Rome, as the freshly abdicated ex-queen Christina saw it on her arrival, was a city in the process of being transformed by the genius of Bernini. Everywhere, churches and palaces were being rebuilt, and handsome piazzas laid out, in all the monumental splendor of the now fashionable style of the baroque. One of the most impressive of all the city,s palaces, the great Palazzo Farnese, was placed at Christina’s disposal by its owner, the Duke of Parma, and it was here that she spent the first months of her residence in Rome. No setting could have been more appropriate for the illustrious new arrival.
In its superb galleries she could display to perfection her magnificent paintings and sculptures; in its ornate salons she could receive and entertain the nobles, the cardinals, the diplomats, who vied to do her honor. She became for a season the queen of the baroque city, the center of attraction at theatres, the guest of honor at lavish banquets given by cardinals who compromised between the demands of this world and those of the next by offering at their tables exquisite representations of the Passion, modeled entirely in sugar.
Unfortunately, Christina soon showed that she was not quite the earnest daughter of the church envisaged by the pope when he first welcomed her to the vatican. Her strange habits and outspoken tongue scandalized a Rome that for all its ostentation and splendor , proved in some respects to be as straight laced as Stockholm. The Roman Church was not, after all, that haven of free thought which Christina had fondly imagined it to be. In fact, she changed a quarter for a quarter give or take. She visited monasteries and churches, she surrounded herself with artists and scholars, but somehow the old restlessness and wanderlust began to bubble beneath the surface.
There were constant financial worries, for the pension she was receiving from Sweden was not paid in a regular fashion. Above all, she found it difficult to bear this new isolation from the realm of public affairs which had occupied her attention as Queen for so long. She began to toy again with thoughts of a crown; Naples possibly or Poland, or perhaps even the old homeland, Sweden. In 1656, she suddenly surprised Rome by announcing that she was leaving Italy for a season.
Nominally, the queen’s journey was designed to make possible a meeting with Charles X of Sweden, with whom she hoped to settle her financial affairs, but it was also intended as an occasion to explore with cardinal Mazarin the possibility of securing French help to make her queen of Naples. The visit to France however, ended in disaster. Discussions with Mazarin continued over a long period and appeared to be aiming towards a satisfactory conclusion. However, somehow, the secret details of the plan to place her on the Neapolitan throne were leaked. Christina had been betrayed, and the suspect was her own master of the horse Neapolitan Marquis Monaldesco.
On November 10, 1657, she summoned Monaldesco to her presence in the Galerie des Cerfs at the French royal castle of Fontainbleu, where she was at the time residing, and had him interrogated for two hours. Monaldesco confessed to the charges and threw himself at the queen’s feet, begging for mercy; but Christina was unmoved.
Then and there she sentenced him to death, and when the priest who was in attendance followed her out of the room to remonstrate at this somewhat unusual behavior in a royal castle, on foreign soil, she replied that ” she owned the right of a ruler to execute justice among her subjects at all times and in all places; she was answerable fro her actions before God and none other”. Treason was unforgivable , mercy unthinkable. Back in the Galerie des Cerfs, three armed men cut down the wretched Monaldesco, but the heavy mail shirt under his clothes prevented their swords from striking home, and like a cosa-nostra hit job gone awry, it took more than a quarter of an hour or more to complete the bloody business and put their resilient, wailing victim out of his misery.
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