Early Modern Philosophy

René Descartes

Who was Queen Christina and why was she important in Descartes’ life?

In this passage, the possibility of the materiality of the soul is deftly introduced in a way that illumines Descartes’ dualism. No one, including Descartes, could satisfactorily explain how an immaterial soul could interact with a material body. One solution to this problem that Elizabeth intuited was to posit the soul as material.

René Descartes’ second royal correspondent and student, Queen Christina (1626–1689) of Sweden, was a less conventional figure than his other pupil, Princess Elizabeth, although her philosophical skills and subsequent historical legacy were not as great. Christina’s father raised her as a prince, and when she assumed the crown she took the title of “King Christina.” During her reign she greatly expanded the number of noble titles and extravagantly spent down the treasury, most notably for “New Sweden,” a colonization of America in an area near Willington, Delaware.

Christina abdicated in 1664, changing her name to Maria Christina Alexandra. She did this to convert to Catholicism, which was then illegal in Sweden. Maria Christina went first to Rome and then France. She enjoyed great attention as a former queen and was an active patroness of science and the arts. She was remembered for her shocking male dress: a short skirt, stockings, and high heels, which allowed for greater freedom of movement than the long skirts women wore at the time.

Greta Garbo portrayed Queen Christina in a 1933 film that was highly acclaimed critically but did not do well at the box office.


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