Silvia Renate Sommerlath was born on 23 December 1943 in Heidelberg, Germany, to Walther and Alice Sommerlath. Silvia is half German, through her father, and half Brazilian, through her mother.
Silvia grew up with older three brothers (Ralph, Walther, and Jörg), and from 1947 through 1957, they lived in São Paulo, Brazil, which was their mother’s hometown. During this time, her father worked as the President of the Brazilian subsidiary of Swedish company Uddeholm among other positions during their ten years in South America. While in Brazil, Silvia attended school at the private and bilingual Colégio Visconde de Porto Seguro, which is a traditional German school in São Paulo. The family returned to West Germany in 1957.
Silvia would go on to graduate from high school in Düsseldorf and graduated in 1963. She would study at the Munich School of Interpreting from 1965 to 1969 with her focus on the Spanish language. After graduation, she worked at the Argentinean Consulate in Munich as an interpreter.
The 1972 Summer Olympic Games were held in Munich, Germany, where Silvia was working as an interpreter and host. From 1971 to 1973, she worked for the Organising Committee for the Munich Olympic Games. A polyglot, Silvia’s work at the Olympic Games as an interpreter was a natural fit. She spoke her native German and Portuguese, French, Spanish, and English. When she accepted the position, she had no clue how her life would soon change.
The then Crown Prince Carl Gustaf of Sweden travelled to Germany to support the Swedish athletes. At the time, he was the heir apparent to the Swedish throne. While there, he was introduced to a beautiful hostess by the name of Silvia, whose job was to guide some of the high profile guests attending the games. That day, he asked Silvia out on a date, and just a few hours later they had dinner. As he would later say, they ‘just clicked’ after their initial meeting.
Carl Gustaf would become King Carl XVI Gustaf the next year after the death of his grandfather, King Gustaf VI Adolph on 15 September 1973.
Silvia would visit Carl Gustaf in Stockholm a number of times, and reportedly once disguised herself in a blonde wig to throw off the press. She would also not tell many of her friends who she was dating, in hopes it would remain private for as long as possible. By the beginning of 1973, the couple had been photographed together riding in a car by a Swedish journalist. Many people at the time assumed the mysterious woman in the car was Margarita of Romania, since the King had previously been linked to her. The couple spent time in Switzerland, France, and on the estate of Prince Otto von Bismarck when they wanted to get away from the ever-curious Swedish media. By 1974, Silvia had moved into an apartment in Stockholm, which was owned by Carl Gustaf’s older sister, Princess Christina.
The pair would date for four years before he summoned up the courage to ask for her hand in marriage. On 12 March 1976, they announced their engagement. He proposed with his late mother, Princess Sibylla’s engagement ring. Silvia had begun to learn the Swedish language at this point, and during their interview after their engagement, Silvia spoke as much as she could in Swedish. One memorable moment from the interview had Silvia asking Carl Gustaf, in English, if he could help her answer the question in Swedish. Not fully confident in her Swedish language abilities at the time, she would go on to become completely fluent in her sixth language.
Sweden’s future queen would go on to work as the Deputy Head of Protocol of the Organizing Committee in 1976 for the Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria. They waited to announce their engagement until she had completed her duties with the Olympic Games that year.
They were married on 19 June 1976 at Stockholm Cathedral in the Swedish capital, two days after Silvia became a Swedish citizen. Their wedding was the first of a reigning Swedish monarch since 1797. The evening before the wedding ceremony, a Royal Variety Performance was held, where the Swedish pop group, ABBA performed their new song “Dancing Queen” as a tribute to Silvia. The group later noted that the song had not been written specifically for the new queen, but they wanted to dedicate it to her that evening.
At the beginning of their marriage, they lived in an apartment at the Royal Palace of Stockholm.
In 2016, Queen Silvia told Maria Gunnarsson about how she was familiar with the country before meeting Carl Gustaf. She said, “But Sweden was not foreign to me. My father had worked for the Swedish forestry and steel company Uddeholm in Brazil. Many Swedes, therefore, came to Brazil and to our home. They brought herring. And books and music.”
However, Her Majesty admitted that she felt intimidated and lonely, at first, when she moved into the male-dominated royal palace, but her husband was always there to encourage her and lend support. She explained, “But everybody had kind intentions. Everyone wanted to support me and was there. And the King was wonderful, he said: ‘Say what you think, explain what you want, say what you’re going to do’. He has really supported me.”
Sweden’s queen did admit that she felt lonely during the first year of her marriage and life in Sweden due to the lack of a female guide on life as a queen. She did explain that His Majesty’s sisters, especially Princess Christina were always there to lend an ear and give advice.
Their first child, the then Princess Victoria was born on 14 July 1977 in Karolinska University Hospital. On 13 May 1979, their only son the then Crown Prince Carl Philip was born. In 1980, the laws of succession in Sweden were changed to absolute primogeniture. This made Victoria the Crown Princess of Sweden and changed her brother’s title to just Prince Carl Philip. Their youngest child, Princess Madeleine was born on 10 June 1982. After her birth, the family moved to Drottningholm Palace.
Her Majesty works with many charitable organisations, but one that is closest to her heart is the World Childhood Foundation that she founded in 1999. It aims to support children who have been victims of abuse and sexual exploitation, street children, children in alternative care and families at risk in more than 100 programmes annually in 17 countries.
She also spoke about her role as Queen of Sweden with Maria Gunnarsson for the new book, The Royal Year 2016, which is an annual book released in Sweden about the events the Swedish royals participate. She said, “It is a mixture of joy and humility. There is a lot of responsibility too. It was a very special calling.”
While Silvia still has her brother Ralph, she lost her father in 1990 and mother in 1997. Her brother, Jörg passed away in 2006, and her other brother, Walther, died in 2020 after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Silvia and Carl Gustaf’s first grandchild, Princess Estelle was born in February 2012; she is the daughter of Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel. Their second grandchild, Princess Leonore was born in February 2014 as the daughter of Princess Madeleine and Christopher O’Neill. Their first grandson, Prince Nicolas was born a year later in June to Madeleine and Christopher. In March of 2016, Prince Oscar was born to Victoria and Daniel, and just a month later, Prince Alexander was born to Prince Carl Philip and Princess Sofia. The following year, Princess Sofia gave birth to her and Prince Carl Philip’s second child, Prince Gabriel, and Princess Madeleine gave birth to her and Chris’ third child in 2018, Princess Adrienne. Silvia and Carl Gustaf’s youngest grandchild, Prince Julian, was born on 26 March 2021 to Prince Carl Philip and Princess Sofia.