The Bernadottes are known for their longevity, but although several of them have lived well into their nineties, so far only one has made it to her centenary. But today another Bernadotte reaches the age of 100.
Dagmar von Arbin, née Countess Dagmar Bernadotte af Wisborg, is a great-granddaughter of King Oscar II of Sweden and of Norway and thus a second cousin of King Carl XVI Gustaf’s father and a stalwart of Swedish royal family events. She is also a second cousin of King Harald V of Norway. Her mind is as sharp as ever and she walks without the aid of a stick, but like most elderly Bernadottes her hearing is somewhat impaired. Five years ago she gave up driving after her old car broke down.
Born on 10 April 1916, Countess Dagmar Ebba Märta Marianne Bernadotte af Wisborg was the eldest of the four children born to Count Carl Bernadotte af Wisborg and his first wife, Baroness Marianne De Geer af Leufsta, who later left him for Marcus Wallenberg of the powerful financier dynasty. (Her mother was also the maternal aunt of Countess Gunnila Bernadotte, the widow of King Carl Gustaf’s and Queen Margrethe’s uncle, Carl Johan).
Her father was the eldest son of Prince Oscar Bernadotte, who was himself the second child of King Oscar II and Queen Sophie but forfeited his rights to the Swedish and Norwegian thrones in 1888 when he married Ebba Munck af Fulkila, a former lady-in-waiting to his sister-in-law, Crown Princess Victoria. In 1892, he received the title Count(ess) of Wisborg for his children from Queen Sophie’s half-brother, Grand Duke Adolphe of Luxembourg.
Dagmar Bernadotte grew up on the estate Frötuna near Norrtälje (not far from Uppsala), which her mother had inherited but which her father continued to run even after their divorce.
Despite an age difference of ten years, Dagmar became a good friend of her second cousin, Prince Gustaf Adolf, the current King’s father, and was a bridesmaid when he married Princess Sibylla of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in Coburg in 1932.
Because of her friendship with the King’s parents, Dagmar von Arbin has, unlike her siblings, remained close to the current royal family and is a fixture at family events – not only bigger events such as weddings, christenings and funerals but also events for the inner circle, such as the private engagement dinner the King and Queen gave for Crown Princess Victoria and Daniel Westling.
Dagmar herself married, at the age of 20, on 16 October 1936, the naval (later air force) officer Nils-Magnus von Arbin. Ten years later, he was appointed air attaché at the Swedish Embassy in London, a position he held until 1950. He reached the rank of colonel in 1953. Dagmar herself did not have a career, but stayed at home raising their five daughters, Marianne, Louise, Cathrine, Jeanette and Madeleine.
Dagmar von Arbin was widowed in 1987 and lost her eldest daughter, Marianne Flach, to cancer in 2006, but has thirteen grandchildren and sixteen great-grandchildren.
Dagmar von Arbin has never enjoyed being the centre of attention and it was only a few months ago that she gave her first ever interview, to Kungliga Magasinet (later republished in English in Royalty Digest Quarterly), followed by another with Svensk Damtidning. In the latter, she insisted that she did not like all the fuss being made about her 100th birthday, which she will celebrate only with her family.
The only Bernadotte before her to reach 100 was her aunt, Elsa Cedergren, who was born on 3 August 1893 and died on 17 July 1996, just shy of her 103rd birthday. Dagmar von Arbin’s younger brother, Count Oscar Bernadotte af Wisborg, will be 95 in July, while her sister, Catharina Nilert, will turn ninety on Thursday.