King Michael I of Romania passed away. The role of Romanian royalty in modern history

Romania’s kings and queens have profoundly influenced Romanian history and they continue to do so today. Sadly, on the 5th of December 2017, His Majesty King Michael I of Romania passed away. Last year, on the 1st of August 2016, Queen Anne also died. Read in the following article about the royal contribution to Romania’s development throughout history.

In 2016, Romania celebrates 150 years of royalty, marking the years that have passed since the enthronement of Carol I, founder of the Romanian royal dynasty. Romania’s independence, the Union with Dobrogea, the Great Union of 1918, when the Kingdom of Romania was united with Transylvania, Maramureş, Crişana, the Banat, Bessarabia and Bukovina, but also the victories in the War of Independence, the Second Balkan War, WWI and the 1919 Czechoslovak-Hungarian-Romanian War – they are all connected to the Romanian Royal Family. His Majesty King Michael I of Romania has played a major role in WWII, when his courageous act shortened the war by six months.

The restoration of Romania after the fall of communism and the country’s integration into NATO and the European Union are closely linked to the efforts of the Royal Family. The Royal Family of Romania had a substantial contribution to the building of the country’s statehood, its economic development and the democratization of Romanian society.

CAROL I the Founder

King Carol I was the one who founded the Romanian dynasty. The Great King of Romania was born in the Catholic branch of the Hohenzollern family, whose Protestant branch yielded numerous German Kings. In 1866, following the abdication of Alexandru Ioan Cuza and under the pressure of the great powers who wanted to break up the union between the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, the members of the Romanian elite decided to bring a prince from a reigning European house to the Romanian throne, to save the young state recently created during the reign of Alexandru Ioan Cuza. The appointment of Prince Carol of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen was suggested by the French Emperor Napoleon III.

King Carol I and Queen Elisabeta

Prince Carol was a graduate of some of the most prestigious Prussian military schools, soon standing out as an officer of the Prussian army during Schleswig’s Second War with Denmark. The young prince readily accepted the proposal to become the ruler of Romania. He was forced to travel incognito towards his new country, under the name of Carol Hetingen, due to tensions between the Austrian Empire and Prussia. Prince Carol traveled by train from Dusseldorf to Budapest, then further by boat to Drobeta Turnu Severin, where he landed in Romania. Prince Carol used to say „From the moment I stepped into Romania, I became Romanian”. The first house entered by the prince regent later became a library. Prince Carol went to Bucharest on a road that, in a symbolic manner crossed the old capitals of Wallachia: Câmpulung,  Argeş and Târgovişte. He entered Bucharest on 10  May,  which has since become the national holiday of Romania.

Carol was sworn in as the prince regent and was crowned on the same day at the Metropolitan Cathedral, which, during the reign of his successor, Ferdinand, was to become the first Patriarchal Cathedral. Thus May 10, 1866 marks the beginning of the longest reign of a monarch in Romanian history. One month later, inspired by the Belgian model, the Prince regent enacted one of the most modern constitutions in Europe. Prince Carol managed to quickly modernize Romania, endowing it with all the proper institutions of a modern state, from hospitals to the Academy. In 1877, Prince Carol decided to discontinue the dependence on the Ottoman Empire, proclaiming Romania’s independence on May 10. Bombed by the Ottoman artillery, Romania declared war on Turkey. The entering of the Romanian army into the Russian-Turkish war changed the fate of the war as Prince Carol personally ordered the Romanian and Russian armies to besiege the most important Ottoman fortress in the northern Balkans, in Plevna. Prince Carol I managed to obtain this victory, which bought Romania a new future.

King Carol I, Crown Prince Ferdinand and Prince Carol

Queen Elizabeth, a much appreciated writer herself, writing using the pen name Carmen Sylva, was a consummate patron of Romanian culture and its personalities, such as the poet Alecsandri and the composer and violinist George Enescu. Romania developed rapidly, and the country’s economy soon became one of the most prosperous in the region.

Romania’s state independence was recognized in 1878, when the Parliament granted the Prince the appellative of Royal Highness. Following the peace treaties that ended the Russian-Romanian-Turkish war, Romania was granted its state independence, receiving the Dobrogea province, located between the Danube and the Black Sea, but sadly losing southern Bessarabia, which was annexed by the Russian Empire in spite of earlier promises of the Tsarist authorities. In March 1881, Romania’s international prestige determined the Parliament in Bucharest to decide Romania’s transformation into a kingdom, leading to the coronation of Carol I as King of Romania on May 10, 1881.

His crown was forged from the steel of a gun captured by the Romanian army during the War of Independence. Romanians were most grateful to both Carol I and his wife Elisabeth of Wied, whom he had married in 1869. During the war of independence, Elizabeth founded ambulances and hospitals where the wounded were cared for, irrespective of the side they had fought on. Moreover, the one who would later become the first Queen of Romania was personally involved in the purchase of the medicines missing from these hospitals.

Romania developed rapidly, and the country’s economy soon became  one  of  the most  prosperous  in  the region. Queen Elizabeth, a much appreciated writer herself, writing using the pen name  Carmen  Sylva, was  a  consummate  patron  of  Romanian  culture  and its personalities, such as the poet Alecsandri and the composer and violinist George Enescu. However, in 1912, Romania faced a new crisis emerging at a regional level and was forced to enter The Second Balkan War. In the First Balkan War, Greece, Montenegro, Serbia and Bulgaria obtained a series of important victories against the Ottoman Empire. But Bulgaria, aspiring to achieve hegemony in the Balkans, was now battling her former allies. Romania entered the war  against  Bulgaria  and the Romanian royal army, commanded by Crown Prince Ferdinand, obtained the surrender of the Bulgarian army. Following the Peace Conference in Bucharest, Romania obtained South Dobrogea, the so-called Quadrilateral.

King Ferdinand I and Queen Maria in Alba Iulia

Two years later World War I broke out in Europe. King Carol I died the same year and King Ferdinand I of Romania ascended to the throne. He was the grandson on the brother’s side of King Carol I, who had died without direct heirs. King Ferdinand I was married to Queen Maria, granddaughter of Queen Victoria of Great Britain and the Russian Tsar. For the first two years, between 1914 and 1916 Romania remained neutral. The Romanian public opinion was divided between those who wanted Romania to join the war on the side of the Central Powers in order to release Bessarabia occupied by Russia, and those who wanted to go to war alongside the Entente to release Transylvania and Bukovina. In August 1916, King Ferdinand and Queen Maria decided that Romania should fight alongside Britain, France and Russia. Thus, King Ferdinand I placed Romania’s interests above his feelings, because he himself was born and educated in Germany, and would have preferred to fight alongside the Central Powers.

The Romanian army entered Transylvania and released the south of this province. However, during a Bulgarian attack from the south Romanian troops failed to cope with the German-Austro-Hungarian counter-attack. In the fall of 1916, Oltenia, Dobrogea, Muntenia and the capital Bucharest were occupied. The King, Queen, Government, Parliament and the Army had to seek refuge in Iaşi, in Moldova, which remained free  and  it  is  from this place from where the Romanian resistance carried on. In 1917, the Romanian royal army was reorganized and equipped with modern weapons, with a franchise military, led by General Henri Berthelot. The Romanian army, commanded by King Ferdinand I, managed to resist attacks of the armies of the Central Powers, led by Field Marshal von Mackensen, then pass to the counter- offensive. Queen Mary and Crown Prince Carol II showed great courage and often went to personally visit the troops fighting in the front rows. Regina Maria risked her life during a typhus epidemic that took many lives.

The Queen of Romania attended hospitals to personally care for the wounded and the sick. Nevertheless, Romania had to call for a truce after Russia’s Tsar Nikolai II was deposed and the Russian Empire came under Bolshevik control.

King Carol I

Romania’s new government, appointed by King Ferdinand I, negotiated a separate peace treaty with the Central Powers, which the King then refused to sign. In the spring of 1918, Bessarabia proclaimed the union with Romania, and in November 1918, King Ferdinand I of Romania decided to re-enter the war alongside the  Entente. After the defeat of the Central Powers, Bucovina and Transylvania,   Crişana,   Maramureş    and    Banat    decided to join Romania. The collapse of the German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empire created the context for the union of all Romanian provinces.

In 1919, however, Hungary, where a Bolshevik republic had been established, attacked Romania and Czechoslovakia. The Romanian Royal Army, whose troops were comprised of Transylvanian volunteers, defeated Hungary, subsequently occupying Budapest and abolishing the Hungarian Soviet Republic. Intense negotiations for the recognition of Romania’s new borders followed and Queen Mary was among those who played a decisive role in the success of Romanian diplomacy, as she attended the Paris Peace Conference. In October 1922, Ferdinand I and Maria were solemnly crowned King and Queen of the United Romania. The ceremony took place in the Coronation Cathedral, built in Alba Iulia. In 1923, King Ferdinand enacted a new democratic constitution, and the idea of an international tour was born at that time, one in which Queen Mary was going to promote Romania. In 1926, Queen Mary arrived in the United States and her visit was an overwhelming success. This entire period, which was particularly auspicious for Romania, was overshadowed by two events. The first one was Carol II, the Crown Prince’s decision to renounce de facto his marriage to Princess Elena, born Princess of Greece and Denmark. The Crown Prince Carol II of Romania then renounced the throne and moved to France and his son Mihai I was proclaimed Crown Prince. The second sad event was the death of King Ferdinand I in 1927. King Michael I of Romania ascended to the throne but the sovereign powers were actually exercised by a Regency led by his uncle, Prince Nicolae of Romania.

The first reign of King Michael I lasted until 1930, when Carol II decided to return home. He was proclaimed King of Romania, and Mihai became again Crown Prince, receiving the special title of Grand Prince of Alba Iulia. Although he started under the auspices of an unprecedented economic crisis, coupled with a major political crisis, King Carol II lead Romania to a rapid economic recovery. The year 1938 was the best year to date in terms of the country’s economy. Also, from a cultural standpoint, this was a golden period for Romania, which saw the rise to international fame of the sculptor Constantin  Brancuşi, the musician George Enescu, the poet Lucian Blaga or the scholar Mircea Eliade.

King Michael I

The eminent Romanian diplomat Nicolae Titulescu was the only person who was elected twice president of the League of Nations. However, because of the rise of dictatorships in Europe, Romania’s diplomatic situation deteriorated, given that one of her allies, Czechoslovakia fell apart due to the Munich Agreements of 1938. King Carol II was also facing the rise of followers of right wing political movements, namely the Legionary Movement. To prevent the coming to power of these extremist and anti-Semitic movements during the elections, King Carol II changed the constitution and promulgated a new fundamental law, introducing an authoritarian royal regime.

In 1939 The Second World War began.


The Polish Government and army sought refuge in Romania, while their country was attacked by Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. In 1940, following the division of the spheres of influence between Germany and Russia, Romania’s Union fell apart. Russia occupied Bessarabia, Northern  Bukovina  and  Herţa,   Hungary   occupied Northern Transylvania, while the Quadrilateral was given to Bulgaria.  General  Ion  Antonescu  forced  King  Carol II to leave his throne and together with the Legionary Movement, established a dictatorial regime. King Michael I returned to the throne in a formal manner, but his role was strictly ceremonial.


His mother, Princess Elena, was proclaimed Queen Mother and received the appellation of Her Royal Majesty. Romania joined the Axis, given that all its allies in Central and Eastern Europe had been occupied by Germany and Italy, and its former great ally, France, had capitulated. In this context, the Legionnaires tried to suppress general Ion Antonescu, who was proclaimed prime minister and leader of the State, but their rebellion was defeated in January 1941. In June 1941, Ion Antonescu ruled Romania’s entry into the war against Russia, to recover the occupied Soviet territories.


In the first phase of the war, Romania succeeded in freeing the territories occupied by Russia, but then the Eastern campaign lost popularity after Ion Antonescu decided that  the  Romanian  army  cross  the  Nistru River, the traditional Romanian border. Many Romanian soldiers died at Stalingrad or in Crimea. The Russian counter-offensive managed to push the front back to the Romanian territory. On 23 August 1944, King Michael I decided to arrest Ion Antonescu and exiting the war against the United Nations. His gesture shortened the war by at least by six months and saved thousands of lives. Following its decision, Northern Transylvania was returned to Romania, but other areas remained lost.

The Royal Family today:

His Majesty King Michael I (second from the left), HRH Crown Princess Margareta (first from the left), HM Queen Ana and HRH Prince Radu of Romania



King Michael I decided to partially reinstate the Constitution of 1923 and return to the democratic tradition of the country. Britain and the US, however, abandoned Romania to the Soviet sphere of influence. King Michael I was forced to appoint a pro-communist politician, Prime Minister Petru Groza, on March 6, 1945. The King continued to fight the Sovietisation of his country and became the strongest opponent of the communists. In December 30, 1947, he was blackmailed with the threat of being responsible for the killing of 1,000 students, unless he would sign an otherwise illegitimate and illegal deed of abdication, then being forced into exile.


King Michael I married Queen Anne` of Romania and the royal couple had five daughters. During the long and painful exile, King Michael I fought tirelessly for the rights of Romanians, but after the fall of communism in 1990, when he tried to return home, he was driven out the country by the neo-communist authorities. He returned home in 1992, to Bucharest, where one million Romanians acclaimed him for hours. Although Romania is still a republic, the royal family is still one of the most important public actors, enjoying great trust from the population. Crown Princess Margareta, Custodian of the Romanian Crown, along with her husband, Prince Radu of Romania, is involved in important charitable, educational, cultural and health projects. The activity of the members of the royal family is one of the most important vectors of Romanian diplomacy, as evidenced by the major role it played in Romania’s accession to NATO and the European Union.





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