On its front page today Expressen reveals that Count Carl Johan “Jan” Bernadotte af Wisborg in a letter of 11 May informed his second cousin King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden that he has decided to use the title of Prince Carl Johan. This is the latest chapter in a long story of dispute over the Swedish princely title.
Jan Bernadotte is the oldest son of the late Count Lennart Bernadotte af Wisborg, who was born a Prince of Sweden but was stripped of his royal titles when he married a commoner, Karin Nissvandt, in 1932. The Act of Succession of 1810, which was in force until 1980, forbade princes of the royal house to marry a “private man’s daughter” – in 1937 it was altered to “private Swedish man’s daughter”. If they did so they would automatically loose the right of succession to the throne for themselves and their descendants. The Act of Succession did however not say anything about the title issue.
The first prince who married in contravention of this act was Prince Oscar, the second son of King Oscar II, who married a Swedish noblewoman and former lady-in-waiting in 1888. It was then decided that he had forfeited the prefix HRH, his ducal title and the designation “of Sweden and Norway”, which were all seen as linked to his succession rights. He was on the other hand allowed to keep the title “Prince Oscar” to which was added the surname Bernadotte (it is not correct, as some have later argued, that he was created Prince Bernadotte in the Swedish nobility). The reason given for this was that the title “Prince” was his by birth, not by right of succession. His children, on the other hand, had no titles until Prince Oscar’s maternal uncle, Grand Duke Adolphe of Luxembourg, in 1892 created them Counts of Wisborg in the Luxembourg nobility.
Another solution was chosen the next time a Swedish prince, namely Jan Bernadotte’s father Lennart, son of Prince Wilhelm and grandson of King Gustaf V, married a commoner. All Lennart’s titles were taken away and he went from being “HRH Prince Lennart of Sweden, Duke of Smalandia” to being “Mr Lennart Bernadotte”. The same was the case with two of Lennart’s cousins, Prince Sigvard and Prince Carl Johan, who married unequally in 1934 and 1946, respectively, as well as for Gustaf V’s nephew, Prince Carl Jr, who married a Swedish noblewoman in 1937.
Prince Carl Jr was granted the title “Prince Bernadotte” in the Belgian nobility by his brother-in-law King Léopold III, who at the same time offered to make Lennart and Sigvard Counts Bernadotte. They refused the Belgian King’s offer as they thought it was not right that they should be only counts while Carl Jr became a prince. But in 1951 Lennart, Sigvard and Carl Johan all accepted Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg’s offer of the title Count of Wisborg.
Carl Johan Bernadotte, at 92 now the only survivor of the ex-princes and not to be confused with the new “Prince Carl Johan”, has always been happy about this solution, but when Prince Bertil in 1976 married a Welsh commoner and was allowed to keep his titles and succession rights Sigvard and Lennart Bernadotte wrote to King Carl XVI Gustaf asking him to restore the princely title to them. Their request was refused, which Lennart chose to accept even though he disagreed, while Sigvard on 28 May 1983 announced that from then on he would style himself “Prince Sigvard Bernadotte”. In 2001 he took his case to Strasbourg, but he died before it came up.
It is King Carl Gustaf’s decision that Crown Princess Victoria’s fiancé Daniel Westling will become a prince and a royal duke upon their marriage which has caused Jan Bernadotte’s reaction. He then asked the King to “restore” the princely title to him (who has himself never had that title) and now observes that his request was refused but that he will nevertheless use the title of Prince Carl Johan.
The new “Prince” apparently argues that he wants to restore his father’s honour, a father he was not on speaking terms with after an argument over his squandering of the inheritance from his grandfather in 1965. To me Lennart Bernadotte described his eldest son as “the family’s black sheep” while Jan Bernadotte wrote about his father with great bitterness in his worthless autobiography three years ago.
Count Jan Bernadotte has four children from his so far six failed marriages. In 1987 he adopted an adult man, an adoption he has later admitted to receiving payment for making (in itself an illegal act). This adopted son has for many years occasionally styled himself “Prince of Sweden”, so now his “father” joins him.
From his letter to the King of Sweden it appears that the new “Prince Carl Johan” could need a crash course in royal titles. The letter’s addressee is given as “HRH Carl XVI Gustaf”. Most princes would know that a king is not a royal highness but a majesty.
A link to Expressen’s story: