Monday, November 17, 2014

Story of Monarchy: Romanian Rise and Fall

The Kingdom of Romania was a monarchy that experienced a meteoric rise followed by an infamous fall. The story of the Kingdom of Romania is rooted in a very long struggle for unity and independence dating back to the Middle Ages when what is now Romania was divided between the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia as well as parts of Transylvania. The whole area was conquered by the Turkish Ottoman Empire in the XV Century and remained so, though there was a brief interlude under Prince Michael the Brave in the XVI Century when Wallachia and Moldavia came together as an independent feudal state of a kind. These two provinces reverted back to Turkish rule after his death with Transylvania being ruled by the Hapsburgs of Austria as part of the Kingdom of Hungary. Bessarabia, on the Moldavian border, was ceded to the Russian Empire by the Turks in 1812 and rightful ownership of the territory has been disputed almost ever since. Russia returned the southern portion after being defeated in the Crimean War but not long after, in 1861, Wallachia and Moldavia came together again as the “United Principality of Romania” under Alexander Ioan Cuza but it was still under the sovereignty of the Ottoman Sultan.

King Carol I
Several years later a liberal and conservative coalition forced Cuza from power and elected the German Prince Karl Eitel von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen to be their Prince. He was from the southern, Catholic branch of the Prussian Royal Family. This was to gain German support for eventual Romanian independence but the Austrians were less than thrilled with this development and Prince Karl had to travel in disguise, using a false passport, to reach Bucharest safely through Austrian territory. He adopted the Romanian form of his name, Carol, and became Domnitor of Romania in 1866. He was not Romanian by blood nor could he speak the language (he tended to speak French which most of the upper class understood) but he impressed everyone with his zeal to be a good monarch and to advance Romanian interests. In time, it became clear that the Romanians had chosen quite a capable monarch for themselves. In 1877 Prince Carol allied with the Russian Empire against the Turks and saved the day for Russia at the battle of Plevna in what is now Bulgaria. It was a decisive defeat for the Turks and in the aftermath Romania received official recognition of her independence at the Congress of Berlin in 1878. However, southern Bessarabia did have to be ceded back to Russia again.

Finally united and independent, in March of 1881 the government in Bucharest declared the country the Kingdom of Romania and Prince Carol crowned himself King Carol I of Romania with the famous “Steel Crown”, so-called because it was made from one of the guns that saw action at the battle of Plevna. The Kingdom of Romania was at last a fact but it would need a strong monarchy with a Royal Family and assurance of an orderly succession to see it thrive and prosper. Toward that end, King Carol I married Elizabeth von Wied (aunt of the Prince Wilhelm who would be Prince of Albania for a time in 1914). She was a literary woman, author of many poetry books under the name of “Carmen Sylva”. However, their only child, Princess Marie, died before her fourth birthday so in order to secure the succession King Carol adopted his nephew Prince Ferdinand von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen. Prince Ferdinand upset his family by renouncing Catholicism to join the Romanian Orthodox Church but he was just as determined as his uncle to see the Kingdom of Romania persevere and succeed. He learned Romanian and began seriously looking for a bride of his own to secure a stable Romanian royal dynasty. At the court of the German Kaiser he decided on Princess Marie of Edinburgh, granddaughter of Queen Victoria and daughter of Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

Queen Marie
A granddaughter of Britain’s powerful Queen-Empress, a daughter of German royalty and a descendant of the Russian Emperors by her mother, Princess Marie seemed the ideal candidate to give Romania plenty of friends in high places. However, getting along with the rest of the family proved rather difficult. She was too assertive for the tastes of her father-in-law and was a literary rival to her mother-in-law. However, she did her royal duty and in 1893 produced an heir to the throne who was named Prince Carol, after the King. But, in 1914, King Carol I died just after the outbreak of World War I and so it was the newly crowned King Ferdinand I and Queen Marie who would be called upon to lead Romania through its first great crisis as an independent kingdom. As a Hohenzollern, King Ferdinand tended to sympathize with his German relatives but Queen Marie was even more emphatically on the side of Great Britain and the Allies. The government also tipped the scales in her favor after Britain and France promised Romania vast swathes of Hungarian territory  when the war was over if they would join on the Allied side. It seemed so perfect; the massive Russian Empire promised support, Allied armies were in Greece, the Germans were stretched to the limit by the Somme offensive and Austria-Hungary seemed just about to crumble under the ferocious Brusilov offensive by Russia.

So, at that moment, in the summer of 1916 the Kingdom of Romania declared war on the Central Powers and launched an invasion of Hungary. Unfortunately, things began to go wrong very quickly. The army was not well trained or prepared and German Colonel General Erich von Falkenhayn already had a plan for the conquest of Romania ready to put into effect. The Central Powers were not so crippled as the leaders in Bucharest thought and soon Field Marshal August von Mackensen was leading a massive invasion of Romania with troops from Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey. Overwhelmed by this massive counter-attack, Romania was almost completely conquered and even started to destroy their oil facilities to keep them out of German hands. A remnant managed to hang on in the east but the next year, 1917, Russia began to come apart and the Romanians were left with no choice but to concede defeat and sign a treaty giving up border territories to the Central Powers and Germany control over Romanian oil production. Some were amazed that Romania was to survive at all given how furious the German Kaiser Wilhelm II was that a member of his own family would declare war on him. Fortunately for Romania, this humiliation was only temporary.

King Ferdinand
In 1918 the Central Powers began to collapse, the Romanian army reorganized itself and in the end, Romania emerged on the winning side. King Ferdinand had led his people through their darkest hour since becoming an independent country but they had emerged as a more dominant country than ever before. Queen Marie set up camp in Paris when the Versailles Treaty negotiations were underway and she, along with the Romanian delegation, saw to it that Romania got all the spoils promised, primarily the annexation of Transylvania from Hungary (the return of Bessarabia was also confirmed). When all was settled the Kingdom was known as “Greater Romania” as it reached its greatest area of territorial control. The future looked bright but, of course, Romania was to suffer great turmoil as a result of the First World War just like every other country, whether on the winning side or not. Increasingly radical political trends began to sweep the country and inside the monarchy itself there was dissension. Crown Prince Carol was determined to marry the daughter of a Romanian general, Giovanna “Zizi” Lambrino. King Ferdinand did not approve but Prince Carol spirited his sweetheart away to the Ukraine where they were married in secret. Later, a son was born but King Ferdinand had never given permission for the marriage and neither it, nor any children from it, were legitimate in Romanian law.

Crown Prince Carol finally agreed to return and marry the woman his parents chose; his sister-in-law Princess Helena of Greece in 1921. Later that year a son and heir was born to the royal couple; Prince Michael, named in honor of Prince Michael the Brave of Romanian history. However, the Crown Prince already had another mistress in the person of Elena Lupescu which caused quite a scandal. No one could decide what was worse; that she was a commoner, that she was Catholic by religion or that she was Jewish by blood. She converted to Orthodoxy but she had also been married before and divorced so that, for any number of reasons, “Magda” Lupescu was popular with practically no one besides Crown Prince Carol. Finally, in 1925 he was forced to renounce his rights to the throne in favor of his young son Michael. He divorced Helena and lived in France with Magda Lupescu. So it was that when King Ferdinand I died in 1927 he was succeeded by his 6-year-old grandson who officially became King Michael I of Romania.

King Carol II
But, the boy-King’s father was not out of the picture yet. In 1930 the Peasant Party came to power and invited Carol to return as long as he agreed to leave Lupescu and reconcile with Queen Helena (she was titled Queen Mother in 1927 despite her husband never having been King at that point -the two were officially divorced in 1928). He agreed and returned to Bucharest where the national assembly voted to effectively depose King Michael and make his father King Carol II (the liberals dissented but were out-voted). However, Queen Helena refused to reconcile and it was never something Carol II took seriously anyway; Lupescu was his true love and she was soon in Bucharest as well with her own household). King Carol II enacted a new constitution that gave more power to the Crown and formed his own nationalist-royalist paramilitary movement to bolster his regime and try to counteract the other such parties that were gaining strength across the country. He also cracked down on any real or potential opposition such as by arresting the leader of the fascist Legion of the Archangel Michael or Iron Guard, Cornelius Codreanu. In 1938 Queen Marie died, depressed at the situation in her country, and in a visit by King Carol II and Crown Prince Michael to Bavaria, Hitler offered to support the King if he would drop his Jewish mistress and free Codreanu from prison.

King Carol refused and shortly thereafter Codreanu was shot by the police, supposedly while attempting escape though few believed it. As World War II broke out, things got worse for Romania. Hitler was hostile to King Carol II and there was nothing to do but concede when Stalin (at the time in league with Hitler) demanded the return of Bessarabia. Hitler also demanded that Carol II return northern Transylvania to Hungary. All of this was done, and it is hard to see how the King could have done anything else, but it cause a massive uproar in Romania particularly by the Iron Guard and the pro-German supporters of General Ion Antonescu, a former Minister of War. In September of 1940 General Antonescu organized a coup that brought down King Carol II and put King Michael I back on the Romanian throne. However, he was to be a mere figurehead with General Antonescu ruling Romania as dictator. He took the country into the Axis camp and participated in the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. King Michael did not even know his country was at war with Russia until he heard about it on BBC radio. Still, despite the situation, King Michael was able to prevent the hand-over of Romanian Jews to the Nazis and he began to organize his own network of pro-Allied supporters.

King Michael I
The Nazi secret police suspected something was up but General Antonescu shrugged off their warnings, saying that King Michael was “just a kid”. His opinion no doubt changed in 1944 when that “kid” organized a successful coup that removed the dictator from power. King Michael then declared an end to the war with Russia and put Romania into the Allied camp. Unfortunately for Romania, the western Allies had already sold them out. When the King was in secret communication with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the British leader had already agreed that Romania would be in the Soviet sphere of influence in exchange for Greece being put under the protection of Great Britain. When the King sent his troops out to salute the passing Soviet Red Army, the Russians took them all prisoner and began to flood the country with communist agents to rally disloyal elements and intimidate and terrorize the rest into submission.

When the war ended in victory for the Allies, the Soviet stranglehold on Romania became tighter. However, King Michael did all in his power to block them at every turn. Still, he was limited to small things since Romania had been abandoned by the west to the vicious Stalin and his stooges. There were some happier moments though, such as in 1947 when King Michael met Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma in London, the woman who would be the great love of his life. They soon made plans to marry the following year and that was the last sort of spectacle that anyone in Moscow or their lackeys in Bucharest wanted to see. The Romanian communists had hoped the King would have stayed in Britain but he returned home and was determined to never leave his people. The communists had other ideas and when all of their harassment could not induce him to leave, they finally resorted to outright coercion. In December they demanded that King Michael abdicate his throne or else they would begin executing 1,000 students as “subversives”. Of course, the King could not allow such a bloodbath and had no choice but to agree. He signed their document, under duress so it had no validity, and left the country with little more than the clothes on his back as all royal property was confiscated by the communists.

the royal wedding
This was the start of decades of a life in exile for King Michael I of Romania. He married Princess Anne, making her Queen Anne of Romania, organized the Romanian National Committee to keep track of events at home and keep in touch with anti-communist Romanians in exile while working at a number of jobs in Britain, the United States and Switzerland. In Romania itself, a socialist republic was proclaimed, all former supporters of the Axis alliance as well as any royalists they could get their hands on were executed and various communist factions struggled for power. In the end, the man who emerged as dictator was Nicholas Ceausescu, a brutal tyrant who ran what many considered the most “Stalinist” regime in the Soviet bloc from 1965 to 1989. When Ceausescu was finally toppled from power (he escaped but was later apprehended and executed) in a revolution that was quite bloody. However, as with many East European countries, much of the old elite remained in place with former communists simply calling themselves social democrats and carrying on as before. There was no thought given to restoring the legitimate monarch to his throne and the first elected President of Romania, Ion Iliescu, was, not surprisingly, a former communist who ran as a social democrat.

The National Liberal Party did ask King Michael to run for president, which he of course refused and the party won no seats in the election. The King was perfectly willing to return as monarch if the Romanian people so desired it but he had no desire to become a politician. To return to his beloved country was, however, naturally the first thing that King Michael wanted to do but he met opposition from the government. His first effort to return saw the government cancel his visa so the first member of the Royal Family to return was Princess Margarita, his daughter, in December of 1990 on a humanitarian mission. That year she had founded a charitable organization after being moved by the plight of the children in the wretched state orphanages run by Ceausescu. For those not aware, this was probably the greatest horror of the communist regime and what happened to the orphaned children in state care is a story too horrific to relate here. There was starvation, neglect, abuse and even more disgusting crimes that can scarcely be imagined. After bringing up the subject with the prime minister, who did not say the King would not be allowed to return, the King prepared to come home.

The King & Princess Margarita
On Christmas Day, 1990, King Michael I flew into Bucharest on a private plane. The airport officials received them very cordially but government officials were caught off guard. Eventually the party was stopped and forced to leave the country. Their pilot was arrested and many fear something worse might have happened were it not for the media (including a French TV crew) that was following the events. In 1992 he was allowed to return to celebrate Easter and was cheered by a crowd of 200,000 people. Later, a crowd estimated to be a million-strong turned out to see him. This so alarmed the aforementioned President Ion Iliescu that the King was forbidden from returning to Romania for five years. However, in 1997, a new government restored his Romanian citizenship and eventually restored some of his properties and granted him the status of a former head of state. However, while the government has not seen fit to restore King Michael to his legitimate throne, that has not stopped them from making use of him as it was the King who led the public-relations campaign to gain Romania membership in NATO (and thus a war guarantee from the United States to defend Romania if it is ever attacked). In this he proved a great help and Romania became a member of NATO in the fifth enlargement in 2004. Leading political figures in Romania have also spoken favorably of holding a referendum on the subject of restoring the monarchy. It would certainly benefit Romania to restore the monarchy (that should be obvious given all that has occurred) and it would be only just and right to do so in the person of King Michael I, who never should have lost his throne in the first place. However, if that is to happen, with the King being 93-years old, it would have to be done quite soon.


  1. Sorry that this is off topic. What are your standards for guest-written articles?

    1. I never set any guidelines, all that I have posted have been written by people I know personally (all but one by the same person).


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