Queen Mary of Romania is by far one of the most important and controversial figures in the history of our country. Descended from both British and Russian royal families, she became in 1914 Queen of Romania.
Passionate and beautiful woman, talented diplomat, dedicated mother, a kind, sensitive, and gifted artist, Mary was ahead of her time and much loved by her subjects. She was named the last romantic and the first modern woman of Europe.
In this article, we will show you a glimpse of this passionate woman and devoted queen, but most of all, we are going to tell you the story of her royal heart, which knew many adventures after the queen’s death.
1. The Royal Family of Romania
Many people are surprised to hear that Romania was a kingdom before communists took over power in 1945. I might say that even for the Romanians, this part of our history is still quite unknown by them due to the long communist propaganda and lack of interest after the fall of the communist regime.
Romania had 4 kings and 4 queens:
- King Carol of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen (1866 – 1914 rule) married Princess Elisabeth of Wied.
- King Ferdinand married (1914 – 1927 rule) married to Princess Mary of Edinburgh.
- King Carol II (1930 – 1940 rule) married Princess Helen of Greece
- King Michael I (1927 – 1930 and 1940 – 1947 rule) married Princess Ana of Bourbon-Parma
The last king of Romania, Michael I, died in the winter of 2017 at 96 years old.
The first kings of Romania were German and ruled over a newborn country located at the gates of the Orient. Their input was immense to ensure political stability, independence, the modernization of the country, and the emancipation of the Romanians.
In another article, we will tell you a more detailed story of the Royal family of Romania. Each royal couple had interesting stories, strong personalities and was surrounded by rumors and intrigues.
2. Short introduction into Queen Mary’s life
Maria Alexandra Victoria of Saxe Coburg Gotha… or simply “Missy” was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria of Great Britain and the granddaughter of Emperor Alexander II of Russia.
She was born in Eastwell Manor in Kent in 1875 and spent here the first part of her life. When she turned 11, her father was named commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, and the whole family moved to San Antonio Palace in Malta. In her journals, Mary would always remember the years spent here as “the happiest memory of my existence.” That is why, in the years to come, she would always seek the peace and comfort of living by the sea and tried to recreate a corner of beautiful Malta.
7 years later, Mary moved with her family to Coburg. Here she continued her education with a German governess focusing on music and painting. Thus, Mary became a fine young lady, and several royal bachelors courted her. She had the chance to become Queen of England had she not refused the proposal from her cousin, the future King George V of Great Britain.
However, she was chosen the future wife of Crown Prince Ferdinand of Romania, the heir of King Carol I, in 1892. She married at the age of 17, and she had 6 children (Carol II, Elisabeth, Maria, Nicholas, Ileana, and Mircea).
World War I and Queen Mary
In 1914, Mary became Queen of Romania. It happened during a challenging period as WWI just started. Romania had to take a crucial decision that would influence the future of the royal family and the Romanian people.
Restless and kind, Mary was near her people during WWI. She opened hospitals, raised funds for the soldiers to be properly taken care of. She visited the wounded in the hospitals despite the danger of catching different diseases. Furthermore, Mary proved to be a gifted diplomat and politician, providing her husband, the king, inspired advice regarding possible alias. All the difficult years of the war are kept in the pages of her “War Diary” that Queen Mary wrote, describing with passion discussions, meetings with different personalities and ministers, fears, frustrations, and joy and hope for victory.
In 1918, the Unification of the Romanian territories and thus, the birth of the Great Romanian Kingdom was partially due to the diplomatic skills of Queen Mary of Romania though everything seemed to be lost. The country's prime minister sent her to Paris, where she promoted the Romanian cause among France, England, and the USA.
Maybe the best description of the queen is made by Constantin Argetoianu, a Romanian politician and one of the Queen’s constant and ruthless critics:
“Whatever mistakes Queen Maria would have committed before and after the war, the war remains her PAGE, a page that she can boast with, a page that will place her with great honor in history. We find her in the trenches among the combatants in the first line, we find her in the hospitals and all the sanitary posts among the wounded and the sick. We find her at all the meetings where she was trying to do a little good. (…) Queen Mary fulfilled her duty on all fronts of her activities, but above all that of encouraging and raising the morale of those who surrounded her and who had to decide the fate of the country and her people in the most tragic moments.”
Queen Mary in the United States of America
In 1926, Marie and two of her children took a diplomatic tour of the United States. They were received with enthusiasm by the American people and visited several cities before returning to Romania.
“Mary, Mary! I heard my name cried by thousands of voices, and according to the American custom, long paper garlands were thrown from the windows.”
Away from the political life
Back in the country, Mary found her husband, Ferdinand, gravely ill. He died a few months later, in 1927.
In 1930, Marie’s eldest son, Carol, became King Carol II. He removed Marie from the political scene and strived to crush her popularity. Consequently, Marie moved away from Bucharest and spent the rest of her life either in the countryside or at her home by the Black Sea.
In 1937, she became ill with cirrhosis and died the following year in Pelisor Castle.
The Royal family during the Communist regime
During Romania’s transition to the Socialist Republic, the monarchy was excoriated by the communist officials. In several biographies about the royal family, Mary was described either as a drunkard or as a promiscuous woman, referring to her many alleged affairs and to orgies she had supposedly organized before and during the war.
The memory of Queen Mary today
Fortunately, in the years preceding the Romanian Revolution of 1989, Mary’s popularity recovered, and she was offered as a model of patriotism to the population. Mary is primarily remembered for her work as a nurse but is also known for her extensive writing, including her critically acclaimed autobiography.
She will always occupy a special place in the collective memory and the Romanians’ hearts.
3. The queen’s castles and the journey of her royal heart
Critics observed that one of the most used words in the Queen’s Diaries was the word “heart.” Sensitive and strong at the same time, with a deep sense of responsibility, courage, and determination, Queen Mary loved her adoptive country very much. Most of her writings are addressed to her people and show a woman who tries to create beauty wherever she goes.
The queen’s will
However, an interesting wish made Queen Mary an even more controversial character: “in my soul lived an eager and eternal longing for the sea. (…) my heart’s place.”
After leaving Malta with her family, Mary always longed to live again by the sea and recreate those peaceful and happy childhood moments.
At the beginning of the 1920s, the queen starts making her dream come true. She discovers a beautiful fishermen village, and she decides to build her “Peaceful Nest,” her beloved dwelling by the Black Sea. The name of that village was Balchik, a territory that Romania would lose at the beginning of WWII. Now it belongs to Bulgaria.
She decided then that Balchik would be the place where she wanted her heart to rest forever. Thus, she mentioned in her will that after her death, her heart to be preserved at Stella Maris Chapel, by the Black Sea, in Balchik. According to the royal tradition, her body (without the heart) was to be buried next to her husband in Curtea de Arges Monastery. A truly uncommon request for the Romanian kingdom, indeed.
“I want my heart to be removed from my body and buried in the small Stella Maris church after my death. On revient toujours à ses premiers amours, so I came back to the sea, where I want my heart to be brought… by the sea”.
The journey of the heart from Pelisor Castle to Balchik
In July 1938, after the queen’s death at Pelisor castle, her heart started the journey in 2 small cassettes (a silver one and a golden one) to Balchik.
The golden cassette is the Parisian jeweler’s work, Maurice Fromment, and was a gift offered by Eufrosina Lascar Catargiu, the then Romanian prime minister's wife, on behalf of the “Romanian Ladies” in 1893, upon the arrival of Queen Victoria’s niece in Romania. In the four corners of the cassette, there are 4 allegorical characters: Charity, Faith, Courage, and Piety. There are 32 silver medallions emblazoned on the sides with the emblem of the then-Romanian counties. On the cover, there is a double coat of arms, on one side showing the insignia of Romania, and on the other side, the insignia of Great Britain. Now, both silver and golden cassettes can be admired in the National History Museum in Bucharest.
From Balchik to Bran castle
But the heart would not stay in Balchik for too long as a couple of years later, this was not Romanian soil anymore. The heart was taken from Stella Maris chapel and brought to Transylvania, in Bran village, at Bran castle. It rested in the small wooden church located right across the castle, and then it was moved to a niche at the foot of the mountain. The heart would remain there for now.
Bran castle, the one is known by most of the travelers as Dracula’s castle, also belonged to Queen Mary. She received it in the early 1920s as a gift from the Saxon community of Brasov city. She renovated it and turned it into one of her summer residences. You can read more about this castle in the article here.
In 1947, the royal family's properties were confiscated by the communists who took over the power in Romania. The members of the royal family left the country.
The queen’s heart remained in the niche for 10 more years. The Romanians kept very well alive the memory of their beloved queen and brought flowers and candles. In an attempt to erase the royal family's image from the memory of the Romanians, the communists decided to move the cassette with the heart in a safe box inside the castle.
From Bran Castle to Bucharest
In 1974, the heart was moved once again, this time, to Bucharest, to the National History Museum.
From Bucharest back to Pelisor castle
The last trip the heart took was 41 years later, in November 2015, when King Michael I, grandson of Queen Mary, decided to bring the heart to Pelisor castle, in the Golden Room, where the queen died in 1938. Today, travelers that visit Pelisor castle can see the cassette with the queen’s heart, covered by both the British and the Romanian flag.
At last, the journey of the royal heart ended.
Pelisor Castle is located in Sinaia Mountain Resort, 300 m from Peles castle in the Carpathian Mountains. When in Romania, many tourists visit Peles castle (read more about this place in the article here), the summer royal residence of the first royal couple of Romania.
It would be a pity to leave this place without discovering the story of Queen Mary of Romania and visit Pelisor castle, the summer residence of the second royal couple of Romania.
You can read more about Queen Mary in the books she published herself or in the diaries that were published after her death:
- Later Chapters of my life. The Lost Memoirs of Queen Marie of Romania
- The story of my life
- My Country
- A Christmas Tale
- America Seen by a Queen: Queen Marie’s Diary of Her 1926 Voyage to the United States of America
- Queen Marie of Romania. Letters to Her Mother