Kristina Wasa, Queen of Sweden (1626-1689)

"...if we conceive the world in that vast extension you give it, it is impossible that man conserve himself therein in this honorable rank, on the contrary, he shall consider himself along with the entire earth he inhabits as in but a small, tiny and in no proportion to the enormous size of the rest. He will very likely judge that these stars have inhabitants, or even that the earths surrounding them are all filled with creatures more intelligent and better than he, certainly, he will lose the opinion that this infinite extent of the world is made for him or can serve him in any way."

(Åckerman, 30. Kristina to Descartes)

Wasa Time Line

1626 December 8, Kristina Wasa was born in Sweden of King Gustav II Adolf and Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg. Her mother was disappointed that she was a girl, especially since the court soothsayers and wise women predicted the child would be a boy. Consequently, she had little or nothing to do with the child. Her father, however, said "She will be a clever girl. She has already deceived all of us." Some reports claim that Kristina accompanied her father on journeys even as an infant and showed delight at the sound of cannon fire.

1630 King Gustav presents Kristina to the Estates as his successor. Kristina is acknowledged as legal sucessor by the states general and the army. Chancellor Oxenstiern installed as head of regency to oversee Sweden until Kristina reaches eighteen and a select group of scholars headed by theologian Johannes Matthiae is chosen to oversee her education. King Gustav commands that Kristina be trained as a prince and then leaves for battle against Ferdinand, Emperor of Austria.

1632 King Gustav is killed at the battle of Lutzen. Kristina's mother confines herself to her room, completely hung in black, reportedly with the King's heart in a golden container. Kristina is crowned queen before the council of rengents and her education commences. All sources agree on her intellectual brilliance. It is reported that Kristina spent twelve hours a day, six in the morning and six in the evening in study. During her minority, she learns to speak German, French, Italian, Spanish, and Swedish and to read Latin. Kristina is also well-trained in the philosophy and leadership of the Stoics through readings of Tacitus, Epictetus, Seneca as well as others. She is also trained in the art of horsemanship, swordwork, and all other aspects of battle and sports.

1640 Queen Kristina, although still a minor, is admitted to council meetings and begins to participate in governance of Sweden.

1644 Kristina comes of age and is crowned again as queen. She begins to oppose Oxenstierna who had already attempted to remove Kristina's power when she was a minor.

1645 Under Kristina's leadership, the first Swedish newspaper is created.

1646 Kristina questions Descartes through letters written by French ambassador, Chanut. She begins the conversation by asking Descartes' about the relative evil of misused love and hate. Chanut adds that this is not in reference to the normal "girl" type of love, but that love ascribed to by philosophers. Descartes replies with an eight page explanation which Kristina dismisses, choosing instead to question his ideas of an infinite God and creation. (see quote at beginning of timeline.)

1648 Kristina was a driving force in ending The Thirty Years' War. This is alternately lauded and condemned by modern scholars, as it was in her time. Some felt she was an advocate for peace; others felt she did her country an extreme injustice by ending the war before they could obtain sufficient war booty. Kristina also begins to assemble a group of scholars at her court. One of the first was Isaac Vossius, who organised the extensive library attained through war booty from the Prauge. Other intellectuals assembled in Kristina's court from 1648-165 3 were Nicholas Heinsius, Claudius Salmsius, Johannes Scheffer, Samuel Bochart and Christian Ravius.

1650 Kristina invites Descartes to Stockholm. He resides with the French Ambassador Chanut and travels an hour each morning to meet with the Queen at 5:00. Chanut contracts pnuemonia and Descartes nurses him back to health. Although Chanut recovers, Descartes falls ill and dies. Kristina is blamed because of her demands on Descartes without consideration of his poor health.

1651 Kristina begins a series of clandestine communications with Jesuits Malines and Casati in which she confesses profound scepticism in the tenants of Lutheran religion. She begins to seriously consider abdicating her throne.

1652 Kristina has a nervous breakdown.

1654 Kristina decides to abdicate. The exact date varies among sources from June 6 to June 16. She names her cousin, Charles X Gustav as her successor. One story says that her adherents in court refuse to remove her crown, so she removes it herself and places it on Gustav's head. She leaves Sweden immediately with her personal possessions and court women. As soon as Kristina crosses out of Sweden, she sends her women back, dons men's clothing, and according to one romantic account, rides a "white charger" throughout her lengthy tour of Europe.

1655 Kristina converts to Catholicism. In December, she is received by Pope Alexamder VII in Rome. There are several accounts, however, that indicate Kristina maintained a deep scepticism regarding religion.

1656 Kristina holds an academy in France to discuss problems concerning the nature of love.

1657 Kristina attempts to seize Naples with the intention of becoming Queen. She visits Fontainebleau, and conducts chemcial experiments. Also while in Fontainebleau, Kristina learns that her servant, Marchese Gian Rinaldo Monaldeschi betrayed her plans to seize Naples to the Pope. She has Monaldeschi killed in her presence after having last rites of absolution given to him. The European world is horrified, but Kristina claims her sovereign authority. Consequently, the Pope does not welcome Kristina upon her return to Rome.

1660 Kristina visits her estates in Sweden and studies the theory of the philosopher's stone.

1666 Kristina studies astronomy with Lubenitz.

1667 Kristina returns to Sweden to attempt to gain the right to rule Poland. She fails in her attempt and returns to settle permanently in Rome.

1668 Kristina installs an observatory in her palace complete with two astronomers. She publishes a letter on tolerance of the French Huguenots in Pierre Bayle's Nouvelles de la Republique des Lettres and writes a manifesto defending the Jews of Rome.

1670 Les Sentiments Heroiques and L'Ouvrage de Lisir: Les Sentiments Raisonnables, a two set collection of maxims begin in letter form. They are posthumously published along with her unfinished autobiography.

1674   Kristina holds Academia Reale which included physiologist Giovanni Borelli and astronomer-mathematician Cassini. She becomes and remains a strong patroness of the arts. She founds an academy for philosophy and literature, is an instigator in the opening of the first public opera house in Rome, and sponsors Alessandro Scarlatti and Arcangelo Corelli.

1680   Kristina commissions art historian Filippo Baldinucci to write a biography on sculptor and architect, Giovanni Bernini to refute a campaign to discredit him. Kristina continues to support the arts and philosophy until her death.

1689   April 19. Kristina dies and is buried in Rome.


Åkerman, Susanna. "Kristina Wasa, Queen of Sweden" A History of Women Philosophers, Vol. 3, Modern Women Philosophers, 1600-1900. Ed. Mary Ellen Waithe. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991.

Dark, Sidney. Twelve Royal Ladies. New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1929.

Doran, John. "Christina, Queen of Sweden" Famous Women. Ed. Esther Singleton. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1907.

Gaukroger, Stephen. Descartes: An Intellectual Biography. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995.

"Christina" The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol. 3, 15th ed.. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. 1994.

Suggested Readings

Akerman, Susanna. "Kristina Wasa, Queen of Sweden" A History of Women Philosophers, Vol. 3, Modern Women Philosophers, 1600-1900. Ed. Mary Ellen Waithe. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991.

Clark, M.L. "The making of a Queen: The education of Christina of Sweden," History Today:28 (1978), pp. 228-235.

Kristina. Autobiography (translation may not be available)

Kristina. Les Sentiments Heroiques and L'Ouvrage de Lisir: Les Sentiments Raisonnables or Maxims. (translation may not be available)

Stolpe, Sven. Kristina of Sweden. (1966) note: It appears from reading Ackerman's bibliography that Stolpe has also translated Kristina's Maxims and is editor of the Swedish editions. According to Ackerman, Stolpe's work on Kristina is the most extensive, although she disagrees with him on occasion.

Gaukroger, Stephen. Descartes: An Intellectual Biography. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995.