Axel Oxenstierna, Eric XIV of Sweden, House of Vasa, King Carl IX of Sweden, King Gustaf II Adolph of Sweden, Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg, Privy Council, Queen Christina of Sweden, Regent, Sigismund III of Poland, Tre Kronor
Christina (December 18, 1626 – April 19, 1689), a member of the House of Vasa, was Queen of Sweden in her own right from 1632 until her abdication in 1654. She succeeded her father Gustavus Adolphus upon his death at the Battle of Lützen in 1632, but began ruling the Swedish Empire when she reached the age of eighteen in 1644.
Christina was born in the royal castle Tre Kronor on December 18, 1626. Her parents were King Gustaf II Adolph and his wife, Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg, a daughter of Johann Sigismund, Elector of Brandenburg, and Anna, Duchess of Prussia, daughter of Albrecht Friedrich, Duke of Prussia and Marie Eleonore of Cleves
King Gustaf II Adolph shared his wife Maria’s interest in architecture and her love of music. They had already had three children: two daughters (a stillborn princess in 1621, then the first Princess Christina, who was born in 1623 and died the following year) and a stillborn son in May 1625.
Excited expectations surrounded Maria Eleonora’s fourth pregnancy in 1626. When the baby was born, it was first thought to be a boy as it was “hairy” and screamed “with a strong, hoarse voice.” She later wrote in her autobiography that, “Deep embarrassment spread among the women when they discovered their mistake.” The king, though, was very happy, stating, “She’ll be clever, she has made fools of us all!”
The Crown of Sweden was hereditary in the House of Vasa, but from King Carl IX’s time onward (reigned 1604–11), it excluded Vasa princes descended from a deposed brother (Eric XIV of Sweden) and a deposed nephew (Sigismund III of Poland). Gustaf II Adolph’s legitimate younger brothers, Prince Louis and Prince Gustaf had died years earlier.
The one legitimate female left, his half-sister Catharine, came to be excluded in 1615 when she married Johann Casimir, Count Palatine of Zweibrücken-Kleeburg a non-Lutheran.
So Christina became the undisputed heir presumptive. From Christina’s birth, King Gustaf II Adolph recognized her eligibility even as a female heir, and although called “queen”, the official title she held as of her coronation by the Riksdag in February 1633 was King.
After King Gustaf II Adolph died on November 6, 1632 on the battlefield, Maria Eleonora returned to Sweden with the embalmed body of her husband. The 7-year-old Queen Christina came in solemn procession to Nyköping to receive her mother.
Maria Eleonora declared that the burial should not take place during her lifetime – she often spoke of shortening her life – or at least should be postponed as long as possible. She also demanded that the coffin be kept open, and went to see it regularly, patting it and taking no notice of the putrefaction. They tried to persuade Maria not to visit the corpse so often. Axel Oxenstierna managed to have the corpse interred in Riddarholmen Church on June 22, 1634, but had to post guards after she tried to dig it up. The grief suggests mental instability.
Maria Eleanora had been indifferent to her daughter but now, belatedly, Christina became the center of her mother’s attention. Gustaf II Adolph had decided that in the event of his death, his daughter should be cared for by his half-sister, Catherine of Sweden and half-brother Carl Gyllenhielm as regent.
This solution did not suit Maria Eleonora, who had her sister-in-law banned from the castle. In 1634, the Instrument of Government, a new constitution, was introduced by Axel Oxenstierna. The constitution stipulated that the “King” must have a Privy Council, which was headed by Oxenstierna himself.
The relation between Maria Eleonora and her daughter was considered very difficult, and in 1636 Maria Eleonora lost her parental rights to her daughter. The Riksråd motivated its decision by asserting that she neglected Christina and her upbringing, and that she had a bad influence on her daughter.
Chancellor Oxenstierna saw no other solution than to exile the widow to Gripsholm castle, while the governing regency council would decide when she was allowed to see her daughter. For the subsequent years, Christina thrived in the company of her aunt Catherine and her family.