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King of Sweden Broke Royal Tradition & Married a 'Commoner' — Future Queen Had to Wear Disguise in Public

Esther NJeri
Apr 02, 2022
07:40 A.M.
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Since time immemorial, it has been the tradition for royals to marry spouses with "blue blood." But when King Carl XVI Gustaf fell in love with a "commoner," he knew he had to break the long-held tradition and marry her. 

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Many countries now are run by presidents, but Sweden remains one of the few countries still operating under a reigning monarchy. The European country is one of the world's most impartial and stable democracies.

Sweden maintains a strong monarchy, with the King symbolizing unity. According to the country's constitution, the monarch holds no political or formal powers. The King's allegiance is of a representative and ceremonial nature. 

King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden on their wedding day in 1976 [Left] The King and Queen at the 2019 Polar Music Prize Award ceremony on June 11 2019 in Stockholm Sweden. [Right] | Source: Getty Images

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Another staunch tradition in such a monarchy is the marriages between royalties — a tradition that King Carl XVI Gustaf defied after choosing to marry a "commoner." Here are the details of the royal couple's bold and barrier-breaking love story.

GUSTAF XVI'S ASCENSION TO THE THRONE

King Gustaf XVI is the only son and the youngest of Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf and Princess Sibylla's five children. Unfortunately, King Gustaf XVI did not have long with his father as the Crown Prince died in a plane crash in 1947, a year after his son was born. 

Coronation of King Carl XVI Gustav in Stockholm, Sweden on September 19, 1973 | Source: Getty Images

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In 1950, King Gustaf XVI became the Crown Prince of Sweden after the death of his great-grandfather Gustaf V. Gustaf XVI's grandfather, 68-year old Gustaf VI, then took over the crown, and after serving for 23 years, he passed on in 1973. That same year, Gustaf XVI became the King at only 27 years old. 

THE KING, AS A YOUNG MAN

As a young boy, Gustaf XVI attended boarding school, where he became fluent in several languages, gained knowledge of international affairs, and had a few intellectual pretensions.

He also studied economics and spent a lot of time observing banking and international development activities. He became well-versed in government and industries operations.

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Crown Prince Carl Gustaf of Sweden in 1966. | Source: Getty Images

King Gustaf XVI, who said he would have been a farmer if he wasn't the king, still appeared somewhat shy and slightly tentative in his approach to people during his first years in power. He was, however, said to develop a curiosity and genuine friendliness and interest once he got to meet them.

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He loved sports, and like many sportspeople, he was happiest in a sweater or sports jacket and jeans and always appeared slightly uncomfortable in a traditional business suit. 

King Gustaf XVI initially embodied the image of a playboy, but after he rose to the throne, he began spending more time with friends and enjoying the summer sun on the Baltic Island of Oland. 

Crown Prince Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden outside the Swedish Chamber of Commerce in London, England in 1971. | Source: Getty Images

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He would also spend time at his country farm at Stenhammer, where he sometimes helped with the harvest. He also bred cattle at the farm, an endeavor that was not promising at first. He shared in his 1975 interview:

"Two of my cattle jumped over a fence, and a train killed them—that was my career. It is not a success yet."

BREAKING ROYAL TRADITION

When King Gustaf XVI rose to power, he endorsed his motto: "For Sweden — with the times." He spoke of how much he valued tradition and loved development.

King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden in 1974. | Source: Getty Images

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"I want to be a monarch who would not keep back development, but one who is not before his time either. I don't want to take things away, tradition is important too... I'm not going out on the street and say, 'Hello, Folks. I look at some young people who want to change things just to change, and that is wrong." He said.

Regardless, when it came to heart matters, King Gustaf XVI did not think twice about breaking tradition. Three years before he became the King, he met German-Brazilian Silvia Sommerlath, the chief hostess at the Munich Olympic Games, which he'd attended. 

Gustaf XVI and Sommerlath "clicked" immediately. Their instant connection notwithstanding, then-King Gustaf VI Adolf deemed her unsuitable to marry his grandson because she had no royal blood. However, it soon did not matter as Gustaf VI died a year later. 

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King Carl XVI Gustav and Queen Silvia of Sweden. | Source: Getty Images

Still, marrying commoners was not that uncommon. And while one of King Gustaf XVI's sisters married a German prince and the other a Swedish baron, two married commoners. 

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Nevertheless, Gustaf XVI evaded any questions regarding his romance, even as Sommerlath continued accompanying him on vacations in Europe and even frequently visited Sweden. 

However, whenever she jetted into Sweden, she had to have on a disguise and often preferred going for a blond wig to cover her brunette hair. 

A HISTORIC WEDDING

King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden marries the German Silvia Sommerlath at Stockholm, Sweden 1976. | Source: Getty Images

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On March 12, 1976, Gustaf XVI announced his engagement to Sommerlath. The first of a reigning monarch in 200 years, the wedding followed three months later.

On June 19, 1976, they exchanged vows at the Storkyrkan Cathedral in Stockholm. The new Queen donned a beautiful Christine Dior silk duchess gown with bell sleeves and a high neck.

She completed the look with a gold and pearl tiara and a veil given to her by the Swedish royal family. A performance by the Swedish pop group ABBA entertained the crowds with their song "Dancing Queen" in honor of the country's future Queen.

King Carl XVI Gustaf and his new bride Queen Silvia on a carriage procession through Stockholm on their wedding day | Source: Getty Images

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After the church ceremony, the newlyweds rode on a carriage procession through Stockholm as they waved to the crowds. Gustaf XVI shared that he would support his wife's profession if she chose to work. He, however, acknowledged how hard it would be for her to find a "normal" job.

MEET QUEEN SILVIA

Sommerlath was born in Heidelberg on December 23, 1943, to Walther and the Brazilian-born Alice de Toledo. Between the ages of three and 14, her family lived in Sao Paolo, where Walther headed the Brazilian branch of the Swedish Uddelholm steel company.

In 1957, the family returned to West Germany, where Sommerlath attended schools in Munich and Diisseldorf, studying languages. Today she can speak seven languages: Swedish, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, French, English, and German.

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Queen Silvia of Sweden at the Stockholm Royal Palace in Stockholm Sweden on November 13 2018 | Source: Getty Images

After completing school, she worked as an interpreter at the Argentine consulate in Munich before becoming the chief hostess of the organizing committee of the Olympic Games. 

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She grew up a Protestant, loves classical music, and plays the organ. She also loves passing time swimming, water skiing, and skiing like her husband.

Sommerlath was the first Queen to have ever had a professional career, and she has since modernized the position of Queen so that it is in step with the times. She also took on initiatives close to her heart, such as children's rights.

THE ROYAL CHILDREN: WHO IS NEXT IN LINE?

Princess Madeleine, Christopher O'Neill, Queen Silvia, Prince Daniel, Princess Estelle, Prince Oscar, Crown Princess Victoria, King Carl Gustaf, Princess Sofia, Prince Alexander, Prince Carl Philip [Left to Right] on July 14 2017 | Source: Getty Images

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The leading members of the Swedish royal family include the King and Queen's firstborn, Crown Princess Victoria Ingrid Alice Désirée, Duchess of Västergötland, born on July 14, 1977.

Their second, Prince Carl Philip Edmund, Duke of Värmland, arrived on May 13, 1979, while the third, Princess Madeleine Thérèse Amelie Josephine, Duchess of Hälsingland and Gästrikland, was born on June 10, 1982.

Before the King and Queen had their first child, there had been talks about amending the Succession Act to make it more gender-neutral. And while it did happen in 1980, it was made retroactive, which changed Victoria's title from Princess to Crown Princess, meaning she was next in line to the throne after her father. 

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The Swedish royal family: Princess Madeleine, Prince Philip, Prince Daniel, Crown Princess Victoria, Queen Silvia and King Carl XVI Gustaf [Left to Right] at the Royal Palace on September 13 2013 | Source: Getty Images

Today, Crown Princess Victoria is married to Daniel Westling. They married on June 19, 2010, with celebrations lasting three days. Westling now holds the title H.R.H Prince Daniel, Duke of Västergötland. 

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The couple's first child, Princess Estelle Silvia Ewa Mary, born on February 23, 2012, is now the second in line to the Swedish throne. The third in line is Estelle's brother, Prince Oscar Carl Olof, who arrived on March 2, 2016.

The King's youngest child, Princess Madeleine, is married to British-American businessman Christopher O'Neill. Unlike Victoria's husband, O'Neill holds no royal title as he prefers to retain his U.S. and U.K. citizenships. Princess Madeleine has also not taken the O'Neill surname to maintain her H.R.H. title.

Princess Madeleine of Sweden holding Princess Adrienne while her husband Christopher O'Neill holds Prince Nicolas. Their eldest, Princess Leonore squats in the middle on June 8, 2018 | Source: Getty Images

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On June 8, 2013, the two married at the Royal Palace in Stockholm and welcomed their first child Princess Leonore Lilian Maria, on February 20, 2014. Their second child Prince Nicolas Paul Gustaf arrived on June 15, 2015, and their third, Princess Adrienne Josephine Alice, on March 9, 2018. 

Prince Carl Philip is the second child of The King and Queen and is the fourth in line to the throne. He married Sofia Hellqvist, now H.R.H. Princess Sofia, on June 13, 2015. Princess Sofia is one of the founders of the non-profit organization "Project Playground."

They had their first child Prince Alexander Erik Hubertus Bertil, on April 10, 2016. Their second, Prince Gabriel Carl Walther, arrived on August 31, 2017, while their third, Prince Julian Herbert Folke, was born on March 26, 2021.

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