Sweden’s Princess Lilian, Duchess of Halland, has died today at the age of 97.
Lilian was born Lillian May Davies in Swansea, South Wales on August 30th, 1915. In her youth, she was a popular fashion model in Britain. In a move that would affect her future, Lilian made a wartime marriage to British actor Ivan Craig in 1940. During the war, Lilian worked at a factory that made radios for the Royal Navy and at a hospital for wounded soldiers.
In 1943, she met Sweden’s Prince Bertil, uncle of the present King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. Lilian and Bertil fell in love, but were to face struggles with their relationship as Lilian was still married and would eventually be divorced. A divorcee in a royal family at this time was unacceptable.
Things became more complicated when Bertil’s older brother, heir apparent Prince Gustaf Adolf, died in 1947. Gustaf Adolf’s son, Carl Gustaf, was still a baby, so Bertil had to serve as regent in his nephew’s stead. To be regent, Bertil had to make a suitable marriage. He loved no one but Lilian, so they chose not to marry and Bertil remained a bachelor for official purposes. They lived together discreetly for more than 30 years.
Bertil’s father, King Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden, lived until young Carl Gustaf came of age. The new king fell in love with a German commoner Silvia Sommerlath, whom he had met at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. Silvia was working as an interpreter and hostess and caught the king’s eye. Carl Gustaf courted Silvia and they married in June 1976, an event that paved the way for Bertil and Lilian to marry. The king, now married to a commoner, granted his uncle permission to marry his love. On December 7th, 1976, Lilian and Bertil realized their dream. They were wed in the church at Drottningholm Palace.
Prince Bertil predeceased his wife in January 1997 with Lilian at his side. They had no children.
Lilian, in her capacity as Duchess of Halland, fulfilled a number of royal duties. She took up many of Prince Bertil’s former posts, particularly in the area of sports. Each year, she distributed grants from the “Prince Bertil and Princess Lilian Sports Foundation”. Lilian also worked closely with SOS Children’s Villages Sweden, which provides a home and an education to children who have been orphaned.
In recent years, Lilian’s health had deteriorated. After breaking a hip, she became increasingly frail. In 2010, the Royal Court said that the princess had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and would not be appearing in public.
The king and queen, together with their children Crown Princess Victoria, Princess Madeleine, and Prince Carl Phillip, adored Lilian. She will be missed.