did not
know that beyond a certain time no one could hold the affections
However, after she had quarreled with various cardinals and
decided to leave Rome for a while, Monaldeschi accompanied her to
France, where she had an immense vogue at the court of Louis XIV.
She attracted wide attention because of her eccentricity and utter
lack of manners. It gave her the greatest delight to criticize the
ladies of the French court--their looks, their gowns, and their
jewels. They, in return, would speak of Christina's deformed
shoulder and skinny frame; but the king was very gracious to her
and invited her to his hunting-palace at Fontainebleau.
While she had been winning triumphs of sarcasm the infatuated
Monaldeschi had gradually come to suspect, and then to know, that
his royal mistress was no longer true to him. He had been
supplanted in her favor by another Italian, one Sentanelli, who
was the captain of her guard.
Monaldeschi took a tortuous and roundabout revenge. He did not let
the queen know of his discovery; nor did he, like a man, send a
challenge to Sentanelli. Instead he began by betraying her secrets
to Oliver Cromwell, with whom she had tried to establish a
correspondence. Again, imitating the hand and seal of Sentanelli,
he set in circulation a series of the most scandalous and
insulting letters about Christina. By this treacherous trick he
hoped to end the relations between his rival and the queen; but
when the letters were carried to Christina she instantly
recognized their true source. She saw that she was betrayed by her
former favorite and that he had taken a revenge which might
seriously compromise her.
This led to a tragedy, of which the facts were long obscure. They
were carefully recorded, however, by the queen's household
chaplain, Father Le Bel; and there is also a narrative written by
one Marco Antonio Conti, which confirms the story. Both were
published privately in 1865, with notes by Louis Lacour.
The narration of the priest is dreadful in its simplicity and
minuteness of detail. It may be summed up briefly here, because it
is the testimony of an eye-witness who knew Christina.
Christina, with the marquis and a large retinue, was at
Fontainebleau in November, 1657. A little after midnight, when all
was still, the priest, Father Le Bel, was aroused and ordered to
go at once to the Galerie des Cerfs, or Hall of Stags, in another
part of the palace. When he asked why, he was told:
"It is by the order of her majesty the Swedish queen."
The priest, wondering, hurried on his garments. On reaching the
gloomy hall he saw the Marquis Monaldeschi, evidently in great
agitation, and at the end of the corridor the queen in somber
robes. Beside the queen, as if awaiting orders, stood three
figures, who could with some difficulty be made out as three
soldiers of her guard.
The queen motioned to Father Le Bel and asked him for a packet
which she had given him for safe-keeping some little time before.
He gave it to her, and she opened it. In it were letters and other
documents, which, with a steely glance, she displayed to
Monaldeschi. He was confused by the sight of them and by the
incisive words in which Christina showed how he had both insulted
her and had tried to shift the blame upon Sentanelli.
Monaldeschi broke down completely. He fell at the queen's feet and
wept piteously, begging for pardon, only to be met by the cold
"You are my subject and a traitor to me. Marquis, you must prepare
Then she turned away and left the hall, in spite of the cries of
Monaldeschi, to whom she merely added the advice that he should
make his peace with God by confessing to Father Le Bel.
After she had gone the marquis fell into a torrent of self-
exculpation and cried for mercy. The three armed men drew near and
urged him to confess for the good of his soul. They seemed to have
no malice against him, but to feel that they must obey the orders
given them. At the frantic urging of the marquis their leader even
went to the queen to ask whether she would relent; but he returned
shaking his head, and said:
"Marquis, you must die."
Father Le Bel undertook a like mission, but returned with the
message that there was no hope. So the marquis made his confession
in French and Latin, but even then he hoped; for he did not wait
to receive absolution, but begged still further for delay or
Then the three armed men approached, having drawn their swords.
The absolution was pronounced; and, following it, one of the
guards slashed the marquis across the forehead. He stumbled and
fell forward, making signs as if to ask that he might have his
throat cut. But his throat was partly protected by a coat of mail,
so that three or four strokes delivered there had slight effect.
Finally, however, a long, narrow sword was thrust into his side,
after which the marquis made no sound.
Father Le Bel at once left the Galerie des Cerfs and went into the
queen's apartment, with the smell of blood in his nostrils. He
found her calm and ready to justify herself. Was she not still
queen over all who had voluntarily become members of her suite?
This had been agreed to in her act of abdication. Wherever she set
her foot, there, over her own, she was still a monarch, with full
power to punish traitors at her will. This power she had
exercised, and with justice. What mattered it that she was in
France? She was queen as truly as Louis XIV. was king.
The story was not long in getting out, but the truth was not
wholly known until a much later day. It was said that Sentanelli
had slapped the marquis in a fit of jealousy, though some added
that it was done with the connivance of the queen. King Louis, the
incarnation of absolutism, knew the truth, but he was slow to act.
He sympathized with the theory of Christina's sovereignty. It was
only after a time that word was sent to Christina that she must
leave Fontainebleau. She took no notice of the order until it
suited her convenience, and then she went forth with all the
honors of a reigning monarch.
This was the most striking episode in all the strange story of her
private life. When her cousin Charles, whom she had made king,
died without an heir she sought to recover her crown; but the
estates of the realm refused her claim, reduced her income, and
imposed restraints upon her power. She then sought the vacant
throne of Poland; but the Polish nobles, who desired a weak ruler
for their own purposes, made another choice. So at last she
returned to Rome, where the Pope received her with a splendid
procession and granted her twelve thousand crowns a year to make
up for her lessened Swedish revenue.
From this time she lived a life which she made interesting by her
patronage of learning and exciting by her rather unseemly quarrels
with cardinals and even with the Pope. Her armed retinue marched
through the streets with drawn swords and gave open protection to
criminals who had taken refuge with her. She dared to criticize
the pontiff, who merely smiled and said:
"She is a woman!"
On the whole, the end of her life was pleasant. She was much
admired for her sagacity in politics. Her words were listened to
at every court in Europe. She annotated the classics, she made
beautiful collections, and she was regarded as a privileged person
whose acts no one took amiss. She died at fifty-three, and was
buried in St. Peter's.
She was bred a man, she was almost a son to her great father; and
yet, instead of the sonorous epitaph that is inscribed beside her
tomb, perhaps a truer one would be the words of the vexed Pope: