Lilian Davies the real life Cinderella story of The Duchess of Halland


Because she was poor and nobody bothers chronicling the lives of the poor, we know nothing of Lillian’s early life other than she was the daughter of a working class family from the Welsh valleys. Later without a hint of self pity she described her childhood: ‘we lived in a poor area, a mining district, where I stayed until I was 18. My life there was miserable. There was no joy, no life. Nothing.’ During the Depression Lillian took herself to London, dropped one of the l’s from her name and re-invented herself. Despite her low birth she had a patrician beauty which bought her work as a model for Vogue and later as an actress. She took up with a fellow actor called Ivan Craig, glided around the film studio world and rubbed up against what in those days was called ‘Society’. Lilian married Ivan on the eve of WW2 and settled in to a Mrs Minerva like role volunteering at a hospital whilst Ivan joined the army.

On her 28th birthday Lilian held a party at the Ambassadeurs Club where she met a man introducing himself as Prince Bertl of Sweden. She and Bertl became ‘just good friends’ but when Knightsbridge where she lived was bombed, Bertl abandoned a forma dinner at the Dorchester and fetched her back to his flat until it was safe for her to return. Somewhere along the line they quietly became a couple. At the war’s end Lilian and Ivan were amicably divorced and Bertl, as HRH Prince Bertl Duke of Halland, took to touring the world as the Swedish Trade Ambassador whilst finding it necessary to stay in London a fair bit. His ‘friendship’ with Lilian was now a love affair and they intended to marry, thinking any impediment to marriage between a Swedish Royal and a Welsh Commoner would be surmountable. But they were wrong: in 1946 came good news and bad news.

The good news was simple enough: Bertl’s eldest brother, Prince Gustaf Adolph, had a son Carl Gustaf who pushed Bertl down a notch in the succession rankings so marriage to Lilian wouldn’t threaten the Monarchy. But the bad news was both bad and tragic. A few months later Gustaf Adolph was killed in a plane crash and Bertl moved back closer to the throne than he’d ever been. His grandfather King Gustaf V summoned Bertl back from London and told him that, should he die before Carl Gustaf became of age he would become Regent, so any thought of marriage to Lilian was out of the question. Bertl later described that time as ‘the darkest days of his life’. In 1950 Bertl’s father became King and, with his eldest brother dead and his nephew only a child, Bertl became closer still to the throne and became Regent, so marriage to Lilian was a more distant prospect than ever. In 1956 Lilian quitely moved to Stockholm to live discreetly with Bertl but not in the Royal part of his life. The only place where they could go about as a couple was Sainte Maxime where Bertl had a villa to which they escaped as often as they could. When she was 80 Lilian described her exclusion from the Royal family:’I would only have been able to go to Church and then  go home afterwards when the family went back to the Palace for lunch. So I watched everything on TV and felt really alone and sad’. And in that manner Lilian and Bertl lived out their lives.

It was'nt until 20 years later that Lilian received her first official Royal invitation – to celebrate the King’s 90th birthday. A year later in 1973 the king died and Bertl’s nephew succeeded him as King Carl XVI. 3 years later King Carl’s Queen Silvia became pregnant and Bertl went back down the Royal pecking order so the King gave Bertl and Lilian permission to marry in Drottningholm Palace. Bertl was then 64 and Lilian 61. At their wedding reception the King gave a speech in the form of a recipe for Cheese Soufflé a la Lilian.’Charm and humour is sizzled, personality added. Wisdom is added whilst stirring. Patience and judgement is spread over the finished dish. Glitter and smiles are spread over abundantly. Cooked with great patience, baking time 33 years. The result is perfection’.

As the now Duchess of Halland Princess Lilian became Sweden’s darling and most popular Royal of all, a favourite aunt to the Crown Princess’s Victoria and Madeleine and Crown Prince Carl Philip as well as a confidante of the Queen. Prince Bertl died in 1997 and Lilian had ‘unforgettable’ sung at his funeral. She carried on his Royal work until well into her 90′s having remarked at 80 that ‘the best thing about getting old is that I didn’t die young’. She died in March 2013 age 97 at her home in Djurgarden where she had spent her life with Bertl, first as a commoner hidden from the public and later as a Princess exposed to and adored by it.

The King ordered a State Funeral in her honour and in the morning’s cold chill the bells of all Stockholm’s churches rang for 10 minutes, whilst at midday the Riddarholmen rang a ‘seraphim peal’ for an hour. In his valediction the Royal Chaplain said ‘Lilian had borne a lot of pain to be there and not be seen for 33 years. And that dedication to her husband and his country, was her true declaration of love’. Lilian, the poor girl from Swansea who had waited 33 years to become a Princess, was buried as the Duchess of Halland at two in the afternoon to the sound of a 21 gun salute at the Royal Cemetery in Haga alongside her beloved Bertl. Her funeral was attended by the Queen of Denmark, Princess Astrid of Norway and the Swedish Prime Minister. The King and Queen of Sweden did not leave the Palace until gone 7 o’clock.

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