Sunday, 4 October 2009

What to see: Prince Wilhelm’s grave, Flen Churchyard

Despite being the second son of King Gustaf V, Prince Wilhelm of Sweden is buried neither at the Royal Burial Ground at Haga nor in the Riddarholmen Church in Stockholm, but rather in a simple grave in the parish cemetery of the small town Flen. The poet-prince was Duke of Sudermania and therefore made his home at Stenhammar Palace in Flen, which the courtier Robert von Kraemer had left to the royal family to be made available to a prince – preferably a prince styled Duke of Sudermania.
The choice of the parish cemetery near Stenhammar also enabled Prince Wilhelm to be buried next to the great love of his life, Jeanne de Tramcourt. He had met Jeanne, the French-born ex-wife of the famous sculptor Christian Eriksson, just after his divorce from Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia in 1914. Had he married her, he would have lost his succession rights, his royal titles, the use of Stenhammar and most of his income. When he proposed to her, she said she had no wish to become a Swedish Mrs Simpson.
After a turbulent beginning they eventually agreed to stay together for the rest of their lives, cohabiting at Stenhammar. Jeanne was euphemistically referred to as “Stenhammar’s hostess”, but her position as the unmarried companion of a royal prince was not easy. Wilhelm’s servants and his son also tended to be quite hostile to her.
In January 1952 Jeanne de Tramcourt was killed in a car accident. Prince Wilhelm was at the wheel and although the investigation concluded that it was not his fault, he could not stop blaming himself, even speaking of suicide. His despair is evident in the collection of poems he published in 1955, titled Verklighetens skuggbilder.
Prince Wilhelm died in 1965. He was not buried in the same grave as Jeanne, but next to her, creating a distance between them in death. In 1991 Wilhelm’s daughter-in-law, Countess Karin Bernadotte af Wisborg, was buried in his grave even though she was by then divorced from his son Lennart. This is in itself somewhat ironic, as Jeanne in life had been quite jealous of the young and beautiful Karin, who was adored by her father-in-law.

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