Sweden royal heir baptised as pomp dislodges scandal

STOCKHOLM Tue May 22, 2012 9:47am EDT

STOCKHOLM May 22 (Reuters) - Sweden's high society, from monarchs to politicians and the jet set, gathered on Tuesday in a 17th century chapel in Stockholm for the baptism of the future heir to the throne in a ceremony that has helped divert attention away from royal scandals.

Long seen as one of the world's most egalitarian societies, Sweden has indulged in a bit of royal pomp over the last few days and blanket media coverage of the christening of Princess Estelle Silvia Ewa Mary, daughter of Crown Princess Victoria.

A select few hundred guests peered over each other's hats to catch a glimpse of a mostly quiet Estelle as she was baptised over a 300-year-old silver font at the royal palace.

The ceremony was televised live, while newspapers featured double page spreads and blogs gossiped about hat designs and the new boyfriend of another royal princess.

"It's a fantastic day," Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt told The Local news website outside the royal palace after flying back from a NATO summit in the United States. "I saw that a lot of Swedes were out on the streets following this."

"I think it's an historical day, that in this kingdom, we will actually have a new era of queens that will follow the present king."

WELCOME RELIEF FROM SCANDALS

The first royal birth since 1982 has contrasted with headlines over the last two years speculating on the playboy lifestyle of King Carl XVI Gustaf, who has been on the throne since 1973.

The Nordic country's royal family has long enjoyed strong popular support but little public scrutiny, compared with royal families elsewhere in Europe such as Britain's.

But in recent years the Swedish monarchy's popularity has fallen.

A poll in 2011 showed that only 35 percent of people trusted the monarchy, while another poll in December of that year showed a majority of Swedes wanted the king to abdicate in favour of Victoria. He has rejected that idea.

The media has subjected the monarchy to much tougher scrutiny in recent years, particularly after a book about the king in 2010 claimed he had had an affair, visited a striptease club and had connections to the underworld.

In an unprecedented May 2011 interview with Swedish news agency TT, the king apologised for undermining trust in the monarchy.

He denied visiting a striptease club and any knowledge of a friend's underworld contacts, though he did concede he might have visited the "Folies Bergeres" music hall in Paris famed for its semi-nude dancers.

German-born Queen Silvia has also faced awkward questions about the extent of her father's Nazi connections.

The name Estelle has been linked to the wife of a Swedish aristocrat credited with saving tens of thousands of Jews in World War Two, who was later assassinated by a Jewish group.

Estelle was the name of the American wife of Count Folke Bernadotte. Her maiden name was Manville and she died in Sweden in 1984.

Folke Bernadotte, a nephew of a former king and deputy head of the Swedish Red Cross, became famous for arranging white buses to save tens of thousands of Jews from extermination in Nazi Germany during World War Two.

But as the first official mediator of the United Nations, he was assassinated by a Jewish group in 1948 after negotiating a truce in the first Israeli-Arab war. (Editing by)