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Sweden mourns unlikely princess

March 16, 2013

Sweden has held a state funeral for Princess Lilian, a Welsh-born commoner who married her prince after a secret 30-year romance. Lilian died last Sunday in Stockholm, aged 97.

Members of the Royal Guard carry the coffin of Sweden's British-born Princess Lilian from the Royal Chapel of the Royal Palace of Stockholm, March 16, 2013, after her funeral service. The British-born Swedish princess whose secret 33-year romance with her royal husband became Sweden's best-known love story, died on Sunday at the age of 97, the court said. Princess Lilian was the commoner wife of Prince Bertil, who died in 1997. They met and fell in love in London during World War Two, but had to keep their relationship secret for decades for the sake of the crown and to avoid a constitutional crisis. REUTERS/Maja Suslin/Scanpix (SWEDEN - Tags: ROYALS OBITUARY) SWEDEN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SWEDEN. NO COMMERCIAL SALES. ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Image: Reuters

Born Lilian Davies in the Welsh mining city of Swansea in 1915, the princess was the widow of Prince Bertil, the uncle of the current reigning Swedish monarch, King Carl Gustaf.

The pair met during World War II in London when she was working in a factory making radios and he was a naval attache. But as she was divorced and a commoner, the pair were unable to marry until 1976 as their union would have led to a constitutional crisis in Sweden.

In 1947, Bertil was suddenly faced with the possibility he could be King, after his older brother and heir to the throne, Gustav Adolf, was killed in a plane crash. The next in line to the throne was the infant Carl Gustaf, meaning Bertil and Lilian had to wait to marry until he came of age, otherwise Bertil would have lost his place in the line of succession.

Bertil's father, King Gustaf IV Adolf, refused to give his blessing to the marriage so as to not jeopardize the future of the monarchy.

So for more than 30 years, until after the king's death in 1973, Lilian was forced to maintain her relationship with Bertil in secret, unknown to the Swedish people, and with no official role in the royal family.

Princess Lilian of Sweden died last Sunday, aged 97. (Picture: Reuters) REUTERS/Janerik Henriksson/Scanpix/DW)
Princess Lilian of Sweden died last Sunday, aged 97Image: Reuters

One of King Carl Gustaf's first moves as monarch was to allow Bertil and Lilian to wed. When they did marry in 1976, she was 61, he was 64.

Sweden's 'secret' princess

Lilian, who was a former fashion model, was given an official role in the royal family and was hugely popular with the Swedish people. She was seen as a grandmother to the current royal family, and was pictured together with them at official functions until 2010, when she retired from public life.

Prince Bertil died in 1997. In recent years, Lilian suffered from Alzheimer's disease.

Her funeral on Saturday in the Stockholm Royal Chapel was officiated in both Swedish and English, and attended by dignatries including the Danish Queen, Margrethe.

"It was a declaration of love, to be there without being seen," said Bishop Emeritus Lars-Goeran Loennermark at the service.

"In this life choice of hers, there must have been a lot of pain," he said, referring to how long Lilian had to wait until she was able to marry Bertil, who himself once said one of his biggest regrets was the couple not having children in order to protect the throne.

Lilian was laid to rest in the Haga Park royal cemetery on the outskirts of Stockholm.

jr/jlw (dpa, Reuters, AFP)