CHRISTINA OF SWEDEN: THE GIRL OF THE NORTHERN FIORDS.
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 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."
"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 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 unknown 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?"