Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Possible Historical Intersex Person: Queen Christina of Sweden

I mentioned earlier that I wanted to write more about historical intersex people.  Today, as a buffer between H and I, I am writing about Queen Christina of Sweden, who was possibly intersex.
She was born in 1626 in Stockholm, the only heir to King Gustav II.  When she was born she was initially announced around the palace to be a male, this was quickly corrected, but certainly fuels the suspicion that she was intersex.  They say she was hairy and had a strong, coarse voice for a newborn.  

As the heir presumptive, she received a “princely education” including masculine activities such as fencing, archery, hunting and horsemanship.  She took to these activities with great enthusiasm.  By all accounts she was quite the tomboy.  She often wore men’s clothing and was said to walk and ride like a man and curse like a sailor.  In her autobiography she wrote that that she had “an insurmountable distaste for all the things that females talked about and did” again fueling the argument she was intersex.

At the age of 16 she became queen of Sweden at in 1632 when her father died in battle.  Her court and advisors strongly pushed her to marry to create a political alliance and produce a clear heir to the throne.  She was very opposed to the idea, claiming to have “an insurmountable distaste for marriage.”  This continued to fuel rumors at the time that she was a hermaphrodite or at least a lesbian.  She named her cousin Charles Gustav her successor, but this did not reduce the pressure. 

The pressure to marry grew to the point where she abdicated in 1654, at age 22, making Charles king.  She converted to Catholicism, a religion she long admired and may have fueled her abdication since Sweden was fiercely Lutheran.  She moved to Rome and joined the court of Pope Alexander VII, who was thrilled to host her, believing Sweden might convert with her.  She lived in Rome until her death in 1689 at age 62.  She is one of the few women buried in the Vatican vaults.

Because of the strong rumors about her being intersex, she was exhumed in 1965 to see if they could find any conclusive evidence.  Anthropologist Carl-Herman Hjortsjö lead the investigation.  He admitted that “Our imperfect knowledge concerning the effect of intersexuality on the skeletal formation makes it impossible to decide which positive skeletal findings should be demanded upon which to base the diagnosis of intersexuality.”  That being said he concluded the skeleton was typically female.  Was she intersex?  She might have been.  Some historians speculate that she had polycystic ovarian syndrome which has many symptoms including hirsutism and possibly even Aspergers, leading to a disregard for social norms.  In any case she was certainly a gender nonconformist and an interesting historical figure

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