To celebrate our recent acquaintance through this wonderful media which is the internet, author Anna Belfrage (check out her wonderful historical fiction novels HERE) wrote this very interesting piece especially for my FLY HIGH! blog. Help me to make her welcome here and enjoy her guest post about two really extraordinary women from the past who travelled from her country, Sweden, to my country, Italy. 


First of all, mille grazie Maria Grazia for inviting me to do some guesting on your blog. And isn’t it a somewhat magical world where an Italian lady who loves English literature meets up with a Swedish author who writes in English – all because of that marvellous invention, the Internet?

I thought it apt to somehow tie together Sweden, Rome and history in my post. Not the most immediate connection that springs to mind, seeing as Sweden has for most of its existence been a backwater no one really wanted to visit, while Rome has for millennia been right at the middle of things, a must-see place since well before the birth of Christ.

But there are connections: specifically, there are two Swedish women, one from the 14th century and the other from the 17th century, who had an intense relationship with Rome. (It is somewhat coincidental that my books are either set in the 17th century or the 14th century, even if I have as yet not published anything set in Sweden) So today I thought I’d introduce you to St Birgitta of Sweden and Queen Kristina of Sweden, two women who could never be called meek and retiring. Never.

St Birgitta of Sweden

Following the adage “age before beauty” I thought we’d start with Birgitta. Having said that, Kristina was no major looker, while Birgitta by all accounts was, but that is neither here nor there. Instead, I invite you to take me by the hand and travel 713 years back in time, to 1303 when a little girl saw the light of the day.
St Birgitta is Sweden’s most well-known saint (not that there are all that many to choose from). From an early age she was afflicted/blessed by visions of God, and was determined to live out her life as a nun, devoting herself to God’s work. Not about to happen to the daughter of one of the more important Swedish noble families. Instead, Birgitta was married at age 13 to a young nobleman named Ulf Gudmarsson, and by all accounts this was a happy marriage, resulting in eight children.
Because of her lineage, Birgitta was an often seen visitor at court. Truth be told, the king would have preferred if she stayed well away, but Birgitta was of the opinion the king and his wife were somewhat depraved and took it upon herself to lecture them – often and volubly – about everything from how the king was running the country to his purported homosexual affairs (no proof: Birgitta “saw” things in her visions) managing also to accuse the queen of adultery. 

In between being a burr up the royal backside, she travelled extensively through Europe with her husband – they went all the way to Santiago de Compostela – ran her household efficiently, raised her children to be as God-fearing as she was, and continued to have all these religious visions which she recorded diligently. She was also a staunch supporter of the poor, was generous in giving to the needy, and was always willing to extend a helping hand to those that required it. In brief, she was an extremely competent and intelligent woman who also happened to be genuinely devout. And stubborn. And given to acerbic wordings.

One recipient of all these acerbic wordings was the pope, at the time resident in Avignon. Birgitta was horrified by this. The pope should be in Rome, as ordained by St Peter. A sequence of popes (all Frenchmen by birth) did not agree. Birgitta wrote long letters to Pope Clement/Innocent/Urban (what can I say? She was tenacious. The popes died before she was done with them…) and urged them to get off their fat backsides and move back to Rome. Err, replied whichever pope she was addressing, trying to remind this fiery lady of the rather unstable political situation in Rome. Birgitta scoffed. Loudly. The pope, as God’s representative on earth, had nothing to fear. God would keep him safe – even if he was French. The pope was obviously less convinced of this than Birgitta, and back and forth raged their arguments, messengers galloping between Vadstena in Sweden and Avignon.
When Birgitta’s husband died, she decided it was time to fulfil her ambitions and dedicate herself exclusively to God. She was determined to do two things: found a religious order and see the pope return to Rome.

Magnus, the Swedish king, eagerly supported her ambitions. So relieved was he at having her direct her formidable attentions elsewhere that he granted her the royal palace at Vadstena to house her order. Birgitta gave him a condescending nod (I imagine) and in 1349 she swept off to Rome. She was not to return to Sweden again.
Birgitta took to Rome like a duck takes to water. Other than a pilgrimage to Jerusalem – a veritable globetrotter, our Birgitta – she was to remain in Rome for the rest of her life. She immediately embarked on a mission to help the poor and suffering – especially women. She quickly endeared herself to the people of Rome, who were more than impressed by this simply dressed woman who spoke so commandingly to the men in charge, so gently to those who were in need of her help.
And as to the pope, all that hectoring was starting to have some impact. The poor pope was no match for Birgitta – probably helped along by the fact that there were others demanding he return to Rome and thereby sever the dependency with France – and so Pope Gregory XI (despite being French) took the decision to uproot his huge administration from the comforts of Avignon and return to la Bella Italia.
In 1370, Pope Gregory confirmed the Rule of Birgitta’s religious order. The Brigittines were now an officially approved monastic establishment, and I hazard Birgitta took a skip or two to celebrate. The main house was to be in Vadstena, Sweden, and Birgitta was full of plans when she up and died in 1373. She was never to see the magnificent abbey church in Vadstena consecrated – but she would be there, in some small way, as her bones were carried back to Sweden where they remain to this day.

Phew. Quite the exciting life, right? And that’s before I introduce you to Kristina…

Queen Kristina of Sweden

Portrait of Queen Kristina by Jacob Ferdinand Voet 
When Kristina was born in 1626, the midwives mistook her for a boy. The baby was hirsute, the genitals swollen, and so the Swedish king Gustav Adolf was first told he had a son – a long-awaited heir – before one of the midwives was obliged to return and tell him it was a girl. Unfortunately. So sorry. The king (to his great credit) took things in stride: he had a healthy daughter, and God willing she would grow up to be the regent the country required.
Kristina’s mother, however, was less than thrilled. A living daughter rather than a son was a constant reminder she had failed in her duty, and several were the occasions when Kristina had “accidents” while in the care of her mother (like being dropped on her head, or falling down stairs). The king therefore chose to place his daughter with his sister when he set off to continue fighting in the Thirty Years’ War.

Gustav Adolf died in 1632. The little girl was suddenly the queen of Sweden, and this was a lonely and strictly controlled existence. Kristina herself has said that “a child born to the throne belongs to the state”, and I imagine this very much reflects her experiences at the hands of her various regents. Her mother she rarely saw. The woman became so deranged with grief upon Gustav Adolf’s death that she was considered a negative influence on the young queen. Kristina seems to have agreed. In her words, the one thing her mother excelled at was being the grieving widow.

Anyway: Kristina was given the best of educations. As bright – if not more – as her father, she consumed huge quantities of books, as interested in mathematics as in the art of war. She read and spoke Latin, French, German, Swedish. She read Greek. She could knowledgably discuss everything from Plato to the political situation in Europe. She knew how to fence, was an excellent rider and was eager to embrace new culture, whether it be French music of Italian dances.
At the time, Sweden was Extremely Protestant. Gustav Adolf had led the Protestant forces in the Thirty Years’ War, and after his death Swedish generals such as Lennart Torstensson continued to challenge the forces of the Holy Roman Empire. Prague fell to the Swedes and was plundered. In fact, everything that fell to the Swedes was plundered, an endless line of treasure making its way back to Stockholm and the young Queen. It was taken as a given that Queen Kristina was as fiercely Protestant as her father – but was she?

Turns out she wasn’t. All that reading had led her to think extensively about her beliefs. She had a close relationship with the French Ambassador as well as the Spanish Ambassador, both men doing their best to entice her into the arms of the Catholic Church. There was, however, a teensy weensy problem: the queen of Sweden could not be Catholic.
What to do, what to do, Kristina moaned to herself. Further to this her spiritual conflict, there was the further matter of the council insisting she marry and beget an heir. Kristina had absolutely no intention of marrying. Yes, she had flirted with her cousin when she was younger, yes there were rumours about her and that most dashing of up-and-coming Swedish noblemen, Magnus de la Gardie, but truth be told she wasn’t that interested. Her single strong emotional relationship was with her lady-in-waiting Ebba Sparre, but even then it was probably more of an intense and intimate friendship than anything else.

Kristina had indirect contact with the pope. He was more than delighted to have that most Protestant queen of Sweden considering to convert. What he wanted was for her to hold on to the throne and change her faith, thereby restoring all of Sweden to the Holy Church. Impossible, Kristina told him. For her to convert while still a queen was to risk deposition and even death.
So instead, Kristina toyed with the notion of abdication. Being a savvy person with a major fondness for parties she first had herself crowned (in 1650) and quite the spectacle that was, with wine spouting from Stockholm’s fountains while the queen, the court, the city cavorted and made merry. Then she informed her council that she had no intention of ever marrying and instead suggested she abdicate in favour of her cousin.

Queen Kristina's monument in St Peter's, Rome
In 1654, the still Protestant Kristina abdicated and proceeded to leave Sweden ASAP. Soon after, she openly converted to the Catholic faith and after some years in France she settled in Rome where she met the love of her life who happened to be a cardinal. Awkward, one could say… The love was requited. Cardinal Azzolini loved the former queen with a passion that probably went well beyond the platonic, even if the lovers went to great lengths to maintain an aura of respectability. Besides, it wasn’t the physical aspects so much as the spiritual that brought them together: two intellectual giants found their equal and revelled in endless discussions about everything from philosophy to politics.
Kristina’s years in Rome were the happiest in her life. Yes, she had money problems – Sweden initially refused to pay her a penny of her agreed pension once she’d openly professed her new faith – yes, there were days when she missed being the despotic ruler of a nation, and she insisted on being addressed as queen by those who sought an audience with her. Yes, at times she meddled in politics in ways she shouldn’t, and yes, at times she was bored. But most of all she was free, no longer a prisoner to the state as she’d been since she was a child.

In 1689 Kristina died. She is the only Swedish monarch to have been buried in St Peter – very much due to Cardinal Azzolini’s determined efforts. And in difference to Birgitta, she never expressed a desire to be carried back home to Sweden. To Kristina, Rome was home. The eternal city was where she wanted to remain – for eternity.

Anna Belfrage

Anna Belfrage

Anna Belfrage
Had Anna been allowed to choose, she'd have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does as yet not exists, she settled for second best and became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing. These days, Anna combines an exciting day-job with a large family and her writing endeavours. 

When Anna fell in love with her future husband, she got Scotland as an extra, not because her husband is Scottish or has a predilection for kilts, but because his family fled Scotland due to religious persecution in the 17th century - and were related to the Stuarts. For a history buff like Anna, these little details made Future Husband all the more desirable, and sparked a permanent interest in the Scottish Covenanters, which is how Matthew Graham, protagonist of the acclaimed The Graham Saga, began to take shape.

Set in 17th century Scotland and Virginia/Maryland, the series tells the story of Matthew and Alex, two people who should never have met - not when she was born three hundred years after him. With this heady blend of romance, adventure, high drama and historical accuracy, Anna hopes to entertain and captivate, and is more than thrilled when readers tell her just how much they love her books and her characters. There are eight books in the series so far, but Anna is considering adding one or two more...

Presently, Anna is hard at work with her next project, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer's rise to power. The King's Greatest Enemy is a series where passion and drama play out against a complex political situation, where today's traitor may be tomorrow's hero, and the Wheel of Fortune never stops rolling. 
The first instalment in the Adam and Kit story, In the Shadow of the Storm, was published in November of 2015.

If you want to know more about Anna, why not visit 


Double Giveaway

Take your chances to win a kindle copy of two of Anna Belfrage's historical fiction novels: In the Shadow of the Storm set in St. Birgitta's century and A Rip in the Veil set in Queen Kristina's century.  Take your chances in the rafflecopter form below. The contest is open internationally. 

Prize 1

This is the first book in a series called The King’s Greatest Enemy. The series details the historical events of the 1320s in England – all the way from when Roger Mortimer first rebels against Edward II. It's titled In the Shadow of the Storm, and the blurb is as follows:

Adam de Guirande owes his lord, Roger Mortimer, much more than loyalty. He owes Lord Roger for his life and all his worldly goods, he owes him for his beautiful wife – even if Kit is not quite the woman Lord Roger thinks she is. So when Lord Roger rises in rebellion against the king, Adam has no choice but to ride with him – no matter what the ultimate cost may be.
England in 1321 is a confusing place. Edward II has been forced by his barons to exile his favourite, Hugh Despenser. The barons, led by the powerful Thomas of Lancaster, Roger Mortimer and Humphrey de Bohun, have reasons to believe they have finally tamed the king. But Edward is not about to take things lying down, and fate is a fickle mistress, favouring first one, then the other.

Adam fears his lord has over-reached, but at present Adam has other matters to concern him, first and foremost his new wife, Katherine de Monmouth. His bride comes surrounded by rumours concerning her and Lord Roger, and he hates it when his brother snickers and whispers of used goods.
Kit de Courcy has the misfortune of being a perfect double of Katherine de Monmouth – which is why she finds herself coerced into wedding a man under a false name. What will Adam do when he finds out he has been duped?

Domestic matters become irrelevant when the king sets out to punish his rebellious barons. The Welsh Marches explode into war, and soon Lord Roger and his men are fighting for their very lives. When hope splutters and dies, when death seems inevitable, it falls to Kit to save her man – if she can.

Prize 2

A Rip in the Veil' is the first book in The Graham Saga, Anna Belfrage's time slip series featuring time traveller Alexandra Lind and her seventeenth century husband, Matthew Graham. On a muggy August day in 2002 Alexandra Lind is inexplicably thrown several centuries backwards in time to 1658. Life will never be the same for Alex. Alex lands at the feet of Matthew Graham - an escaped convict making his way home to Scotland. She gawks at this tall gaunt man with hazel eyes, dressed in what looks like rags. At first she thinks he might be some sort of hermit, an oddball, but she quickly realises that she is the odd one out, not him. Catapulted from a life of modern comfort, Alex grapples with her frightening new existence. Potential compensation for this brutal shift in fate comes in the shape of Matthew - a man she should never have met, not when she was born three centuries after him. But Matthew comes with baggage of his own, and at times it seems his past will see them killed. How will she ever get back? And more importantly, does she want to? 'A Rip in the Veil' has been awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Anna Belfrage said...

Thank you for allowing me to drop by, Maria!

Maria Grazia said...

You are welcome, Anna! Any time you wish :)

chattypatra said...

I am delighted to have discovered a new writer and I thank you, Maria, for inviting her to your blog.

Ms. Belfrage, you have been my teacher today, something I value greatly because I strive to learn and grow as I live. Both ladies had moxie in spades, and perseverance. I feel inspired by their intelligence and desire to leave the world a better place than they found it.

Your writing is delightful. Thank you for making me laugh. I look forward to reading your work in the near future.

Happy Valentine's Day!

dstoutholcomb said...

When the Swedes landed in Delaware (where I grew up), they named the area Christiana in honor of the queen. She also has the Christina river named for her. My school district: Christina. My high school: Christiana. The original Swedes church in Delaware is Protestant. There's a beautiful recreated ship of the one which landed there moored in Wilmington's waterfront.


chattypatra said...

What a tremendous surprise! Thank you, Maria, for letting me know I've won the giveaway. I'm pleased to be so fortunate, and truly looking forward to having those beautiful books in my hands! I'll let you and Ms. Belfrage know my impressions once I read them. *happy dance*