Romania’s former King Michael I has died in Switzerland at the age of 96, a year after being diagnosed with cancer. The death of King Michael – a cousin of Queen Elizabeth II and The Duke of Edinburgh was announced by his family at his home on the shore of Lake Geneva on Tuesday.
King Michael was King of Romania twice in his lifetime. The first was from 1927 to 1930 and once again from 1940 to 1947 and then he was removed from office when the communist government ended the monarchy.
He was one of the last surviving Heads of State that was in power during World War II. His most important actions as king came in August of 1944 was when he played a role in Romania changing sides going from a State which supported Hitler’s Nazis Germany to a State that supported the Allies.
Michael I (October 25, 1921 – December 5, 2017) was King of Romania from July 20, 1927 to June 8, 1930 and then again from September 6, 1940 until his abdication on December 30, 1947.
Michael was born in 1921 at Foișor Castle, Sinaia, Romania, the son of King Carol II of Romania (then Crown Prince of Romania) and Princess Elena of Greece (The third child and eldest daughter of King Constantine I of Greece and Princess Sophia of Prussia, Elena [Helena] was bor in Athens during the reign of her grandfather, King George I). He was born as the grandson of then-reigning King Ferdinand I of Romania of the House of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen. When Carol eloped with his mistress Elena “Magda” Lupescu and renounced his rights to the throne in December 1925, Michael was declared heir apparent. Michael succeeded to the throne of Romania the death of King Ferdinand in July 1927. Michael was 6 years old at the time.
Since the new King Michael was a minor, a regency council was instituted. This council consisted of the king’s which uncle, Prince Nicholas; the Patriarch Miron Cristea; and the president of the Supreme Court, Gheorghe Buzdugan. It was the inefficiency of this council that prompted the return of King Michael’s father, Crown Prince Carol, who replaced his son as king in 1930. Michael resumed his position as heir apparent to the throne and was granted the title Crown Prince along with the additional title of Grand Voievod of Alba-Iulia.
In 1940 the ineffective King Carol II was deposed and Michael once again mounted the Romanian throne as king. The government of the time was under the control of the military dictator Ion Antonescu. Under his guidance Romania became aligned with Hitler’s Nazi Germany. In 1944, King Michael was an essential figure in a coup against Antonescu, who was removed from office. The king assigned the Allies friendly, Constantin Sănătescu, as head of the government who swiftly declared an alliance with the Allies.
In March 1945, under political pressures, King Michael was forced to appoint pro-Soviet, Petru Groza, as the head of the government. Displeased and angry over the circumstances, Michael went on a “royal strike” and in an attempt to voice his opposition toward Groza’s Communist-controlled government, the king refused to do his constitutional duties and would not sign and endorse its decrees and laws passed by the government. This occurred from August 1945 to January 1946.
In November 1947 Michael left Romania to attend the wedding of his cousins, Princess Elizabeth (future Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom) and Prince Philip of Greece-Denmark in London. Shortly upon his return, on the morning of December 30 1947, Groza requested a meeting with Michael where he was forced to abdicate. Michael was forced into exile, confiscated of his properties, and stripped of his citizenship. In 1948 Michael married Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma (only daughter of Prince Rene of Bourbon-Parma and Princess Margaret of Denmark). The royal couple had five daughters and eventually settled in Switzerland.
In 1989 Nicolae Ceaușescu’s communist dictatorship collapsed and the next year Michael attempted to return to Romania but was arrested and forced to leave upon arrival. In 1992, an estimated one million people in Bucharest came out to listen to a speech given by the king when the government allowed Michael to visit Romania for Easter.
The government was greatly alarmed by Michael’s popularity and refused to allow the king further visits. In 1997, after Iliescu’s government was defeated by Emil Constantinescu; who was more sympathetic toward the king, returned Michael’s citizenship and he was allowed to visit Romania again. Also, many confiscated properties, such as Elisabeta Palace, were returned to the Romanian Royal Family.
At his death King Michael left only daughters. The king designated his eldest daughter, Princess Margareta, as Crown Princess of Romania, despite the fact that the Romanian constitution, and the house laws of the House of Hohenzollern, prohibited the succession of females to the Romanian throne. In the coming days I will post another article discussing the complex succession to the Romanian throne and the headship of the Romanian Royal Family.