Romania has quite an interesting history not many foreign tourists are aware of. This is why we decided to write an article and walk you through the history of the Romanian royal family, which is a branch of the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen dynasty.
This country was a constitutional monarchy from 1881 until 1947, when Romania was proclaimed a socialist republic.
But let’s start from the very beginning, shall we?
How Carol I Became the First King of Romania
On February 23rd, 1866, Alexandru Ioan Cuza, the prince of Moldavia and Wallachia, was forced to abdicate by the Conservatives and radical Liberals.
At the time, Romania was recognized as a principality and Bucharest was its capital.
This major event forced Romanian politicians to start looking for someone who would replace Alexandru Ioan Cuza.
The liberals and the conservatives decided that, in order to keep the country’s stability and unity which was established in 1859, they needed to bring a foreign prince.
After the liberal leaders, Ion C. Brătianu and C.A. Rosetti were refused by Philip of Flanders, they went to Germany where Carol, the son of Prince Karl Anton Carol of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, accepts their proposal of becoming the prince of Romania.
This decision was supported by France, through Napoleon, and also by the King of Prussia.
Carol arrived in Bucharest on May 10th, 1866, which became Romania’s National Day between 1866-1916 and 1918-1947.
Because Carol was foreign and a German, not everyone liked him. However, we can still note a few major things he did for the country.
His biggest accomplishments were the rail link which connects Fetesti and Cernavoda, over the Borcea arm and the Danube, building an entire railway system, establishing agricultural credit banks, he grew the size of the army and upgraded it, built schools, churches and royal estates.
Romania won the Independence War against the Ottoman Empire in 1877 and Prince Carol I played a crucial role in defeating the Turks because he was the commander of the troops.
After Romania gained its independence, it was auto-proclaimed a kingdom in 1881 and Carol I became the first king of Romania.
His reign lasted for 48 years, the longest one in the Romanian history. He died in 1914.
Carol I was married to Elisabeth of Wied, who became the queen. She was also known by her literary name of Carmen Sylva. They had only one child, a daughter, who died before she turned four.
Because they didn’t have a son, the throne’s succession had to be established by choosing someone from Carol’s family.
Ferdinand I, the Second King of Romania
Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, Carol’s brother, had three sons: Wilhelm, Ferdinand and Karl.
Because Leopold and Willhelm renounced to their succession rights to the throne, Ferdinand, the nephew of King Carol I, became the heir to the throne.
He was married to British princess Marie of Edinburgh, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, and had 6 children: Carol, Nicolae, Elisabeth, Maria, Ileana and Mircea.
Ferdinand’s rule started right at the beginning of World War I, which was a troubled time for Romania. Only two months before King Carol I died, he said he would have wanted for Romania to start the war with Germany on its side.
Romanians already had a history with Entente at that time, which was formed by the French Republic, the British Empire and the Russian Empire, Carol was forced to accept the path of neutrality.
However, this was just a temporary solution. Romania still had to join a side, one way or another.
Ferdinand I was not only under people’s pressure, but also under his wife’s. Marie was an active supporter of the Entente and so in the summer of 1916, he declares war on Germany and decides to join the Allied Powers.
Romania lost a lot of people during the war because the army lacked a solid strategy. By 1917, the only territory which was left for them to protect was the region of Moldavia.
At the end of WWI, Romania became Greater Romania by becoming united with Transylvania, Bukovina and Bessarabia, which was an outcome not many people believed it could happen. It was all due to the Treaty of Versailles.
In 1922, Ferdinand I and Marie were officially crowned King and Queen of Greater Romania.
Ferdinand died in 1927, which meant the throne would go to his eldest son, Carol II. But things got a little complicated.
How Michael I Ended up King of Romania at the Age of 6
Carol II, Ferdinand’s son, had the most controversial history in the Romanian Royal Family.
First, he secretly married Zizi Lambrino, but the marriage was annulled by the Romanian Supreme Court. Then, he was pressured to marry Greek princess Elena, who gave birth to their son, called Michael.
Carol II ended up renouncing the throne for Elena Lupescu, a socialite with whom he had an affair in the 20s. In 1925, he moved to Paris with her and through an act of Parliament, Michael, his son, becomes heir to the throne.
This is the story of how Michael became the king of Romania when he was six years old after Ferdinand’s death.
Carol II, the Third Real King of Romania
Because Michael was a child at that time, the law stated there had to be a board of regents to rule the country. It was formed by Prince Nicholas (Carol II’s brother), Patriarch Miron Cristea and the first president of the Court of Cassation, Gheorghe Buzdugan.
Due to the fact a long regency could affect the country’s stability, Carol II returned to Romania in 1930 thanks to a few politicians who pressured him to come back.
On June 8th, 1930, Carol II is proclaimed king.
He had a rather aggressive approach towards the democratic system and in 1938, he manages to establish Romania under an absolute monarchy by dissolving the political parties. He also changed the 1923 Constitution into one which gave the king more power.
During Carol II reign, Romania reached its highest economic development.
Despite this, Romania loses Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina to the Soviet Union due to the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, also known as the Nazi-Soviet Pact.
This is when Carol II is forced to abdicate by general Ion Antonescu.
And so, Michael becomes king once again.
Michael’s Second Reign
He was 19 years old at that time and on the first day, he signed a decree which would give general Ion Antonescu full powers to rule the country. As noted earlier, the king had to reach maturity with mind, not only age, in order to be involved in the political affairs.
Also, Antonescu believed Michael wasn’t experienced enough to make decisions in a time of war, which is why he decided to take control.
In 1941, Romania declared war on the Soviet Union to get back Bessarabia. In 1944, King Michael I wanted to make peace with the Allies because the Soviet conquest became inevitable.
He staged a coup against Antonescu, which led to his arrest. Even though Michael tried to reinstate a democratic rule in Romania, he wasn’t able to do so because the Communist Party had a stronger presence.
In 1945, the king was forced by the Soviet Union to appoint a government ruled by Petru Groza. Michael remained more of a figurehead until the end of his reign.
Because the communists gained enough power, they were able to force the king to abdicate and leave the country.
In November 1947, he traveled to London for a wedding, which was also where he met his wife, Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma. He was offered asylum, but he refused so Michael returned to Romania.
But right on December 30th, Petru Groza summoned him to Bucharest. When he arrived, the Elisabeta Palace in Bucharest was surrounded by troops and Groza and Communist Party leader Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej were waiting.
Right then and there, Michael was forced to abdicate, while they put a gun to his head. The communists also threatened that the 1,000 students they had in prison were going to die if he didn’t do this and that they would order a bloodbath.
After the exile, he married Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma in Athens and had five daughters.
In 1990, the communists were removed from the power and King Michael came to Romania to visit his family’s tomb. He was stopped on the highway, however, and forced to leave the country.
Only in 1997, Emil Constantinescu, president at that time, allows Michael to return to the country by giving him Romanian citizenship and regaining his visa.
Michael died on December 5th, 2017, at his residence in Switzerland at the age of 96, and was the last king of the Romanian royal family.
Now, let’s take a look at the royal family’s residences over the years, which are now popular tourist attractions filled with history.
The Residences of the Romanian Royal Family
- Elisabeta Palace. This is the official residence and it’s located in Bucharest.
- The Royal Domain of Sinaia. It includes Peles Castle, Pelisor Castle, Foisor Castle, a royal sheepfold, and a large forest area.
- Cotroceni Palace. Today, it serves as the official residence of the President of Romania.
- Bran Castle. In 1920, it was gifted to Queen Marie of Romania by Brasov’s Town Council.
- Balchik Palace. This is located in Bulgaria and it was the summer residence of Queen Marie.
All of these attractions are visited every year by thousands of tourists who are eager to find out more about the history of the Romanian royal family.
We invite all of you to discover these amazing places on your next trip to Romania by choosing one or more of the multiple tours we offer. We made sure to include the amazing residences which are or have been a part of the royal family.
Give us a call today at 40 735 525 710 if you want to make a reservation or if you have any questions about our tours.