Friday, June 6, 2014

Queen Christina Abdicates to Become Catholic

Queen Christina of Sweden abdicated the throne on June 6, 1654. I read Veronica Buckley's 2005 biography of Queen Christina when it came out in paperback.

You may read an excerpt on line here:

Not unlike the elusive figure played by Greta Garbo, the real Queen Christina stood among the most flamboyant and controversial figures of the seventeenth century. All of Sweden could not contain her ambition or quench her thirst for adventure. Freed from her crown, she cut a breathtaking path across Europe -- spending madly, seeking out a more majestic throne, and stirring up trouble wherever she went. With a dazzling narrative voice and unerring sense of the period, Veronica Buckley goes beyond historical myth to breathe life into an extraordinary woman who set the world on fire and became an icon of her age -- a time of enormous change when Europe stood at the crossroads of religion and science, antiquity and modernity, war and peace.

Although the book blurb highlights the Garbo movie, that movie's abdication scene does not site Christina's religious reasons at all--but as I recall from reading Buckley's book, it's not that clear how serious she was about her conversion. As this New York Times review notes, Christina is an odd character, so gifted and yet so thwarted in accomplishment:

though her first-act curtain was arguably the most dramatic of any in 17th-century Europe, she had no second act. (Her patronage of the arts, however, was hardly inconsiderable: both Scarlatti and Corelli conducted her private orchestra, and Bernini, who did a bronze bust of her, testified with apparent sincerity that she knew ''more about sculpture than I do.'') Buckley returns time and again to the subject of Christina's deficient self-knowledge, but serves up at least one quotation that implies the ex-queen knew herself, if not her sex, better than one might think: ''Women who rule,'' she mused in an unfinished autobiography, ''only make themselves ridiculous one way or the other. I myself am no exception.''

For all Christina's follies and foibles, it's hard not to feel a certain fondness for her. She rises from the pages of this richly evocative book (Buckley's first) as a complex, thoroughly believable human being, by turns maddening and endearing, admirable and absurd -- a bizarre cross between Francis of Assisi, Peggy Guggenheim, Eric the Red and Wile E. Coyote. 

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