Sunday, 14 April 2013

At the road’s end: Baroness Elisabeth Palmstierna (1917-2013), Princess Lilian’s Marshal of the Court

It was announced today that less than a month after the death of Princess Lilian of Sweden, her loyal, long-serving Marshal of the Court, Baroness Elisabeth Palmstierna, passed away on 6 April at the age of nearly 96. Baroness Palmstierna served the Princess until last year and was never far from her side at public functions. She is believed to have been the world’s first female Marshal of the Court.
She was born Eva Margareta Elisabeth Tham on 28 April 1917 and was the second daughter of Wilhelm Tham, who was himself Marshal of the Court, and Countess Margareta Hamilton. Elisabeth Tham worked for the Foreign Ministry between 1940 and 1950 and served at the legations in Helsinki, Warsaw and Rome. She was briefly employed by the companies Bofors and Sveriges Kreditbank before joining the Office of the Marshal of the Court in 1953.
At the Royal Court she encountered Baron Carl-Fredrik Palmstierna, whom she married in Seglora Church in Stockholm on 17 January 1959. They had one child, Margareta, nicknamed “the centennial child” because of the combined ages of her parents at the time of her birth in 1960 (57 and 43 respectively).
A prolific historian, Carl-Fredrik Palmstierna was the son of Baron Erik Palmstierna, who had been the first Social Democrat to hold the office of Foreign Minister of Sweden (and was consequently considered a traitor to his class by many of his peers) and later became his country’s long-time Minister (i.e. Ambassador) to Britain.
Carl-Fredrik Palmstierna’s internationally best-known work was probably My Dearest Louise (London 1958), his edition of the correspondence between Emperor Napoléon I and Empress Marie-Louise, whose letters by a quirk of fate had found their way to the Bernadotte Family Archives. On the other hand his memoirs in three volumes may perhaps be counted his best works.
Carl-Fredrik Palmstierna had been appointed Private Secretary to King Gustaf VI Adolf in 1951 and remained in the position for a couple of years into the reign of his grandson Carl XVI Gustaf. He retired in 1975 and died in 1993, at the age of 90.
In 1962 Elisabeth Palmstierna became secretary to the Duke of Hallandia, Prince Bertil. She thus made up his entire household on her own, something which could occasionally cause problems on the telephone when callers would enquire if there were no gentleman present they might speak to.
The problem was solved by Baroness Palmstierna being granted the title Master of the Household in 1974. In 1979 she was promoted to First Master of the Household and in 1991 she was given the title Marshal of the Court. Thereby she probably became the first woman in the world to hold that rank. Naturally she felt sure her father would have been proud of his daughter also becoming Marshal of the Court.
Having been ill for some years, Prince Bertil passed away shortly before his 85th birthday in 1997. Elisabeth Palmstierna had promised him she would be there for his widow, Princess Lilian, and thus became Marshal of the Court of what was renamed The Duchess of Hallandia’s Court.
Only two years Princess Lilian’s junior, Elisabeth Palmstierna remained at the Princess’s side well into their nineties. The Princess and the Baroness even fell and broke their respective hips on the very same night in 2008. While Princess Lilian never again appeared in public, Elisabeth Palmstierna could soon again be seen tottering around the corridors of the Royal Palace, aided by a walking stick or a walker.
In June 2010 Baroness Palmstierna confirmed to the media that Princess Lilian was suffering from senile dementia and would thus miss the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel. However, the 93-year-old Marshal of the Court herself was present for the nuptials and would continue to come to her office early in the morning every day.
“For Beth there is only one way of retiring”, her colleagues would say. However, she eventually had to relinquish her office in 2012, when it was clear that Princess Lilian would not return to public life and there was hardly any mail to be answered anymore.
At Princess Lilian’s funeral in the Palace Church on 16 March, Elisabeth Palmstierna, now in a wheelchair, was seated with the friends rather than with the courtiers. Her sixty years of royal service were truly over. A month later, on 22 April, Baroness Elisabeth Palmstierna’s funeral will take place in the same church.
It is all a bit reminiscent of the oft-told tale of Magnus Brahe, who was Carl XIV Johan’s Marshal of the Realm and closest confidante, who never left the monarch’s side and who famously followed his master to his grave within half a year of the King’s passing, the difference being that in the case of Elisabeth Palmstierna it took only 27 days for her to follow Princess Lilian.

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