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Historic Girls by  E. S. Brooks


 

 

CHRISTINA OF SWEDEN, THE GIRL OF THE NORTHERN FIORDS

A.D. 1636

[192] THERE were tears and trouble in Stockholm; there was sorrow in every house and hamlet in Sweden; there was consternation throughout Protestant Europe. Gustavus Adolphus was dead! The "Lion of the North" had fallen on the bloody and victorious field of Lutzen, and only a very small girl of six stood as the representative of Sweden's royalty.

The States of Sweden—that is, the representatives of the different sections and peoples of the kingdom—gathered in haste within the Riddarhaus, or Hall of Assembly, in Stockholm. There was much anxious controversy over the situation. The nation was in desperate strait, and some were for one thing and some were for another. There was even talk of making the government a republic, like the state of Venice; and the supporters of [193] the king of Poland, cousin to the dead King Gustavus, openly advocated his claim to the throne.

But the Grand Chancellor, Axel Oxenstiern, one of Sweden's greatest statesmen, acted promptly.

"Let there be no talk between us," he said, "of Venetian republics or of Polish kings. We have but one king—the daughter of the immortal Gustavus!"

Then up spoke one of the leading representatives of the peasant class, Lars Larsson, the deputy from the western fiords.

"Who is this daughter of Gustavus?" he demanded. "How do we know this is no trick of yours, Axel Oxenstiern? How do we know that King Gustavus has a daughter? We have never seen her."

"You shall see her at once," replied the Chancellor; and leaving the Hall for an instant, he returned speedily, leading a little girl by the hand. With a sudden movement he lifted her to the seat of the high silver throne that could only be occupied by the kings of Sweden.

"Swedes, behold your king!"

Lars Larsson, the deputy, pressed close to the throne on which the small figure perched silent, yet with a defiant little look upon her face.

"She hath the face of the Grand Gustavus," he said. "Look, brothers, the nose, the eyes, the very brows are his."

[194] "Aye," said Oxenstiern; "and she is a soldier's daughter. I myself did see her, when scarce three years old, clap her tiny hands and laugh aloud when the guns of Calmar fortress thundered a salute. 'She must learn to bear it,' said Gustavus our king; 'she is a soldier's daughter.' "

"Hail, Christina!" shouted the assembly, won by the proud bearing of the little girl and by her likeness to her valiant father. "We will have her and only her for our queen!"

"Better yet, brothers," cried Lars Larsson, now her most loyal supporter; "she sits upon the throne of the kings; let her be proclaimed King of Sweden."

And so it was done. And with their wavering loyalty kindled into a sudden flame, the States of Sweden "gave a mighty shout" and cried as one man, "Hail, Christina, King of Sweden!"

There was strong objection in Sweden to the rule of a woman; and the education of this little girl was rather that of a prince than of a princess. She was taught to ride and to shoot, to hunt and to fence, to undertake all of a boy's exercises, and to endure all a boy's privations. She could bring down a hare, at the first shot, from the back of a galloping horse; she could outride the most expert huntsman in her train.

So she grew from childhood into girlhood, and [195] at thirteen was as bold and fearless, as wilful and self-possessed as any young fellow of twenty-one. But besides all this she was a wonderful scholar; indeed, she would be accounted remarkable even in these days of bright girl-graduates. At thirteen she was a thorough Greek scholar; she was learned in mathematics and astronomy, the classics, history, and philosophy; and she acquired of her own accord German, Italian, Spanish, and French.

Altogether, this girl Queen of the North was as strange a compound of scholar and hoyden, pride and carelessness, ambition and indifference, culture and rudeness, as ever, before her time or since, were combined in the nature of a girl of thirteen. And it is thus that our story finds her.

One raw October morning in the year 1639, there was stir and excitement at the palace in Stockholm. A courier had arrived bearing important dispatches to the Council of Regents which governed Sweden during the minority of the Queen, and there was no one to officially meet him.

Closely following the lackey who received him, the courier strode into the council-room of the palace. But the council-room was vacant.

It was not a very elegant apartment, this council-room of the palace of the kings of Sweden. Although a royal apartment, its appearance was ample proof that the art of decoration was as yet un- [196] known in Sweden. The room was untidy and disordered; the council-table was strewn with the ungathered litter of the last day's council, and even the remains of a coarse lunch mingled with all this clutter. The uncomfortable-looking chairs all were out of place, and above the table was a sort of temporary canopy to prevent the dust and spiders' webs upon the ceiling from dropping upon the councillors.

The courier gave a sneering look upon this evidence that the refinement and culture which marked at least the palaces and castles of other European countries were as yet little considered in Sweden. Then, important and impatient, he turned to the attendant. "Well," he said, "and is there none here to receive my dispatches? They call for—houf! so! what manners are these?"

What manners indeed! The courier might well ask this. For, plump against him, as he spoke, dashed, first a girl and then a boy who had darted from somewhere into the council-chamber. Too absorbed in their own concerns to notice who, if any one, was in the room, they had run against and very nearly upset the astonished bearer of dispatches. Still more astonished was he, when the girl, using his body as a barrier against her pursuer, danced and dodged around him to avoid being caught by her pursuer—a fine-looking young [197] lad of about her own age—Karl Gustav, her cousin. The scandalized bearer of dispatches to the Swedish Council of Regents shook himself free from the girl's strong grasp and seizing her by the shoulder, demanded, sternly:

"How now, young mistress! Is this seemly conduct toward a stranger and an imperial courier?"

The girl now for the first time noticed the presence of a stranger. Too excited in her mad dash into the room to distinguish him from one of the palace servants, she only learned the truth by the courier's harsh words. A sudden change came over her. She drew herself up haughtily and said to the attendant:

"And who is this officious stranger, Klas?

The tone and manner of the question again surprised the courier, and he looked at the speaker, amazed. What he saw was an attractive young girl of thirteen, short of stature, with bright hazel eyes, a vivacious face, now almost stern in its expression of pride and haughtiness. A man's fur cap rested upon the mass of tangled light-brown hair which, tied imperfectly with a simple knot of ribbon, fell down upon her neck. Her short dress of plain gray stuff hung loosely about a rather trim figure; and a black scarf, carelessly tied, encircled her neck. In short, he saw a rather pretty, care- [198] lessly dressed, healthy, and just now very haughty-looking young girl, who seemed more like a boy in speech and manners,—and one who needed to be disciplined and curbed.

Again the question came: "Who is this man, and what seeks he here, Klas? I ask."

" 'T is a courier with dispatches for the council, Madam," replied the man.

"Give me the dispatches," said the girl; "I will attend to them."

"You, indeed!" The courier laughed grimly. "The dispatches from the Emperor of Germany are for no hairbrained maid to handle. These are to be delivered to the Council of Regents alone."

"I will have naught of councils or regents, Sir Courier, save when it pleases me," said the girl, tapping the floor with an angry foot. "Give me the dispatches, I say,—I am the King of Sweden!"

"You—a girl—king?" was all that the astonished courier could stammer out. Then, as the real facts dawned upon him, he knelt at the feet of the young queen and presented his dispatches.

"Withdraw, sir!" said Christina, taking the papers from his hand with but the scant courtesy of a nod; "we will read these and return a suitable answer to your master."


[Illustration]

"I AM THE KING OF SWEDEN," SAID CHRISTINA.

The courier withdrew, still dazed at this strange [200] turn of affairs; and Christina, leaning carelessly against the council-table, opened the dispatches.

Suddenly she burst into a merry but scarcely lady-like laugh. "Ha, ha, ha! this is too rare a joke, Karl," she cried. "Lord Chancellor, Mathias, Torstenson!" she exclaimed, as these members of her council entered the apartment, "what think you? Here come dispatches from the Emperor of Germany begging that you, my council, shall consider the wisdom of wedding me to his son and thereby closing the war! His son, indeed! Ferdinand the Craven!"

"And yet, Madam," suggested the wise Oxenstiern, "it is a matter that should not lightly be cast aside. In time you must needs be married. The constitution of the kingdom doth oblige you to."

"Oblige!" and the young girl turned upon the gray-headed chancellor almost savagely. "Oblige! and who, Sir Chancellor, upon earth shall oblige  me to do so, if I do it not of mine own will? Say not oblige  to me."

This was vigorous language for a girl of scarce fourteen; but it was "Christina's way," one with which both the Council and the people soon grew familiar. It was the Vasa nature in her, and it [201] was always prominent in this spirited young girl—the last descendant of that masterful house.

But now the young Prince Karl Gustavus had something to say.

"Ah, cousin mine," and he laid a strong though boyish hand upon the young girl's arm. "What need for couriers or dispatches that speak of suitors for your hand? Am not I to be your husband? From babyhood you have so promised me."

Christina again broke into a loud and merry laugh.

"Hark to the little burgomaster," she cried; "much travel hath made him, I do fear me, soft in heart and head. Childish promises, Karl. Let such things be forgotten now. You are to be a soldier—I, a queen."

"And yet, Madam," said Mathias, her tutor, "all Europe hath for years regarded Prince Karl as your future husband."

"And what care I for that?" demanded the girl, hotly. "Have done, have done, sirs! You do weary me with all this. Let us to the hunt. Axel Dagg did tell me of a fine roebuck in the Maelar woods. See you to the courier of the Emperor and [202] to his dispatches, Lord Chancellor; I care not what you tell him, if you do but tell him no. And, stay; where is that round little Dutchman, Van Beunigen, whom you did complain but yesterday was sent among us by his government to oppose the advices of our English friends. He is a greater scholar than horseman, or I mistake. Let us take him in our hunting-party, Karl; and see to it that he doth have one of our choicest horses."

The girl's mischief was catching. Her cousin dropped his serious look, and, seeking the Dutch envoy, with due courtesy invited him to join the Queen's hunt.

"Give him black Hannibal, Jous," Christina had said to her groom; and when the Dutch envoy, Van Beunigen, came out to join the hunting-party, too much flattered by the invitation to remember that he was a poor horseman, Jous, the groom, held black Hannibal in unsteady check, while the big horse champed and fretted, and the hunting-party awaited the new member.

But Jous, the groom, noted the Dutchman's somewhat alarmed look at the big black animal.

"Would it not be well, good sir," he said, "that you do choose some steadier animal than Hannibal here? I pray you let me give you one less restive. So, Bror Andersson," he called to one of the under-grooms, "let the noble envoy have your cob, and take you back Hannibal to the stables."

[203] But no, the envoy of the States of Holland would submit to no such change. He ride a servant's horse, indeed!

"Why, sirrah groom," he said to good-hearted Jous, "I would have you know that I am no novice in the equestrian art. Far from it, man. I have read every treatise on the subject from Xenophon downward; and what horse can know more than I?"

So friendly Jous had nothing more to say, but hoisted the puffed-up Dutch scholar into the high saddle; and away galloped the hunt toward the Maelar woods.

As if blind to his own folly, Van Beunigen, the envoy, placed himself near to the young Queen; and Christina, full of her own mischief, began gravely to compliment him on his horsemanship, and suggested a gallop.

Alas, fatal moment. For while he yet swayed and jolted upon the back of the restive Hannibal, and even endeavored to discuss with the fair young scholar who rode beside him, the "Melanippe" of Euripides, the same fair scholar—who, in spite of all her Greek learning was only a mischievous and sometimes very rude young girl—faced him with a sober countenance.

"Good Herr Van Beunigen," she said, "your Greek is truly as smooth as your face. But it seems to me you do not sufficiently catch the spirit of the poet's lines commmencing

[204]

{"To raise vain laughter, many exercise the arts of satire."}

—Euripides

Just what this (the greek phrase) should be she never declared, for, as the envoy of Holland turned upon her a face on which Greek learning and anxious horsemanship struggled with one another, Christina slyly touched black Hannibal lightly with her riding-whip.

Light as the touch was, however, it was enough. The unruly horse reared and plunged. The startled scholar, with a cry of terror, flung up his hands, and then clutched black Hannibal around the neck. Thus, in the manner of John Gilpin,

"His horse, who never in that way

Had handled been before,

What thing upon his back had got

Did wonder more and more.


"Away went Gilpin, neck or nought;

Away went hat and wig;

He never dreamt when he set out,

Of running such a rig."

Minus hat and wig, too, the poor envoy dashed up the Maelar highway, while Christina, laughing loudly, galloped after him in a mad race, followed by all her hunting-party.


[Illustration]

MINUS HAT AND WIG THE POOR ENVOY DASHED UP THE MAELER HIGHWAY.

The catastrophe was not far away. The black [206] horse, like the ill-tempered "bronchos" of our western plains, "bucked" suddenly, and over his head like a flash went the discomfited Dutchman. In an instant, Greek learning and Dutch diplomacy lay sprawling in a Swedish roadway, from which Jous, the groom, speedily lifted the groaning would-be horseman.

Even in her zeal for study, really remarkable in so young a girl, Christina could not forego her misguided love of power and her tendency to practical joking, and one day she even made two grave philosophers, who were holding a profound discussion in her presence over some deep philosophic subject, suddenly cease their arguments to play with her at battledore and shuttlecock.

A girlhood of uncontrolled power, such as hers, could lead but to one result. Self-gratification is the worst form of selfishness, and never can work good to any one. Although she was a girl of wonderful capabilities, of the blood of famous kings and conquerors, giving such promises of greatness that scholars and statesmen alike prophesied for her a splendid future, Christina, Queen of Sweden, made only a failure of her life.

At eighteen she had herself formally crowned as King  of Sweden. But at twenty-five she declared herself sick and tired of her duties as queen, and at twenty-eight, at the height of her power and [207] fame, she actually did resign her throne in favor of her cousin, Prince Karl,—publicly abdicated, and at once left her native land to lead the life of a disappointed wanderer.

The story of this remarkable woman is one that holds a lesson for all. Eccentric, careless, and fearless; handsome, witty, and learned; ambitious, shrewd, and visionary,—she was one of the strangest compounds of "unlikes" to be met with in history.

She deliberately threw away a crown, wasted a life that might have been helpful to her subjects, regarded only her own selfish and personal desires, and died a prematurely old woman at sixty-five, unloved and unhonored.

Her story, if it teaches any thing, assures us that it is always best to have in youth, whether as girl or boy, the guidance and direction of some will that is acknowledged and respected. Natures unformed or over-indulged, with none to counsel or command, generally go wrong. A mother's love, a father's care, these—though young people may not always read them aright—are needed for the moulding of character; while to every bright young girl, historic or unhistoric, princess or peasant, Swedish queen or modern American maiden, will it at last be apparent that the right way is always the way of modesty and gentleness, of high ambitions, perhaps, but, always and everywhere, of thoughtfulness for others and kindliness to all.


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