Monday 2 January 2012

The 12 Gays of Christmas

Kristina of Sweden (1626-1689)

For the final 3 Gays of Christmas I want to return to the Nativity story. As well as the angel Gabriel other essential characters in any school nativity play are the Three Kings. Mentioned in the Bible as an unspecified number of Wise Men (there could have been 2, there could have been 20). The traditional “Three Kings” originate in Medieval times. So, for the last 3 Gays I’ll present 3 kings with festive connections.

Two significant events took place at Christmas in 1654 and 1655. Significant, that is, for my 10th Gay of Christmas – King Kristina of Sweden. Her title of “King” was not a nickname. In Sweden all reigning monarchs are called “king” irrespective of their gender, though Kristina displayed a certain cross-gender behaviour that has placed her firmly in the lgbt community.

Even at her birth Kristina was subjected to speculation. Her lusty cries made those hearing them think she was a robust healthy boy. But it was clear Kristina was a girl. However, her father King Gustav Adolf treated her like a boy as much as possible, giving her a typical boy’s education and coaching her as his successor.

Her succession happened sooner rather than later. Scarcely after her education had begun Kristina’s father was killed in battle and she became King of Sweden at the age of 6. An intelligent and inquisitive teenager she impressed the Regents and State Council who had no worries about her ruling in her own right as king from her 18th birthday.

Kristina reigned well and wisely for 22 years and stunned everyone by abdicating at the age of 27 in 1654. She left Sweden and travelled around Europe under the guise of “Count Dohna”. On Christmas Eve 1654 she converted from Lutheranism to Catholicism. The pope considered her a “prize conversion” and welcomed Kristina to Rome in 1655 where they attended Holy Mass on 25th December. Kristina spent the rest of her life in Rome.

Kristina was often regarded as mannish in appearance and attire. She dismissed all ideas of marriage to secure the succession. The French referred to her as an Amazon because of her mannish style.

One clear relationship Kristina had was with a female courtier called Ebba Sparre. They were known to have shared a bed. I am wary to use the phrase “slept together” because it means something different, though there was an obvious love between them as is shown in the letters Kristina wrote to Ebba after she left Sweden.

The enigmatic nature of Kristina’s sexuality lingers over 400 years after her death. The famous film of 1933 in which the equally enigmatic Swede Greta Garbo played Kristina didn’t shy away from portraying Kristina in an honest manner. As much as anything else, the film only enhanced King Krstina’s place in lgbt history.

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