Forty-five years ago today, newspapers around the globe featured stories about a rather remarkable royal wedding that took place the day before. Rather than a young couple just starting out, the prince and princess marrying in this wedding had been partnered for more than three decades. Today, we’re sharing the love story of Bertil and Lilian, who delayed their marriage for a quarter of a century to help ensure the stability of the monarchy in Sweden.
Prince Bertil, Duke of Halland was the fourth child of King Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden and his British-born wife, Princess Margaret of Connaught. Margaret died when Bertil was only eight years old. The young prince grew up during the reign of his grandfather, King Gustaf V, with his four siblings, Prince Gustaf Adolf, Prince Sigvard, Princess Ingrid, and Prince Carl Johan.
Two of Bertil’s brothers (Sigvard and Carl Johan) married commoners and lost their royal titles and their places in the line of succession. Princess Ingrid married the future King Frederik IX of Denmark and headed to Copenhagen. That left Prince Bertil and his eldest brother, Prince Gustaf Adolf, to continue the royal line in Sweden. Prince Gustaf Adolf duly married a German royal, Princess Sibylla of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and had four daughters and a son.
Prince Gustaf Adolf’s marriage and progeny took pressure off Bertil to marry a princess and have children of his own. Bertil took full advantage of his singleness, focusing his energies on pursuits that he loved, including racing cars. He also served in the Swedish navy, and he took on a schedule of royal duties, even stepping in sometimes to replace his father at important events. In 1938, for example, he stood in for his ailing father during an important official visit to the United States. Here’s how one local American paper described the visiting prince: “An officer of the Swedish navy, with the commission of a junior lieutenant, Prince Bertil has studied the designing of airplane engines and has also devoted his time to business pursuits. He is not married.”
Five years later, Bertil would have an encounter that changed the course of the rest of his life. In the early 1940s, he was working at the Swedish Legation in Britain, his mother’s home country, as a naval attaché. On August 30, 1943, he was a guest at a cocktail party in London. There, he met a young Welsh fashion model, Lilian Davies Craig, who happened to be celebrating her 28th birthday. The two struck up a romance. But there was a problem, and it wasn’t just that Lilian was not royal: she was married to someone else.
Lilian’s husband, the Scottish actor Ivan Craig, was serving with the British army in Africa. After the war, Ivan and Lilian met and agreed that their marriage should end. She was in love with Bertil, and Ivan had also found a new love during the war and wished to marry her. The Craigs divorced amicably, with the marriage ending in November 1947. By that time, though, something else had happened that would prevent Lilian and Bertil from marrying once she was free to do so.
In January 1947, Bertil’s brother, Prince Gustaf Adolf, had died in a plane crash in Denmark. He left behind a widow and five young children. But his death also had consequences for the structure of the Swedish royal family. Their numbers were dwindling, and Prince Bertil was now the only eligible heir from his generation of the family. At this point, the order of succession essentially went as follows: Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf (Bertil’s father), Prince Carl Gustaf (Bertil’s baby nephew), and Prince Bertil. Women were not then allowed to inherit the Swedish throne (that changed in 1980), and though there were a few elderly uncles in the mix, their sons had married commoners and given up their succession rights, too.
The portrait above shows the Swedish royal family after Prince Gustaf Adolf’s death. Seated in the front row are Princess Ingeborg, Crown Princess Louise, King Gustaf V, Princess Sibylla (with Prince Carl Gustaf on her lap), and Princess Margaretha. Standing in the back row are Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf and Prince Bertil. The size of the group and the age of the littlest prince demonstrate the quandary that Bertil faced. He could follow in his brothers’ and cousins’ footsteps and leave behind the royal family to marry the woman he loved, or he could stay unmarried and continue to support his grandfather, his father, and his nephew.
Prince Bertil ultimately chose duty and family over marriage. But that didn’t mean his life couldn’t include love. Rather than separating from Lilian and marrying a princess, he decided to simply stay single—nominally, at least. Bertil and Lilian made a home together at a house that he purchased in Sainte-Maxime on the French Riviera, and they also lived together secretly at Villa Solbacken, his home in Stockholm.
Bertil’s father, King Gustaf VI Adolf, became Sweden’s monarch in 1950. Bertil remained an active and engaged member of the royal family, frequently serving as regent for his father and taking on a slate of engagements. He and Lilian were so careful that they managed to keep their relationship totally secret from his father until the late 1950s. Bertil would later explain the lengths that he and Lilian had to take to continue their romance in private: “During the first 15 years we really had to sneak about in the bushes,” he told reporters years later. “We never went out to a restaurant or a cinema together. We never went out at all together.” They wouldn’t even fly together on the same plane, for fear that someone would spot them or access their names on the flight manifest. When Bertil’s father finally did learn about the relationship, he reacted strongly. “It was perhaps a stroke of good luck that I wasn’t in the same room with him at the time,” Bertil would later joke.
When their relationship no longer had to be hidden completely from Bertil’s father, Lilian moved to Sweden full time. But they remained careful to avoid the public gaze, avoiding appearances together in public until the late 1960s. Over time, King Gustaf VI Adolf softened toward the couple. In 1972, Lilian was even invited to the king’s 90th birthday celebrations, and during the festivities (pictured above), she wore a tiara in public for the first time: the Boucheron Laurel Wreath Tiara, which Bertil had inherited from his late mother.
But King Gustaf VI Adolf did make one more request of his son. He asked Bertil to promise him that he wouldn’t marry Lilian until after Crown Prince Carl Gustaf had found a bride of his own. Bertil agreed. But in the end, he wouldn’t have to wait long at all. King Gustaf VI Adolf died in September 1973. Bertil’s nephew, now King Carl XVI Gustaf, had already met his future bride. He’d been dating German translator Silvia Sommerlath since meeting her at the Olympic Games in Munich in the summer of 1972. They married in June 1976.
In October 1976, King Carl XVI Gustaf granted his uncle permission to marry Lilian—and keep his royal titles, too. Lilian became a Swedish citizen that November. During a press conference to announce their engagement, Bertil expressed only one regret about their long relationship: that, because they had not been able to marry, they had not had children of their own. Even so, they were beloved by Carl Gustaf and his family, eventually becoming surrogate royal grandparents to their three children.
The couple’s wedding took place at noon on December 7, 1976, at the private chapel inside Drottningholm Palace in Stockholm. The wedding was a small, private affair, attended only by family and close friends. At the time of their wedding, the groom was 64, and the bride was 61. They had been together for 33 years.
Here’s a photograph from the wedding itself, taken at the end of the ceremony. The new Princess Lilian, Duchess of Halland, curtseys to King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia. Beside the king is Bertil’s sister, Queen Ingrid of Denmark. She’s wearing an important piece of jewelry: her Diamond Daisy Brooch, which is set with diamonds that belonged to their mother, Margaret of Connaught. Queen Silvia wore pearls for the occasion.
The small wedding took only half an hour. The archbishop who performed the ceremony offered Bertil and Lilian “a warm and hearty wish of luck from myself, from everyone gathered here and from all in Sweden.” Afterward, Princess Lilian told reporters, “It was the most wonderful half hour of my life.”
Here, the King and Queen pose with the newlyweds and Lilian’s bridesmaid, Hélène Silfverschiöld. Hélène, who is the daughter of Princess Désirée, was an experienced bridesmaid. She had also served in the same role at Carl Gustaf and Silvia’s wedding earlier that year. (I believe Hélène is also one of Lilian’s godchildren.)
The bride’s “something blue” was her wedding gown, as well as her accessories. She donned a light blue dress—the color a concession to the fact that this was Lilian’s second wedding—with simple lines, a high neck, and bell sleeves. The gown was made by a British designer, Elizabeth Wondrak. She had long been one of Lilian’s favorite designers and a close friend, making clothes for her from the 1950s on. Wondrak would continue to design dresses for Lilian going forward, making gowns for events like the annual Nobel Prize celebrations. The two were close collaborators on many of the designs.
The wedding dress was a gift to Princess Lilian from Wondrak. When the new princess stepped outside of the palace and into the December cold, she draped a brown fur coat over the top of the ensemble. After the ceremony, the couple traveled by car to the Royal Palace in Stockholm, where Carl Gustaf and Silvia hosted a wedding luncheon in their honor.
With her gown, Lilian wore pearls, including pearl drop earrings and a three-stranded pearl necklace. A sparkling diamond bracelet can be spotted on her right wrist in many photos from the day. And she added one more bejeweled touch, a diamond and pearl ribbon brooch with pearl pendants, to her gown. To my knowledge, the provenance of this brooch has never been shared, but clearly it was a very important piece to Lilian.
The importance of the brooch was underscored when Lilian changed into a second dress for a black-tie dinner held later that evening at the Royal Palace. You’ll spot the brooch once more, pinned at the center of her bodice. She also wore the same brooch, but swapped out her necklace for a five-stranded pearl choker with a diamond clasp. She finished off the look with a pair of diamond chandelier earrings.
Prince Bertil and Princess Lilian were married until his death in 1997. Their two-decade marriage, and their fifty-year relationship, was strong until the end, and they remained cherished members of the Swedish royal family. Princess Lilian continued to attend royal events even after Bertil’s death. Above, in April 2006, she made one of her final bejeweled gala appearances at the 60th birthday celebrations for King Carl XVI Gustaf.
For the occasion, Lilian wore the same tiara—the Boucheron Laurel Wreath Tiara—that she’d worn for her very first royal gala more than 30 years earlier. (She appears to be wearing the same earrings, too.) And, in a sweet touch, you’ll also spot her wedding brooch, once again worn pinned to her evening gown. Both jewels are now owned by other members of the royal family, who surely think of Lilian each time they put them on. Lilian bequeathed the tiara to her great-niece, Crown Princess Victoria, and she left the brooch to her niece-in-law, Queen Silvia.