11 March 2013

Wedding Wednesday (on a Monday): Princess Lilian's Story

The Swedish royal court made a sad announcement on Sunday: Princess Lilian, the wife of the King's late uncle Prince Bertil, has passed away. In her honor, we're swapping around this week's features and taking today to talk about her wedding - and more so, the love story for which she will always be remembered.

HRH Prince Bertil of Sweden, Duke of Halland and Lilian Craig
December 7, 1976
Drottningholm, Sweden

Prince Bertil was the fourth of the five children born to Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden and Princess Margaret of Connaught. Lilian Craig was a Welsh-born model and aspiring actress. They met and fell in love in 1943. And just 33 years later, they were finally allowed to marry.
Bertil and Lilian
Numerous obstacles sat between the happy couple and wedded bliss. When they met, Lilian was still married to her first husband, who was fighting in World War II (and would return in love with another woman). The couple eventually had an amicable divorce, but by the time that was resolved, Bertil was facing obstacles of his own.
On their wedding day
At that time, Princes of Sweden lost their place in the line of succession if they married commoners. Two of Bertil's brothers, and his cousins as well, had already forfeited their rights through such marriages. Bertil's grandfather, Gustav V, was king; next in line was Bertil's father, Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf, followed by Bertil's oldest brother, Prince Gustaf Adolf and then Bertil himself. Prince Gustaf Adolf and his wife Princess Sibylla had four daughters, but women weren't eligible for the throne (obviously, these laws have since changed). Finally in 1946 they had a son, Carl Gustaf, Bertil's nephew.

But just when the line of succession was looking secure, tragedy struck: in January 1947, Prince Gustaf Adolf was killed in a plane crash. Now the King was in his eighties, the Crown Prince was in his sixties, and the next in line wasn't even one year old. The prospect of young Carl Gustaf becoming king before he reached the age of majority was very real, and if that happened, Bertil would need to keep his place in the line so that he could serve as regent. And so Bertil and Lilian waited.
Lilian moved to Sweden and began to discreetly live with Bertil. She won the respect of Bertil's family and was even invited to some family events, but still his father would not consent to a marriage. Bertil promised him they wouldn't wed until Carl Gustaf married, so the wait continued.
Carl Gustaf was 27 years old when his grandfather died and he became king, in 1973. In 1976, having married Queen Silvia and knowing that she was pregnant with their first child, King Carl Gustaf gave Bertil his full consent to marry Lilian and made sure that Bertil kept his place in the line of succession and his titles. (This did not go over so well with the two brothers that lost their titles for their commoner marriages, mind you, but was certainly deserved for his years of loyalty and duty.)

They married in December that year, in the chapel at Drottningholm Palace. He was 64; she was 61. The bride wore an ice blue silk shantung coat dress with bell sleeves made for her by her long-time friend and designer Elizabeth Wondrak. She accessorized with blue feathers in her hair, pearl and diamond jewelry, and a bouquet of lilies of the valley. She became Princess Lilian, Duchess of Halland, and would eventually be honored with Sweden's highest order of chivalry, the Order of the Seraphim. She was much-loved for her sense of fun and of duty, and had a close relationship with the King, Queen, and their children.
Lilian's sense of humor on display
Bertil died in 1997. Lilian carried on with royal duties, and was a fixture at events like the Nobel Prize ceremony until she decided she was too old to attend. It was announced in 2010 that due to her failing health she would miss Crown Princess Victoria's wedding, and it was reported that she was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. She died on March 10 at the home she shared with Bertil. She was 97 years old.

Photos: NPG/Corbis/Scanpix