On the afternoon of Sunday 10 March 2013 the Welsh-born Lilian, Princess Charming or Mrs Sweden – if she is to take her husband’s common calling names also for herself as is otherwise done with royal titles – died peacefully in her sleep at her home on Royal Djurgården. She was surrounded by the Royal Family.
Lilian May Davies was born on 30 August 1915 in Swansea, Wales, the United Kingdom. The family was poor working class, parents Gladys Mary and William Davies were young and only married a few months before Lilian, who was to be their only child, came into the world. Her mother worked as a shop assistant and her father was a registered soldier and worker in a factory that produced charcoal briquettes. Lilian was christened in the Church of England and went to a local school where education was given in the English language; Welsh was not taught and she therefore never learned the language. As did many other girls at the time, Lilian left school early to help and support the family.
This is about as much as we know about her childhood and youth. She never wanted to talk about it and anyone who has inquired about it has been met with very sparse information, silence from people in the family’s surrounding and many rumours circulating over the years. The Royal Court’s official biography was always very short and focused on her later life, and who doesn’t understand that?
- We lived in a very poor area, a mining district. I stayed there until I turned 18. My life there was really miserable. We were very poor and had to work hard. There was no joy, no life. Nothing, Lilian once told her husband’s biographer Fabian af Petersens.
In 1933, aged 18, Lilian left Wales for London in search of a better life. Dreams were big and competition fierce. As a young girl who was new in a big city and not knowing anyone – the only option was to elbow her way forward. Good looks gave her a chance to appear in magazines and advertising, tiny roles in films and commercials. It has been said that Lilian dreamed of becoming a singer, a wish that did not come true. She is also supposed to have worked in a nightclub – but because there have never been any confirmations about anything, a lot of rumours and many different people stating different “facts”, her role and what club it was has never been straightened out.
Before the war Lilian met her future husband, sound engineer and actor Ivan Craig who introduced her to new exciting circles in London; the world that circled around the big film studios. The couple married in September 1940 in Horsham, Surrey, before he was going out to war. Ivan Craig fought the war and returned as a major, they both found new loves and divorced amicably in 1947.
Lilian eventually became well established in London and could move to a better home in a mews building in Knightsbridge. As a war service she worked in a factory that put together radio parts for the marines and volunteered at a hospital outside London. Among her new neighbours was famous double agent Dusko Popov who, she later told her af Petersens, would bring her perfume and nylon stockings but yet did not manage to make her accept frequent invitations to his parties.
In August 1942 a new Deputy Marine Attaché arrived at the Swedish embassy in London – His Royal Highness Prince Bertil, Duke of Halland – grandson of the King of Sweden, Gustaf V. The placement was made for many reasons; one was to make the young prince forget his latest sweetheart. Little did anyone know that by sending him to London he would instead meet the love of his life. There are many versions of exactly when, where and how they met – friends, Lilian and Bertil all had their own stories of how it went. They all agree, though, that it was connected to her 28th birthday in 1943 and that the young prince greeted Lilian with the words “I am Prince Bertil of Sweden” upon which she replied “How wonderful, I am the Queen of Sheba”.
Prince Bertil and Lilian Craig did not become a couple there and then, but it was a start of something, a friendship, that was to grow. And the start of a partner relationship came with a sudden event… During a large bomb attack when the prince was dining at The Dorchester, he interrupted the conversation and went to the lobby to call Lilian and ask how she was doing. Her scared voice made him leave the event and, dressed in dinner jacket, Prince Bertil drove through Hyde Park as shatters from the attack fell down in the seat beside him. Lilian’s residential area was being closed down because of a non-activated bomb but he went in and fetched her to the car. All hotels were full and without any other solution in sight Prince Bertil asked his Hungarian cook to make up the guest bedroom at his apartment at Edwardes Square, as later told to af Petersens.
After the war Prince Bertil’s position in London ended and he started to travel around the world for Swedish trade and industry, a position that fitted the engaged and relaxed prince like a glove and earned him cordons of appreciation from all directions in Sweden. Although it did not make his relationship to Lilian easy at first, because he did no longer have a base in London, there was a foreseeable future together away from the immediate court control as long as the succession was secured.
In April 1946 the happy news of Carl Gustaf’s birth came and things looked bright. But only nine months later shock and sorrow turned things around with the plane crash and death of Prince Gustaf Adolf. Upon his brother’s death Prince Bertil was called home.
- Suddenly I had come close to the throne. My father demanded that I think of Sweden first and I understood that he was right. We were both in trouble and had no other choice. I felt devastated. It was one of the darkest days of my life. Everything was shattered, Prince Bertil told his biographer af Petersens.
Lilian Craig came to Sweden for the first time in 1946 and then returned for visits regularly. She stayed with Prince Bertil’s close friends and in a borrowed apartment. In 1957 she moved to Stockholm permanently, Prince Bertil had by then bought Villa Solbacken on Royal Djurgården and this became their private sanctuary together with the villa Mirage in Sainte Maxime, France, which he had bought after the war. The vacation home in the French Riviera, with Sainte Maxime not at the time being the busy place it is today, was the only place where Prince Bertil and Lilian could live completely free and open, going about their day as they wished without anyone recognising them.
In the beginning Lilian lived a very quiet life at Villa Solbacken together with a step-aunt but as time passed she dared to go out in Stockholm and live more freely although remaining a well kept royal secret. The couple socialised with a circle of trusted friends and Lilian became a hostess at private events. Prince Bertil once said that it took about ten years before his father realised what was going on. Most of the family remained reserved towards Lilian, especially Princess Sibylla and Queen Ingrid, but they all came around with time. Prince Wilhelm was their earliest supporter, they visited him at Stenhammar on occasion, and Bertil’s brothers Sigvard and Carl Johan were both included in their social lives.
In 1950 Prince Bertil’s father ascended the throne as King Gustaf VI Adolf, leaving only young Carl Gustaf between him and the throne and making him even more important in his royal role. Seeing that Lilian Craig was there to stay and not a fortune-seeker, the family began to open up to her little by little. But there was no talk about marriage or accompanying her prince at official events
- I would only have been able to go to church and would have had to go home afterwards when the rest of the family went to lunch at the Royal Palace. So I watched everything on TV instead. And then I actually felt alone and sad, Lilian told af Petersens about Princess Désirée wanting to invite her to her 1964 wedding with Baron Niclas Silfverschiöld.
The Swedish media kept their gentlemen’s agreement with Prince Bertil about not gossiping about the couple quite well during the years and it was only in the late 1960’s that the relationship became more known and publicised. In 1966 they were pictured at the 50th birthday celebrations of Count Carl Johan Bernadotte af Wisborg and in 1971 the King visited their vacation home in France. In 1972, for his 90th birthday celebrations, King Gustaf VI Adolf issued Lilian’s first official invitation and she attended looking beautiful and regal wearing Crown Princess Margareta’s laurel wreath tiara.
In 1976 – with King Carl XVI Gustaf on the throne, Queen Silvia next to him and an heir to the throne on the way – things were again looking brighter for Prince Bertil and Lilian’s future together. The monarchy was secured and King Gustaf VI Adolf’s wish that Prince Bertil would wait for his nephew the King to get married first was fulfilled. In October, aged 64 and 61 respectively, the engagement between Prince Bertil and Lilian Craig was announced by the Royal Court.
- At times it has felt difficult to wait and not be able to get married. But now it feels wonderful to become a Swedish princess and feel recognised after all these years. We have known each other for 33 years and are happy to finally have made it, Lilian said as the couple met the press in Tylösand in the Duchy of Halland.
Prince Bertil confessed that the couple regretted that they could not have any children but both emphasized how happy they were with the engagement.
- It has never crossed my mind to act differently than I have. Had I left court and got married my father would have been alone with all the duties. It had been different if my eldest brother had not passed away. Maybe then I had married sooner, Prince Bertil said.
Lilian became a Swedish citizen in November and lysning (reading of the wedding banns) was held in the Palace Church at the Royal Palace of Stockholm. On Tuesday 7 December 1976 their wedding was held in the Palace Church of Drottningholm Palace where a gathering of the closest family, friends, official representatives and court officials watched Mrs Lilian Craig walk down the aisle dressed in a fantastic regal ice blue dress, perfect for the winter month of December, carrying a bouquet of Lilies of the Valley to the tunes of Bach. After a relatively short ceremony, officiated by Archbishop Olof Sundby, the bride curtsied to King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia as the bridal couple walked out of the church and greeted a crowd outside – Lilian then as Her Royal Highness Princess Lilian, Duchess of Halland.
After the wedding ceremony a lunch for the closest family and friends was held at the Royal Palace of Stockholm and King Carl XVI Gustaf held the only speech – welcoming Lilian to the family by handing over a recipe for “cheese soufflé à la Lilian”:
- Charm and humour is sizzled, personality is added. Wisdom is added while stirring. Patience and judgement is spread over the finished dish. Glitter and smiles are spread over abundantly. Cooked with great patience, baking time thirty-three years. And now I quote the cookbook again: “the result is superb”.
Princess Lilian took Sweden with storm – her natural way, great charm, sense of humour, style and regal appearance combined into one made her a natural for the princess role. And what is often the greatest vice and strongest point of criticism for many royals – not mastering the language of their country – instead became a part of Princess Lilian’s charm. She did take Swedish lessons and could manage to read and watch TV but never developed a big vocabulary and ended up sticking to English – it was the language she spoke with Prince Bertil and the Royal Family, and the Swedish people she met as well. Wherever she went people loved to practice English with her and she could speak French when called for.
During all the years Prince Bertil and Princess Lilian kept a small apartment in Mayfair, London, to which they returned regularly. The Prince had a great relationship with parts of the British Royal Family that went back to his early childhood with holidays to visit his grandparents the Connaught’s and relations were kept warm through the years. London is also were Lilian had her dear friend and seamstress, designer of many of her wonderful gala gowns, Elizabeth Wondrak.
Prince Bertil and Princess Lilian shared their sense of humour, which can be called naughty or wicked, and practical jokes – tested and used as a successful ice breakers on many world leaders over the years. They also shared a love of food, cooking in their home and dining with gourmet friends like Swedish culinary legend and close friend Tore Wretman, and the prince was famous for loving the basic traditional Swedish cuisine called husmanskost. Through Prince Bertil she learned to enjoy sports and over the years they travelled to numerous Olympic Games together, Princess Lilian became a regular at tennis competitions (especially Stockholm Open) and their foundation was created to support the further development of sports leaders.
Prince Bertil remained incredibly active in his royal work into the early 1990’s and apart from their own activities, with patronages and personal royal duties, he and Princess Lilian attended most big royal occasions – from state visits to the National Day and the Nobel festivities. When Prince Bertil passed away in January 1997 Sweden lost a favourite royal and apart from great sorrow for the family there was also a great manifestation of love for the prince from the people and Princess Lilian always said that she was so happy and grateful every time someone came up to her to say how much they appreciated her husband.
After her husband’s death Princess Lilian could be seen dining at her favourite restaurants with close friends, shopping at markets in Stockholm and attending social events. In the summer of 1997 the Royal Family bought the yellow labrador Bingo for her, a dog that became her constant companion at home and a regular co-poser in photographs.
Queen Silvia was a great friend and confidante who the princess described more like a sister than anything else. In her memoir book from year 2000 Princess Lilian praised the Queen for the incredible support received after the death of Prince Bertil; with the Queen camping at her bedside in the beginning, always caring to see how she was doing and regular phone calls going back and forth. This was a friendship that lasted through the years, starting in the early 1970’s when Silvia Sommerlath was presented to Prince Bertil and her. And even though many close friends of Lilian have passed away before her, two close friends that have remained since she first moved to Sweden is Dagmar von Arbin and Countess Gunnila Bernadotte af Wisborg who both socialised with her and Bertil from the early years.
The King and Queen’s children became very dear to Prince Bertil and Princess Lilian who gladly admitted that they loved to spoil their “grandchildren” and the appreciation and love was mutual – Crown Princess Victoria, Prince Carl Philip and Princess Madeleine were all close to “auntie Lilian”. In her 2000 memoirs, Princess Lilian describes them respectively:
- When she has time she visits me. Often I find her lying in the floor where she cuddles and horses around with Bingo, my labrador. She’s open, happy and inquisitive and will surely be a great queen when the time comes. We have looked at my diademe and I have told her that she will have it. I got it from Bertil. It once belonged to his mother.
– I usually get real big bear hugs from him when we meet. It has also happened that he has asked “old auntie” to dance. Villa Solbacken is bequeathed to him after my death. Bertil was his godfather. Because Carl Philip, as Bertil was, is interested in engines I thought he should have Bertil’s pearl blue Porsche. The handing over took place on the Riviera. We both cried. I hope Carl Philip will walk in Prince Bertil’s footsteps. He has all the prerequisites.
– Princess Madeleine is very pretty and attractive but much more serious than her older siblings. She takes school very ambitiously – reads all the time, I think – and like many girls in that age lives for her horses.
Princess Lilian continued with royal engagements and did not scale down her schedule considerably until after turning 90 in 2005. The Nobel Prize awarding ceremony and banquet were her first official royal engagements as a princess and the last time she attended was in 2006, after which the lengthy arrangements were considered too demanding for her. She continued appearing with the family at some important events until 2008.
- The best thing about being older is that I didn’t die young, Princess Lilian said before her 80th birthday. Today we can certainly say that she did not – yesterday she passed away at the respectable age of 97. When she buried Prince Bertil in 1997 she had two wishes: a big bouquet of Lilies of the Valley for his coffin and Nat “King” Cole’s “Unforgettable” at the funeral service, it was sung by Lisa Nilsson in the Palace Church that time.
- I’m not afraid to die. When that moment comes I know that I will rest at my beloved husband’s side at Haga, she wrote in her memoirs.
Perhaps Prince Bertil and Princess Lilian’s song “Unforgettable” will be performed again for her funeral, we don’t know any details yet. But the funeral service will probably take place in the Palace Church followed by a private burial ceremony at Haga. Princess Lilian will be laid to rest next to Princess Bertil, at the gravestone carved in gneiss from Bårarp in Halland – their duchy.
PHOTO: Princess Lilian on her 90th birthday in 2005, photo by Claes-Göran Carlsson/The Royal Court.