Monday, December 12, 2011
Monarch Profile: King Michael I of Romania
His father did return to Romania, deposed his son, and was crowned King Carol II of Romania with the support of the national assembly in spite of the opposition of the liberals. After only 2 years, 10 months and 19 days the reign of King Michael I had come to an end. He probably would have been just as happy to leave the royal duties to his father and enjoy something like a normal childhood, but the wished for reconciliation of his family was not to be. Queen Helena, understandably so, did not want her husband back, refused to attend his coronation and neither did the new king seem the slightest bit interested in reuniting with her. He assumed full custody of the newly demoted Crown Prince Michael and before long, against the wishes of almost everyone else involved, his mistress was in Bucharest living like a queen in a place of her own.
On the left were the ever-present communists, radical socialists and their like. On the right was the green shirted Iron Guard under Cornelius Codreanu, leader of the Christian fascist group the Legion of the Archangel Michael. They advocated Romanian nationalism, Christianity, corporatism and opposition to the Jews and minorities. In the middle was King Carol II and his royalist youth group the Straja Tsarei and his own royalist secret police trying to keep an eye on potential enemies and playing rivals off against each other. In 1938 father and son went to London for a state visit followed by a trip to Paris and finally a stop in the Bavarian Alps to meet Adolf Hitler in Berchtesgarten. Hitler let Prince Michael go on a ride up to the very peak of the mountain retreat in his Mercedes while he and his father talked business. Hitler offered to give the King his full support if he would finally get rid of his (Jewish) mistress and release the Iron Guard leader Codreanu from prison. Not only did the Romanian monarch refuse, but soon after returning to Bucharest Codreanu was shot; allegedly while attempting to escape. Few believed it and Hitler certainly did not and assumed it was meant as an act of defiance toward him by King Carol.
Ten months later the prime minister was assassinated and Carol II warned his son that he and his mistress would likely be next. However, the killers were caught by the secret police and quickly executed. His paranoia aroused, Carol II established the Front for the Rebirth of the Nation. The blue uniformed group with their Roman salutes and absolute loyalty to the king were meant as a royalist paramilitary, somewhat fascist organization to oppose the Iron Guard and cement in place the absolute rule of Carol II. However, the King lacked the temperament of an autocrat and although he wanted no one else running things, he lacked the dedication to direct the state himself and the strength of Romania continued to decline. The country was all but powerless when the Soviets retook Bessarabia which was followed by Hitler returning Transylvania to the Hungarians. Carol II belatedly sided with Germany as the Greater Romania that had emerged from the First World War was sliced up among his neighbors.
Like his mother, King Michael favored Britain and the western democracies over Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. In spite of the constant surveillance he was subjected to by what was nominally his government he essentially set up a secret court and managed to sneak emissaries out of the country to meet with the Allies and discuss peace between them and Romania. He even gave out information on German troop strength and placement to aid in an Allied airborne assault on Romania. If the government or the Germans had ever discovered any of this it would have almost certainly meant his death but to the dismay of the young monarch the Allies never responded to him. Little did he know that agreements had already been made by the Allies which would surrender Romania to the mercy of the Soviet Union. The British, in particular, must have been particularly unperceptive as they had essentially traded Romania for Greece with the Soviets. In hindsight, this was obviously a mistake even for the British given what was to happen to Greece after the war.
This was proven on August 23, 1944 when the careful plans of King Michael reached their climax and he launched a coup against Antonescu. In a carefully orchestrated series of events King Michael arranged a surprise meeting with Antonescu in which he asked the general to take Romania out of the German camp and make a separate peace with the Russians. As expected Antonescu refused and then the King gave the signal and loyal forces rushed in to arrest the dictator. King Michael quickly arrested the old ministers as well, appointed a new government and when the Germans came looking for their ally the King informed them that he had resigned and that more information would be forthcoming. That broadcast announced the end of hostilities with Russia and the restoration of the democratic constitution. Jubilant Romanians rushed to the palace to shout praises to the king and the Romanian national anthem was played on the BBC when they received the word of what had happened. Knowing that German retaliation would be swift and ruthless, the King and his party left Bucharest early the next morning and escaped under fire from their former allies. As predicted the Germans attacked the palace that same day, destroying the very house the King had been staying in.
In the ensuing days Romanian troops fanned out and captured the German troops in their country and prepared for their hoped for liberation by the Soviet Red Army. The King and Queen Mother soon returned to Bucharest once it was secure, however, they were to learn very quickly that their new Russian friends were anything but. As the Soviets rolled in from Hungary the Romanian troops who stood welcoming them were taken prisoner, Romanian civilians were harassed or killed and their cities and villages were pillaged by the Red Army. Communist Party officials traveled with the troops and immediately began setting up across the country with Romanian traitors and radical leftists under the protection of Soviet guns to establish a Communist Party organization in the country for Stalin was determined that he and his ideology were in Romania to stay. Events were happening so rapidly and amidst the confusion of war that King Michael was not aware of the full extent of Russian brutality toward his people. He was busy enough trying to reestablish a working government under the restored 1923 constitution.
Outraged by the audacity of this King they viewed as a royal upstart the Soviets put their Communist network in Romania to work. Russian troops suppressed or intimidated all other political parties and spread subversion against the Romanian government and used their sympathizers in the government itself to make the threat they that they would allow nothing to be accomplished unless and until King Michael submitted to Moscow. They used the very chaos they had created as an excuse to pressure the King into appointing their nominee for prime minister. King Michael had no choice but to make the appointment. However, he was dealt another complication when President Harry Truman of the USA informed him that America would not sign an armistice with Romania until they had a democratic government; the very thing Russia (the ally of America) had prevented him from doing. In another bold and courageous move King Michael sent letters to Britain and America informing them that he would, therefore, have to dismiss the pro-Soviet prime minister. This done, he informed the Russian military commander in Romania himself, handing him a copy of the same letter he had sent to the western Allies.
The Russian was so stunned that he nearly fell over and warned that the Soviet Union would view this as an act of hostility. King Michael dismissed him and then left for the summer palace where he effectively went on strike; refusing to sign any bill which came to him from the Communist dominated government. As he was still recognized by all countries as the head of state, all bills required his signature to become law and the government effectively shut down and there was nothing the Russians could do about it. In December of 1945 the British, Russians and Americans made resolving the Romanian standoff a priority and King Michael was confronted by the Soviet foreign minister and the British and American ambassadors to the Kremlin who presented their idea of solution. As far as compromises go it has to be one of the worst in history. The plan called for the cabinet, which was entirely communist at this point, to include two new members, one from the National Peasant Party and one from the liberal party. Even though there would be only two of them, they would still not be allowed any voice. It was, in effect, window dressing for an ultimatum to force the King to go along with the Soviet imposed government of his country.
Late in 1947 King Michael was permitted, by his Communist PM, to go to London to attend the wedding of Princess Elizabeth of Great Britain and Prince Philip of Greece. It was there, at a reception, that he met the love of his life; the Italian Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma. The following year the couple were married. While in London though, King Michael had been offered asylum by the British government which the King refused. He was understandably bitter that the western democracies had not helped him before to save his country from communist oppression and he was not about to abandon his people for an offer of safety when they needed him the most. The Communist government in Romania probably would have been happier had he accepted as they wanted nothing more than to be rid of him as it went against everything in the Marxist playbook to have a King on the throne no matter how little power he had. They were further displeased when he announced his intention to marry Princess Anne. A royal wedding was the last thing they wanted for fear that it would arouse royalist sympathies among the populace. Yet, they had no legal grounds to refuse as the princess had a spotless pedigree being descended from King Christian IX of Denmark and King Charles X of France.
Nonetheless, no good communist ever let the law get in the way of their wishes and on December 29, 1947 they summoned the King to a meeting the following morning and presented him with an act of abdication and demanded that he sign it. King Michael refused on the grounds that such an act was unconstitutional but that was not about to stop them either. The communists threatened to execute one thousand students, who had already been singled out for the firing squads, unless he signed the act of abdication instantly. With no other option, the King signed the act the following day in order to save the lives of his people. The communists were satisfied and allowed him to leave the country with his entourage but able to take little else with him to sustain himself and his family in exile.
As a result, Princess Anne was ‘given away’ by an uncle but things were little better on the groom’s side as his father, former King Carol II, was not even invited to the wedding. The marriage took place in Athens, Greece on June 10, 1948 with HM King Paul of Greece in attendance. It was to be a very happy marriage with the first of five daughters being born the following year. The religious difficulties were, many years later, overcome at a time when the Catholic Church became a little less hard line on such issues and King Michael and Queen Anne were married again, in a Catholic ceremony, on November 9, 1966 in the historic St Charles Church in the Principality of Monaco. The couple first lived in Italy, then moved to Switzerland and after that moved to the United Kingdom before returning again to Switzerland. The communist government took away the King’s Romanian citizenship and he had hardly any fortune of his own, but he never gave up and went about training himself and joining the workforce. He obtained his commercial pilots license and later worked for an aircraft equipment company. He never gave up his rights to the Romanian throne and never ceased his condemnation of the communist dictatorship.
The King has still managed to cause some controversy after his happy homecoming. At the outset, some monarchists were upset that he did not actively campaign for his restoration. He stated he would be happy to accept the throne but only if offered by the Romanian people in a democratic referendum and he has not actively supported any royalist party or movement trying to make that happen. In 2007 he named his daughter Princess Margarita as heiress to the late Romanian throne, openly going against the established rules of succession, and said to the Romanian parliament that if the monarchy is ever restored Salic Law should be the first thing to go. This upset some of the German cousins of the House of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen who were cut out of the succession by this action and while Princess Margarita is popular enough, her husband, Prince Radu Duda, is a very controversial figure. Many more traditional monarchists object to his use of the title of “Prince” as well as some aspects of his background. When he announced his intention to run for President and with King Michael endorsing his son-in-law many objected to this as well and complained that the King was surrendering his claim of political neutrality by doing so.