Much nearer to our own time, Sweden was the great military power of northern Europe. The ambassadors of the Swedish kings were received with the utmost deference in every court. Her soldiers won great battles and ended mighty wars. The England of Cromwell and Charles II. was unimportant and isolated in comparison with this northern kingdom, which could pour forth armies of gigantic blond warriors, headed by generals astute as well as brave.
It was no small matter, then, in 1626, that the loyal Swedes were hoping that their queen would give birth to a male heir to succeed his splendid father, Gustavus Adolphus, ranked by military historians as one of the six great generals whom the world had so far produced. The queen, a German princess of Brandenburg, had already borne two daughters, who died in infancy. The expectation was wide-spread and intense that she should now become the mother of a son; and the king himself was no less anxious.
When the event occurred, the child was seen to be completely covered with hair, and for this reason the attendants at first believed that it was the desired boy. When their mistake was discovered they were afraid to tell the king, who was waiting in his study for the announcement to be made. At last, when no one else would go to him, his sister, the Princess Caroline, volunteered to break the news.
Gustavus was in truth a chivalrous, high-bred monarch. Though he must have been disappointed at the advent of a daughter, he showed no sign of dissatisfaction or even of surprise; but, rising, he embraced his sister, saying:
“Let us thank God. I hope this girl will be as good as a boy to me. May God preserve her now that He has sent her!”
It is customary at almost all courts to pay less attention to the birth of a princess than to that of a prince; but Gustavus displayed his chivalry toward this little daughter, whom he named Christina. He ordered that the full royal salute should be fired in every fortress of his kingdom and that displays of fireworks, balls of honor, and court functions should take place; “for,” as he said, “this is the heir to my throne.” And so from the first he took his child under his own keeping and treated her as if she were a much-loved son as well as a successor.
He joked about her looks when she was born, when she was mistaken for a boy.
“She will be clever,” he said, “for she has taken us all in!”
The Swedish people were as delighted with their little princess as were the people of Holland when the present Queen Wilhelmina was born, to carry on the succession of the House of Orange. On one occasion the king and the small Christina, who were inseparable companions, happened to approach a fortress where they expected to spend the night. The commander of the castle was bound to fire a royal salute of fifty cannon in honor of his sovereign; yet he dreaded the effect upon the princess of such a roaring and bellowing of artillery. He therefore sent a swift horseman to meet the royal party at a distance and explain his perplexity. Should he fire these guns or not? Would the king give an order?