“I was born, have lived, and will die free.”
-Christina King of Sweden
In the past three articles, we have chosen rather easy topics, or at least easy in one aspect. They have a clear identity, but with Kristina, that is not the case. This article is where the interpretation portion of this project will come on the main stage, as there are many different queer labels Kristina could have fallen under. Thus, without her to clarify, we can only do our best with the information we have. This is just our opinion; if you disagree, and have a good reason, please leave it in the comments. The only thing we know for certain about her is there was no way she was heterosexual, cisgender, and dyadic.
It is important first to note we are not the first to struggle with defining Kristina’s gender; in fact, it has mystified people since the day she was born in December of 1626 in Stockholm, Sweden. When the nurses initially saw her, she was announced as a boy. They took a day to correct the misjudgment for fear of her father’s reaction, as he had been trying for a male heir and had a famously nasty temper. But he surprised most of the country by taking the news rather well, deciding that she would be his heir regardless of what chromosomes she was born with and he would not treat her differently than he had planned to treat a prince.
There have been many theories why this mistake happened to begin with; one being that she was very hairy, but another, more possible one, was that she might have been intersex. An examination of her bones was not conclusive to prove whether that was true or not, but it remains a real possibility and is another in a long line of theories about Kristina's identity.
Regardless of the state of her genitals, Kristina did not fall easily into the role of woman or man, breaking gender roles on both ends from a young age and continuing that tradition until the day she died.
She was raised as a prince, given the best tutelage and training in the arts of fighting and war. In following her father’s wishes, when she was old enough she was crowned king of Sweden but was a king like no one had ever seen there before. People demanded she acted more like her father, as a man. To be decisive and brutal, one of the things expected of her in this aim was to continue on the thirty-year war against the Catholics. However, she denied them, calling for peace and successfully achieving it in her relatively short time as ruler of Sweden. So, since she didn't fall into the warmongering category, people expected her to fall on the other side of the spectrum, to sit back and let her advisers, and eventually, her husband, be in control of state matters. Kristina rejected that expectation firmly.
Though in her time as ruler she had many advisers, it was clear it was not because of any lack of independence, but because of how highly she valued knowledge and new perspectives. Bringing people from all around Europe to teach her, and later learn with her, she prioritized the pursuit of knowledge and the arts above all else. She made friends with some of the most educated people of the time and worked to make herself as educated as them. She succeeded, amassing Sweden’s library in her time as ruler. During her rule, she moved the country from a time of war and conflict to work on educating the country, establishing the first countrywide school ordinance, and starting the first newspaper which remains the longest-running newspaper in the world.
Not to be swayed towards the more traditionally feminine side, even in her personal life, she was known to dress as a man, and she refused to get married and produce the heir the country wanted from her. In fact, she was reportedly disgusted by pregnancy; so much so, her ladies-in-waiting were afraid to tell her if they got pregnant because they knew she would fire them.
To avoid the fate people wished upon her of marrying her cousin, she instead adopted him as her son, making him the prince and her heir, and leaving her with no need to give birth. Despite the good, she brought the country, and her skill at the ruling, she abdicated the throne to her adopted son after only ten years as king.
Aside from her obvious disgust towards marriage and pregnancy, there may have been other reasons for her avoidance of romantic connections with men, and this is where it gets complicated. It is well known Kristina slept with one of her handmaidens, Ebba Sparre, introducing her as “my bedfellow” in conversation, and made almost no effort to hide it. But after that relationship died, it seems so did her interest in pursuing relationships entirely.
Her lack of any other romantic or sexual partners could have been for a couple of different reasons; it could be she was heartbroken, or it could be she was somewhere on the asexual spectrum. It is possible she was demisexual, requiring a strong emotional connection with someone to be attracted to them, and one of the few that she felt that emotional connection with that one woman.
Her interest in the Catholic views on celibacy and her fascination of the biography of virgin queen Elisabeth the First would bear that out. Also when sharing her decision to abdicate she said to her councilors "I do not intend to give you reasons, [I am] simply not suited to marriage." which seems to indicate that there may have been more there than just having no suitable candidates. Whatever the reason in her memoirs, she recorded Ebba as the one love of her life, and even after the romance had ended and Kristina had left the country, she attempted to return to her dear Ebba only to be blocked by the Sparre family.
Considering all of this it is still entirely possible that she could have been an allosexual and attracted to women, and just kept more quiet about her activities as she got older, though that wouldn't have been hard considering her large collection of paintings of nude women she kept near her. Regardless of the level of sexual attraction she felt, it was clear she has not attracted to men in the way people wanted her to be and the only possible romantic or sexual relationship with a man seems to have remained unrequited. She died unmarried and widely thought to be a virgin, despite any sexual relationships she had with women, which weren’t counted.
As for gender, she never settled into an identity, using both the title of king and queen, leading one to think if she had the labels we have today, it is within the realm of possibility that she would have identified as non-binary. But without her to choose, there is no way we can safely say one way or the other and considering that she did wear traditionally masculine clothing, was well documented in her hatred of femininity, and at a couple points in her life worked to pass as a man it is more likely she would have identified as a transgender man. The usage of she/her/hers pronouns throughout this article is only because that is the only information we have, and not an attempt to misgender her or discredit any identity she may have chosen for herself.
For this article, we are putting forward she was a transgender demisexual person who was attracted to women, and any alternative theories are more than welcome. An important part of the discussion of Kristina is to recognize that theorizing on her identity is permissible for a couple of reasons. For one, she is dead. We are not pulling her out of the closet, putting her in any danger, or forcing her into a label when she can choose one for herself. In addition to that, it is not harmful to her legacy to suggest that she was transgender, on the asexual spectrum, or attracted to women, because those things are not inherently bad. And lastly ascribing modern labels to historical events is a large part of studying history.
We look back at our past through the lens of our present to better understand what happened and attempt to learn from it. And if we wanted to only use the language Kristina knew to describe her, this article would have to be written in Swedish. The argument not to use modern labels to describe historic people and events seems to primarily come up when we discuss queerness, and no one seems to be arguing quite as fiercely if it is right to describe what destroyed Pompeii as a volcano even though the word volcano didn't exist yet.
And in the end, regardless of what exactly she would have identified as given the spectrum of gender and sexuality labels that exist today, she was a remarkable person and deserves to have her story told without trying to hide parts of it, as many historians do.
She was in a romantic and sexual relationship with a woman, she dressed and was raised as a man would have been, she grew up choosing pieces from many identities, though settled fully with none, and none of this is shameful. She never hid them, so there is no reason for us to do any less than accept her for who and what she ultimately was; a great and beloved King of Sweden.
[Disclaimer: some of the sources may contain triggering material]
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