Joan Of Arc
Catherine De Medici
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( Originally Published Early 1900's )
A. D. 1626-1689
WHO RESIGNED A CROWN
When the great and self-sacrificing Gustavus Adolphus fell mortally wounded on the field of Lützen, where he conducted a knightly war of defense against the Catholics, he left as heir to the throne of Sweden, Christina, a Princess only seven years old. This child was destined to arouse the interest and evoke the astonishment of the world. The stricken nation committed the regency to the chiefs of the five colleges, and Oxenstiern, the chancellor of Gustavus Adolphus, remained at the head of affairs. When Christina was 23 years old peace had been established on a basis that was glorious for Sweden, and Christina had proved herself a diligent scholar; who promised to be a worthy daughter of the noble and valorous King who had died for a principle. Yet she had already exhibited many evidences of eccentricity. She early took to violent exercise, and discovered an invincible repugnance to both the employments and the conversation of women. She invited Descartes, Vossius, Grotius and other famous scholars to her court, and liberally rewarded them out of a treasury that had been sorely taxed by the wars. The jealous Swedes declared that she even made peace, so that she could give more hours to study. "I think I see the devil," she said, "when my secretary enters with his dispatches." Meanwhile she read the lives of Elizabeth and Isabella, and concluded that Elizabeth did wisely to keep free from a Ferdinand of her own. Like Elizabeth, Christina loved to study the ancient authors, and Polybius and Thucydides were her favorite authors. As she was an only daughter and child, the statesmen of Sweden, of course, were kept in anxiety regarding her successor, as their own estates might be swallowed up in a civil war should she die without an heir. All the eligible Princes of Europe offered their hands the Prince of Denmark, the Elector Palatine, the Elector of Brandenburg, the King of Spain, the King of the Romans, Don John of Austria, Sigismund of Cassovia, the King of Poland, and John Casimir his brother, and, above all, her first cousin, son of her aunt, her father's sister, Charles Gustavus, generalissimo of the armies, who was her devoted flatterer and lover. While he had been absent in Germany he had obtained permission to correspond with the young Queen, and lost no opportunity to advance his own interests; indeed, those interests served to conspire with the needs of the state. Arckenholtz, the principal biographer of the Queen, says that the ardent lover declared, in one of his letters, that, if her Majesty persisted in her refusal to marry him, he on his side would decline the honor she proposed for him of reigning after her, and would banish himself forever from Sweden.
In February, 1650, Christina called her Senate together, announced her unwillingness to marry, and nominated Charles Gustavus to be her successor on the throne. To this the statesmen finally assented, and preparations for the coronation began. Custom demanded that the ceremony should take place at Upsala, but the desire for a magnificent spectacle carried it to Stockholm, whereat the superstitious foresaw evil. Moreover, Christina had constantly complained of the duties of office. She desired reflection and retirement, philosophical tranquillity, and affected an aversion for pomp, power, grandeur, and all the dress and splendor of a court. She had a wide correspondence with scholars. She purchased Titian's paintings at a great price, yet cut the canvases to make them fit the panels of her walls. "She aspired," says Arckenholtz, "to become the sovereign of the learned; to dictate in the lyceum as she had done in the Senate." "Do not force me to marry," she would say to her ministers, "for, if I should have a son, it is not more probable that he should be an Augustus than a Nero."
While she was at the chapel of the Castle of Stockholm, assisting at divine service with the principal lords, an insane assassin made an attack on her life. He chose the moment in which the assembly was engaged in what in the Swedish Church was called an "act of recollection," a silent act of devotion, performed by each individual, who knelt and covered the face with the hand. Taking this opportunity, when no one would be looking, he rushed through the crowd and mounted a balustrade within which the Queen was on her knees. The Baron Braki (or Brahé) was alarmed, and cried out; the guards interposed with their pikes, but the assassin got past them, and aimed a blow at the Queen with a knife, The Queen avoided the blow, and pushed the captain of her guards, who threw himself on the assassin, and seized him by the hair. The man was known to be mad, and was locked up. The Queen proceeded with the service, without emotion.
At another time, some ships-of-war were finishing at Stockholm, and she went to inspect them. As Admiral Fleming was going on board, across a narrow plank, holding the Queen by the hand, his foot slipped and he fell in the sea, carrying her with him. Steinberg, the Queen's first equerry, threw himself in the water, laid hold of her robe, and, with assistance, pulled her ashore. The moment her lips were above water, she cried : "Take care of the Admiral !" She was not violently agitated, and dined the same day in public, where she gave a humorous account of her adventure.
Christina's court soon became a veritable academy. There came Saumaise, Paschal, Bochart, Gassendi, Naudé, Heinsius, Meibom, Scuderi, Ménage, Lucas, Holstenius, Lambecius, Bayle (of Bayle's Dictionary or Encyclopedia), Madame Dacier, and many others. These people of genius all celebrate her in the works which they have left to the world, once more proving that it is profitable for a Prince to patronize the arts. Yet it may be clearly seen that she had enough literary material on hand for a big row, and it came when Saumaise (Salmasius) introduced the adventurer Michon, who called himself Bourdelot. He attempted the rôle of Aristophanes, and made sport of the scholars, thus amusing the Queen. The Count Magnus de la Gardie, son of the Constable of Sweden, was the favorite and lover of Christina, but he aroused her jealousy because he revealed a tendency to govern. Bourdelot, to the great scandal of the Swedes, supplanted Magnus, and gained such an ascendency over the Queen that public indignation compelled her to banish him. Soon after, she spoke of him with hatred and contempt. But the incident was painful, and awoke some resentment in her mind against the Swedes, who, all along, had detested her associates and regarded them with the aversion usually bestowed on foreigners.
Coupled with Christina's distaste for marriage came a contemplation of the nuns of the Catholic Church. She heard about them when she was but nine years old, and that the unmarried state was held to be meritorious. "Ah," cried the child, "how fine that is! That shall be my religion !" For such thoughts, of course, she was gravely reprimanded no Catholic could rule in Sweden. Later on, the same desire revealed itself in her conversation. She expressed the want of that gratification she would feel if she could believe as "so many noble spirits had believed for i,600 years; if she could belong to a faith attested by millions of martyrs, confirmed by millions of miracles above all," she would conclude, showing here her main thought, "which has produced so many admirable virgins, who have risen above the frailties of their sex, and consecrated their lives to God."
With these ideas uppermost in her mind she set out to study religion, and for this purpose was desirous of hearing the most eloquent advocates of each sect and faith. This may have been the ruling cause which brought scholars to the court. The arguments of any one sect against its adversary she turned back against itself. Thus she would compare the acts of Moses with those of Mohammed; she contemplated the thoughts of the ancients, the gentiles, and the atheists. She remained a natural believer in the existence of God, and thus returned ever and again to the thought that there must be some way of worshiping Him more becoming than another. At last she began to believe that the eternal safety of the soul was in question. At this stage in her contemplations she began to intrigue, it may be said, with the Catholic Church.
There was at the court a Portuguese Ambassador who could speak no Swedish; when he came into the royal presence, he was compelled to address the Queen through his confessor, a Jesuit named Father Macedo. While the Ambassador vainly imagined the Queen was talking on Portuguese relations, she was engaged in religious controversies with Macedo. Finally, in this manner, she confided to him the astounding intelligence that she desired to join the Catholic Church. On this Macedo disappeared. Christina proposed to pursue him with officers. But she had secretly dispatched him to the general of the Jesuits at Rome, who was entreated to send to her some of the most trusted members of his order. She received answer that Malines and Casati, two highly trusted fathers, would arrive in Stockholm toward the end of February.
While the Queen was at supper, two gentlemen who had traveled complained of the cold, but General Wachmeister rallied them, and said the two Italians on the journey with them had not shown such fear of the cold. The Queen asked if the Italians were musicians; the general said they were two gentlemen traveling to see the country. The Queen said she would by all manner of means like to see them. The next day they were presented to Magnus, the favorite, who at once took them to her majesty. She, on her part, reckoning the time to be ripe for the Jesuits to come, took occasion to secretly say, "Perhaps you have letters for me!" To this Casati, without turning his head, said yes. "Do not mention them to anyone !" whispered Christina. Later she secretly received the letters. "When she was alone with us," says Casati, (writing to Alexander VII afterward and signing himself "the most humble and obedient son in Christ of your Holiness, Paolo Casati, of the Company of Jesus") "her Majesty began to thank us in the most courteous terms for the pains we had taken in making the voyage on her account. She assured us that whatever danger might arise to us from being discovered, we should not fear, since she would not suffer that evil should befall us. She charged us to be secret and not to confide in anyone, pointing out by name some of those to whom she feared we might give our confidence in process of time. She encouraged us to hope that if she should receive satisfaction, our journey should not have been made in vain."
The Jesuits thought to begin with the catechism, but Christina set out on questions of the most recondite nature namely, good and evil, Providence, immortality, external forms and their utility. The Jesuits were some-what puzzled for arguments to uphold the invocation of the saints, and the veneration of images and saints, but Christina, being the better controvertist, supplied these missing defences, to the joy of the fathers, who at once decided that she was under the immediate direction of the Holy Ghost. Some days she would coquette with them. They would do well to go, she would tell them, she thought she would never be wholly reconciled. This the fathers would attribute to Satan. "What would you say," she would then ask suddenly, "if I were nearer to becoming a Catholic than you suppose?" "We seemed like men raised from the dead," says Casati. Could not the Pope grant permission to receive the Lord's supper once a year according to Luther's rite? The fathers said nay. "Then," said Christina, "there is no help. I must resign the crown."
The Jesuits departed for Rome, to acquaint the Church with its victory over a Queen of the heretics, and to pre-pare for her solemn and triumphant entry into the pale of the true faith. As early as October, 1651, when Father Macedo disappeared, Christina had mentioned officially the possibility of her abdication. It had been first talked of at Paris, the literary coterie having posted off the news. Christina told her Senate that, if she resigned, Gustavus, the heir, her cousin, could secure a more desirable marriage. The Senate pleaded, and Christina withdrew her resignation, but with the condition that she should not be pressed to marry. Yet Gustavus did not despair of winning her, and renewed his court without success. Two years later, the news spread over Sweden that the Queen still meant to abdicate. Because she was the daughter of Gustavus Adolphus, and because her reign had been very prosperous, a change to the young generalissimo was regarded with gloomy apprehensions. Her religious state of mind was still a secret. The Senate met at Upsala and responded eloquently to her speech announcing abdication, that they had expected her promises to continue the government would have been of longer duration. The new Prince, Charles (Karl X), was put under obligations to pay her 200,000 rix-dollars a year, and several provinces were signed over to her to assure her pension. On the 21st of May she solemnly fixed on the 24th of June, 1654, as the day when she should cease to be Queen. Her oration drew tears from the eyes of the Senate. The day before the time when she would no more be Queen, she insulted the Portuguese minister-resident, ordering him by private letter to quit Sweden, but the Senate, on learning of her mad act, sent privately to the minister, and told him to be patient, for the Queen's power would endure but a few days longer, when amends should be made to him. It seems probable that this proceeding was merely a ruse, to shield the Portuguese people.
June 24, 1654, the last direct scion of the race of Vasa stood before her Senate. The aged Count Brahé refused to take the crown from her head which he had placed there a few years before. He considered the bond between Prince and subject to be indissoluble, and held the proceedings before him to be unlawful. It was in opposition to the will of God, to the common right of nations, and to the oath by which she was bound to the realm of Sweden and to her subjects he was no honest man who had given her Majesty such counsel.* The Queen was on this account compelled to lift the crown from her own head, as this was the only way the aged statesman would receive it. With crown and scepter laid aside, in a plain white dress, Christina then received the last homage of her estates, or houses. The speaker of the House of Peasants knelt before her, shook her hand and kissed it repeatedly, burst into tears, and thus departed from the daughter of his adored Gustavus Adolphus. This was the very moving sentimental side of the scene, but the machinations of the Jesuits were known to at least a few, and the operations of Christina were carefully watched, so that she feared her plans might yet miscarry. A fleet awaited her, but while she intrusted her property to the ships, she did not intend to so intrust her person. She was by this time almost a foe of her country, and the Swedes did well to be careful. The blunt warriors of the Northland had-made a jest of Christina's dead languages; her disputes about vortices, innate ideas, etc.; her taste for medals, statues, pictures; her payments to the makers of books, like Salmasius. In this way she had come to despise her fellow-countrymen as barbarians. She took everything curious or valuable out of the royal palace, put it on ship, and then, giving everybody the slip, set out by carriage for Hamburg. When she came to a little brook that then separated Sweden from Denmark, she got out of her carriage, and, leaping to the other side, cried out "At last I am free, and out of Sweden, whither, I hope, I shall never return." She dismissed her women and assumed the dress of a man, not an unusual thing to do when traveling in those times. "I would become a man," she said, "yet I do not love men because they are men, but because they are not women." She prepared to publicly embrace the ancient faith at Brussels, and solemnly renounced Lutheranism at Innspruck. Her act was the reigning sensation in France. At Brussels she met the great Condé, who made that city his asylum. "Cousin," said she, "who would have thought, ten years ago, that we should nave met at this distance from our countries?" "How great is the magnanimity of a Princess," said he, "who could so easily give up that for which the rest of mankind are continually destroying each other, and pursue throughout their whole lives without attaining." The venerable Pope Innocent, suspecting that a public reception at Rome would be expensive, saved his money and reserved the honor for his successor, Alexander VII, by suggesting delay. When Alexander invited her, promising his benediction, she hastened toward Rome, and offered her crown and scepter to the Virgin at Loretto. All the cities of the Roman states gave her a public reception, and the new Pope, whose ambition was gratified by this Catholic triumph over Protestant-ism, exhausted the apostolic treasury to celebrate with due solemnity the conversion of the learned daughter of the great heretic. It was at Rome, that, in honor of the Pope, she adopted the second name of Alexandra, which she after wardbore. She rode on horseback in Amazon costume and the vast crowds that Rome turns out were astir with exultation. Triumphal arches, illuminations, feasts, flags, and processions celebrated her act of homage to the Pope.
The principal mistake that Christina made, and the one that showed she was insane, was her failure to under-stand that she had resigned her rule, and was only a private person. We shall see her, to the end of her life, acting as a crowned head, therefore a pretender. She set up an expensive establishment at Rome, began the purchase of antiquities, curios, and paintings, and was soon robbed by servants of all her ready money. Then she pawned her jewels, and all the money so obtained was used or wasted. Contemplating a journey to Paris, she wrote to the Pope, begging that his Holiness would recommend some merchant to lend her money. The Pope, rather than to assume the responsibility of the debts that might accrue, sent a confidential ecclesiastic with a present of 10,000 scudi, with certain medals of gold and silver that had been struck in honor of the Queen's entry, excusing the smallness of the sum by the exhaustion of the treasury. The Queen, in thanking him, wept more than once, both from motives of gratitude and mortification.
In 1656 she traveled in France, to Compičgne, Paris and Fontainebleau, as Queen Christine Alexandrie. The learned men of Europe who had been her guests and pensioners, prepared for her a brilliant reception, at least in the world of letters, and the women of fashion were on tip-toe to see her. She affected to disdain their good will. "What makes these women so fond of me?" she asked. "Is it because I am so like a man ?" Upon this the women turned on her, almost with one accord. They criticised her high shoulder, her small figure, the negligence of her attire, and her miserable retinue. On her return toward Italy she visited the celebrated Ninon de l'Enclos at her country seat, who was the only woman in France to whom Christina made any profession of warm esteem. France was conventional, and its women did not approve the manners or conversation of Christina.
When Christina met the poet Scarron and his wife in Paris* the following colloquy ensued :
"I permit you," Christina said to Scarron, "to fall in love with me. The Queen of France created you her patient; I will create you my Orlando."
"You do well to appoint me your lover," he replied, "for I should have usurped the office."
The Queen, looking at Madame Scarron (afterward Maintenon) who was pretty— "Nothing less than a Queen could make a man unfaithful to this lady. I am not surprised that, with the most amiable woman in Paris you are, in spite of your infirmities, the merriest man in France."
In the autumn of 1657 she returned to France, establishing her sorry court at Fontainebleau. Her arrival aroused no attention, as her affair was no longer a novelty. She wrote with eagerness to the heads of the Fronde faction, offering to arbitrate on the differences of princes who had been at war a hundred years. She began a course of political intrigue which warned the cabinets that she was likely to become a dangerous visitor in any land. She learned that Louis XIV, then very young, was in love with Mademoiselle de Mancini, niece of Cardinal Mazarin. She encouraged the affair of the lovers, and offered her services. "I would fain be your confidante," said she, "if you love, you must marry." While she was rude to the court ladies, and gave trouble to the ministry, she was oblivious of public opinion, and still often wore men's clothes. She seemed to the French like a Russian or barbarian potentate, and soon, to the horror of the court, per-formed an act of absolute sovereignty at Fontainebleau worthy of the son of Catherine de' Medici. She had always, when angry, threatened death to her offenders. When she sent her secretary to Stockholm to see about her delayed annuity payment, she said : "If you fail in your duty, not all the power of the King of Sweden shall save your life, though you take shelter in his very arms." A musician left her to perform for the Duke of Savoy. She wrote, in a high rage, "If he do not sing for me, he shall not sing long for anybody." Thus she was likely to gather about her people of unbridled passions and loose manners, and the quarrels of her household became th* talk of Rome. When she established herself at Fontainebleau she learned that the Master of her Horse, the Marquis Monaldeschi, her favorite, had been guilty of a breach of trust. This charge was made by Ludovico, on letters from his brother in Rome. Ludovico was a rival lover of Christina. The accused man was brought before the Queen, and confessed his deeds. She chose to interpret his act as -high treason, sentenced him to death, appointed his rival as his executioner, told him to confess his soul to Father Lebel, and, in the presence of that terrified priest, the equerry was slain, his blood staining the walls and floor of the gallery. In one of the rooms of the palace to-day is an inscription pointing out the place where Monaldeschi fell. She held that it was beneath her dignity to place him before any tribunal, however high it might be. "To acknowledge no superior," she exclaimed, "is worth more than to govern the whole world." The French Government, while it made no inquiry into the murder, ordered her out of France, but she did not at once obey even this order, returning to Rome in the spring of 1658.
She had hopes of being elected Queen of Poland, where she could reign as a Catholic, but failed in the negotiations. The Swedes neglected the payment of her annuity, not-withstanding the extreme care with which she had provided for her financial future before abdication. And though she was by this time quarreling with the Pope, she was forced to accept _from him an annuity of only 1,200 scudi. In 1660, when the short reign of Charles Gustavus (Karl X) ended in his death, she hastened to Stockholm to claim the throne, for several reasons, the main ones being pecuniary. But the throne belonged to the son of Charles, Charles XI, a minor. Christina was a Catholic, and the Swedes had been horrified by the license and vulgarity of her career, which had brought ill-repute on their race. In order to assure herself of her income, she was compelled to sign a more binding deed of abdication, which, while it might wound her pride, materially advanced her condition at Rome, for we hear no more of financial embarrassments. It seems that the Prince who owed his throne to her was meaner in his payments than the son who succeeded on the throne. The next seven or eight years she spent in the cities of Europe, where, after many rebuffs, she learned that she could not be received as a visiting sovereign, nor could she be permitted the public practice of her religion in countries where Protestant bigotry ran high in revenge for Catholic fanaticism else-where. She would have visited Cromwell, but that hard-hearted Puritan would not welcome her. At last, after she was convinced that she could not be Queen of Poland, she returned to reside permanently at Rome, where the Holy Father, regarding her as a spoiled child, allowed her many indulgences. She abhorred the direction of father-confessors, who at that time directed domestic life. She entered gaily into the amusements of the carnival, concerts, dramatic entertainments, or whatever else would amuse her. Yet by degrees her character grew milder, and she entered on the last twenty years of her life in a manner and with tranquil habits that have reflected no ordinary luster on her name. She became well pleased with the life of the Romans, and, in her advancing years, reaped the honor and distinction due to her attainments. She took a constantly increasing part in the splendor, the life, and the business of the Roman Curia or court, and believed she could live happily nowhere else.
The collections she had brought from Sweden she now arranged and enlarged with liberal purchases, showing so much good judgment that her palace surpassed in its treasures the houses of the ancient nobles, and the pursuit was raised at once out of the lines of curiosity into those of profound scholarship. Sante Bartolo described her cameos. Havercamp has described her coins in his work, "Nummophylacium Regina Christine (in the Museum Odescaleum) ; Spanheim wrote on her coins and medals; and Schroder wrote his "Berichte uber die Gemälde und Statuen der Königin Christine." Her collection of paintings by Correggio made her name forever famous among students of the old masters. Her collection of manuscripts and autographs is now in the Vatican Library. She spent nearly all of her working time in labors of this kind, which were vastly for the good of history, and built herself a solid and durable name, so that, after all, her early desire for a greater celebrity than could come to a small northern sovereign was answered more favorably than she could know.
When the learned Doctor Borelli was exiled because he had studied the mechanics of animal motion, he was compelled to teach in his extreme age. Not only did Christina come to his assistance with a pension, but she printed at her own cost his work, which instantly became renowned, and overturned some of the theories of the time.
Ranke, in his "Lives of the Popes," thinks that, when her character and intellect had been improved and matured, she exercised an efficient and enduring influence on Italian literature. "The labyrinth of perverted metaphor, inflated extravagance, labored conceit, and vapid triviality," says he, "into which Italian poetry had then wandered is well known. Christina was too highly cultivated and too solidly endowed to be ensnared by such a fashion it was her utter aversion. In the year 1680 she founded an academy in her own residence for the discussion of literary and political subjects. The first rule of this institution was, that its members should carefully abstain from the turgid style, overloaded with false ornament, which prevailed at the time, and be guided only by sound sense.
From the Queen's academy proceeded such men as Alessandro Guido, who had been previously addicted to the style then used, but, after some time passed in the society of Christina, not only resolved to abandon it, but formed a league to abolish it altogether." The celebrated Arcadia at Rome grew out of Christina's labors.
In the politics of Rome she warmly attached herself to Cardinal Azzolini, chief of the Squadronisti party. She held that Azzolini was the most God-like and spiritual-minded man in the world the only person she would exalt above her father's Chancellor, Oxenstiern. Ranke says she desired to do Azzolini justice in her memoirs, but that was accomplished only in part, yet sufficiently "to give proof of earnestness and uprightness of purpose in her dealings with herself, with a freedom and firmness of mind before which all calumny is silenced."
Arckenholtz has collected Christina's apothegms and leisure-hour thoughts. They betoken great knowledge of the world, and an acquaintance with the passions, such as could be attained by experience only, with the most subtle remarks on them. She had a vital conviction of the power of self-direction residing in the mind, and was a believer in the high nobility of the better order of human beings. She sought to follow only her own ideas of what would satisfy the Creator.
She died in high regard at Rome in 1689, aged 63, and was buried with pomp in St. Peter's, the Pope himself writing her epitaph. Her monument today may be seen in the Chapel of St. Colonna. It is decorated with a representation of her abjuration of Protestantism at Innspruck Cathedral in 1665. Her manuscripts went to the Vatican, and a part of her paintings and antiques was purchased by Odescalchi, nephew of Pope Innocent XI. The other part went to France, being purchased by the Regent Duke of Orleans in the minority of Louis XV, and may now be found in the Louvre.
A Swedish historian, Fryxell, in accounting for the vagaries of Christina's earlier years, which almost disappeared in the end, traces the cause to a taint of insanity in the blood of the royal line of Sweden. Erik, the poet, before her, and Charles XII, after her, were worse afflicted with similar misfortunes.
We have here reviewed briefly the career of a woman who, when all is said, made a vast sacrifice in order to satisfy her conscience. Whatever the anger of Protestants, and however serious the imputations caused by her eccentricities, she gave an example of doing right according to her conscience that must remain as a bright example to the race. She had the mettle that Joan of Arc possessed in a darker age, and she was more soundly trained in art, thought and learning than any woman of these pages this side of Aspasia. She ought not to be ranked with the women of greatest literary genius, yet she probably was the most scholarly and meditative woman who has worn a crown in Christendom.