First Swedish royal rebel dies aged 95

Count Lennart Bernadotte, who rejected his title of prince so he could marry a commoner, died on Tuesday at his home, the Mainau Estate in Germany. He was 95.

As a nephew of King Carl Gustav’s grandfather he was a peripheral member of the Swedish royal family. His father was Prince Wilhelm and his mother was Maria Pavlovna, a cousin of the last tsar’s. They divorced when Lennart was five years old and he went to live with his grandmother, Queen Victoria.

But, as Expressen put it, “he won the people’s hearts when he put love before royalty”. By marrying Karin Nissvandt in England in 1932 Lennart Bernadotte was the first member of the Swedish royal family to marry against the palace’s wishes. He was consequently stripped of his inheritance.

After his marriage Lennart Bernadotte took over his father’s estate, Mainau, on an island in Lake Constance.

Dagens Nyheter described how he developed the 18th century mansion, with its botanic garden and park, into a training and conference centre which became popular with Swedes. In 1951 he was made Count of Wisborg by the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg.

Lennart Bernadotte also combined his interest in horticulture with a passion for photography, and often displayed his pictures of the thousands of plant varieties at Mainau.

“We have so many that we can’t count them any more,” he told DN 11 years ago, when his photographs were on display in Stockholm. “But I think we have around 1,200 types of rose and over 700 different tulips.”

In 1971 he hit the headlines again when he divorced Karin Nissvandt.

According to Aftonbladet he told the German press that he would never marry again. But a year later the 63 year old announced that he was marrying his gardener’s daughter, Sonja Haunz, who was just 28.

“She is the joy of life itself,” he told Aftonbladet at the time. They had five children together, adding to the four he had with his first wife.

Expressen noted that while he may have lost his royal title, he and his second wife were named 1991’s “World Swedes of the Year”.

Indeed, his longevity seemed to bring him back into the bosom of the royal family. In May of this year King Carl Gustav, Queen Victoria and their children joined Lennart Bernadotte at Mainau to celebrate his 95th birthday.

“Without humour, one doesn’t become old,” he once said. And, 72 years after being stripped of his title by one King of Sweden, would have been amused to be receiving another at his home.

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Expressen, Aftonbladet