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The princess from Wales who helped shape a modern royal dynasty

Princess Lilian of Sweden

The woman who became Princess Lilian of Sweden, Duchess of Halland in 1976 spent over thirty years waiting for the opportunity to marry the man she loved and all because he was a price. She and her husband, Prince Bertil, put their own happiness second to the security of the Swedish crown for it meant that they could never have a family of their own. But they became an integral part of Sweden’s royal family and they are still remembered fondly by them.

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.

For the man Lilian had fallen in love with was a royal from a dynasty with a very strict set of marriage rules. 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, the 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 who had helped support as he grew up – became King of Sweden.

Suddenly, everything changes. The new king oversaw a range of changes including one which now allowed royals to marry ‘’commoners’’. Carl Gustaf wed in June 1976, saying ‘I do’ to Silvia Sommerlath who became Queen of Sweden as she said her wedding vows. And just a few months later, the new queen was on hand to celebrate with Lilian as another very special wedding took place.

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, in March 2013, was attended by Queen Margrethe of Denmark as well as the whole Swedish royal family.

Soon after her passing, one of Carl Gustaf and Silvia’s own children paid tribute to her. Princess Madeline and her husband, Chris O’Neill, chose Lilian as a middle name for their first child, Princess Leonore.

It was a fitting tribute to Lilian Davies, the girl from Swansea who became a princess from Wales and the cornerstone of a royal dynasty.

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.