She was the best kept secret of Sweden’s royal household.
A commoner and divorcee, her relationship with Prince Bertil was seen as a threat to the Bernadotte dynasty.
The Welsh-born Princess Lilian and her Bertil kept their love unofficial for decades and were both in their 60s when they finally received the king’s blessing to get married.
Lilian died in her Stockholm home last year at age 97. The Royal Palace didn’t give a cause of death. Most likely, it was Alzheimer’s, from which Lilian suffered; she was in poor health for several years.
She met Sweden’s Prince Bertil in 1943, but his obligations to the throne and Lilian’s status as a divorced commoner – gasp! -prevented them from making their love public. The couple’s sacrifices and lifelong dedication to one another touched the hearts of Swedes.
“If I were to sum up my life, everything has been about my love,” the princess said of her husband when she turned 80 in 1995. “He’s a great man, and I love him.”
Born in Swansea, Wales, as Lilian Davies on Aug. 30, 1915, she moved to London at 16 to embark on a career as a model and an actress, showcasing hats and gloves in commercials and getting a few small roles in movies.
Through her career, she met British actor Ivan Craig, they married in 1940.
When World War II broke out, Craig was drafted into the British army; Lilian stayed behind in London. Working at a factory making radio sets for the British merchant fleet and serving at a hospital for wounded soldiers kept her busy.
But, not busy enough.
Prince Bertil was stationed at the Swedish Embassy in the British capital as a naval attache.
They met in a fancy nightclub Les Ambassadeurs shortly before Lilian’s 28th birthday in 1943. Lilian then invited him to a cocktail party in her London apartment. But it wasn’t until he rescued her with his car following an air raid in her neighborhood that the romance blossomed. Well, at least according to her 2000 memoirs, “My Life with Prince Bertil.”
“He was so handsome my prince, especially in uniform. So charming and thoughtful. And so funny. Oh how we laughed together,” again, from the bio.
Lilian was still married at the time. As luck would have it, her husband had met someone else as well during his years abroad in the army. Ready to be rid of one another and move on with their lives, the couple divorced on amicable terms.
Back home in Sweden, things for Bertil weren’t so simple.
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.
King Gustaf VI, his father, put his royal foot down and ordered him to abstain from marrying Lilian. Another commoner marriage 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, not really caring what others thought!
At first, they stayed in France, where no one cares if you’re sleeping with the one to whom you’re married – just ask the President! Then they split their time between France and Sweden. Lilian stayed in the background for years.
In 1976, some 33 years after they first met, and a whole lot of pressure from everyone in Sweden, the new king finally gave them the approval they had been waiting for.
The bride was 61, the groom, 64.
The union was childless.
UPon becoming a royal princess, Lilian spent the rest of her life in the pursuit of royal duties. She may not have been born royal, but she was royal.
21 years later, Bertil died.