A hundred years ago this month, the wedding of a future King and Queen of Sweden took place in London—royal nuptials that created a blended family and added several treasures to the Swedish royal jewelry collections.
The story of this royal wedding begins, sadly, with a tragedy. In 1923, Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden was searching for a wife for the second time. Three years earlier, he’d suddenly lost his wife of fifteen years, Crown Princess Margareta, after a series of escalating health issues that occurred while she was pregnant with their sixth child. Margareta died in May 1920 of sepsis at the age of 38, and their unborn child passed away as well.
Gustaf and Margareta’s relationship had been something of a fairytale royal romance. They’d met in Egypt in the winter of 1905, when Princess Margareta was traveling with her parents, the Duke and Duchess of Connaught, and her sister, Princess Patricia. After a whirlwind courtship, the Swedish prince and the British princess were engaged to be married. Margareta’s uncle, King Edward VII of the United Kingdom, hosted a lavish royal wedding for the pair at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor in June 1905.
The union was reportedly a happy one. Gustaf and Margareta had five children—Prince Gustaf Adolf, Prince Sigvard, Princess Ingrid, Prince Bertil, and Prince Carl Johan—in fifteen years. They became Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Sweden in 1907 when his grandfather, King Oscar II, died. Margareta embraced her role and her new nation, learning Swedish and exploring her interests in sports, gardening, and the arts. Her death shocked her royal relatives both in Sweden and in Britain, including her father, the widowed Duke of Connaught. (Her passing sadly happened on his 70th birthday.) As Margareta’s funeral was taking place in Stockholm, the British royals simultaneously held a memorial service at the Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace in London.
Several members of the extended British royal family were unable to attend the service in London because they were traveling abroad. A few weeks after Margareta’s memorial services took place, the Marquess and Marchioness of Milford Haven returned to England with their daughter, Lady Louise Mountbatten. They’d been spending a holiday in Corfu with their elder daughter, Princess Alice, who was married to Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark. Lord and Lady Milford Haven had previously been known as Prince Louis and Princess Victoria of Battenberg, titles they held until 1917 when they relinquished their German royal status at the request of King George V during World War I. Simultaneously, their unmarried daughter had become Lady Louise Mountbatten instead of Princess Louise of Battenberg. Though they had downgraded titles, the Mountbattens remained close members of the extended British royal family—after all, the Marchioness was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria and a first cousin of King George V.
By 1920, 31-year-old Lady Louise was considered to be a spinster by the standards of her day. Though she remained unmarried, she’d had several close calls with various suitors over the years. There was a rumored arranged marriage with the King of Portugal in 1909—thankfully only rumored, as he lost his throne the following year. There were also rumblings about a romance with Prince Christopher of Greece and Denmark, whose brother, Andrew, was married to Louise’s sister Alice. That relationship was reportedly nipped in the bud by the couple’s parents. Another unidentified suitor was said to have been killed in the early years of the war. Indeed, Louise threw herself into work during the war years, when she was commended for serving as a nurse in military hospitals in France. During her time in Paris, she fell in love with a Scottish artist, Alexander Stuart-Hill, but their engagement came to a halt when Louise’s father persuaded her to end the relationship over concerns about Alexander’s sexuality.
Lady Louise often accompanied her parents on trips abroad, including an emotional journey to Jerusalem in January of 1921, during which they attended the burial of Victoria’s sister, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna of Russia. That September, the family was faced with another tragedy when Louise’s father suffered heart failure in London and passed away at the age of 67. Lady Louise’s brother, George, inherited the Milford Haven marquessate, and Louise and her mother moved into a grace-and-favor apartment at Kensington Palace.
Louise’s name popped up occasionally in the papers in the following years, documenting her trips to the opera, her presence at dinner parties, and her attendance at the wedding of her brother, Lord Louis Mountbatten, to the heiress Edwina Ashley. Two of her nieces, Princess Margarita and Princess Theodora of Greece, also spent significant time in England with Victoria and Louise, who were helping them seek out suitable husbands.
In the summer of 1923, though, Louise’s name suddenly filled the columns of newspapers at home and abroad. Reuters broke the news that Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden, who was in London with his two eldest sons, Prince Gustaf Adolf and Prince Sigvard, had proposed to Lady Louise and had been accepted. The news was the culmination of a rapid courtship. Gustaf had traveled to England with marriage on his mind. He’d enjoyed being married to an Englishwoman, and he wanted to marry another Brit the second time around.
Gustaf and Louise had met briefly a decade earlier when she and her parents had traveled through Stockholm briefly on their way home from a journey to Russia. They’d also greeted each other on occasion during his various trips to England. But Louise’s first real conversation with Gustaf, she noted in a letter to her mother’s lady-in-waiting, Nona Kerr, took place only in May 1923. The crown prince had stopped by Kensington Palace a few times for tea, and then on June 10, he invited Victoria and Louise to take a drive to Hampton Court Palace with him. It was only then, Louise recalled, that it dawned on her that Gustaf was actually courting her, not just stopping by to visit because he had lots of free time. They’d always been friendly, and they were ultimately quite well-suited. Gustaf was scholarly and meditative, and Louise was described as being “unconventional” and “independent” by the press. Both marched to the beat of their own drum.
By the end of June, Louise had accepted Gustaf’s proposal, at the urging of her mother and her nieces. Her entire family was over the moon at the prospect of Louise finally finding a life companion after so many false starts. “What a relief and a happiness,” her sister Alice wrote to their brother Louis. “How happy poor Papa would have been.” Though Louise had her reservations—her own age, Gustaf’s future as a monarch, the prospect of a move to Sweden, and the fact that Gustaf had five children already—once she made her decision, she was thrilled, too. “I must say it is rather marvellous,” she wrote to Louis.
Plans for the couple’s wedding were put in motion at once, and Louise was soon able to meet Gustaf’s younger children. She became particularly close to eleven-year-old Prince Bertil, but she had a more difficult time winning over Gustaf’s only daughter, Princess Ingrid. In July, she wrote to Nona Kerr about the children, revealing that thirteen-year-old Ingrid was “terribly upset” about her father marrying again. The relationship between Louise and Ingrid thawed over time, but it took many years before Ingrid, who later became Queen of Denmark, was fully able to come to terms with her mother’s death and her father’s second marriage.
As preparations for the wedding proceeded, there were questions about whether Louise, who had lost her royal title and status in 1917, was constitutionally eligible to marry Sweden’s crown prince. (Daughters of “private men” were specifically excluded from eligibility.) On October 27, 1923, a special treaty was signed between Sweden and Britain that established that Louise and Gustaf’s marriage would indeed be constitutionally legitimate in Sweden. Meanwhile, Louise and her mother had traveled to the continent on an extensive shopping trip to assemble a trousseau fit for a crown princess. Back in London, Gustaf and Louise posed for official engagement photos at a studio in New Bond Street.
By September, plans for the wedding had been solidified. Though some had expected that the unconventional royal couple might just choose to elope, the nuptials were scheduled for the afternoon of Saturday, November 3, 1923, at the Chapel Royal, St. James’s Palace. King George V and Queen Mary announced that they would host Gustaf and his father, King Gustaf V, at Buckingham Palace during the celebrations, as well as other guests, including Queen Olga of the Hellenes. Notably absent from that list was Crown Prince Gustaf’s mother, Queen Victoria, who had suffered from ill health for years and spent most of her time in Italy. (She was also estranged from Gustaf’s father.) Victoria did not travel to England for her son’s wedding, but she did send along the gift of a sapphire and diamond spray brooch.
On the night before the wedding, King George and Queen Mary hosted a dinner in the couple’s honor at Buckingham Palace. They were joined by most of the other royal guests attending the following day’s nuptials, including Gustaf’s father, King Gustaf of Sweden, and his brother, Prince Wilhelm. Also present were Louise’s mother, Victoria, Queen Maud of Norway, and Queen Olga of the Hellenes, plus several members of the British royal family (including the Prince of Wales, the Duke and Duchess of York, Princess Mary and Lord Lascelles, Princess Beatrice, and Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll) and some of the extended Mountbatten clan. Lady Louise, wearing a dress of gold tissue with a pearl necklace and a diamond ornament in her hair, sat beside her fiancé at the dinner. Afterward, the Daily Mirror reported, “there was a reception for other friends to meet the bride and bridegroom.”
The following afternoon, 40-year-old Gustaf and 34-year-old Louise dressed in their wedding finery and made their way to St. James’s Palace to be wed. Gustaf traveled with his brother, Wilhelm, from Buckingham Palace to the chapel, while Louise drove through light rain from Kensington Palace to St. James’s Palace in a car with her brother, the Marquess of Milford Haven. Inside the tiny chapel, a glittering assembly of European royals gathered in the stalls to await the bride’s arrival. The Observer‘s special correspondent wrote that the size of the chapel, which was decked with white chrysanthemums and lit by soft electric candle lamps, “gave to the whole ceremony an air almost of intimacy.” The roster of guests who lined the aisle, however, was a reminder of the historical importance of the moment. The reporter wrote that the guest list had been restricted so that the chapel didn’t feel crowded, even though the congregation included “the brilliant group of over thirty members of the royal families of five countries.”
Helpfully, the same reporter even noted who sat where, giving us a little imagined peek inside the ceremony itself. Most of the royals were seated inside the railing on either side of the altar. (The boxes were removed by workmen ahead of the ceremony and replaced with individual chairs to increase the seating capacity inside the rails.) On the right side were King George V and Queen Mary, Queen Alexandra, King Gustaf V of Sweden, the Princess Royal, Princess Victoria, Princess Maud, Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden, Princess Mary and Viscount Lascelles, and Grand Duke Michael Mikhailovich of Russia with the Countess de Torby. On the left side were Queen Maud of Norway, Queen Olga of the Hellenes, the Prince of Wales, the Duke and Duchess of York, Prince George, Princess Beatrice, Princess Alice (Countess of Athlone), Prince and Princess Andrew of Greece and Denmark, the Marquess and Marchioness of Milford Haven, the Dowager Marchioness of Milford Haven, and Lord and Lady Louis Mountbatten.
Beyond the rails, Louise passed several other members of the family as she glided up the aisle, escorted by her brother George. (George’s two young children, the Earl of Medina and Lady Tatiana Mountbatten, handled their aunt’s train, while her four Greek royal nieces, Princesses Margarita, Theodora, Cecilia, and Sophie, followed behind. Their little brother, Prince Philip, was in London but was too young to attend the ceremony.) As she passed, Louise would have smiled at royal-adjacent guests that included the Earl of Athlone, the Marquess and Marchioness of Carisbrooke, Lord Carnegie, Count Michael de Torby, and Sir Harold and Lady Zia Wernher.
Notably absent from the ceremony were Crown Prince Gustaf’s in-laws, the Connaughts. The Duke had left London to travel to the French Riviera, while Prince Arthur was serving as Governor-General in South Africa and Lady Patricia was visiting her husband, Alexander Ramsay, who was commanding the HMS Chatham. The prospect of seeing Gustaf marry again may simply have been too painful, even after several years had passed. But the Duke and Patricia did participate in a quiet way, contributing to a group gift (a writing table with gilt glass candlesticks) with several other members of the royal family.
To the strains of the hymn, “Lead Us, Heavenly Father, Lead Us,” Louise arrived at the altar to meet her groom. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Davidson, performed the ceremony, assisted by the Bishop of London, Arthur Winnington-Ingram. (It was the second marriage of a future monarch that Davidson had presided over that year, after the nuptials of the Duke and Duchess of York in April 1923.) During the vows, Gustaf’s excellent English was particularly noted—the result of having been a member of the extended British royal family for years already. He slipped a plain gold band, purchased in London, on Louise’s finger. A reporter from the Sunday Illustrated was particularly touched by one spontaneous gesture from the Crown Prince: “There was a pretty and unconventional incident after the benediction. The Prince reverently raised his bride’s right hand to his lips and kissed it, giving her at the same time a glance of proud affection.” In response, the Daily Mirror reported, Louise’s “serious features relaxed into a slow, delighted smile.”
Archbishop Davidson delivered a simple address during the ceremony, noting that he was sharing “the quiet words of the straightforward and prayerful good wishes of thousands of ordinary people belonging to two separate nations whose thoughts and hopes and prayers turn today to this little chapel.” He added, “Each of you brings thereto experiences of joy and sorrow. You have borne the poignant stress and tension to which a great war exposes, and especially in public place … If we dare not in this world anticipate, for any home, high or lowly, a life of unbroken sunshine and happiness, we can and do expect and pray for a life of unbroken harmony and peace of soul.”
The address was followed by the singing of the hymn “May the Grace of Christ Our Saviour.” After signing the marriage register, the newly-wedded couple exited the chapel to the sounds of Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and the march from Handel’s Occasional Oratorio.
After the wedding ceremony had ended, the bridal party and their guests headed to Kensington Palace for a reception. Princess Beatrice had loaned her grander apartments at the palace to Victoria Milford Haven for the occasion. (The wedding gifts had been laid out inside Victoria and Louise’s smaller apartment.) Before the reception, the bridal party posed for official wedding portraits at the palace. They even invited a film camera from British Pathé to come to the palace to take newsreel footage of the portrait session.
The photographs and film footage show off the chic, simple wedding gown that Louise chose for her marriage ceremony. The Gentlewoman described the dress as “a shimmering vision in silver hand-woven Indian gauze, the train being finished by a hand-woven border of gold. The sole colour relief was supplied by a true lovers’ knot of orange blossoms, fastened at the waist-line.” The dress was sewn by Louise’s private dressmaker, Mademoiselle Margueritta, who worked out of a flat in Maida Vale. The silver fabric used to make Louise’s gown was a gift from her uncle, the artistic Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hesse. As she traveled to and from the chapel, Louise also wore an ermine-trimmed cape that had belonged to her grandmother, Princess Alice. She carried a bouquet of lilies-of-the-valley, said to have been picked from her own garden, and myrtle, traditionally cut from a plant grown by Queen Victoria at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.
Louise’s bridal veil was particularly special as well. The Honiton lace veil was ordered in the 1860s by Queen Victoria as a gift for her second daughter, Princess Alice. It was worn by Alice for her wedding to Grand Duke Ludwig IV of Hesse in 1862, and then again by Ludwig and Alice’s daughter—Lady Louise’s mother—Princess Victoria of Hesse for her wedding to Prince Louis of Battenberg in 1884. The veil was loaned by Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig to Lady Louise for the ceremony.
Rather than a traditional tiara set with gemstones, Lady Louise wore a floral headpiece to secure her veil. The headpiece was described by the Gentlewoman as “a Russian-shaped tiara of orange buds.” The piece’s metal lattice frame was wrapped in tulle and studded with floral buds. (This was also right on trend—see the floral headpiece worn a year earlier by Princess Mary for comparison.) The headpiece still exists today, preserved in the Royal Armoury museum at the Royal Palace in Stockholm. Her other jewels during the ceremony included a single strand of pearls. After the ceremony, she added even more pearls, putting on an impressive five-row pearl necklace with a diamond clasp, reportedly a wedding gift from the Swedish doctor Arvid Kellgren. She also pinned the Royal Family Order of her new father-in-law, King Gustaf V, to her gown.
Here’s a look at Gustaf and Louise with their bridal party in one of the official portraits taken at Kensington Palace. Crown Prince Gustaf wore the dress uniform of a general in the Swedish army, while his brother and best man, Prince Wilhelm, wore a Swedish naval dress uniform. Louise’s nieces and nephews (with the exception of the toddler Prince Philip) formed the rest of the bridal party. The five bridesmaids—Princesses Margarita, Theodora, Cecilia, and Sophie of Greece and Denmark, with Lady Tatiana Mountbatten—wore silk dresses in a color described variously as “apricot” or “warm melon.”
The three youngest girls wore circlets of golden leaves across their forehead. The young Earl of Medina—George Milford Haven’s son, David—wore a sailor’s uniform, including a cap bearing the name HMS Excellent. That’s a reference to the land establishment in Portsmouth that housed the offices of the First Sea Lord, a title held from 1912 to 1914 by Lady Louise’s father (and little David’s grandfather), the late Louis Mountbatten, 1st Marquess of Milford Haven. Decades later, in the 1950s, the same title would be granted to Lady Louise’s younger brother, Lord Mountbatten.
Here’s a look at the elder Greek princesses, Margarita and Theodora, wearing their bridesmaids’ dresses. These two were particularly close to their aunt Louise. They’d often been staying with her and their grandmother, Victoria Milford Haven, in London while they considered prospective husbands. Both would eventually marry German princes in the 1930s.
Here’s a look at Margarita and Theodora with their parents, Prince and Princess Andrew of Greece and Denmark, and their grandmother, the Dowager Marchioness of Milford Haven, on Gustaf and Louise’s wedding day.
Here’s Louise’s mother, Victoria Milford Haven, wearing pearls, including the sautoir necklace style favored by most of the guests, on the wedding day. She offered her daughter a bejeweled wedding gift as well: a diamond and cabochon sapphire pendant in the shape of an anchor, another nod to Louise’s late father’s distinguished naval career.
Here’s Louise’s big sister, Princess Alice, wearing pearls on the wedding day as well. Alice and her husband, Prince Andrew of Greece, gave Louise an “aquamarine hair bandeau” for her wedding present. I’ve often wondered whether it was this one. The timing is certainly correct, and the style, and we know that it comes from Queen Louise’s collection.
Here’s Louise’s brother George, the Marquess of Milford Haven, with his wife, Nadejda, who was called “Nada,” and their children, Tatiana and David. Like his father, George Milford Haven was a naval officer. He was also reportedly one of the smartest members of the entire royal family, especially skilled in mathematics. Sadly, he suffered an early death, dying of cancer in 1938.
Here’s a closer look at Nada’s jewels from the wedding day, including that ever-present pearl sautoir necklace. Nada was the elder daughter of Grand Duke Michael Mikhailovich, a grandson of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, and his morganatic wife, the Countess de Torby. Her parents also attended Louise’s wedding, as did her brother, Michael, and her sister and brother-in-law, Zia and Harold Wernher. The Milford Havens gave Louise a pair of aquamarine earrings to match the bandeau given to her by Prince and Princess Andrew.
And here’s Louise’s younger brother, Lord Louis Mountbatten, posing on the wedding day with his wife, Edwina. Louis had married Edwina, the granddaughter and heiress of the wealthy Sir Ernest Cassel, in July 1922 at St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster. They would later become, of course, the last viceroy and vicereine of India, and Louis would be created Earl Mountbatten of Burma in 1947. He exercised considerable influence as the uncle of the Duke of Edinburgh during Philip’s marriage to Queen Elizabeth II.
Edwina, easily the richest woman in attendance at the wedding, wore pearls and diamond ornaments for the occasion, including a small brooch on her hat. Lord and Lady Louis also offered a bejeweled wedding present to Louise: a
“delicately designed diamond bandeau.” (This one, I’ve often wondered?)
And here’s a brief glimpse of King George V and Queen Mary, with King Gustaf V of Sweden, arriving at St. James’s Palace for the wedding ceremony. King Gustaf had packed a fabulous gift for his new daughter-in-law: a “high diamond crown with points and rose centre.” (This is surely a reference to Queen Sofia’s Tiara, which Louise was pictured wearing from the early days of her marriage.) George and Mary gave Louise a jewelry gift, too: a “long-shaped diamond brooch, closely set with diamonds in delicate rows around a central stone.” There were even more jewels presented to the future Queen Louise of Sweden on the occasion of her wedding. Per the Western Morning News, Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf gave his new wife an intriguing suite of jewelry: “diamond and square-cut onyx drop earrings with [a] pendant single diamond in [the] centre of [a] pear-shaped ring, and a hair ornament in onyx and diamonds.”
Queen Ena of Spain sent a pendant set with diamonds and cabochon sapphires, while her mother, Princess Beatrice, and her brother and sister-in-law, Lord and Lady Carisbrooke, provided a sapphire ring. Princess Victoria gave her cousin a brooch set with diamonds, pearls, and rubies. A diamond, pearl, and ruby pendant was dispatched by her aunt, Princess Henry of Prussia, while another pendant set with diamonds was given by Gustaf’s uncles and aunt, Princess Carl, Princess Ingeborg, and Prince Eugen. The Glasgow family offered her a brooch set with diamonds, pearls, and pink topazes, while Lady Northcote gave a diamond and enamel brooch. Another brooch, set with a rare “Florida pearl,” was given by a Colonel Thompson.
Gustaf and Louise returned to Sweden after their honeymoon and settled in to their roles at the royal court in Stockholm. Because Queen Victoria rarely returned to Sweden, Crown Princess Louise regularly served as the senior royal lady at palace functions. The couple suffered a personal tragedy in May 1925 when their only child, a daughter, was stillborn. The shared loss drew Gustaf and Louise closer together, cementing a bond that would last for the rest of their lives. They became King Gustaf VI Adolf and Queen Louise of Sweden in October 1950, with Louise supporting her husband in his role as monarch until her death in 1965.