”My favourite myth is that of Persephone, who, because she picked a forbidden flower or because she was out in the fields picking unforbidden flowers, depending on whom you believe, was abducted by Hades, the God of the Underworld. Once with him in the Underworld, Persephone dined on four to six (again, depending on who you believe) pomegranate seeds and thus she was condemned to spend that same number of months of every year with Hades. …Indeed, in some versions of the myth, Persephone becomes a remarkably successful Queen of the Underworld.” ( Tabatha Southey )
”Queen Christina appointed her cousin, Carl Gustav (Karl Charles Gustavus) as her successor. Some historians believe that she was romantically linked to him earlier, but they never married, and instead, her relationship with lady-in-waiting Countess Ebbe “Belle” Sparre launched rumors of lesbianism. Surviving letters from Christina to the Countess are easily described as love letters, though it is always difficult to apply modern classifications like “lesbian” to people in another time when such classifications were not known. Though they shared a bed at times, this practice did not at that time necessarily imply a sexual relationship. The Countess married and left court before Christina’s abdication, but they continued to exchange passionate letters.”
A woman who aspired to be a man; a queen who aspired to be a scholar; a Protestant who had begun to turn longingly toward Rome. The paradoxes multiplied, setting up internal strains and stresses which were increasingly difficult to maintain. But she must at al costs remain the master of her fate, in accordance with the teachings of the stoic philosophers whose disciple she had become. The inner defeat must be presented, both to the world, and to herself, as a victory. It must appear not as an act of surrender but as a triumphant assertion of the will. ”I have it in my thoughts and resolution”, she confided to the astonished English ambassador, ”to quit the crown of Sweden and to retire myself unto a private life, as much more suitable to my contentment, than the great cares and trouble attending upon the government of my kingdom; and what think you of this resolution?”
Abdications were rare in European history. The only recent example of that was that of the emperor Charles V, careworn and weary when he handed over the government of Germany and Spain to his brother and son. The abdication of a young and successful queen, in the prime of life, would therefore appear an act of startling novelty, the dramatic assertion of a will which had retained its independence to the last. With characteristic energy and determination Christina set out to win her way. Having saved the principle of hereditary monarchy, she felt free to ignore the protests of her councilors and the pleas of her subjects. She had done her duty by her dynasty and her people. Why should she not now be allowed to lead her own life as she wished, surrounded by beautiful objects and entertained by the company of scholars and savants, far away from the cares and boredom of Swedish public life?
Her determination to join the Church of Rome was as yet known only to the two Jesuits whom she had secretly summoned to Sweden to answer her innumerable questions about the tenets of their faith. Her destination once she had renounced the crown was still uncertain, even to herself. She toyed with the idea of removing to Spa, or even of remaining on Swedish soil. It was some time before she hit on the ideal place for her retreat; Rome, the capital of the arts, the center of her new found faith, the only city in which she, a queen, would have no need to acknowledge the sovereignty of any temporal power.
”… it is impossible for me to marry. That is the way it is for me….My temper is a mortal enemy to this horrible yoke [marriage], which I would not accept, even if I thus would become the ruler of the world. Which crime has the female sex committed to be sentenced to the harsh necessity which consists of being locked up all life eitas a prisoner or a slave? I call the nuns prisoners and the married women slaves.”
In 1653, in great secrecy, she began preparations for her residence abroad. The palace apartments were quietly emptied , the precious books and manuscripts packed into crates, the most beautiful, although not the most religiously edifying tapestries, were taken down, and the best pictures were singled out for removal. The gallery in the palace at Stockholm contained more than eight-hundred paintings, but Christina arranged for only some eighty of these to be shipped abroad. The palace collection was a better memorial to the tastes of Rudolph II, from whom so much of it came, than to those of Christina, whose predilections are revealed by the choice she made of the pictures to accompany her into exile.
”She undoubtedly had a taste for cross-dressing. When still sovereign of Sweden, she had Justus van Egmont paint her clad in full armour (1654). A champagne glass commemorating her visit to the Low Countries with two engravings cut by a diamond shows two busts of Christina, one dressed as a woman, the other as a man. The Duc de Guise described her thus: She wears men’s shoes and her voice and nearly all her actions are masculine. She loves to show off her mastery of horses, and she glories in it….
And Madame de Motteville:
She’s completely extraordinary….Nearly all her action are in some way extravagant…in no way does she resemble a woman, she hasn’t even the necessary modesty. She seems rough, brusque…and libertine in all she says.” ( windweaver )
Her German and Flemish paintings were left behind without remorse. She had no use for the northern masters, as she explained in a letter to the Duke of Bracciano several years after the arrival of Rudolph’s pictures in Stockholm: ”There is an infinite range of items , but apart from some thirty or forty Italian originals, I discount them all. There are works by Albrecht Durer and other German masters whose names I do not know but who would arouse the profound admiration of anyone apart from myself. But I do declare that I would exchange them all for two Raphaels, and I think that even this would be doing them too much honor.”
In accordance with these somewhat restricted canons of taste, she took with her the works of the masters she most admired; Titian, Vernoese, Correggio, while sending one of the finest works in her collection, Durer’s ”Adam and Eve” to that other great royal collector, Philip IV of Spain. While these treasures were being quietly shipped abroad, the queen was preparing for the most historic event of her life; the surrender of her crown. One June 6,1654, in the great hall of Upsala Castle, the crown was formally removed from Christina’s head, and she was ceremoniously divested of her royal robes. The the regalia and the realm were transferred to the new king, Charles X Gustavus. Christina herself professed to be unconcerned. ”I am not in the least anxious,” she had written, ”about the final applause. I know that the scene I have to perform is not composed according to the laws of the theatre. it is a lot to ask that what is strong, manly, and powerful should win acceptance. I know that few will judge to my advantage…”
She would be as self-sufficient, as indifferent to praise or blame , in surrendering her crown as she had been self-sufficient in the wearing of it, and she played the part to perfection. But how long would the facade stand firm? The prolonged second half of Christina’s life suggested that it was perhaps easier to be a queen regnant than a queen redundant. She set off on her self-imposed exile in great style, incognito, disguised as a nobleman, a gun on her shoulder and a sword at her side. She stopped briefly at Hamburg and then moved on to Antwerp, where she lived for four months in the richly appointed house of a Portuguese Jew, surrounded by the treasures she had brought from Stockholm.
The, in December, 1654, she entered Brussels in a golden barge, to the accompaniment of a grand municipal fireworks display. It was here in Brussels, on Christmas Eve, that she secretly abjured Lutheranism in the presence of the governor, the Archduke Leopold William, afraid that a public pronouncement at this stage would jeopardize the financial arrangements she had made with her subjects before leaving Sweden.
From Brussels she moved south toward her final goal, Italy; but Pope Alexander VII decided that he could not receive her in the Papal States with the appropriate honors unless she had first publicly proclaimed her conversion to Rome. This she did in Innsbruck, on November 3, 1655. Transformed into the heroine of Catholic Europe, she crossed into Italy with a retinue two hundred and fifty strong and was feted by one town after another on her royal progress south. On December 23, 1655, she rode into Rome, escorted by most of the college of Cardinals, themselves on horseback too. At the papal apartments she did her obeisance, the obligatory three genuflections, to a deeply moved pope. No pontificate could have wished a more glorious achievement than the spectacular conversion of the daughter of the Protestant hero Gustavus Adolphus.
”Now, arguably, Persephone was abducted and developed the mythological equivalent of Stockholm syndrome. I just never saw it that way. I’ve always felt that this story, like the story of Pandora’s box, reflects well on women. I mean, who wouldn’t have opened that damn box? The whole thing was a set-up.” ( Tabatha Southey )