Europe’s newest royal, Princess Leonore Lilian Maria of Sweden, Duchess of Gotland, shares her first name with one of Sweden’s most famous monarchs.
While Ulrike Eleonora, queen regnant and queen consort of the country in the 18th century, is quite possibly the inspiration for the first name chosen by Princess Madeleine and Chris O’Neill for their daughter, there is no doubt about the origins of her second name. Europe’s littlest princess, born on February 20th 2014 in New York, is paying tribute to a Swansea girl who became a cornerstone of Sweden’s monarchy.
And there is an added poignancy… The Welsh princess who introduced the name Lilian to the Swedish royals missed the chance to have children of her own because of her devotion to the family. The woman who became Princess Lilian of Sweden, Duchess of Halland in 1976 spent over thirty years waiting for her prince to marry her and both she and her husband, Prince Bertil, put their own happiness second to the security of the Swedish crown.
Lillian May Davies was born in Swansea in August 1915, the daughter of a miner and a shop assistant. Aged just 16, in the difficult economic climate of the early 1930s, Lillian headed to London to make her fortune and worked as a model. To make herself sound more glamourous she changed the spelling of her name to the slightly more unusual Lilian.
In 1940, she married actor Ivan Craig, who left to serve in the Army soon afterwards. By the time he returned to England at the end of World War Two in 1945, both he and Lilian were in love with other people. They divorced amicably, but while Ivan soon married again, Lilian would have to wait over thirty years for her second wedding.
Lilian Davies and Prince Bertil of Sweden in the early days of their relationship
Her future husband, Prince Bertil, was the third son of the then Crown Prince of Sweden – Gustaf Adolf. Bertil’s older brother, another Gustaf Adolf, was expected to succeed to the throne in time but in 1945, he only had daughters who weren’t allowed to take the crown. As well as banning women from the succession, the royal rules at the time also obliged princes to give up their dynastic rights if they married a commoner. If Bertil and Lilian had married at the end of the war, he would have been barred from the succession, and Sweden would have had just one heir to the throne.
Bertil’s brother had a son in 1946, but was killed in a plane crash in 1947. When Bertil’s father became king in 1950, his heir was his three-year-old grandson, Carl Gustaf, and the only person who could act as regent for that little boy – if anything were to happen to the new monarch – was Bertil. Lilian’s wedding plans were put permanently on hold.
For the next three decades, Lilian spent much of her time in the south of France where she and Prince Bertil had a home. She was a discreet figure, very much in the royal background. But in 1973, the little boy for whom the couple had put their own lives on hold – and now grown up – became King of Sweden. Bertil and Lilian finally married in 1976 at the Drottingholm Palace with the bride in blue. After thirty years in the background, the girl from Swansea became a princess and full member of the royal family.
In fact, Princess Lilian became a very popular member of the royals and made regular appearances at major state events. Bertil died in 1997, and in 2000, she wrote a book about her royal life. She retired from public appearances in 2009, and was too ill to attend the huge royal wedding of her great niece, Crown Princess Victoria, in 2010. It was reported that she had Alzheimer’s in the years before her death and her funeral was attended by Queen Margrethe of Denmark as well as the whole Swedish royal family.
In the front row at that funeral, in March 2013, were Princess Madeleine and Chris O’Neill. Less than a year later, they have ensured that Lilian’s legacy lives on by naming Europe’s newest royal in her honour. It just shows that years of devotion really did turn Lilian Davies from Swansea into a truly royal legend.