SUPPORT OUR JOURNALISM: Please consider donating to keep our website running and free for all - thank you!


The jubilee celebrations that were stopped by a tragic accident that changed a royal family forever

In December 1947, the King of Sweden sat down for an official portrait. Around him were close family members including the ageing heir to his throne and a young child who already had a life of royal duty laid out before him. The picture had been a long time in the planning but it had turned out very differently from expectations. The portrait was meant to be part of celebrations for King Gustaf V’s Jubilee. But a terrible tragedy just months before meant the monarch had scrapped his party plans and the moment became a mournful reminder of losses that had changed his family forever.

Gustaf V was marking forty years as king as he took his seat for the camera. He had taken the throne on December 8th 1907 on the death of his father, King Oscar II, who had transformed royal celebrations in Sweden and turned jubilees into a must have for monarchs marking milestones. Oscar’s silver party had seen Stockholm decked in flags and bunting and the king feted by tens of thousands. Now, his son and successor sat in a lonely room for a single snap and no one was in the mood to smile.

That was perhaps understandable. On January 26th 1947, the second in line to the throne had been killed in a plane crash, devastating his family. Prince Gustaf Adolf, Duke of Vasterbotten had been travelling home and his flight from Copenhagen to Stockholm had just taken off when it ran into difficulties and crashed to the ground, killing all 22 people on board. Gustaf Adolf, grandson of King Gustaf V, was just forty years old. He left behind a wife and five children, and had been widely mourned.

By Unknown author – Bo Bengtson m.fl. (red.): Prins Bertil berättar. Höganäs 1983, Bra Böcker., Public Domain, Wiki Commons

However, four of the five children had been girls who, at the time, had no rights to the throne. Only his youngest child, Carl Gustaf, had a place in the line of succession. He was in the Jubilee photo, aged just twenty months, and only separated from the throne by his 65 year old grandfather, Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf.

In fact, claimants to the crown were sparse. Two of Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf’s sons had given up their rights to succeed to marry – strict rules forbade weddings with non royals and they had chosen love instead. Gustaf V marked his Jubilee with questions about the future of his dynasty uppermost in his mind.

His decision not to celebrate was understandable given the family’s grief at the time. However, Gustaf V had never been overly keen on royal pomp and ceremony. He had chosen not to be crowned on his accession in 1907. In 1932, when his reign reached a quarter of a century, he chose not to mark a Jubilee, citing an economic crisis affecting his country. In fact, he was known for his low key approach to royal life and oversaw the dismantling of effective royal power. However, his approach worked. He went on to rule for 43 years, making him the third longest reigning monarch in Sweden’s history.

Gustaf V died less than three years after his Jubilee, his throne passing to his son who became Gustaf VI Adolf. Now, almost eighty years after his missing milestone, the baby boy who took part in that rather sombre photograph is in line to be the first Swedish king to celebrate a Golden Jubilee. Now King Carl XVI Gustaf, his own progressive plans for the monarchy have included absolute primogeniture, meaning women not only succeed but can’t be displaced by men. As he marks his own milestone, the heir at his side is a Crown Princess who has her own daughter to succeed her. The sad photo of 1947 has given way to a dynasty now basking in a golden glow all of its own.

The history of royal jubilees is explored in a brand new book by Royal Central’s Jubilee Editor. A History of British Royal Jubilees by June Woolerton is published now by Pen and Sword books.

About author

Lydia Starbuck is Jubilee and Associate Editor at Royal Central and the main producer and presenter of the Royal Central Podcast and Royal Central Extra. Lydia is also a pen name of June Woolerton who is a journalist and writer with over twenty years experience in TV, radio, print and online. Her latest book, A History of British Royal Jubilees, is out now. Her new book, The Mysterious Death of Katherine Parr, will be published in March 2024. June is an award winning reporter, producer and editor. She's appeared on outlets including BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Local Radio and has also helped set up a commercial radio station. June is also an accomplished writer with a wide range of material published online and in print. She is the author of two novels, published as e-books. She is also a marriage registrar and ceremony celebrant.