Christina's letters

Queen Christina wrote copious amounts of letters and writing was a major part of her day to day life. Perhaps the letters are the best way to get close to her? The National Archives contain 80 letters that Christina wrote in French to Cardinal Decio Azzolino from 1666-1668. At the time, Christina was in Hamburg to sort out her financial troubles. The letters concern everything from love and day to day life to contemporary politics. The Royal Armoury has had the National Archives digitise the letters and they are now available via Wikimedia for research and translation.

Do you want to read Christina's hand written letters and perhaps help with the translation and interpretation of them? Then visit Wikimedia Commons!

Background

The National Archives contain the “Azzolino Collection” consisting of a little over 5,000 documents that once belonged to Queen Christina. This collection includes a collection of 80 letters written by Christina to the Cardinal Decio Azzolino – her closest friend and heir.

Digitalisation of the letters

In connection to the exhibition “Images of Christina”, the Royal Armoury, in collaboration with  the National Archives, digitalised this collection of letters in order to make this rich source of material available to researchers from various academic disciplines.

The contents of the letters

The letters contain personal aspects of the relationship between Christina and Azzolino as well as general reflections and notes on contemporary political events. In the period when the letters were written (May 1666 until November 1668), Christina was in Hamburg, where her banker Texeira lived. Since her abdication in 1654, Christina had been guaranteed a yearly income of 200,000 riksdaler from a number of Swedish estates, but the finances of the realm were thinly stretched as a result of long periods of war, and so this allowance never reached the promised levels. For a long period of time, Christina experienced financial difficulties, and after 1655 she resided in Rome where she lived a financially taxing life. For Christina, the trip to Hamburg was primarily intended to resolve these financial difficulties.

Ciphers

Certain passages in the letters are written in cipher, a form of encryption intended to shield sensitive information from prying eyes. There is a cipher key for these letters, which is the link to understanding the encrypted passages. In the letters written by Christina to Azzolino, two different ciphers are used: one for personal messages and the other for more official matters that were still of a sensitive nature. Writing in cipher was a common practice during this time, as the postal services were very unreliable and letters could easily go astray.

Earlier research

At the end of the 19th century, the Swedish ambassador and Christina specialist, Baron Carl Bildt (1850-1931), began his research on Queen Christina and he studied the Azzolino Collection, which at the time belonged to the descendants of Azzolino. The collection was discovered through the research of Carl Bildt, meaning that it could later be acquired by the National Archives in 1926. In 1899, Carl Bildt published the book Christine de Suède et le Cardinal Azzolino, in which the letters written between May 1666 and November 1668 were listed and transcribed.

The Royal Armoury has also had the publication of Carl Bildt digitalised by the National Library of Sweden in order to facilitate research that uses the transcriptions of Carl Bildt as the basis for various translations. This digitalisation can be downloaded from Libris (the search engine provided by the National Library of Sweden).
The collection of letters has also been used previously as source material by several Christina specialists, such as Marie-Louise Rodén, who in Drottning Christina – en biografi (2008) demonstrates how the letters can be seen as proof of Christina's love for Azzolino, and how their relationship changed in the period when Christina was outside of Rome. A couple of the letters are discussed in detail – and have been translated into Swedish – in the Swedish Academy's publication Kristina: Brev och skrifter (2006) (edit. Marie-Louise Rodén).

The letters at Wikimedia Commons

The letters have now been published at Wikimedia Commons, where they are available for a variety of applications. For example, the letters can be connected from Wikimedia Commons to various Wikipedia articles or Wikisource publications. The letters can also be used as exciting sources when practicing the interpretation of handwriting or as source material for academic papers in subjects such as linguistics, history, the history of ideas etc.