Queen Christina of Sweden (1626-1689), also known as Christina Alexandra and Countess Dohna, stands out in history as a figure of "an extraordinarily brilliant intelligence" (Stolpe 4). In fact, her passion for knowledge sparked a deep, intellectual relationship between herself and renowned philosopher René Descartes.

The only heir to the throne of her father, King Gutavus Adolphus, Christina reigned as queen of Sweden from 1634 to 1654, taking the throne at a mere six years of age and abandoning it after her conversion to Roman Catholicism. Her mother, Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg, disliked Christina greatly as a child largely because she wanted a son. For this reason, Christina's father played the most prominent role in her upbringing. Even after his tragic death in the Seven Years's War, the influence of King Gustavus Adolphus was central to the young queen's life. Her father had ordered for Christina to be raised as a prince, therefore allowing her to receive an education from theologian Johannes Matthiae Gothus in the areas of Greek, history, Latin, modern languages, philosophy, and religion. Queen Christina's reputation as a learned person continues today due to the rarity of a woman in her period achieving such an advanced level of education.

Carlyle makes reference to Queen Christina and her relationship with Descartes in his discussion of the changing nature of the learning process. During her tenure as queen, Christina began a correspondence with Descartes through mutual acquaintance French ambassador Chanut. Topics of interest between the two included the possibility of an infinite universe, natural human propensities, and some aspects of Catholicism. King Gustavus Adolphus had practiced Lutheranism strictly throughout his lifetime, yet Christina identified more with the tenets of Catholicism after discovering that much of the faith agreed with the scientific and philosophical findings of the time. In fact, with Descartes for, "perhaps for the first time in her life, Christina was encountering a thinker who had no qualms in holding that the teaching of the natural sciences and the doctrine of the Church might agree" (Stolpe 118). Eventually Descartes made a visit to Christina's home in Stockholm in which the two discussed philosophy in a series of tutorial meetings. Carlyle's reference to the teacher-pupil relationship exemplified by Queen Christina and Descartes serves to draw a direct comparison between the advent of self-teaching recently made possible by the mass accessibility of printed books, and the older method of teacher-student learning characteristic of previous periods.


Stolpe, Sven. Christina of Sweden. New York: Macmillan Company, 1966. (I only used Chapter One, Section one; and Chapter Eight)

"Christina of Sweden." Wikipedia. 2009. Wikimedia Foundation. 29 March 2009.

Last modified 30 March 2009