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Sweden mourns pauper who became princess

March 12, 2013

STOCKHOLM: Flags flew at half-mast across Sweden on Monday as the country mourned the death of Princess Lilian, a Welsh-born commoner who stole Swedes’ hearts by waiting three decades to marry her lifelong love Prince Bertil.

Born Lilian Davies in the Welsh coalmining town of Swansea in 1915, the princess died at her Stockholm home on Sunday at the age of 97, surrounded by the royal family. She had suffered from Alzheimer’s.

Prince Bertil, the uncle of King Carl XVI Gustaf, died in 1997. The couple never had children.

Lilian’s sacrifices for her prince endeared her to Swedes, who were gripped by the romantic love affair.

Sweden’s two leading dailies, Svenska Dagbladet and Dagens Nyheter, featured pictures of the white-haired princess on their front pages and dedicated several pages to her life, hailing her patience and spry sense of humour in equal measure.

She was like a grandmother to the current royal family, and was often seen together with them at official functions until 2010, when she withdrew from public life due to her health.

“The princess was very much loved by our family ... the kids always appreciated the princess’ funny pranks,” King Carl XVI Gustaf said in a comment referring to his now-grown daughters Victoria and Madeleine and son Carl Philip.

Bells in Stockholm’s churches rang for 10 minutes at 8:00 am in her honour, as flags on all public buildings were ordered to fly at half-mast.

During World War II, Lilian worked at a factory in London making radio sets for the British merchant fleet and at a hospital for wounded soldiers.

Her husband, Ivan Craig, whom she married in 1940, had been drafted into the army.

In 1943, she met Prince Bertil at the posh Les Ambassadeurs nightclub in the British capital, where he was stationed at the Swedish embassy.

The couple’s romance flourished, and she moved in to his London flat after hers was damaged in air raid.

She divorced in 1945 on amicable terms, her husband having also met someone new while abroad.

But in 1947, the unthinkable happened.

Bertil’s eldest brother, Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf, died in a plane crash, leaving behind an infant son who would one day inherit the throne.

Bertil’s two other brothers had already relinquished their places in the line of succession by marrying commoners.

The prince’s father, King Gustaf VI Adolf, refused to give his blessing to a marriage between Bertil and Lilian, so as not to jeopardise the future of the monarchy.

Lilian was forced to stay in the shadows, unknown to the Swedish people, though the couple did live together unofficially at their homes in southern France and Stockholm.

When Bertil’s father died in 1973, his nephew Carl XVI Gustaf ascended the throne.

And once the new king married in 1976, one of his first moves was to allow Bertil and Lilian to wed, which they did in December 1976, 33 years after meeting. She was 61, he was 64.

Bertil once said that one of his biggest regrets was that the couple had to sacrifice having children in order to protect the throne.

Hugely popular in Sweden for his romance with Lilian and known as “the prince of cars” for his love of fast vehicles, Bertil died in 1997 aged 84.

Lilian’s funeral is to be held on Saturday at the palace, and she will be laid to rest at the royal burial grounds in Haga Park on the outskirts of Stockholm, next to Bertil.—AFP