Sunday, 3 July 2011

New books: The woman who was king

As there is certainly no dearth of books on Queen Christina of Sweden one may wonder what are the historian Erik Petersson’s reasons for having written yet another one, titled Maktspelerskan – Drottning Kristinas revolt and published by Natur & Kultur a few months ago.
Petersson explains that he believes too many writers have explained Queen Christina’s abdication solely with her conversion to Catholicism. Instead he wants to focus on Christina as a political being and her approach to power and concludes that she abandoned her throne when she found it impossible to reconcile her role as a monarch with the role of a woman.
Christina, her father’s only child, was not yet six years old when King Gustaf II Adolf was killed at the Battle of Lützen in 1632. Thus it was a regency council, whose leading figure was the Chancellor of the Realm, Axel Oxenstierna, who ruled in her name until she reached her majority. The author shows how Christina gradually came to assert her independence from the regency council and even challenge them.
Her father, the “hero king”, had in wartime been replaced by a child, a child who was something so unusual in seventeenth century Europe as a female head of state. Petersson charts Christina’s upbringing, pointing out that she was raised as if she were a boy as she, unlike other girls of her times, had to learn how to be obeyed rather than how to obey. At her coronation she was proclaimed “King of Sweden”.
The author highlights the Queen’s growing discomfort with her position and how she realised that her position as monarch, considered male by nature, could hardly be reconciled with her role as a woman. As a married woman she would have had to subject herself to her husband, which would have been humiliating for her as a monarch. If forced into a marriage she would also have lost what she valued the most, her freedom, Petersson argues, and therefore she had to transform herself into something else than Queen of Sweden.
Already in 1651 she informed the State Council of her intention to abdicate, which she did in 1654, having in the meantime driven through the election of her cousin and rejected suitor Carl Gustaf as heir to the throne.
This is the author’s third book, which is particularly impressive considering that he is still only 26. For a long time Swedish historians tended to lock themselves away in their university offices in Uppsala or Lund and write books which were read by few outside academic circles, thus leaving the general public with an in interest in historical books to unreliable amateurs such as Herman Lindqvist. Erik Petersson takes his place among those modern historians who know how to present history to a wide readership in an accessible manner without relinquishing professional standards.

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