Nicola here. Today it's my very great pleasure to welcome Anna Belfrage to the Word Wench blog. I first met Anna at a Historical Novel Society Conference a few years ago when she and Word Wench favourite Christina Courtenay gave a fantastic talk about the pleasures and perils of writing timeslip and time travel books. In fact Anna says that if she had had the choice, her favoured career would have been as a time traveller, but as this isn't currently a job option (which I think many of us feel is a great shame!) she does the next best thing which is write. Her award-winning Graham Saga is set in the 17th century and is a must for all those readers who enjoy history, intrigue and romance! Today Anna is going to tell us about the research she has done into one of the most fascinating figures of the 17th century, Queen Kristina of Sweden. Read on for a real life story that is more astonishing than fiction – and for the chance to enter a giveaway for one of Anna's books!
In 1654, Queen Kristina of Sweden abdicated in favour of her cousin, Karl X Gustav. She stood before her aghast council and pleaded for them to agree, arguing that she, as a woman, was not equipped to carry the burden of ruling a kingdom. That argument most of the men surrounding her could buy: after all, women lacked the strength and intelligence required of a real ruler. Those in the council who knew her well likely scoffed. Kristina was highly intelligent and fully capable of steering Sweden through the turbulent waters of the 17th century.
Twenty-eight years earlier, Kristina had been welcomed into the world to the sound of cannons. At last the Lion of the North, Gustav II Adolf, had his much-awaited heir. “A son, a prince!” people yelled, counting the cannon shots. Err… The moment Kristina exited her mother’s womb, red, hirsute, and with a victory caul, one of the midwives had rushed off to tell the king he had a boy. Except she was wrong, as a closer inspection proved. The recently delivered mother, Queen Maria Eleonora, was in a frenzy. Another useless girl! The midwives likely drew lots among themselves to select who was to tell the king that they’d been wrong. Sweden did not have a prince—it had a princess.
The only one who handled the news that the child was a girl and not the longed-for boy moderately well was its father. Gustav II Adolf was delighted to have a healthy child and immediately set about planning for baby Kristina’s future education. I suspect the king found the company of his somewhat intense and rather obsessed wife trying and had little desire to return to the marital bed for a new attempt at a male heir.
Six years later, and Gustav II Adolf was dead, having been killed at the Battle of Lützen. Sweden’s most famous warrior king, the hero of the Thirty Years’ War, hit the dust on a foggy November day, found sprawled in the mud in only his three linen shirts.
At the age of six, Kristina was queen of the rapidly expanding kingdom of Sweden. There was little rejoicing: not only was the hero king dead, but his heir was a girl, and everyone knew women made weak rulers, emotional creatures that they were. The girl in question was mostly confused—and daunted by her new role. Later on in life, she would bitterly remark that “the heir to a throne belongs to the state” and in her case, this was definitely true, her life minutely organised by the regents to ensure she was properly educated and prepared for her future role.
Kristina’s days were long – at minimum ten hours a day were spent on her education. She was taught to fence, to shoot, to ride a horse. Soon enough, the young queen was corresponding with learned men all over Europe about everything from astronomy to philosophy—and religion.
In Sweden, there was only one religion, namely the Swedish Lutheran Church. It was the obligation of the Swedish monarch defend the Protestant faith against the papist devils—something Gustav II Adolf had excelled at as he won one battle after the other against the Catholic Holy Roman Empire. Ironically, the Swedish was effort during the Thirty Years’ War was financed by the very Catholic France. The pragmatic Cardinal Richelieu saw a golden opportunity to cut the Holy Roman Empire down in size by supporting Protestant Sweden and ensured a steady supply of funds to finance more men, more horses, more cannon.
The French connection was not common knowledge in Sweden—but it does explain why the French ambassador was a frequent guest at Kristina’s court, and other than discussing art and culture and whatnot, at some point the discussion may have veered towards faith. Not to be outdone, the Spanish ambassador also danced attendance round the young queen. But it was the secretary of the Portuguese ambassador who is credited with introducing Kristina to some undercover Jesuits thereby initiating her seduction away from the Protestant faith. Personally, I think Kristina was already disenchanted with a church that did nothing to stop people from calling her a witch (this due to several years of bad harvests) or insist that she marry ASAP so as to stop this unnatural rule of women.
Kristina had no desire to marry. The thought of sharing her bed, her life, her womb, with a man was utterly distasteful to her. But she was plagued by the pressure to do her duty and produce an heir, which may have been one of the reasons behind her abdication. Another was that she was tired. For close to twenty years, she had studied, worked, studied, worked. She slept little, had no time (or interest) to invest on her hair, her attire, which resulted in her wandering about with a bad case of bed-hair and comfortable garments that were more male than female in their cut. Finally, Kristina felt trapped. Here she was, stuck in the barbaric north, when she yearned for culture, for art, for the refinement of the French, the Spanish, the Italians. “Oh, me!” she’d likely sigh. “Stuck here when everything truly important and relevant happens elsewhere!”
As to the matters of faith, Kristina was fully aware that she could never embrace the Catholic faith and remain queen of Sweden. Chances were the Swedes would haul her off and burn her at the stake if she did. Yet another reason to abdicate—but one she kept very much to herself. After all, she was negotiating for an adequate pension from the Swedish state.
The council accepted her abdication. In a unique ceremony, Kristina stood before her nobles attired in full regalia. One by one, the symbols of her office were removed from her, leaving her at last dressed in nothing but a simple white dress. I suspect that what she felt was relief. For the first time in her life, she was free.
Some days later, Kristina left Sweden, eager to explore the world that lay before her like a wide-open oyster. And yes, she did convert to the Catholic faith, she visited France and moved to Rome where she fell in love with a cardinal, tried to become queen of Naples and in general was a rather loud presence about town. But was it her religion to drove her to abdicate or was it her desire to be free of obligations, free to partake of what Europe could offer when it came to culture, to style and refinement? We will never know. Truth be told, I’m not sure Kristina herself knew!
Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with three absorbing interests: history and writing.
Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga, set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy which is set in 14th century England. (Medieval knight was also high on Anna’s list of potential professions. Yet another disappointment…)
At present, Anna is busy with her third series, The Wanderer, featuring fated lovers Jason and Helle. And as to Kristina, she is a frequent visitor on Anna’s blog and is also a central character in one of Anna’s WIPs, a story involving an exiled Englishman, a young Swedish woman of Scots ancestry and a pouch of stolen jewels.
Thank you, Anna, for a fascinating insight into Queen Kristina's tumultuous life! We'll look forward very much to reading about her in your next book. Anna has posed this somewhat tongue in cheek question for us to discuss: “Do you think there was some truth to Kristina’s argument that women in general were not capable of ruling a country in her times?” One lucky commenter before midnight Tuesday will win a copy of A Rip in the Veil, the first book The Graham Saga!