Today is the golden wedding anniversary of Princess Birgitta (née of Sweden) and Prince Johann Georg of Hohenzollern, who were married in a civil ceremony at the Royal Palace in Stockholm on 25 May 1961 and in a religious ceremony at the palace church in Sigmaringen on 30 May.
The civil ceremony is under German law the only legally valid wedding and the Princess says in an anniversary interview with Svensk Damtidning (no 21 – 2011) that she and “Hansi” have always celebrated 25 May as their wedding anniversary. This year the celebrations will for practical reasons take place a week later, but it will only be a small event attended by their three children as well as their children-in-law and grandchildren.
Princess Birgitta, who is the second eldest of King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden’s four elder sisters, was the only of the siblings to marry a prince and thus retained the style of Royal Highness as well as her membership of the Swedish royal house. Prince Johann Georg is an art historian who before his retirement was head of the Alte Pinakothek in Munich.
He still lives in Munich, where the couple settled after their wedding. However, Princess Birgitta moved to Mallorca in 1990 and dedicates most of her time to playing golf. The Princess is completely open about the state of her marriage, but insists that they remain very good friends and that their living apart was a natural consequence of the fact that they realised how different they are after the children moved out.
Nevertheless they keep up appearances by for instance attending the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel together and Princess Birgitta was publicly furious when her husband some years ago turned up at an event accompanied by his considerably younger mistress.
In the interview with Svensk Damtidning Princess Birgitta gives some interesting facts about the religious complications connected to her marrying a Catholic (“religious differences” had by the way been the official explanation when Princess Birgitta turned down Shah Mohamed Reza of Iran’s proposal). The Princess and her grandfather Gustaf VI Adolf wished for a Swedish priest to bless the couple during the civil wedding in Stockholm. The King was quite certain that this could be arranged, but Pope Johannes (John) XXIII himself vetoed it.
The Princess, who is herself a believer, remains disappointed about this to this day and is also still indignant that “they forced me to sign a paper saying that I should live as a Catholic and raise my children as Catholics. [...] I had nothing against my children being raised as Catholics, but you simply don’t do that”, says Princess Birgitta, who has since “distanced” herself from the Catholic church.
However, Princess Birgitta does not touch on the similarities between her situation and the events of 1926, when Princess Astrid of Sweden married the heir to the Belgian throne, the future Léopold III. Back then King Gustaf V wanted there to be both a Lutheran and a Catholic wedding, an idea which was acceptable to King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians. However, Pope Pius XI made it clear to King Albert that this would not be tolerated. Queen Victoria suggested a Te Deum in Stockholm, which King Albert and Queen Elisabeth also thought a good compromise, but which was again vetoed by the Catholic church.
In the end the civil wedding in Stockholm which preceded the religious wedding in Brussels was entirely secular, but at his own initiative the Swedish Archbishop, Nathan Söderblom, took the newlyweds aside after the ceremony and gave them his blessing privately. The future Queen Astrid eventually converted to Catholicism in 1930. One may wonder if the Vatican’s actions in 1961 were not to a certain extent a consequence of the events of 1926.