Monday, December 12, 2011

Monarch Profile: King Michael I of Romania

Amongst the most remarkable monarchs of the World War II and post-war eras is King Michael I of Romania. Even as a young man in the most difficult of circumstances, with all of the odds stacked against him, he proved just how valuable monarchy can be to a country and a people and for that reason alone his life story should be well known to monarchists everywhere. Circumstances beyond his control forced him to spend the greater part of his life in exile from his homeland and yet it is a testament to his character and leadership that when he returned to his beloved Romania in 1992 he was cheered by a crowd of 200,000 people. Moreover, monarchists especially would be buoyed by how he lived his life in exile. Even when the Communist regime in Romania collapsed and he was urged to run for president by the National Liberal Party he refused to do so and has always remained adamant that he would return to government only as the constitutional monarch and not in any other capacity. Romania had him for only a relatively short time, yet, in that time, he proved to be the best national leader modern Romania has ever had.

Michael was born on November 25, 1921 to Crown Prince Carol of Romania and his recent bride Princess Helena of Greece. He was named in honor of Saint Michael the Archangel and Prince Michael the Brave. The young boy was scarred from his earliest years onward by the absence of his father who abandoned his wife and son to be with his mistress. In 1925 he was forced to renounce his rights to the throne and the young Michael was declared heir apparent while plans were made for a council of regency to rule on his behalf when his turn came. With the death of King Ferdinand I on July 20, 1927 his six-year-old grandson succeeded him as King Michael I of Romania. The regency, mostly under the control of the prime minister, governed the country while only a year later the royal father, Crown Prince Carol, was implicated in an attempted coup against the government but it was stopped when he was arrested by British police on his way to the airfield. He would not have many years to wait, however, as the Peasant Party invited him back to Romania after taking power in 1930. Their only condition was that he break things off with his mistress and return to his legitimate wife and son. For the young King Michael the whole episode would be emotionally painful and a personal disaster.

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.

Prince Michael was forced to watch at a young age as the woman who had come between his parents was treated better than his own mother, with her own little court of sycophants and men on the make. He saw his father encourage everyone to treat his mother as badly as possible in the hope that she would leave Romania. King Carol II generally made life miserable for his family and the only ones who prospered around him were the bankers, industrialists and assorted boot lickers who fed his vanity in return for royal favors. In no time at all the Romanian economy began to sharply decline, banks closed, soldiers and civil servants went unpaid and radical groups on the left and right began to emerge. Crown Prince Michael was often at the side of his father during public events in this period, showing support, whether he liked it or not, for the new programs and organizations Carol II instituted which seemed to many an effort to establish an absolute monarchy.

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.

This was too much for most Romanians to take and opposition to the King centralized under the Iron Guard (though Codreanu had been an avowed monarchist) and the former secretary of war General Ion Antonescu. The military went over to this group and the fate of Carol II was sealed. He was forced to abdicate and Prince Michael was awakened in the night by a phone call summoning him to the palace to take his oath to the constitution as King of Romania once again. His father went into exile in nationalist Spain while the public rejoiced at the news that their young monarch had been restored to the throne in the hope that happier times were now before them. King Michael was 19-years-old and fully capable of assuming full royal duties but the real power in the country was General Antonescu and he did not intend for the youthful monarch to have any decision making role in his regime. Romania became a military dictatorship with the King spending most of his time in the country palace of Sinaia, spending more time talking to his people than to his government ministers. It was only via the BBC that he learned Romania had allied with Germany in the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. This brought about many changes in policy that King Michael was powerless to stop. One controversial area was the fate of minorities in Romania. When Antonescu, at the urging of the Nazis, tried to isolate and deport the Jews, Gypsies and others of Romania King Michael did his best to hinder such efforts, saving many lives in the process.

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.

Nonetheless, this was an act of courage, leadership and skill on the part of the young King Michael that cannot be overstated. He was under constant scrutiny, in an Axis country, surrounded by enemies and yet, under their very noses, he carried out these clandestine diplomatic moves, ran his own intelligence and communication operations and a secret royal court to work towards taking Romania out of the Axis camp, restoring the constitutional monarchy and joining the Allies. Had the government, the Germans or any unreliable person gotten the slightest hint of what the King was doing he would have been ruined and the monarchy with him. Part of the reason he was able to carry this out was because General Antonescu completely underestimated him and when the more astute German Gestapo agents expressed concerns about the King, Antonescu dismissed their fears as unwarranted and shrugged off his monarch as a harmless youth who had not the ability or inclination to interfere in government matters. Obviously, he could not have been more wrong.

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.

Until elections for a new parliament could be held King Michael ruled by decree with the advice of his cabinet and he took frequent trips into the country surrounding Bucharest to assess the situation for himself and keep the pulse of the people. In September he traveled to Moscow to officially sign an armistice with the Allies. However, it seemed that the Romanians had liberated themselves only to be brutalized by the Russians who grabbed the territories of Bessarabia and Bukovina from them. King Michael was informed that the Soviets would keep an army of occupation in Romania and he was ordered to appoint a new prime minister. Naturally, the Russians meant for him to appoint a pro-Communist prime minister but King Michael defied them by appointing one of the most zealous anti-communists in Romania to that post as a sign that Romania was not willing to become a Soviet puppet state.

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.

King Michael was shocked and outraged and his mood did not improve when he and the Queen Mother met with the British and Americans on their own. They essentially told them that so long as he agreed to this proposal and held elections sometime in the future they would be willing to wink at the situation, call Romania a democracy, sign the armistice and leave Romania on her own. All the royal couple could do was to plead for the elections to be held as soon as possible before the Soviet grip on Romania grew even tighter. Sadly, it did no good. It was nearly a year later when the elections were held, but probably long before then the Soviets had so dominated the country that no free elections would have been possible even had they been held the very next day. The result was an absurd vote of eighty percent for the Communist Party. With what seemed like the whole world against him (yet again) King Michael was sidelined while the Communists massacred thousands of Romanians who had opposed them and made sure that anyone in the government or army loyal to the King soon disappeared. Afterwards, in one of the greatest acts of hypocrisy in history the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin called King Michael to Moscow to award him the Soviet Order of Victory for his coup against the pro-Axis government. The King got a medal and Stalin got Romania.

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.

Determined to get on with his life, one of the first things King Michael (as he still rightly called himself since his abdication had been coerced and was invalid) did was propose to Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma. However, this set off a great deal of unpleasantness with the family of his bride-to-be and the Catholic Church, reaching all the way to Pope Pius XII who refused to give the Catholic princess a dispensation to marry the Orthodox former monarch because, still faithful to the Romanian constitution, he would not promise to raise the children Catholic. It was unfortunate but both sides were being faithful to their principles. When Princess Giovanna of Italy had married King Boris III of Bulgaria such a promise had been made and then swiftly broken as the children were immediately baptized into the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, so the Pope was inclined to be a little more hard-line on this issue. For his part, King Michael was being honest and upright, refusing to make things easier by simply making a promise he had no intention to keep. Still, it was unfortunate as the head of the Bourbon-Parma family refused to allow the bride’s parents to attend a wedding taking place without papal approval.

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.

Finally, in 1992 King Michael was able to return to his beloved homeland after the communist regime had collapsed. However, when he did so, the hugely ecstatic welcome he received, with over a million people swarming Bucharest to see him, that the President and republican authorities were terrified. They had no idea that the bonds of loyalty between the Romanian people and their long-absent King would be so strong. As a result, the King was hurried on his way out of the country and not allowed back in for another five years. In 1997 his citizenship was restored and he was allowed to return after a new government had taken power and he was able to reclaim some property with the legislature voting him the status of a former head of state. Some urged him to get into politics, but he refused to do so in any other capacity besides a restoration as the constitutional monarch. However, he did agree to perform errands for the government as a sort of ambassador-at-large for Romania, usually in efforts to increase investment in the country.

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.

Some of the actions of the King have been criticized but, there has never been any widespread lack of respect for King Michael himself. He is the last remaining living head-of-state from World War II and he will always be honored for his bold actions in overthrowing the pro-Nazi dictatorship and taking Romania out of the Axis and into the Allied camp. In 2011, in tribute to his 90th birthday, King Michael was invited to address the Romanian parliament. He remains quite active in spite of his advanced age though, naturally, his schedule has been reduced in recent years. Although not without his critics as of late, King Michael remains a greatly admired and highly regarded man both in Romania and around the world for his integrity, his devotion to his people and his courage in the face of daunting odds.


  1. A good and Honest man, and a Great King indeed, and thus he should be Honoured. It is a pity the Clintons did not “Do Kings”. Had they reconsidered, or made an exception, then his elevation could have been a clear Sign that Communism was defeated. The Symbolic Value alone would have signalled this to the world and done a great deal of good. But alas! Romanian Republicans and the US State Department had other ideas.

  2. To me it seems like a no-brainer. If you have an illegitimate government, obviously imposed by outside force, and it is overthrown, the default position should be to restore the last legitimate government in power and then let the country go from there. Alas, this almost never happens.

  3. Hello:

    To me it seems that the USA shouldn't get involved in the internal affairs of a country half a world away, but the Clinton's and there ilk medal in everything don't they? Just look at what they've done to Obama We actually had potentially the first good President in a generation, and now look at it we're staring down potentially devastating new regulations in the Tech industry as a favor to Hollywood, among other things

  4. Accursed republicans! It's the Hapsburg situation all over again; after all the monarchs have done to oppose Naziism and Communism, they are still prevented from getting any power back, or, in extreme cases, from even going into their former country unless they swear an oath of loyalty to the republic! Honestly, it's such a sad situation because of the post-WWI "New World Order".

  5. In 1992 he was cheered by a crowd of more than 1.000.000 people in the capital of Romania, Bucharest ;)


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