The Restless Life of a European Eccentric
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Newcomer Buckley catches in all its peculiarity the life of a woman who abdicated Sweden’s throne primarily because she couldn’t stand all that pressure to get married.

With considerable polish—and an occasional tilt to the baroque that befits its subject—Buckley tells the story of Christina (1626–89), a curious and by no means unentertaining soul who was also a real bundle of damaged goods. She was born into what was for all intents a medieval kingdom: rural, racked by war, and surrounded by enemies (Austrian Habsburgs, Poland-Lithuania, Denmark, not to mention the Ottoman Empire). Her simpering mother was lost to profound mental disarray; her father’s shadow dimmed all around him. Thrust into the role of queen at age six, Christina made every bad move available. In hopes of resuscitating the royal coffers, she sold titles and gave away royal land, which accomplished just the opposite; she tried to be crafty, but succeeded only in giving offense and looking the fool; she gathered together a fractious academy that managed to result in the death of Descartes. All this, and the ever-present wealth of intrigues and secret alliances, is comfortably spelled out by Buckley, who is not unsympathetic to the pathetic Christina, but doesn’t cut her any slack, particularly when dealing with her absurd plot to steal the throne of Naples and her order to execute one of her retinue, a murder retold in grisly detail. The queen connived with cardinals; she loathed Sweden’s Lutheranism with its motto—“Let women bear children unto death”—and her own sexuality, as Buckley explains, was a mystery. She bled the Swedish coffers to finance her lavish habits and generally had as much fun and made as much trouble as possible.

Correctly described by the author as “a sad tale . . . of promise unfulfilled, and of strength thwarted by weakness,” but also as good a case as any against the existence of royalty. (Illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-06-073617-8
Page count: 384pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2004