display | more...
King Carol II of Romania

The stereotype of a Balkan monarch and a serial eloper, Carol II was notorious for his colourful personal life and, as the 1930s progressed, his flirtations with fascist trappings. The imaginary Ruritania could almost have been designed for the Romanian king, and if Carol had had anything to do with it, probably would have been.

A Boy Named Carol

Carol was born in 1893 into the House of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen. His mother, the celebrated Queen Marie of Romania, was then the seventeen-year-old Crown Princess, and had hardly been in the country nine months. Her husband, Ferdinand, had only come to Romania to succeed his childless uncle Carol I.

The most glorious Hohenzollern had been Frederick the Great, and Carol was no exception to the Hohenzollern men's tradition of enrapturing themselves with military matters. By the age of three or four, Carol was already marching around in front of columns of palace guards waving a little sword, and several regiments used to send him child-size uniforms.

Carol enjoyed giving orders to his several younger siblings even more, and enjoyed annoying his sisters by setting up toll booths in the palace corridors when they were playing with their toy horses. Unfortunately, Ileanna and Mignon are likely to have remembered these as among their happiest moments with Carol.

Marie and the elder Carol fell out over Carol's education: Marie had engaged in a string of affairs which had called into question the parentage of all but her two eldest children, and Carol believed she was hardly fit to undertake the upbringing of the future ruler. Moreover, she had a habit of falling out with the boy's governesses.

Instead, the king contracted a Swiss tutor, Arnold Mohrlen, who turned out to harbour socialist tendencies and verge on republicanism to boot. It took the court doctors to convince Carol of his error of judgment, and Mohrlen was eventually dismissed, at which a cache of love letters he had been writing to the ten-year-old prince were discovered.

Approaching manhood, Carol developed the all too familiar royal playboy's fascination with skiing, hunting and sports cars; his great-uncle would later have to talk him out of a penchant for the risky innovation of aviation. Itching to experience army life, he joined Marie when she nursed in cholera camps during the Second Balkan War in 1913.

The following January, Carol was sent to Potsdam, again in accordance with family tradition, to join the First Guard Regiment. Marie gave him a number of gifts for his regimental comrades, and was displeased to hear that he had made himself some pocket money by hawking the presents off around the barracks by auction.

Baby Father

Carol was recalled to Romania when World War I broke out, and Marie attempted to set him up with the Russian Grand Duchess Olga Nicolaevna, the youngest daughter of the Tsar. In October 1914 - a month after the boy racer had accidentally run down a child in Bucharest - Carol became crown prince on the death of his namesake.

By August 1916, when Romania entered the war on the side of the Triple Entente, Carol had started life as he meant to go on by fathering a baby on a high-school girl, Maria Martini. However, Martini proved to be only an overture before his first great love, the marvellously named Zizi Lambrino, whom he was unable to marry due to constitutional provisions that the heir to the throne could only wed a foreign princess.

The fate of his Russian relatives in Ekaterinburg convinced Carol that the Romanian monarchy had not much more of a future, and he eloped with Lambrino across the border in October 1918, marrying her in a secret ceremony in Odessa for which his bride ran up her own dress. The escape constituted high treason, but Ferdinand was content with shutting his son up in the Horaita Monastery for 75 days.

Ferdinand and Marie attempted to keep the newlyweds apart as much as possible, but the determined Carol faked a hunting accident and even shot himself in the leg to get out of a state visit to Japan. He could still not resist dashing off to fight Hungary in August 1919, when Hungary's neighbours took advantage of Bela Kun's collapsing Communist uprising, but left behind his official letter of abdication.

No doubt at the king and queen's behest, the Romanian secret police then contrived to re-introduce Carol to Maria Martini, whom he repaid by leaving her with a second child. Lambrino herself gave birth to a son, Mircea, in January 1920, but by then Carol had already promised to give her up after another of Marie's matchmaking schemes came to fruition.

Carol and his sister Elisabetha both married into the Greek royal family, as part of Marie's strategy to link the Romanians by marriage to the other powerful states nearby; in the European press, the project earnt her the title of 'Mother-in-law of the Balkans'.

According to Greek Orthodox rites, when two pairs of siblings married their ceremonies had to be within an hour of each other to avoid bad luck; Marie separated the nuptials for a fortnight, so that she could attend them both. Carol duly married Princess Helena of Greece in Athens in 1921. The family succession was ensured seven months later when Helena had her only son Mihai, who would reign as Michael, but the marriage became doomed when Carol met a certain Helen Wolff in the cinema of his own cultural institute.

March on Bucharest

Wolff, better known as Magda Lupescu, was an ambitious woman with an insalubrious past who had closely observed Carol's vacillations during the Lambrino affair. In 1925, Carol took advantage of Queen Alexandra's death at Windsor Castle to flee, after the funeral, to Paris, where it had been arranged Lupescu would be waiting.

His second elopement and abdication had been steadily encouraged by the leader of the Liberal Party, Ion Brătianu. Carol despised the Liberals because the love of his mother's life, a rich boyar called Barbu Ştirbey, was active in the party, and the feeling appears to have been mutual.

Under the name of Carol Caraiman, a surname he took from the mountain overlooking his family's summer palace at Siniai, Carol appeared to be settling into life with Lupescu, attracting much press attention and dividing his time between Paris and Milan. However, rumours back home that he might return to lead a coup intensified after the deaths of King Ferdinand and Brătianu within a few months of each other in 1927. The boy Mihai became king, and his powers were held in trust by a Regency Council consisting of Carol's brother Nicholas and two Brătianu placemen.

The government were especially concerned that Carol might appear at a major rally in the town of Alba Iulia scheduled for May 1928. The event was organised by the National Peasant Party, who were sympathetic to Carol, and it was feared he would turn the event into a march on Bucharest in the style of Mussolini's march on Rome.

Carol had indeed fancied the mooted idea of making a dramatic entrance by aeroplane, but his plan was foiled when a private detective, disguised as a butcher, came across the leaflets that Carol was planning to drop on his arrival. Officials from the Foreign Office in London, where Carol was staying at the time, brusquely requested him to go home to Paris just as he was about to set off for Romania.

In 1930, the National Peasant leader Iuliu Maniu invited Carol back home, conscious that Romanians were calling for a stronger leader than himself to cope with the onset of the Great Depression. Carol was immediately proclaimed king, with an excited public welcome that even he himself had not quite expected, and which bewildered little Mihai when he heard reports of the ceremonies on the radio: Princess Helena had told him that his father was sick in Paris.

Dynasty of Scandal

Carol spent the first year of his reign engaged in the old Hohenzollern pursuit of family feuding; Marie's complaints that he was teaching Mihai to smoke and swear may have masked her resentment that he was not allowing her to be his eminence grise. He dismissed Ileanna from her official positions at the Romanian YWCA and Boy Scouts, and only allowed her to marry Archduke Anton of Austria on condition that they live abroad.

Anton, a dispossessed Habsburg, had been reduced to operating a Spanish petrol station, but the match still counted as third time lucky for Ileanna. Her first suitor, Prince Lexel of Pless, had been ruled out of contention after details emerged of an old homosexual affair, and Marie had vetoed her engagement to the Prince of Asturias, the Spanish heir, when she realised her daughter would have to live under the same roof as the notorious seducer King Alfonso XIII.

At Ileanna's wedding in July 1931, Carol took her to one side straight after the ceremony and informed her that her real father was Ştirbey, reducing the newlywed to tears.

By the time Princess Helena had played out an acrimonious tug of love battle for Mihai, and Prince Nicholas had followed in his elder brother's footsteps by running off with a commoner of his own, Jeanne Doletti, Romanians' references to their royal family as the 'dynasty of scandal' were beginning to look only too justified. Not for the last time, British royalists, left reeling by the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936 to marry an American divorcee, might have been able to tell them that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

The transformation of the once-austere house of Hohenzollern into a soap opera's Christmas special was completed when Nicholas unexpectedly returned to Romania and was straight away banished by Carol and his Crown Council, who suspected plots might be afoot to install Nicholas in his stead.

The two ministers who went to inform Nicholas of the king's decision also encountered Marie, who screamed at them that Carol had killed his father and now wanted to kill his brother and herself, before losing her composure entirely and swinging a punch at the Prime Minister, Constantin Argetoianu.

In such circumstances, it was no surprise that Carol should seek advisers outside the palace, and Lupescu made sure that he turned to her own, the financiers Max Auschnitt and Nicolae Malaxa. Auschnitt's and Malaxa's cartels, in which the royal couple had substantial shares, were perfectly placed to capitalise on the demand for Romanian oil that could only increase as Europe rearmed during the 1930s.

Carol spent much of his time doing up his palace, purchasing mod cons such as a dental chair, an electrotherapy chair and Californian air conditioning which never quite managed to work. Neither did his heating, laid on at vast cost; both systems turned out to have been installed by an engineer cousin of Lupescu's.

Archangel Michael

As the decade progressed, the strongest threat to Carol's regime emerged as the mystical fascists known as the Legion of the Archangel Michael, who assassinated his prime minister Ion Duca in December 1934, the month after he launched an overdue clampdown on the group. In response, Carol approved and financed a number of other parties which may have shared an aesthetic with the Legion but had little of its appeal.

Carol went on the political offensive in 1936, dismissing his veteran pro-French foreign minister Nicolae Titulescu and, to interrupt the Legion's influence on young Romanians, placed all youth organisations under his own one. Prince Nicholas was exiled in 1937 after the Legion had expressed interest in him; that summer, Marie's health failed for the first time.

In December 1937, the fragmented National Liberal Party failed to win their election threshold and Carol called in the virulently anti-Semitic poet Octavian Goga to form a government instead. After six weeks in which so many Jews lost their jobs that the economy ground to a halt, Carol announced his conclusion that democracy had failed and instituted a royal dictatorship in February 1938 complete with its own fascist-like party, the Front of National Rebirth: to his gratification, much posturing on balconies in self-designed uniforms ensued. The Legion's charismatic leader, Corneliu Codreanu, was thrown into prison and shot while trying to escape in November.

He spent the rest of the year treaty-shopping between Britain and Nazi Germany, finding Hitler rather more attentive than Neville Chamberlain. Fearing Romania could become the next Nazi target after Czechoslovakia, he signed an unfavourable economic pact with Germany in March 1939.

Despite the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Germany and the Soviet Union, which suggested Soviet designs on Romania's Bessarabia region, Carol initially thought he could keep Romania neutral during World War II; after the fall of France in July 1940, he discovered he had no choice but to join the Axis if he wanted to keep Romania intact. Even this belated gesture did not prevent two-fifths of Transylvania being awarded to Hungary in the Second Vienna Award that September, a concession which made Carol's position untenable.

Informed by his chief of staff, Marshal Ion Antonescu, that his safety could no longer be guaranteed, Carol fled the country with Lupescu in a special train which was ambushed by vengeful Legionnaires at Timisoara. The royal couple were shot at through the windows, and had to dive into the bathtub until they had crossed the Romanian border into Yugoslavia, where their carriages were coupled to the Orient Express and made their way to neutral Switzerland.

Carol spent most of his wartime exile in Mexico, where he attempted to set up a thoroughly unsuccessful Free Romania movement on the model of de Gaulle's Free French. In August 1944, while Romania was being liberated by the Red Army, his 19-year-old son Mihai staged a coup of his own in Bucharest, and Carol occupied himself for the rest of the war by writing his history of interwar Europe, Orbit of Satan.

In July 1947, Carol finally married Lupescu, who obtained the title of princess. Supposedly on her deathbed with pernicious anaemia, she recovered a few days later, and at the end of the year - just as the Romanian Communists exiled Mihai - they moved to the Portuguese resort of Estoril. Carol's array of neighbours included the former Italian king Umberto, the exiled Spanish monarch Don Juan de Borbón, and the Comte de Paris, the claimant to the throne of France.

Carol died in 1953, and secured entry to the Portuguese Royal Pantheon because one of his grandmothers belonged to the Portuguese royal family. Apart from Princess Mignon's son and a reluctant Prince Nicholas, the chief mourners were his fellow exiles; even Mihai cried off, unable to bear Lupescu grieving at him. 24 years later, Lupescu was buried in the Pantheon at Carol's side.

On February 13, 2003, Carol's remains were flown home to Romania after a Romanian Orthodox ceremony at the Pantheon, and Lupescu's went with him. The pair were reinterred in Curtea de Arges, 130 kilometres northwest of Bucharest.

Read more:
A. Eastermann, Carol, Hitler and Lupescu
Paul D. Quinlan, The Playboy King: Carol II of Romania

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.