Tuesday, 28 February 2012

On this date: Prince Bertil’s centenary

One hundred years ago today, one of Sweden’s best-loved royals, Prince Bertil, was born. The third son and fourth child of the future King Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden and his first wife, British-born Crown Princess Margareta, Prince Bertil first saw the light of day at the Royal Palace in Stockholm.
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”.


  1. Interesting; I had no idea Lilian Craig was still married when she began a romance with Prince Bertil. Did that cause any controversy?

    The issues surrounding Bertil's postponed marriage are rather confusing to me. It seems clear that Gustaf VI Adolf was not inclined to give (official) consent to marriages with spouses not of royal descent, as demonstrated by his request to Bertil to postpone marrying Lilian Craig (with the apparent implication that his membership in the royal house would be withdrawn if he married her), and his withholding official consent from Margaretha, Desiree and Christina's marriages. But Crown Prince Carl Gustaf had many girlfriends while his grandfather was alive, none of them royal, and these relationships were widely reported. I have never heard that Gustaf IV Adolf disapproved of these relationships (though perhaps he did); did he plan on granting his consent if Carl Gustaf married one of these women? If so, that seems a strange double standard.

    I also do not understand why Carl XVI Gustaf only granted permission for his uncle to marry after he himself had married. Carl XVI Gustaf surely knew that, unlike his grandfather, he had no intention of forcing Bertil to give up his membership in the royal house if he married Lilian Craig, so what was the point of the wait from 1973 to 1976, if not to preserve Bertil's role as a prince and regent?

  2. The problem about Lilian's marriage was that she had made a wartime marriage and then lost contact with her husband when he went abroad to fight. After the end of the war he turned up again and even though he too had found a new partner he was unwilling to divorce. However, he and Prince Bertil were eventually able to meet and talk it through and the divorce was finalised in 1947.

    But obviously this did not cause controversy at the time because everything about the romance was secret at that stage. And by 1976 I don't think anyone objected, partly because divorce was no longer considered in the same way as previously, but also because the rather touching love story, which was well-known by then, seems to have received all the attention.

    Although Gustaf VI Adolf came to like Lilian, he made it clear that he would never consent to the marriage. Princess Christina's engagement was only announced after his death, but then one made a point out of mentioning that the late King had approved of it. But princesses, who had no rights of inheritance until 1980, did not actually need the King's consent to marry, so that was strictly speaking irrelevant.

    And it is also worth noting that a prince who married a private man's daughter (since 1937 only "private Swedish man's daughter) WITH the King's consent would still lose his succession rights, like Prince Carl Jr did in 1937. So consent or no consent was not really the issue.

    I don't think we know anything about what Gustaf VI Adolf thought of his grandson's girlfriends, but I think it is safe to say that he would not have given his consent. And nevertheless: had he given his consent and Carl Gustaf had married a Swedish commoner, he would nevertheless have lost his succession rights. BUT: The Act of Succession of 1810 applied this rule only to princes, not to the King, so once Gustaf VI Adolf was dead, Carl XVI Gustaf was free to marry whoever he wanted.

    As for the reason why Gustaf VI Adolf asked Prince Bertil to wait until his nephew had married we can only speculate. But nevertheless I think a few more years may have seemed a minor sacrifice to Bertil and Lilian by that stage, as they had already waited 30 years.

    1. Your comment that "...princesses, who had no rights of inheritance until 1980, did not actually need the King's consent to marry, ..." should perhaps be modified into saying that their marrying without the King's consent would have no practical consequence (other than perhaps the loss of membership of the royal houses and other privileges).

      The Act of Succession Article 6, as it was worded between 1921 and 1980, said that "Prinsessor af det Kongl. huset må ej träda i gifte, utan Konungens vetskap och samtycke" (i.e. "Princesses of the Royal house must not marry without the King's knowledge and consent").

      Originally Article 6 also had a second sentence, "Ej eller må det någonsin tillåtas med svensk man, utom det Kongl. huset", but this was repealed in 1921.

      (Article 6 was repealed completely by law 1979:935, in force 1 January 1980.)

      Se also the Norwegian version of the Act of Succession at my website: http://www.hoelseth.com/grunnloven/no-successions-ordning18100926.html.


    2. Yes, that is correct, but if a princess married without the King's consent there was indeed not much the King could do about that - unlike if a prince did so (of if he married a commoner WITH the King's consent).

    3. As it never happened one can never say for sure, but if any of the princesses married without the King's consent, one could easily imagine that she would have lost her title.


    4. Yes, this is purely a hypothetical question, so we will never know, but it also well possible that she would not have lost her title.

      As you know the son of Oscar II was allowed to keep the title Prince (to which the surname Bernadotte was added) when he married a commoner in 1888, as this was considered his by birth right, but he had to give up all those titles which were at the time considered connected to his succession rights. Obviously princesses did not have succession rights and thus none of their titles could be considered linked to that.

      But then Gustaf V chose harsher measures against princes who married commoners, withdrawing even the title of prince despite what had been said about that in 1888. Apparently the future Gustaf VI Adolf was the driving force behind this, but even he allowed princesses who married commoners to retain the title of princess with the husband's surname/title added (Princess Margaretha, Mrs Ambler and Princess Désirée, Baroness Silfverschiöld), which is indeed quite similar to the Prince Oscar Bernadotte solution of 1888.

      So there are several possibilities, but indeed we will never know.

    5. Did Gustaf VI Adolf provide any explanation for choosing the "Prince Oscar" model for his granddaughters, as opposed to revoking all titles as Gustaf V did?

      I infer from your and Dag's posts that Gustaf VI Adolf consented to his granddaughters' marriages. I was under the impression that although he personally approved, he did not give his official consent in Council of State (or whatever the constitutional procedure was); am I wrong?

    6. To my knowledge Gustaf VI Adolf never gave any explanation for the solution(s) he chose. Actually I am not sure if he gave official consent in council for the princesses' marriages. Because they are not "constitutionally interesting" I have not really looked into it; but I remember the court saying (in a press statement or something similar) when Princess Christina became engaged to Tord Magnuson that both kings (the current and the late) had given their approval.

  3. I am entering this discussion a bit late. But please allow me to make some comments.
    I think nothing in the Swedish constitution would have prevented Prince Bertil from marrying already in the 1940's -with the consent of the King -Mrs Lilian Craig and thereby making her Sweden's princess.The prince would then have kept his succession rights and their male children would have become heriditary princes of Sweden.The later King Gustaf Adolf VI had himself married a non royal British (earlier German but never royal)woman Lady Louise Mountbatten.The Swedish constitution just did not allow a hereditary prince to marry the daughter of a Swedish non-royal person. Mrs.Craig was not Swedish so the problem was elsewhere. It was simply unheard of at that time the a Swedish prince could marry a divorced nobody from any country.Prince Bertil perhaps therefore never asked for formal consent or he had bad advisors on constitutional rights.
    As for the titles of the sisters of the present king of Sweden I think those three marrying non " commoners" were rather ripped of their titles as Sweden's princess than granted a title. I doubt there was anything in the Swedish constitution that made it neccessary to take their titles away and change status as royal hignesses and make a difference between those three and Princess Birgitta just because she married a prince from an ex-reigning house.Or perhaps there are some secrete house laws of the House of Bernadotte which we do not know of? In that case perhaps Prince Carl Philip is the future head of the house whereas his sister will just be the Queen of Sweden?

    Martin Rahm

    1. Yes and no. The article stating that princes who married a "private man's daughter", with or without the King's consent, forfeited his succession rights was amended in 1937 to read "private Swedish man's daughter". But although Lilian was a British citizen this did not mean that there was no constitutional obstacle to Prince Bertil marrying her: as you point out he would still need the King's consent in order to maintain his rights. And this consent the King was unwilling to give right until the end of his life - which was probably indeed because marrying someone like Lilian was simply not done. But I also find it hard to see how he could have consented to this marriage after how he had treated Sigvard, Lennart and Carl Johan.

      Yes, the King's sisters Margaretha, Désirée and Christina were not given titles, but the HRH and the "of Sweden" was withdrawn, leaving them as simply "Princess Margaretha/Désirée/Christina", to which the husband's name/title was added (Mrs Ambler/Baroness Silfverschiöld/Mrs Magnuson), which corresponds with how things were done in 1888, when "HKH prins Oscar, Sveriges og Norges arvfurste, hertig av Gotland" was reduced to "prins Oscar" to which the surname Bernadotte was added.

      No, there are no secret house laws - at least not that we know of (well, then they would of course not be secret...) and I cannot imagine any scenario under which Prince Carl Philip would be head of the house any more than I can imagine Princess Anne of Britain becoming head of the house of Windsor after the accession of her brother.


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