History Lesson: The Queer Queen Christina

390 years ago, back in 1626, a Swedish queen by the name of Christina was born. Already from the moment of her birth, Christina confounded sexual and gender stereotypes, and in fact she was thought to be male at first because of a hairy body and a “strong, hoarse voice”.

History Lesson: The Queer Queen Christina

Upon the realisation that Christina was actually a girl, her father the king, who had hoped for a male royal heir, continued to raise her as a boy. This meant that Christina received language education, learned all about politics and science and was trained to become an excellent shooter and horseback rider.

At the age of only 6 she succeeded her father, King Gustav II Adolph, upon his death at the Battle of Lützen and in 1644, on her 18-year birthday, she was declared of adult age and thus began to rule the country in her own right. At this point she was as educated as any male heir would have been and was – besides Swedish – fluent in 8 other languages including German, French, Italian and Arabic.

Walk like a man – swear like a soldier
As an adult, Christina continued to resist all gender conformity. She showed no interest at all in fashion and adopted mannish styles of clothing. She wore men’s shoes for the sake of convenience and never combed her hair. It was said about her that she “walked like a man, sat and rode like a man, and could eat and swear like the roughest soldiers”. She ignored traditionally approved “feminine” interests and explained in her autobiography that she felt “an insurmountable distaste for marriage” and “for all the things that females talked about and did”. Instead Christina continued to pursue her love of culture, literature and scholarship while spending a lot of time with her closest female friend, Ebba Sparre, whom she called “Belle” and loudly praised for her beauty and extraordinary mind. Christina even introduced Ebba to others as her “bed-fellow”.

Lesbian, bisexual or intersex?
In 1649 Queen Christina announced that she had decided not to marry and in 1654 she abdicated the throne in favour of her cousin Charles Gustav and immediately left Sweden on horseback wearing man’s clothing. Christina travelled through Germany and Holland towards Italy, converted to Catholicism during her trip and arrived in Rome through Porta del Popolo in a couch designed by Bernini who went on to become a lifelong friend of hers. During her travels she kept on writing letters to Ebba Sparre telling her that she would always love her.

Except for one short visit back to Sweden in 1660 upon the death of Charles X Gustav, Christina never returned to her country of birth and she died in Rome in 1689 at the age of 62.

Biographers generally consider Christina to have been a lesbian or bisexual woman although it cannot be ruled out that she may in fact have been an intersex individual.

Queen Christina was portrayed by Greta Garbo in the 1933 film of the same name.

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