Ten years ago today, the Swedish royal family mourned the passing of Princess Lilian, wife of Prince Bertil and aunt of King Carl XVI Gustaf. To celebrate her life today, we’ve got a look at one of her most treasured jewels: the diamond and pearl brooch that she wore on her wedding day.
It was a royal wedding three decades in the making. On December 7, 1976, Prince Bertil of Sweden, then 66 years old, married 61-year-old Lilian Davies Craig, a Welsh-born fashion model, in a small ceremony in Stockholm. He was the son of King Gustaf VI Adolf and uncle of King Carl XVI Gustaf; she was born into a family of of coal miners and shopkeepers.
The disparity in their circumstances was only part of the reason they had to wait so long to marry. Lilian was a commoner who also happened to be a married woman when they met and fell in love in London during World War II. Her husband asked for a divorce after the war’s end, but that didn’t guarantee royal approval for a marriage to Bertil. At that time, Swedish royals who married commoners automatically lost their titles and statuses.
For Prince Bertil, that prospect was particularly problematic, as the number of family members had dwindled swiftly over the past decade. His eldest brother, Prince Gustaf Adolf, had died in a plane crash, and his two remaining brothers had lost their places in the line of succession when they married commoners. At the time, the Swedish constitution did not allow women to inherit the throne, and the family was down to only three eligible heirs: Prince Bertil’s father, King Gustaf VI Adolf; Prince Bertil’s nephew, Prince Carl Gustaf; and Prince Bertil himself.
To help preserve the monarchy, and to ensure that someone would be available to serve as regent for the young Carl Gustaf should the need arise, Prince Bertil decided not to marry Lilian. But that didn’t mean that he had to give her up. Instead, the two lived quietly and privately as a couple for the next thirty years. Eventually, times changed, and the family warmed to Bertil and Lilian’s romance. And after King Carl XVI Gustaf came to the throne in 1972, and after he married Queen Silvia four years later, he rewarded his uncle’s loyalty by granting him permission to marry Lilian and remain part of the royal family.
The couple’s long-awaited nuptials took place on December 7, 1976, in the chapel at Drottningholm Palace in Stockholm. Princess Lilian, as she would now be known, wore a light blue gown made by Elizabeth Wondrak, a British designer who was also one of her closest friends. She accessorized with pearls and a lovely diamond and pearl ribbon brooch, which she pinned to the left shoulder of her dress.
Here’s a closer look at the brooch from a later occasion. The piece appears to be an antique jewel, likely made in the nineteenth or late twentieth century. It’s designed to resemble a bow with three ribbon loops and two tails. A large pearl is set in the center of the gold brooch, and two more pearls are suspended as pendants from the tails of the bow.
To the best of my knowledge, we’ve never learned the provenance of the brooch. I’ve always sort of guessed that it was a present from Prince Bertil, because she wore it so prominently on their wedding day. But that’s really just a guess. I also don’t know if it might have any history within either the British or Swedish royal families. Design-wise, it reminds me a bit of a couple of different royal pieces: the Greville Bow Brooch, made ca. 1900 by Boucheron and later worn by the Queen Mother, and the diamond bow brooch currently worn by Queen Mathilde of the Belgians.
When Princess Lilian changed into a second look for the reception held after the couple’s royal wedding, she also changed out her jewelry—but again pinned the diamond and pearl ribbon brooch to her bodice. To me, this underscores the piece’s importance and sentimentality, really suggesting that it was perhaps a gift from her husband.
Princess Lilian became an important and visible member of the Swedish royal family after the couple’s wedding, often attending gala events like state banquets and the annual Nobel Prize festivities. Above, in October 1979, she wears the bow brooch (with pearls and the family’s Diamond Four Button Tiara) for a banquet at the Spanish embassy in Stockholm.
She often paired the brooch with pieces of heirloom jewelry that Bertil had inherited from his mother, Princess Margaret of Connaught. Here, at the Nobels in December 2002, she wears the brooch with two of Margaret’s jewels: the Boucheron Laurel Wreath Tiara and the Scarab Necklace.
Toward the end of her life, Lilian began making fewer and fewer gala appearances as her health declined. One of the last was the April 2006 birthday celebrations for King Carl XVI Gustaf. On that occasion, she paired the laurel wreath tiara and the stomacher necklace with the bow brooch.
When she died on March 10, 2013, many of her jewelry pieces were inherited by members of the royal family. The bow brooch, described in the inventory of her estate as a bow brooch made of gold, diamonds, and three pearls, was valued at 80,000 Swedish kronor. Two years later, the brooch reappeared on a member of the Bernadotte family. Queen Silvia wore it for a dinner at the Royal Palace in Stockholm, pairing it with the Connaught Diamond Tiara, pearl drop earrings, and a diamond rivière necklace.