Queen Christina was the reigning queen of Sweden between 1644 and 1654. Her reign ended when she abdicated, after which she converted to Catholicism – an action which has greatly tasked historians in their attempts to offer an explanation. Her interest in cultural and scientific topics started at an early age, and she associated and corresponded with a number of the most eminent scholars of the era.Christina’s literary works consist of two collections of aphorisms, an autobiography, two essays – one on Alexander the Great and one on Julius Caesar – and her letters. The Queen did not publish these works during her lifetime. They were first published by Johan Arckenholtz in Mémoires concernant Christine, reine de Suède, pour servir d’éclaircissement à l’histoire de son regne et principalement de sa vie privée (1751-1760; Memoirs of Christina, Queen of Sweden, to Shed Light on Her Reign and Especially Her Private Life).Christina wrote in French, the language used by educated people of the day.
Faithfulness was an important spiritual and moral yardstick to king’s daughter Leonora Christina: a principle on which she had to take a stand and by which posterity would judge her – for better or for worse. By means of her writing she wanted to demonstrate that she possessed the virtue of fidelity, a moral raison d´être for the seventeenth-century woman. Leonora Christina succeeded in turning faithfulness to her husband Corfitz Ulfeldt into faithfulness to herself in the roles of king’s daughter and noblewoman, exiled lady of high rank and “Cristi Korsdragerske” (a bearer of the cross of Christ). She was imprisoned for twenty-two years in the Blue Tower of Copenhagen Castle, accused of high treason.
Our archives contain surviving sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish friendship albums. It is as a source of information about acquaintances and friends, the circles in which the owner of the book at any given dated entry moved, that the friendship albums are of greatest interest. The poetry quotations and the maxims also reflect the cultural history and ideals of the times.The friendship albums and family history books might also manifest a pattern clearly indicating some gender differences. The seventeenth-century friendship albums primarily reflect the men’s travels, their journeys out into a Europe of scholarship and warfare. The women focus on genealogy, parents, husband, siblings, and children. They reflect life and death in their own family, the network that ties them to the past and to the future, and in which they themselves, through their children, or their childlessness, constitute an important unifying junction.
There is a great variety in the quantity of creative or academic material passed down to us from each of the approximately one-hundred-and-fifty illustrious writing women living in the Nordic region between 1500 and 1800. If we pick out the Nordic women’s literary oeuvres and gather them together, big and small, we see the Nordic region in fine bloom, with committed, moving, keen, sincere, quality writing often arranged in bouquets around a scholarly family, a manor or a convent. A female consciousness and a literary aesthetic equal to those found elsewhere in Europe is clearly present in the work of the Nordic “feminae illustres”.
The seventeenth-century Danish noblewoman Birgitte Thott was the foremost Danish learned woman of her day, a “femina docta”, a “femina illustris”. She is one of the few Danish women whose passing was marked with tribute poems in Latin, and probably the only one to have been honoured by poems in Greek too. She would have been delighted by the poems. In her treatise Om et lyksaligt liv (On a Happy Life), she praises the Romans for having introduced a law stating that women should also be accorded funeral orations in which they are praised according to their deserts, just like men. A long, printed funeral address in Latin by professor at Sorø Academy Jørgen Rosenkrantz has been preserved. The text provides an impression of her life. Funeral oration is by nature a eulogistic genre with scope for exaggeration, but Birgitte Thott’s language skills have been corroborated by so many others that we may take Rosenkrantz at his word. Her translations speak for themselves in bearing out her talents, even though they might not cover all the languages she apparently actually spoke.
“Gynaeceum” is Greek and means ‘women’s chamber’. In the Renaissance the word was used as a genre designation for a literary historical category: a catalogue of women who were notable by virtue of their writings or some other form of artistic or intellectual activity.The gynaecea typically had a systematic or alphabetic structure, making them suitable as reference works. By looking up a famous woman’s name, the reader is introduced to her family via a few laudatory adjectives and her own intellectual achievements. The information is often kept brief.The Nordic region has an excellent collection of home-grown gynaecea. The genre is particularly well represented in Denmark. This small collection of Swedish biographies, and the quite numerous Danish and Norwegian biographies included in the Danish gynaecea, makes for a picture of active artistic and intellectual circles of women in these Nordic countries during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. And we can only presume that the same could be said of Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Finland. And that there were women in the Nordic region who considered themselves members of the European ‘club’ of cultured women.
By and large, what we can find out about Ingeborg Grytten, one of Norway’s two seventeenth-century poetesses, has to be gleaned from her hymns. We do not even know the year of her death. But we know that she was familiar with Dorothe Engelbretsdatter’s Siælens Sang Offer, because she borrowed material for her melodies from it.Thus the west coast of Norway produced the first two female Norwegian poets. They came from the same supernational clergy class that was, at the time, the custodian of writing – and of women’s writing too.
Dorothe Engelbretsdatter drove a wedge into patriarchal male society. She is known as the first female hymn writer in Denmark-Norway to assume a sermonising poetic voice representative of the genre. Her verse found its way into the oral and popular tradition, the realm of most women, as well as the ceremonious, male-dominated, and learned house of God. Depictions of the virtuous and the female were themes that linked low and high, the nursery and the church. Unlike her male poet colleagues, she had no other occupation than that of writing. She faced the God of the old ‘estate society’ not as bishop, officer, or schoolmaster, but as woman. She wrote between sixty and seventy hymns and prayers, mostly collected in Siælens Sang-Offer (1678; Song Offering of the Soul) and Taare-Offer (1685; Offering of Tears), a versified rendering of devotions. She ended up making her livelihood by writing, supplemented by a paltry widow’s pension. Dorothe Engelbretsdatter thus became an early example of the professional author who made her living through the pen. This was exceptional at the time.
The view taken by the Christian Church of women who wrote on holy matters, evangelised, preached, prophesised or in other ways acted as God’s mouthpiece has been inconstant: at times accepting, at times non-committal. Opinions have been determined by the Church’s need for messengers and by pressure exerted on the Church by various interest groups. We can identify four periods of relative latitude as regards these speaking and writing women. First, the period preceding the official establishment of an organised Church (c. second century AD); secondly, the expansion of the Church in Europe during the seventh to ninth centuries; thirdly, lay Pietism of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries; and fourthly, the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Pietist movements in the wake of Reformation and Counter Reformation.
Witch persecutions were institutionalised with the papal bull and the later renowned Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches), published in 1487 and written by Sprenger and Institoris. From then onwards, secular and ecclesiastical authorities were obliged – whether they wanted to or not – to see it as their legitimate duty to get witchcraft under control. The accused were submitted to interrogations that often resulted in physical mutilation and death. They must confess, at any price. This would last 300 years. The last official witch-burning in Europe took place at the end of the eighteenth century. It is highly unlikely that the persecutions came to an end because it was thought that the ‘offence’, which the papal bull and Malleus Maleficarum had attempted to pin down, had been eradicated. The below treats of confessions in Danish witch trials in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.