Thursday, March 29, 2012

Monarch Profile: King Carol II of Romania

Probably no other King of Romania is as controversial as Carol II with enemies of the Crown being most repelled by his effort at personal rule and many monarchists being put off by his private life and interference in the reign of his young son. At the time of his birth, a great many hopes were placed in the young prince who supposed to represent a new beginning and a solidification of the House of Hohenzollern with the Romanian people. He was born in Peles Castle in the Carpathian Mountains on October 15, 1893 to Crown Prince Ferdinand and Crown Princess Marie of Romania during the reign of King Carol I, the first King of modern Romania. The Royal Family was still rather new at this stage and was working to strengthen ties between themselves and their people. Ferdinand had been born in Germany and baptized a Catholic and Marie was the daughter of Prince Alfred Duke of Edinburgh and baptized a Protestant (though she would later dabble in both the Orthodox and Bahai faiths). Prince Carol was thus the first future King of Romania to have been born on Romanian soil and baptized into the Romanian Orthodox faith as a child. The hope was that this would cement his image as a Romanian king and dispel any feeling held by the people that his predecessors had been German kings ruling Romanians.

As a boy, Prince Carol was curious, rambunctious and ambitious, traits that would never really leave him throughout his life. In 1909 he began his service with the army, joining the Romanian Mountain Corps and he took quite well with military life, the simplicity of discipline and hierarchy as well as the pomp and ceremony of the parade ground. In November of 1914 he took his seat in the Romanian senate to prepare himself for the governmental aspect of his future position, his father having succeeded as King of Romania the month before. World War I had broken out by that time and the pro-Allied Queen and Prime Minister succeeded in bringing the Hohenzollern King around to their way of thinking; joining the Allies but holding off doing so until they were willing to promise all the territorial gains Romania had long desired (as usual, mostly at the expense of Austria-Hungary). Finally, Romania joined the war in 1916, buoyed by Allied material superiority and the recent Brusilov offensive by the Russians which was such a success it seemed to nearly knock Austria-Hungary out of the war in one blow. However, appearances were deceiving.

Crown Prince Carol was recalled to the front and became a general in the course of the war, but Romanian entry into the conflict proved disastrous for herself, a drain for the Allies and a great benefit to the Central Powers. The Germans and Austrians were not so weak as everyone had thought and in relatively quick order Romania was overrun and occupied by two German armies. The Royal Family had to abandon Bucharest and the vast mineral wealth of Romania was channeled toward the German war effort. In the end, Romania would be one of the few Allied powers to end up getting everything she had wanted when the final victory came but, for the moment, the war was over and Crown Prince Carol saw no reason why he shouldn’t pursue his own happiness. In August of 1918 he ran off to the Ukraine to marry his sweetheart, the daughter of a Romanian general, to the shock and horror of the court. It was a terribly delicate time for the monarchy as the stunning defeat of the Romanian forces had undermined respect for the Crown and forced King Ferdinand to give up much of his powers in order to keep the monarchy in place. The King was furious with his son, ordered him placed in a monastery and his marriage annulled. That was in his power, but he could not forever keep his son and his beloved apart and in 1920 she gave birth to his son.

This child, of course, had no recognition in Romanian law and so King Ferdinand and Queen Marie arranged for Carol to marry a suitable royal bride the following year. On March 10, 1921 in Athens, Greece the Crown Prince was married to Princess Helen of Greece and Denmark (known in Romania as Elena). By no stretch of the imagination could the marriage be called a happy one. It was a union that had basically been forced on the couple for reasons of royal duty and Carol was prepared to do his duty and no more. Not quite nine months later Crown Princess Elena gave birth to the future King Michael and with the succession secured, the Crown Prince had little more to do with his wife after that, concentrating instead on the love interest that was to be the cause of many of his misfortunes in his life to come; a divorced Roman Catholic with a Jewish father named Elena (“Magda”) Lupescu. Like the Crown Prince, she had a reputation prior to their involvement and when word of their affair got out it caused another scandal at court. However, for Crown Prince Carol, Magda was the love of his life (as would be proven) and he refused to give her up. Finally, under pressure from all sides, he agreed to renounce his rights to the throne in favor of his young son Prince Michael in 1925.

It was expected that the Crown Prince had, with that renunciation, effectively ended his ‘royal career’. However, the headstrong Carol fundamentally objected to the entire process. He felt it was unjust that he should have been forced to marry, forced to choose between his birthright and the woman he loved and he felt he had been coerced into making the renunciation. In 1927 King Ferdinand died and, with a regency in place, Carol’s young son became King Michael I of Romania. One year later Carol and Princess Elena formally divorced and Carol spent most of his time traveling abroad with Magda. However, in 1930 he unexpectedly returned to Romania, renounced his earlier renunciation and proclaimed himself King Carol II. The boy-king Michael was effectively deposed by his father who had support among many in the army and those who wanted to see a stronger and more authoritarian monarch. Obviously this was a time of considerable turmoil for the royal family and particularly as he grew older the young King Michael would never forgive his father, not simply for deposing him (he was too young at the time to be terribly ambitious) but for displacing his mother in favor of Magda who was treated in every way as wife.

As monarch, King Carol II pledged a “national renaissance”, choosing his own ministers and enacting a new constitution which reserved final authority for the Crown. In 1938 he earned more political enemies when he banned the fascist Iron Guard organization, which he had earlier supported. Because the Iron Guard was anti-Semitic many blamed this action on the influence of his half-Jewish “wife” Magda Lupescu. However, King Carol II really wanted no parties or factions or movements at all in Romania other than his own. He had his own monarchist social movement, devoted to strengthening the rule of the King and had, in 1935, authorized the formation of his own political youth movement known as “The Sentinel of the Motherland” or “The Sentinel” for short. This was to encourage support for the monarchy, loyalty to King Carol II personally, devotion to the Romanian Orthodox Church, Romanian nationalism and national unity. It goes without saying that the revolutionary groups were absolutely opposed to all of this and most of the western world looked on it all distastefully as a “royal dictatorship” but right-wing militants were also not pleased to having their own movements supplanted and sidelined by the King.

During these years the Nazi Party had risen to power in Germany and with the western democracies refusing to take action and the Soviet Union focused on expanding in the Baltic states, Hitler began to re-draw much of the map in Eastern Europe through diplomacy and intimidation. After the start of World War II, borders shifted and Hungary, Bulgaria and the Soviet Union all demanded territorial concessions from the “Greater Romania” the Allies had gifted after the First World War. King Carol II was forced to go along with this as the defeat of France and the resulting domination of Europe by Nazi Germany (which at that time had a non-aggression pact with Stalin) left Romania isolated. Naturally, this did nothing to help the popularity of the King in his own country and made him appear weak abroad. With those concessions it seemed that the reign of King Carol II was doomed. It also did not help that Adolf Hitler personally despised the King. In addition to Hitler’s virulent hatred of royalty in general the fact that the King lived with a woman who was (gasp!) half-Jewish infuriated the Nazi dictator all the more.

General Ion Antonescu was one of the most vocal in protesting the concessions and the King sent him to prison for his defiance. However, he was also the most pro-Nazi man in the military hierarchy and Hitler brought pressure to bear to have Antonescu released from prison. The general promised the Nazis the mineral wealth of Romania for their war effort if they would support him in deposing King Carol II and taking over Romania as a military dictator. Generals loyal to the King began plotting his assassination but, before they could act, Antonescu made his move with Nazi support and forced Carol II to abdicate on September 6, 1940. The throne passed again to his son who resumed his reign as King Michael I but the real power was Antonescu who ruled Romania for most of the rest of World War II as “leader”. Carol II and his beloved Magda went into exile, never to see Romania again, first toSpain, then Mexico, later to Portugal, getting married finally in Brazil in 1947. He never saw his son again, even after the young King Michael was deposed by the Soviets and forced into exile himself. Carol II made overtures but his son refused to see him.

When Romania entered World War II under Antonescu the former King offered to form a Romanian government-in-exile on the Allied side but Great Britain and the United States opposed such a move. After all, such a government would have doubtlessly clashed with the agreed upon Soviet domination of Eastern Europe after the war. He even made a similar offer to Joseph Stalin but communism and royalty simply do not mix and the Soviets didn’t even bother replying. Romania would be in their sphere of influence in any event and they knew it. Through it all, Magda never left his side. After their marriage in Brazil the former King titled her Princess Elena of Romania but the court around his son, needless to say, never recognized it. The couple had to move more than once because of the effects of climate on Magda’s health, improving only after their move to Portugal. However, it was there that the former King Carol II died, unexpectedly, of a heart attack on April 4, 1953 at the age of 59. He was buried there in Portugal and after her death in 1977 his Princess Elena was buried alongside him. It was not until 2003 that their bodies were removed and transported to Romania for reburial. However, old animosities still remained and neither of his sons attended the ceremony and while he was buried in a royal chapel along with the remains of other, long past, Romanian royals, his wife had to be buried outside as her royal status was not recognized by the family. Even in death, the controversy and divisiveness that characterized the rule of King Carol II of Romania still remained.

1 comment:

  1. Apparently Tsar Nicholas II`s eldest daughter, Olga, was viewed as a possible wife for Carol, and the pair did meet before the outbreak of WWI. Had Olga actually married Carol, then one child of the Tsar would have escaped the terrible events of July 1918. Whatever we may think of Carol as a King and as a man, he was of course the father of King Michael, and that at least is to his great credit.

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