Famous Affinities of History
By Lyndon Orr

Presented by

Public Domain Books

Nell Gwyn
Simon Verelst, ca. 1680
At the National Gallery

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 both.

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 cried out:

“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 frankly:

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 little Turk.

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 degree.

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 kingdom.

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 Augustus.”

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 German diet.

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 anywhere.

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 impressions.

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 the time.

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 quotation:

“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, Alexandra.

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 of Christina.

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 answer:

“You are my subject and a traitor to me. Marquis, you must prepare to die!”

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 pardon.

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:



The Story of Antony and Cleopatra  •  Abelard and Heloise  •  Queen Elizabeth and the Earl of Leicester  •  Mary Queen of Scots and Lord Bothwell  •  Queen Christina of Sweden and the Marquis Monaldeschi  •  King Charles II. and Nell Gwyn  •  Maurice of Saxony and Adrienne Lecouvreur

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