Have you ever defied the expectations other people have of you just by being you?
Christina of Sweden did. Though a Queen, she loved to be “unladylike.”
Born in 1626, Christina became queen when she was just six years old after her famous father, King Gustavus Adolphus, died in battle at the age of 37. The Swedish nobles, unhappy about serving a female leader, expected Christina to dutifully get married as early as possible and produce a male heir to the throne.
But she had her own plans.
As a child, Christina had a deep voice and preferred to dress and talk as a boy. At her own insistence, Christina learned how to hunt, fence, and shoot guns, all activities normally reserved for boys and men.
Christina also loved to read. As a teenager, she was so enamored with books that she slept only four hours a night and rushed out each morning with wild, unkempt hair, which became her trademark. She even convinced the French mathematician and philosopher, Rene Descartes, to open a scientific academy in Stockholm. When she discovered a biography of Queen Elizabeth of England (who died in 1603), Christina decided that she had “an insurmountable distaste for marriage,” as well as "all things female." Christina's love of books inspired her to take control of her personal life.
Were she alive today, Christina would likely have identified as a lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, or genderqueer. The young queen had an openly passionate affair with a female courtier named Ebba Sparre, who Christina introduced to a visiting ambassador as her “bed-fellow.” Confident in her sexuality, Christina declared in 1649 that she would never marry. When Swedish nobles attempted to force her to take a husband, she opted instead to abdicate her throne and leave her native Sweden. She was then just 27 years old.
On crossing the Swedish border into Denmark, she cut her hair short and donned a pair of trousers and a man’s shirt. For the rest of her life, Christina dressed as she wished and loved who she wanted.
Travelling through Europe in the 1650s, Christina defied local prejudices. In Hamburg, she scandalized the nobles by staying in the home of a Jewish family. In Rome, she angered the Pope with her habit of propping up her legs on theater chairs and speaking informally with street urchins. Christina’s masculine clothing and informal behavior violated the way that women were expected to act. However, Christina's charm and sincerity won her many friends.
Christina's greatest legacy was as a patron of music and art. She was so intelligent and knowledgeable about the arts that the famous Italian sculptor Gian Bernini, creator of the Baroque style, claimed that Christina knew "more about sculpture than I do." Coming from one of Europe's most famous artists, this was not faint praise!
Surrounded by friends and lovers, Christina spent the rest of her life, until she passed away in 1689, traveling about Europe. She generated gossip everywhere she went. But she never betrayed her sense of self.
Christina accepted and remained true to who she was rather than attempt to fit the expectations of others. Late in life, she mused that she'd never been afraid to appear "ridiculous" to others by being herself. Her courage and self-truth were admirable in an era when convention meant everything. That is why she is a Time Traveler Tours #HistoryHero.
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