Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The English Princess - beloved wife and mother

by Anna Belfrage

Margaret of Connaught
In 1905, the Swedish Heir Apparent, Gustav Adolf (later Gustav VI Adolf) married Princess Margaret of Connaught, granddaughter to Queen Victoria. They met earlier that same year in Egypt, when Margaret and her sister were being presented to various eligible partners – although I think Egypt was something of a detour.

Gustav Adolf was actually in Capri visiting his mother when he received the invitation to a ball in Cairo in honour of the Connaught girls, and something must have piqued his interest already then - or maybe he just wanted to dance the night away, virtuoso dancer that he was. Whatever the case, off he went to Egypt. It is said it was love at first sight between the pretty English princess and the tall and dark haired Swedish prince. In actual fact, the idea was that the prince was to wed Margaret’s sister, but the moment he clapped eyes on Margaret, well, Gustav Adolf was lost, and after a whirlwind courtship the young couple were married at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, attended by a crowd of royals.

Gustav Adolf
This spontaneous behaviour was most uncharacteristic of Gustav Adolf – and of his rather stiff and formal family. Or maybe not so stiff, come to think of it, but more about that later. Gustav Adolf and his two brothers were the product of a dynastic marriage between the future King Gustav V of Sweden and Victoria of Baden, granddaughter to the German emperor, Wilhelm I. Initially, this young couple was very affectionate towards each other, and over the course of seven years Victoria would produce three sons – one heir and two spares.

By then, Victoria and Gustav led quite separate lives, this dictated to a large extent by Victoria’s declining health which required she spend the winters as far away from Sweden as possible. Things were not improved when Victoria, during a trip with her husband to Egypt, apparently dallied with one of the royal adjutants, and from Gustav’s letters home, he was more than torn apart by her betrayal. Victoria went on to spend most of her time and affection on Axel Munthe, the royal doctor who attended on both Victoria and her husband, while Gustav was supposedly to develop a preference for young men – as I said, not all that stiff and formal after all...

With their mother mostly away from home, the two young princes, Gustav Adolf and Wilhelm, were left in the care of their paternal grandmother, Swedish Queen Sofia. (The youngest boy was sickly and cared for elsewhere) The queen had been an eager supporter of Victoria as wife to her eldest son, but over time the two ladies developed an active dislike of each other, and Sofia was more than pleased to involve herself deeply in the day-to-day lives of her grandsons - preferably to countermand Victoria's instructions.

When Victoria was in Sweden, life was led according to rules. Victoria was strict and structured, and showed little overt affection for her sons. When Victoria was away, life was also led according to rules – Sofia’s rules – and while Queen Sofia has a reputation for being a kind lady, she was also stickler for protocol – royals had to behave as behoved royals.

By the time Gustav Adolf met Margaret in 1905, I think he was pretty sick of rules and protocols. And when he saw her, he decided that this was one opportunity at happiness he had no intention of letting slip through his fingers, ergo that most unusual burst of spontaneity and determination.

Sofiero
With Margaret - or Daisy, as her family knew her - English customs entered Swedish life. With Margaret, Sweden saw an upswing in flowered wallpaper, in tea consumption and in gardening. With Margaret, the wide-eyed Swedish populace saw pictures of their princess – their blue-blooded English princess – digging her own garden beds and laughing with her husband. Some of those flower beds she so meticulously planned and planted have been restored and can be viewed at Sofiero, the little palace she and Gustav Adolf converted into their summer house.

In retrospect, Margaret and Gustav Adolf seem to have been very happy together. While this is great news for them, it leaves the aspiring writer bereft of “tension”, the inherent conflict that has the reader’s eyes glued to the page. But when one starts scraping the surface, there are some streaks of darkness that come to life – like Gustav Adolf’s supposed affair with an actress, or the young man who insisted he was Gustav Adolf’s son. The king, as he was then, never uttered a word either confirming of rebutting this particular story.

And then we have the fact that it must have been very difficult for Margaret to adapt from her life in England to the stilted dreariness of the Swedish court. Where Gustav Adolf had captured a vibrant butterfly, an injection of energy and colour in his rather staid and boring life, Margaret had netted a handsome man who had little reason to believe in the longevity of happiness – he had seen first-hand how his parents’ marriage collapsed. But Margaret was not a quitter, and besides she was very much in love with this husband of hers, with his cleft chin and sensuous mouth, with the low timbre of his voice.

In 1906 came the first of the couple’s children – a prince, joy of joys, thereby ensuring Margaret had done her duty. Named after his father, the little boy thrived, and one year later he was joined in the nursery by boy number two, little Sigvard. To the astonishment of the Swedish court, Princess Margaret insisted on being very involved in the lives of her children – a most odd and English notion as per the older members of the royal family. Margaret didn’t care, in matter such as these she trusted her instincts.

Even odder, Margaret insisted her children be dressed in comfortable clothes, with comfortable shoes, so that they could run wild and crazy through the grounds of Sofiero. Not, let me tell you, the way Swedish royal children had been raised previously. What, little princes to come in with twigs in their hair and mud-caps on their knees? And look at their nails, their hands, covered with dirt. Once again, Princess Margaret smiled serenely and shrugged. And as to her husband, Gustav Adolf was as happy as a calf in clover with his loud and boisterous family. What he had never experienced as a child, he now tried to compensate himself for as an adult, supported by his loving wife.

A happy family upon the birth of child nr 4, Bertil
In 1910, a little girl, Ingrid, was born, in 1912 yet another son, Bertil, and in 1916 came the baby, Carl Johan. Five children in ten years. Margaret looks a bit pale and strained in the pictures from this time, as if all this child-bearing was taking quite the toll on her. But nonetheless they were happy and busy, the children thrived as did the gardens, and it was year after year of marital bliss.

In 1919, Margaret became pregnant again. She was thirty-seven at the time, still young enough for the pregnancy not to be a concern. The baby was due in June of the following year, and everything seemed to be progressing as it should. Until Princess Margaret caught a cold. Not a major issue, one would assume – as did Margaret and Gustav Adolf. She sniffled and coughed for some days, she sniffled some more and started complaining that her ear hurt. A lot. An ear infection, no more, the doctors diagnosed. An ear infection that went very bad, developing into a full-blown mastoiditis.  From one day to the other, the Princess went from being eight months pregnant with an aching ear to being dead, leaving her five children motherless and her husband utterly bereft.

Sweden’s English princess was dead. The English butterfly that had so captivated her husband, bringing colour and light into his life, was gone. I imagine Gustav Adolf took a long walk in the gardens she had planned, in the greenhouse she had ordered, sinking down to sit on her favourite perch. His happy family was gone, his brief excursion into a world dominated by love and laughter was at end. Gustav Adolf retreated into the protective armour of protocol and rules.

Louise Mountbatten
In 1923, Gustav Adolf married yet another English lady of royal blood, Louise Mountbatten. Theirs was to be a very long if childless marriage, and by all accounts Gustav Adolf was as lucky in his second marriage as in his first, finding in Louise a woman who was capable of great affection. Not as strikingly beautiful as Margaret, at times painfully shy, Louise compensated by being well-read and interested in everything from politics to social welfare, a good companion to her erudite and equally well-read husband. (As an aside, Gustav Adolf left a library consisting of 80 000 books - and he had read them all)
But despite all her qualities, despite her husband's affection for her, I believe that there were very many days when Louise felt she lived in the shadow of her predecessor and close relative, the oh so beautiful, oh so loved Princess Margaret of Connaught.



Anna Belfrage is the successful author of six published books, all of them part of The Graham Saga. Set in 17th century Scotland, Virginia and Maryland, The Graham Saga is the story of Matthew Graham and his wife, Alex Lind - two people who should never have met, not when she was born three centuries after him

Anna's books are available on Amazon US, Amazon UK, or wherever else good books are sold.

For more information about Anna and her books, please visit her website! If not on her website, Anna can mostly be found on her blog or on FB

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