Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Princess in all but name

UPDATED ON March 14, 2017

For several years now, Prince Gustav of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg has been living with Carina Axelsson at his home, Schloss Berleburg. The couple would like to get married, but they have encountered a bit of a hiccup. This is due to Gustav's grandfather's will. 

 The late Gustav Albrecht, 5th Prince of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg, made out a will that would protect the family estate from hefty inheritance as well as the family line. Gustav Albrecht, who went missing in action in Russia in 1944 and was declared dead in 1969, stated in his will that his heirs must be married equally, and be Protestant. This is similar to clauses in the wills of the late Kaiser Wilhelm II and the Prince of Leiningen. In both cases, the wills were challenged, and in both cases, German courts upheld the clauses in the wills. 

 Prince Gustav, who was born in 1969, is the eldest child and the only son, of Prince Richard of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg (who is the head of the house but has never taken the title Prince (Fürst) of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg) and Princess Benedikte of Denmark.  Prince Richard said he chose not to use Fürst after the death of his father because of German law.  Thus, following the declaration of his father's death,  Richard became the head of the house, but his infant son,  Gustav, inherited the estate.

(A previous engagement to Elviré Paste de Rochfort ended in July 2001 largely due to financial reasons. It was reported - but not confirmed - that the bride's family balked after they were presented with a contract that would give little to Elviré in the event of a divorce.)

Carina Axelsson was born in California in 1968 to a Swedish father and a Mexican mother. Although Carina and Gustav have yet to marry -- as his case makes its way through the courts -- Carina is treated as his official partner, appearing in guest lists and family photos for events in Denmark. Gustav is the nephew of Queen Margrethe.

Carina was recently interviewed by a local German newspaper, where she talked about redecorating rooms at Schloss Berleburg and how she found a selection of family portraits in a cellar. The portraits are now on display at Schloss Berleburg.

But will there be a wedding any time soon ... probably not? Gustav would lose his castle and family fortune if he married Carina Axelsson.  The inheritance of the estate would become complicated.   After the establishment of the German republic in 1919, the former ruling families began procedures setting up family trusts to protect their property.  The Sayn-Wittengstein-Berleburg family was one of the families that did set up protection for their estates.  Wills and trusts do not establish who is the Prince or Duke, as titles became a part of one's surname in 1919.  Socially and privately, however, titles are acknowledged and used.  

Gustav will lose the estate if he marries Carina.  But would the state pass to one of his sisters or to his uncle, Robin?  We do not know this.  We also do not know what plans Gustav has for the estate if he never marries.  Will he leave Schloss Berleburg to one of his sisters, to his Uncle Robin (who is not eligible for the "title" due to an unequal marriage or will he leave to the next-in-line to his title.

So who is the next in line? Good question. Prince Richard has a younger brother, Prince Robin, who lives in France with his second wife. According to Gustav Albrecht's will, Robin cannot inherit because his marriages were unequal. This brings us to Gustav Albrecht's younger brother, Prince Christian Heinrich, 5th Prince of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Hohenstein, who married equally.

If Gustav cannot marry Carina and produce an heir to Berleburg, will the estate and headship of the family eventually pass to Bernhart, 6th Prince of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Hohenstein, who lives in Bad Berleburg, with his wife, the former Countess Katharina von Podewils-Dürnwitz, and 19-year-old son, Hereditary Prince Wenzel?  I think this is a distinct possibility.  Bernhart is Prince Richard's first cousin.

Bad Berleburg is the name of the German town where Schloss Berleburg is located.

Here is the link to the German newspaper with Carina's interview: