|Margaret of Connaught|
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.
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.
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 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.
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