Princess Lilian met Sweden’s Prince Bertil in 1943, but the prince’s obligations to the throne and Lilian’s status as a divorced commoner prevented them from making their love public. It would be more than 30 years before they could marry.
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.
“If I were to sum up my life, everything has been about my love,” Princess Lilian said when she turned 80 in 1995.
Born Lilian Davies in Swansea, Wales, on Aug. 30, 1915, the charming, blue-eyed beauty moved to London as a 16-year-old to embark on a career as a model and actress, showcasing hats and gloves in advertisements and getting small roles in movies. She met British actor Ivan Craig, whom she married in 1940.
Craig was drafted into the British army in World War II. Lilian stayed in London, working at a factory making radio sets for the British merchant fleet and serving at a hospital for wounded soldiers.
At the time, Prince Bertil was stationed at the Swedish Embassy in the British capital as a naval attache. The couple first laid eyes on each other in the fancy nightclub Les Ambassadeurs in 1943. Lilian invited him to a cocktail party in her London apartment. But it wasn’t until he fetched her with his car after an air raid in her neighborhood that the romance blossomed, Princess Lilian recalled in her memoirs, “My Life with Prince Bertil,” published in 2000.
“He was so handsome, my prince,” she wrote. “So charming and thoughtful. And so funny. Oh how we laughed together.”
Lilian was still married at the time, but Craig had met someone else during his years abroad in the army, and the couple divorced on amicable terms.
Upon Bertil’s return to Sweden, however, his relationship with a commoner became a delicate issue.
Bertil became a possible heir to the throne when his eldest brother died in a plane crash, leaving behind an infant son — the current King Carl XVI Gustaf. Two other brothers had dropped out of the line of succession by marrying commoners.
Bertil’s father, King Gustaf VI Adolf, ordered him to abstain from marrying Lilian, since that would jeopardize the survival of the Bernadotte dynasty.
Instead, the couple let their romance flourish in an unofficial manner, living together in a common-law marriage for decades.
They first lived in France and later divided their time between the French village of Sainte-Maxime and Stockholm, where Lilian discreetly stayed in the background.
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.
In 1976, some 33 years after they first met, Carl Gustaf, now the king, gave them the approval they had been waiting for.
When they were married Dec. 7, 1976, in a ceremony at the Drottningholm Palace Chapel outside Stockholm, Lilian became princess of Sweden and duchess of the southern province of Halland. The bride was 61, the groom 64.
Prince Bertil died at Villa Solbacken, the couple’s residence in Stockholm, in 1997.
Princess Lilian took over some of her husband’s duties, especially as an award presenter for various sports associations, until health problems forced her to cut back on some of her royal duties in recent years.
— Associated Press