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Princess Lilian of Sweden and the Royal Love Story that Stood against all Odds

Princess Lilian of Sweden

Hers was the classic love story of a fairy tale prince who wedded a commoner lady. But despite the earlier restrictions that hindered the then-Lilian Davies from marrying Prince Bertil, the Welsh-born model and socialite was eventually welcomed into the royal family with open arms. She has endeared herself with the Swedish people, so much that her passing shocked the kingdom that she so selflessly served for nearly 40 years. Frail in her 96th year, it seems that her people did not want her to go, for her passing also meant the passing of the remnant of a more genteel era, where life was simpler yet happier.

Princess Lilian was born Lillian May Davies on August 30, 1915 in Swansea, South Wales. She dropped one “l” from her first name after she started modeling . In 1940, she married Scottish actor Ivan Craig. During World War II she worked at a factory that manufactured radio. Later on, she served at a hospital for wounded soldiers.

In 1943, she met Prince Bertil of Sweden, Duke of Halland, during a cocktail party for her 28th birthday in London. By that time, she was already separated from her husband and after returning from the war, Craig told Lilian he wanted to marry another woman.



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The Prince, born Feb. 28, 1912, was the third son King Gustav VI Adolf, then Crown Prince of Sweden, and Princess Margaret of Connaught, elder daughter of the Duke of Connaught, third son of Queen Victoria. Lilian was immediately smitten by the dashing prince and they eventually became lovers. In 1945, her divorced with Craig was granted.

In 1947, Bertil’s elder brother, Prince Gustav, had died, leaving a one-year old son in line of succession. Bertil’s elder brother Prince Sigvard had already given up his rights to throne after marrying a commoner in 1934. This left Bertil third-in -line to the throne, after his father the Crown Prince and his nephew the future Carl XVI Gustav, with high chances of becoming regent one day. Thus, it seemed that any hopes of marrying Lilian seemed out of sight. But Lilian held on with his love for the prince. They lived together discreetly  and their home in the French Riviera was where they shared their happiest moments together.

While Lilian was privately accepted by members of the royal family, in public she could never be.

Telegraph online writes:
“King Gustaf Adolph asked Prince Bertil not to marry Lilian until after his death. Ironically, her first public appearance at the Swedish court was for the 90th birthday celebrations of the King in 1972. But she was a well-known figure in international society, and she and Prince Bertil were frequently photographed at their villa in the South of France in magazines such as Point de Vue.”
It must have been emotionally blowing for both Lilian and Sigvard to stay in love with one another—and live together—without any blessings from the groom’s father, the government or the church. It went that way for more than three decades.

Washington Post recalls:
“The couple’s sacrifices and lifelong dedication to each other gripped the hearts of Swedes. Their story has been described as one of the most touching royal romances of our time.”
Princess Lilian paid a price for her loyalty, according to New York Times. That included “whispers early on about living in sin.” Perhaps, the only thing that she ever regretted was not started a family. “But now the queen’s children are like my children,” she told The Globe. “It makes up. Well, not quite.”

Yes, she believed in love that lasted forever. Such was her love for the prince that in 1995, she said:
“If I were to sum up my life, everything has been about my love.”
According to Washington Post:
“Despite the royal reluctance to recognize her officially, Lilian’s charm and warm personality won the Swedes over, and magazines depicted the happy couple playing golf and riding the prince’s motorbike.”
King Gustaf died in 1973. Times have already changed. Rules regarding dynastic marriage were relaxed. The new king himself married a commoner. Eventually, the couple was allowed to get married. The groom was 64, the bride 61 but age didn’t matter. True love did. On December 7, 1976, they exchanged vows at the Palace Church of Drottiningholm before the new king and queen. The gamely couple spent their honeymoon at their French villa.

The former Mrs. Craig became officially known as Princess Lilian of Sweden, Duchess of Halland.

“Thereafter Princess Lilian appeared as publicly at court as she had previously done privately. Also, every year from 1976 until 2005 she attended the Nobel Prize-giving ceremony, adorned in royal jewels and Sweden’s highest order of chivalry (the Seraphim). It was only at the age of 91 that she discontinued this tradition, deciding that she was too old.” - The Telegraph online

Prince Bertil passed away on January 5, 1997. Princess Lilian was right beside him. However, the dowager princess never buried herself in grief. In the next 10 years or so, she maintained a busy schedule of royal engagements while continually supporting her husband’s numerous causes.

In 2000, she published her memoirs. In 2005, her 90th birthday became a cause for celebration not only within the Royal Family  but also the entire nation who can’t help but adore their grandmotherly princess. 

She remained active as ever and she even joined “a flamenco festival at the House of Dance and a smoking dinner at Nalen.” But she did not want to make a fuss out upon reaching a new milestone in her life. She made it known that in lieu of personal presents, donations be given to SOS Children’s Villages.

But what was her secret to her long life?
“I think that the work – and laughter – keeps me somewhat young in mind. I don’t do gymnastics or exercise. But I do feel the same wish to help as my husband did.”
The Telegraph reports:
“The Princess remained supremely elegant, liking to wear high heels and haute couture clothes. She loved practical jokes and was fortified by the love of Queen Silvia, to whom she was especially close, and the younger members of the Swedish royal family.”
White orchids invariably adorned the Villa Solbacken, where she lived under the care of  three nurses.

Before her death, she was Sweden’s oldest royal, “entirely accepted by all generations of that family.” She had no children—or grandchildren—of her own, but everyone in the Royal Family and Sweden looked to her as that great old matriarch who saw them through hardship and abundance. 

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