Tuesday, 28 February 2012
On this date: Prince Bertil’s centenary
Like Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel a century later, the crown princely couple chose a name without royal traditions, but at least a Swedish one: Bertil, to which one added the names of Oscar II’s four sons: Gustaf Oscar Carl Eugen.
His elder siblings were Prince Gustaf Adolf, Prince Sigvard and Princess Ingrid. A brother, Prince Carl Johan, was born in 1916 and a sixth child was expected in 1920, but tragically Crown Princess Margareta died in the eighth month of her pregnancy. Among his siblings, Bertil was always closest to Ingrid, who would later become Queen of Denmark.
Like his siblings, Prince Bertil received his first schooling at the Royal Palace, but his parents were quite progressive and wanted their children to attend school with other children. At the age of 12, Bertil, like his elder brothers before him, therefore enrolled at the Beskow School in Stockholm.
Prince Bertil suffered from dyslexia and was no great intellectual, but his main interests were sports and cars, areas in which he excelled. Having left school he joined the navy and also began to undertake royal duties.
In 1934 he asked his grandfather’s permission to marry a young lady by name of Margareta Brambeck. Marrying a commoner, with or without the King’s consent, would, according to the Act of Succession of 1810, mean that he automatically forfeited his place in the line of succession, like his brother Sigvard did the same year and their cousin Lennart had done two years earlier. The royal house could hardly afford to lose yet another prince and Bertil was consequently despatched to Paris as assistant naval attaché in order to forget Miss Brambeck.
He did, but while posted as neutral Sweden’s assistant naval attaché in London during World War II, Bertil met the love of his life in the shape of Lilian Craig, a married nightclub hostess from Wales. And this time there was no question of forgetting her, a resolve which would make theirs one of the great love stories of the twentieth century.
By the time Bertil’s youngest brother, Carl Johan, married a commoner in February 1946, Prince Gustaf Adolf and Prince Bertil were the only royal princes with succession right left, except for some elderly uncles who either had no sons with succession rights or no sons at all. But the birth of a son, Carl Gustaf, to Prince Gustaf Adolf in April 1946 seemed to set Bertil free to marry Lilian as soon as she had obtained her divorce.
But then, in January 1947, Prince Gustaf Adolf was killed in a plane crash in Copenhagen. His nine-month son was thus next in succession after his 64-year-old grandfather and his ancient great-grandfather. Thus it seemed more than likely that Carl Gustaf would succeed to the throne before reaching his majority, in which case an adult prince would have to stand in as regent.
Bertil was the last prince left to fulfil this role, but would also become ineligible if he married Lilian. Loyally he chose to put duty ahead of love and asked Lilian to wait for him, which she did for three decades. The Prince used his excellent relationship with the media to form a gentlemen’s agreement: if the press did not write about his relationship with Lilian, they would get the whole story the day it became possible.
Prince Bertil moved out of the Royal Palace and bought a villa at Djurgården in Stockholm, where Lilian lived with him in great secrecy. They were thus able to be together, but could not go out together and missed the chance to have children together. Eventually, as the years passed, Lilian was accepted by the royal family, but there could be no talk of marriage until Carl Gustaf’s coming of age, which was eventually postponed to his 25th birthday in 1971.
Meanwhile Prince Bertil continued to carry out his royal duties, which were many, given that he was the only adult prince. He attended all Olympic Games until 1988, represented his country from Denmark to Iran and often described himself as a travelling tradesman for Sweden, Inc. The genial, down-to-earth prince readily made friends and admirers, enjoyed great popularity and was rightly considered a huge asset for the royal family.
Eventually King Gustaf VI Adolf was to live until the age of almost 91, dying in September 1973, two years after Crown Prince Carl Gustaf had attained his majority at 25. Thus a regency would not be necessary, but Bertil was still needed at his nephew’s side and the old King asked his son not to marry Lilian until Carl Gustaf had himself married.
This happened in June 1976, when King Carl XVI Gustaf married Silvia Sommerlath, whom he had met during the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Prince Bertil had been introduced to her the very same day as his nephew met her, and when asked by Carl Gustaf what he thought he should do, Bertil answered: “Marry her!” “And that”, he said later, “was the best advice I have ever given anyone”.
With King Carl Gustaf safely married, the way was at last free for Bertil and Lilian to tie the knot. They were married in the chapel at Drottningholm Palace on 7 December 1976. He was 64, she was 61, and they had waited for 33 years.
King Carl Gustaf honoured his uncle’s loyalty and sacrifice by allowing him to keep all his royal titles and privileges. Mrs Lilian Craig, the former nightclub hostess who had grown up in great poverty in Wales, thus became Princess Lilian of Sweden and was to prove herself a born natural in the royal role. Many royal duties fell to Prince Bertil, who was now at last able to fulfill them with Lilian at his side. When the King travelled abroad Prince Bertil acted as guardian of the realm.
But as he entered his eighties his health began to fail. He had problems with his heart and lungs, which forced him to cut down on his engagements. A hip fracture in 1994 reduced him further. One of his last public appearances was the coming of age of Crown Princess Victoria in July 1995. This meant that for the first time for decades someone other than Prince Bertil could act as guardian of the realm.
He did so for the last time in December 1996. A month later, in the early evening of 5 January 1997, Prince Bertil died in his home Villa Solbacken in Stockholm, holding the hand of his beloved Lilian and sincerely mourned by the Swedish people.
A letter to the editor of the newspaper Expressen four days later told an anecdote which said much about why Prince Bertil was so popular. The writer recalled a summer evening in 1952 when he was an eighteen-year-old sailor and stood outside a Stockholm cinema with four friends from the navy, counting their money and concluding that they did not have enough to pay for the tickets.
A sports-car stopped and out came a man they instantly recognised. They saluted and he said, “Hi guys, are you going to see the film too?” They explained that they did not have enough money. “Take what you have and come with me to the counter”, he said.
“I cannot remember how much it was, but he paid the difference”, the letter concluded. “For that gesture I flew my flag at half mast on 6 January. In honour of Prince Bertil”.