Romania is known as a former communist country, but few people know that our country was a monarchy before the communists took over power.
The Royals of Romania left such a significant mark in our history, and even now, Romanians have a deep respect for the Romanian Royal family.
But what happened to Romania’s monarchy?
Before the monarchy
Located at the crossroads between the Orients and the Occident, the Romanian country formed over many centuries. Even from Ancient times, the interaction with its powerful neighbors shaped its language and culture. Starting with the Roman Empire, then the Polish Kingdom, the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Russian Empire (later the Soviet Union), all these powers left an important mark in our history.
It was the year 1866. Romania was not a country yet. At that time, it was divided into 3 main regions: Moldavia, Wallachia, and Transylvania. Moldavia and Wallachia were under Ottoman domination. Meanwhile, Transylvania was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
There had been a few attempts to unify these regions into one country. However, in 1859, the people of Moldavia and Wallachia elected the same ruler, Alexandru Ioan Cuza, thus obtaining the unification of these two states. The name of this young state was “The Romanian Principalities.” The Romanians now call this event “The Small Unification.” However, this new state was still under Ottoman domination, so obtaining independence was the following obvious step from that point on.
As the ruler was forced to abdicate, the new country was even more weakened by the noblemen’s quarrel regarding succession to power. Thus, an agreement was set: a new foreign prince was to be invited to rule this new country. Why a foreign prince? Because only a foreign prince could have secured an impartial rule of the country and could have attracted the support of the West for the country’s emancipation.
Carol I - The beginning of the Romanian monarchy
The only prince who accepted the invitation was Carol of the Hohenzollern Sigmaringen dynasty from Germany. He arrived in the Romanian Principalities on May 10, 1866. He was but 27 years old, a military with a great sense of responsibility and morality. Though it was difficult to govern this Latin nation with Oriental habits, Prince Carol gained the respect of his subjects.
On May 10, 1877, he signed the Declaration of Independence of the Romanian Principalities and personally led the Romanian troops during the Russo-Turkish War.
The newly independent state became the Kingdom of Romania, and on May 10, 1881, Prince Carol was crowned King Carol I.
May 10 became the National Day of Romania until the communists took power. Today, May 10 is called Royalty Day, when we celebrate the Royals of Romania.
Romania’s industry and infrastructure improved significantly during King Carol’s reign, but the country still had an agrarian-focused economy. Unfortunately, the situation of the peasants did not improve, leading to a major revolt in 1907, bloody suppressed by the authorities.
Carol I married a German princess, Elisabeth of Wied, a German princess to secure royal succession. Unfortunately, they had only one daughter, Maria, who died at almost four years old because of Scarlet fever. As Carol did not produce a male heir to the throne, the succession was secured by his nephew, Ferdinand, who became King Ferdinand I in 1914.
King Ferdinand I
Unlike his uncle, Ferdinand was a more sensitive and insecure person. However, he was a man of duty and remained in the Romanians’memory as the loyal king.
He married Princess Maria Alexandra Victoria of Saxe Coburg Gotha. By father, she was British, the granddaughter of Queen Victoria of Great Britain, and by mother, she was Russian, the granddaughter of Tsar Alexander II. They had six children: three boys and three daughters. The elder was to become King Carol II.
Ferdinand started his reign in a tumultuous period for humankind: World War I. Then, he had to make the most difficult decision of his life. Despite his origins, in 1916, Ferdinand decided to side with the Entente (France, United Kingdom, and Russian Empire) against the Central Powers (German, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman Empires, and the Kingdom of Bulgaria). His wife, Queen Mary, backed him up in his decision. However, this made Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany remove Ferdinand’s name from the royal house of Hohenzollern. But for his Romanian subjects, Ferdinand became the Loyal King.
At the end of World War I, the remaining regions were united with the Romanian Kingdom: Bessarabia (today’s Republic of Moldova), Transylvania, Bukovina, as well as parts of Banat, Crisana, and Maramures. This way, a greater Kingdom was born. Romanians celebrate this event on December 1, and they call it "the Great Unification Day". This date became Romania's National Day after the communist regime fell.
King Carol II
Carol II was the first of the Hohenzollern kings of Romania to be born in the country, as both his predecessors were born in Germany and only came to Romania as adults. He was also the first Romanian King raised in the Orthodox faith.
Even since World War I, he has caused many scandals because of his love affairs. Eventually, he married Helene, Princess of Greece and Denmark, and they had one son, Michael.
In 1925, Prince Carol gave up succession rights in favor of his 4-year-old son and moved to France with his mistress Elena Lupescu. A few years later, Princess Helene obtained a divorce.
In 1927, the unexpected death of King Ferdinand made his 6-year-old grandson King. Young Michael ruled the country with a Regency made of his uncle, Prince Nicholas, the Patriarch Miron Cristea, and the Justice Chief, Gheorghe Buzdugan.
Because the regency was inefficient, Carol was allowed to return to Romania in 1930, and the royal house of Romania restored his name. He dethroned his son and ruled until 1940, when he was forced to abdicate. He married Elena Lupescu, and he lived and died in exile.
King Michael I
Michael I has perhaps the saddest story of all Romanian kings. His second reign started in 1940, at age 19, during the worst time possible: the beginning of World War II. Under the government led by the military dictator Ion Antonescu, Romania aligned with Nazi Germany. In 1944, Michael participated in a coup against Antonescu and declared an alliance with the Allies.
After the war, the King was pressured to appoint a pro-soviet government which in December 1947 forced him to abdicate. The communist authorities confiscated his properties, and his citizenship was stripped.
Michael left Romania and married Princess Anna of Bourbon-Parma, with whom he had five daughters. After marriage, the young couple lived in Italy, the United Kingdom and settled near Versoix, Switzerland. Michael worked as a farmer, entrepreneur, stockbroker, and pilot in exile. He also tried to help the Romanians fight against the communist regime. In addition, he undertook many trips to Western countries to make public the atrocities that his people endured during the communist regime.
Meanwhile, in Romania, the communists were doing everything they could to erase from history the existence of the former kings and queens of Romania. They distorted the country’s history and promoted communist propaganda.
After communism fell in December 1989, he tried to return to his country, but the new political power rejected his request. Only in 1997 did the Romanian government allow the former king to enter the country, restore his citizenship, and restitute the former private residences, Peles and Pelisor Castles. Since then, Michael has lived partly in Switzerland and partly in Romania at Savarsin Castle in the West of Romania or Elisabeta Palace in Bucharest. While Peleș and Pelișor are open to the public, Elisabeta Palace and Săvârșin are private residences.
In December 2017, Michael I, the last King of Romania, died, and he was buried in Curtea de Arges Monastery, where all the kings and queens of Romania rest.
Royal succession in Romania
Romanian kingdom's last democratically approved monarchical constitution of 1923 stated that the crown would return to the Hohenzollern family in case of no male heirs on Michael’s side. However, in 2007, King Michael signed the Fundamental Rules of the Royal Family of Romania, naming Princess Margareta, his daughter, as his heir. But this document has no legal standing, as it regulates an institution no longer in power.
Royal visits in Romania
The best way to learn about the Royal family of Romania and its legacy is by visiting the summer royal residences from Sinaia mountain resort: Peles Castle and Pelisor Castle. On our travel blog, you will find All there’s to know about Peles Castle: how to reach it, its history, visiting schedule, and much more.
Another place linked to the Royals of Romania is Bran Castle, the former dwelling of Queen Mary of Romania.
It is always a pleasure to visit all these places and present them to our travelers during our tours to Romania.