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King Michael in 1947
|King of Romania|
|1st reign||20 July 1927 – 8 June 1930|
|2nd reign||6 September 1940 – 30 December 1947|
|Coronation||6 September 1940|
|Born||25 October 1921|
Peleș Castle, Sinaia, Romania
|Died||5 December 2017 (aged 96)|
|Burial||16 December 2017|
Curtea de Argeș
Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma
(m. 1948; died 2016)
|House||Romania (from 2011)|
Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen (until 2011)
|Father||Carol II of Romania|
|Mother||Princess Helen of Greece and Denmark|
Michael I (Romanian: Mihai I [miˈhaj]; 25 October 1921 – 5 December 2017) was the last King of Romania, reigning from 20 July 1927 to 8 June 1930 and again from 6 September 1940 until his abdication on 30 December 1947.
Shortly after Michael's birth, his father Prince Carol had become involved in a controversial relationship with Magda Lupescu. In 1925, Carol was eventually pressured to renounce his rights to the throne and moved to Paris in exile with Lupescu. In 1927, Michael ascended the throne, following the death of his grandfather, Ferdinand I. As he was still a minor, a regency council was instituted which comprised his uncle, Prince Nicholas; the Patriarch Miron Cristea; and the president of the Supreme Court, Gheorghe Buzdugan. The council proved to be ineffective and in 1930, Carol returned to Romania and replaced his son as king, reigning as Carol II. As a result, Michael returned to being heir apparent to the throne and was given the additional title of Grand Voievod of Alba-Iulia.
Carol II was deposed in 1940, and Michael once again became king. Under the government led by the military dictator Ion Antonescu, Romania became aligned with Nazi Germany. In 1944, Michael participated in a coup against Antonescu, appointed Constantin Sănătescu as his replacement, and subsequently declared an alliance with the Allies. In March 1945, political pressures forced Michael to appoint a pro-Soviet government headed by Petru Groza. From August 1945 to January 1946, Michael went on a "royal strike" and unsuccessfully tried to oppose Groza's Communist-controlled government by refusing to sign and endorse its decrees. In November, Michael attended the wedding of his cousins, the future Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and Prince Philip of Greece in London. Shortly thereafter, on the morning of 30 December 1947, Groza requested a meeting with Michael where he was forced to abdicate. Michael was forced into exile, his properties confiscated, and his citizenship stripped. He married Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma in 1948, with whom he had five daughters, and eventually settled in Switzerland.
Nicolae Ceaușescu's communist dictatorship was overthrown in 1989 and the following year Michael attempted to return to Romania, only to be arrested and forced to leave upon arrival. In 1992, Michael was allowed to visit Romania for Easter where he was greeted by huge crowds; a speech he gave from his hotel window drew an estimated one million people to Bucharest. Alarmed by Michael's popularity, the post-communist government of Ion Iliescu refused to allow him any further visits. In 1997, after Iliescu's defeat by Emil Constantinescu in the presidential elections of the previous year, Michael's citizenship was restored and he was allowed to visit Romania again. Several confiscated properties, such as Peleş Castle and Săvârşin Castle, were eventually returned to his family.
Michael was born in 1921 at Foișor Castle, Sinaia, Romania, the son of Carol II of Romania (then Crown Prince of Romania) and Princess Elena of Greece. He was born as the grandson of then-reigning King Ferdinand I of Romania. 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 upon Ferdinand's death in July 1927, before his sixth birthday. Later, Michael attended a special school established in 1932 by his father.
A regency, which included his uncle, Prince Nicolae, Patriarch Miron Cristea, and the country's Chief Justice (Gheorghe Buzdugan, and from October 1929, Constantin Sărățeanu) functioned on behalf of the 5-year-old Michael, when he succeeded Ferdinand in 1927. In 1930, Carol II returned to the country at the invitation of politicians dissatisfied with the Regency in the context of the Great Depression, and was proclaimed king by the Parliament. Michael was designated as Crown Prince with the title "Grand Voivode of Alba Iulia". In November 1939, Michael joined the Romanian Senate, as the 1938 Constitution guaranteed him a seat there upon reaching the age of eighteen.
Just days after the Second Vienna Award, the pro-German anti-Bolshevik régime of Prime Minister Marshal Ion Antonescu staged a coup d'état against Carol II, whom the Marshal claimed to be "anti-German". Antonescu suspended the Constitution, dissolved the Parliament, and re-installed the 18-year-old Michael as king, by popular acclaim in September 1940. (Although the Constitution was restored in 1944, and the Romanian Parliament in 1946, Michael did not subsequently take a formal oath nor have his reign approved retroactively by Parliament.) Michael was crowned with the Steel Crown and anointed King of Romania by the Orthodox Patriarch of Romania, Nicodim Munteanu, in the Patriarchal Cathedral of Bucharest, on the day of his accession, 6 September 1940. Although King Michael was formally the Supreme Head of the Army, named Conducător ("Leader of the people"), and entitled to appoint the Prime Minister with full powers, in reality he was forced to remain a figurehead until August 1944. Michael had lunch with Adolf Hitler twice — once with his father in Bavaria in 1937, and with his mother in Berlin in 1941. He also met Benito Mussolini in 1941, in Italy.
In 1944, World War II was going badly for the Axis powers, but the military dictator Prime Minister Marshal Ion Antonescu was still in control of Romania. By August 1944, the Soviet conquest of Romania had become inevitable, and was expected in a few months. On 23 August 1944, Michael joined the pro-Allies politicians, a number of army officers, and armed communist-led civilians in staging a coup against Antonescu. King Michael ordered his arrest by the Royal Palace Guard. On the same night, the new Prime Minister, Lt. General Constantin Sănătescu— appointed by King Michael—gave custody of Antonescu to the communists (in spite of alleged instructions to the contrary by the King), and the latter delivered him to the Soviets on 1 September. In a radio broadcast to the Romanian nation and army, Michael issued a cease-fire just as the Red Army was penetrating the Moldavian front, proclaimed Romania's loyalty to the Allies, announced the acceptance of the armistice offered by the United Kingdom, the United States, and the USSR, and declared war on Germany. However, this did not avert a rapid Soviet occupation and capture of about 130,000 Romanian soldiers, who were transported to the Soviet Union where many perished in prison camps.
Although the country's alliance with the Nazis was ended, the coup sped the Red Army's advance into Romania. The armistice was signed three weeks later on 12 September 1944, on terms the Soviets virtually dictated. Under the terms of the armistice, Romania recognized its defeat by the USSR and was placed under occupation of the Allied forces, with the Soviets, as their representative, in control of media, communication, post, and civil administration behind the front. The coup effectively amounted to a "capitulation", an "unconditional" "surrender". It has been suggested that the coup may have shortened World War II by six months, thus saving hundreds of thousands of lives.
At the end of the war, King Michael was awarded the highest degree (Chief Commander) of the American Legion of Merit by U.S. President Harry S. Truman. He was also decorated with the Soviet Order of Victory by Joseph Stalin "for the courageous act of the radical change in Romania's politics towards a break-up from Hitler's Germany and an alliance with the United Nations, at the moment when there was no clear sign yet of Germany's defeat", according to the official description of the decoration. With the death of Michał Rola-Żymierski in 1989, Michael became the sole surviving recipient of the Order of Victory.
In March 1945, political pressures forced King Michael to appoint a pro-Soviet government headed by Petru Groza. For the next two-plus years Michael functioned again as little more than a figurehead. Between August 1945 and January 1946, during what was later known as the "royal strike," King Michael tried unsuccessfully to oppose the Groza government by refusing to sign its decrees. In response to Soviet, British, and American pressures, King Michael eventually gave up his opposition to the communist government and stopped demanding its resignation.
He did not pardon former head of state, Marshal Antonescu, who was sentenced to death "for betrayal of the Romanian people for the benefit of Nazi Germany, for the economic and political subjugation of Romania to Germany, for cooperation with the Iron Guard, for murdering his political opponents, for the mass murder of civilians and crimes against peace". Nor did King Michael manage to save such leaders of the opposition as Iuliu Maniu and the Bratianus, victims of communist political trials, as the Constitution prevented him from doing so without the counter-signature of communist Justice Minister Lucrețiu Pătrășcanu (who himself was later eliminated by Gheorghiu-Dej's opposing communist faction). The memoirs of King Michael's aunt Princess Ileana quoted Emil Bodnăraș — her alleged lover, Romania's communist minister of defence, and a Soviet spy—as saying: "Well, if the King decides not to sign the death warrant, I promise that we will uphold his point of view." Princess Ileana was sceptical: "You know quite well (...) that the King will never of his free will sign such an unconstitutional document. If he does, it will be laid at your door, and before the whole nation your government will bear the blame. Surely you do not wish this additional handicap at this moment!"
In November 1947, King Michael travelled to London for the wedding of his cousins, Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) and Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, an occasion during which he met Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma (his second cousin once removed), who was to become his wife. According to his own account, King Michael rejected any offers of asylum and decided to return to Romania, contrary to the confidential, strong advice of the British Ambassador to Romania.
Early on the morning of 30 December 1947, Michael was preparing for a New Year's party at Peleș Castle in Sinaia, when Groza summoned him back to Bucharest. Michael returned to Elisabeta Palace in Bucharest, to find it surrounded by troops from the Tudor Vladimirescu Division, an army unit completely loyal to the Communists. Groza and Communist Party leader Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej were waiting for him, and demanded that he sign a pre-typed instrument of abdication. Unable to call in loyal troops, due to his telephone lines allegedly being cut, and with either Groza or Gheorghiu-Dej (depending on the source) holding a gun on him, Michael signed the document. Later the same day, the Communist-dominated government announced the 'permanent' abolition of the monarchy, and its replacement by a People's Republic, broadcasting the King's pre-recorded radio proclamation of his own abdication. On 3 January 1948, Michael was forced to leave the country, followed over a week later by Princesses Elisabeth and Ileana, who collaborated so closely with the Soviets that they became known as the King's "Red Aunts". He was the last monarch behind the Iron Curtain to lose his throne.
According to Michael's own account, Groza had threatened him at gun point and warned that the government would shoot 1,000 arrested students, if the king did not abdicate. In an interview with The New York Times from 2007, Michael recalls the events: "It was blackmail. They said, 'If you don't sign this immediately we are obliged' — why obliged I don't know — 'to kill more than 1,000 students' that they had in prison." According to Time, Groza threatened to arrest thousands of people and order a bloodbath unless Michael abdicated.
However, according to the autobiography of the former head of the Soviet intelligence agency NKVD, Major General Pavel Sudoplatov, the Deputy Soviet Foreign Commissar Andrey Vyshinsky personally conducted negotiations with King Michael for his abdication, guaranteeing part of a pension to be paid to Michael in Mexico. According to a few articles in Jurnalul Naţional, Michael's abdication was negotiated with the Communist government, which allowed him to leave the country with the goods he requested, accompanied by some of the royal retinue.
According to Albanian Communist leader Enver Hoxha's account of his conversations with the Romanian Communist leaders on the monarch's abdication, it was Gheorghiu-Dej, not Groza, who forced Michael's abdication at gunpoint. He was allowed to leave the country accompanied by some of his entourage and, as confirmed also by the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev recounting Gheorghiu-Dej's confessions, with whatever properties he desired, including gold and rubies. Hoxha also wrote that pro-Communist troops surrounded the palace, to counter army units who were still loyal to the king.
In March 1948, Michael denounced his abdication as illegal, and contended he was still the rightful king of Romania. According to Time magazine, he would have done so sooner, but for much of early 1948, he had been negotiating with the Communists over properties he had left in Romania.
There are reports that Romanian communist authorities allowed King Michael to depart with 42 valuable Crown-owned paintings in November 1947, so that he would leave Romania faster. Some of these paintings were reportedly sold through the famed art dealer Daniel Wildenstein. One of the paintings belonging to the Romanian Crown, which was supposedly taken out of the country by King Michael in November 1947, returned to Romania in 2004 as a donation made by John Kreuger, the former husband of King Michael's daughter Princess Irina.
In 2005, Romanian Prime Minister Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu denied these accusations about King Michael, stating that the Romanian government has no proof of any such action by King Michael and that, prior to 1949, the government had no official records of any artwork taken over from the former royal residences. However, according to some historians, such records existed as early as April 1948, having been, in fact, officially published in June 1948.
According to Ivor Porter's authorized biography, Michael of Romania: The King and The Country (2005), which quotes Queen-Mother Helen's daily diary, the Romanian royal family took out paintings belonging to the Romanian Royal Crown, on their November 1947 trip to London to the wedding of the future Queen Elizabeth II; two of these paintings, signed by El Greco, were sold in 1976.
According to declassified Foreign Office documents that were the subject of news reports in 2005, when he left Romania, the exiled King Michael's only assets amounted to 500,000 Swiss francs. Recently declassified Soviet transcripts of talks between Joseph Stalin and the Romanian Prime-Minister Petru Groza show that shortly before his abdication, King Michael received from the communist government assets amounting to 500,000 Swiss francs. King Michael, however, repeatedly denied that the communist government had allowed him to take into exile any financial assets or valuable goods besides four personal automobiles loaded on two train cars.
Michael would never see his father again, after Carol II's 1940 abdication. Michael could see no point in meeting his father who had humiliated his mother so many times via his open affairs and did not attend his father's funeral in 1953.
In January 1948, Michael began using one of his family's ancestral titles, "Prince of Hohenzollern", instead of using the title of "King of Romania". After denouncing his abdication as forced and illegal in March 1948, Michael resumed use of the kingly title.
On 10 June 1948 in Athens, Greece, he married Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma (born Paris, 18 September 1923), his second cousin once removed. As Princess Anne was Roman Catholic, the couple asked for a dispensation from Pope Pius XII for the marriage. Negotiations with the Vatican broke down when Michael refused to promise to raise any future children Catholic, as it would have been deemed illegal under the Romanian Constitution of 1923. The dispensation was not given by the Pope and their marriage was not deemed valid by the Roman Catholic Church until 1966.
The couple lived near Florence, Italy, until 1948, near Lausanne, Switzerland, until 1950, and then in Hampshire, England, until 1956. After that, the couple settled near Versoix, Switzerland, where they would live for the next 45 years. The Communist Romanian authorities stripped Michael of his Romanian citizenship in 1948. During exile, Michael worked as farmer, pilot, entrepreneur and stockbroker. With his wife, he had five daughters born between 1949 and 1964.
On 25 December 1990—a year after the revolution which overthrew the Communist dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu—Michael, accompanied by several members of the royal family, landed at Otopeni Airport and entered Romania for the first time in 43 years. Using a Danish diplomatic passport, Michael was able to obtain a 24-hour visa. He intended to reach Curtea de Argeș Cathedral, pray at the tombs of his royal ancestors and attend the Christmas religious service. However, on their way to Curtea de Argeș, the King and his companions were stopped by a police filter, taken to the airport and forced to leave the country.
In 1992, the Romanian government allowed Michael to return to Romania for Easter celebrations, where he drew large crowds. Even though the Romanian government denied his request to give a speech from the Royal Palace (now the National Museum of Art of Romania), his speech from a hotel room drew over a million people to Bucharest to see him. Michael refused the offer of the president of the National Liberal Party, Radu Câmpeanu, to run for elections as president of Romania. Michael's popularity alarmed the government of President Ion Iliescu, and he was forbidden to visit Romania, being denied entry twice in 1994 and 1995.
In 1997, after Iliescu's defeat by Emil Constantinescu, the Romanian government restored Michael's citizenship and again allowed him to visit the country. He then lived partly in Switzerland at Aubonne and partly in Romania, either at Săvârșin Castle in Arad County or in an official residence in Bucharest—the Elisabeta Palace—voted by the Romanian Parliament by a law concerning arrangements for former heads of state. Besides Săvârșin Castle, the former private residences Peleș Castle and Pelișor were also restituted. While Peleș and Pelișor are open to the public, Elisabeta Palace and Săvârșin are used as private residences.
Michael neither encouraged nor opposed monarchist agitation in Romania and royalist parties have made little impact in post-communist Romanian politics. He took the view that the restoration of the monarchy in Romania can only result from a decision by the Romanian people. "If the people want me to come back, of course, I will come back," he said in 1990. "Romanians have had enough suffering imposed on them to have the right to be consulted on their future." King Michael's belief was that there is still a role for, and value in, the monarchy today: "We are trying to make people understand what the Romanian monarchy was, and what it can still do [for them]."
According to a 2007 opinion poll conducted at the request of the Romanian royal family, only 14% of Romanians were in favour of the restoration of the monarchy. Another 2008 poll found that only 16% of Romanians are monarchists. Michael himself, however, was shown to be much more popular personally with the Romanian people: In a July 2013 survey, 45% of Romanians had a good or very good opinion of Michael, with 6.5% thinking the opposite. The royal family also enjoyed similar numbers, with 41% having a good or very good opinion of it, and just 6.5% having a poor or very poor one.
Michael undertook some quasi-diplomatic roles on behalf of post-communist Romania. In 1997 and 2002 he toured Western Europe, lobbying for Romania's admission into NATO and the European Union, and was received by heads of state and government officials.
In December 2003, allegedly to the "stupefaction of the public opinion in Romania", Michael awarded the "Man of The Year 2003" prize to Prime Minister Adrian Năstase, leader of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), on behalf of the tabloid VIP. The daily Evenimentul Zilei subsequently complained that 'such an activity was unsuited to a king and that Michael was wasting away his prestige', with the majority of the political analysts 'considering his gesture as a fresh abdication'.
On 10 May 2007, King Michael received the Prague Society for International Cooperation and Global Panel Foundation's 6th Annual Hanno R. Ellenbogen Citizenship Award, previously awarded to Vladimir Ashkenazy, Madeleine Albright, Václav Havel, Lord Robertson, and Miloš Forman. On 8 April 2008, King Michael and Patriarch Daniel were elected as honorary members of the Romanian Academy.
Michael participated in the Victory Parade in Moscow in 2010 as the only living Supreme Commander-in-Chief of a European State in the Second World War. The name of Michael I is listed on the memorial in the Grand Kremlin Palace as one of only 20 recipients of the Order of Victory.
In old age, Michael enjoyed a strong revival in popularity. On 25 October 2011, on the occasion of his 90th birthday, he delivered a speech before the assembled chambers of the Romanian Parliament. An opinion poll in January 2012 placed him as the most trusted public figure in Romania, far ahead of the political leaders. Later, in October 2012, celebrating Michael's 91st birthday, a square in Bucharest was renamed after him.
On 1 August 2016, he became a widower when Queen Anne died at the age of 92.
On 2 March 2016, the Royal Council announced King Michael's retirement from public life; with tasks assumed by Crown Princess Margareta, his daughter. After surgery, King Michael was diagnosed with chronic leukemia and metastatic epidermoid carcinoma and faced a complex and lengthy treatment.
In June 2017, the Royal House stated in a press release that "His Majesty's health is fragile but stable. King Michael is quiet, has soulful appreciation and appreciates the care of his medical team. Along with the King, they are permanently employed by His Majesty's House, detached in Switzerland, and two Orthodox nuns."
At the end of August 2017, the Royal House announced that "King Michael is in a fragile but balanced state, and has a good mood," stating that Princess Elena had completed a visit to Switzerland for a few days next to King Michael, at the private residence. According to the Royal House, King Michael "continues to stay daily under close supervision of physicians, medical staff of various specialties, and in the presence of devoted members of the staff of His Majesty's House, stationed in Switzerland." Also, two Orthodox nuns, detached from the Romanian Orthodox Church, are still in the private residence.
On 5 December, Michael died at his residence in Switzerland at the age of 96. His body was brought back by a military plane to Romania from Switzerland on December 13, first taken to Peles Castle at Sinaia in the high Carpathians, then to Bucharest, displayed at the former Royal Palace (now the National Museum of Art) for two days. Michael was buried on 16 December with full state honours in Curtea de Argeș Cathedral, beside his wife Queen Anne who died in 2016. Royalty at the state funeral included Charles, Prince of Wales, Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden and Queen Silvia, Juan Carlos I of Spain and Queen Sofia, Princess Muna al-Hussein of Jordan, Henri, Grand Duke of Luxembourg, and Princess Astrid and Prince Lorenz of Belgium.
According to the succession provisions of the Romanian kingdom's last democratically approved monarchical constitution of 1923, upon the death of King Michael without sons, the claim to the Crown devolves once again upon the Hohenzollern family. However, on 30 December 2007, on the 60th anniversary of his abdication, King Michael signed the Fundamental Rules of the Royal Family of Romania, by which he designated Princess Margareta as his heir. The document has no legal standing, as it regulates an institution that is not extant anymore.
On 10 May 2011, on a background of lawsuits in Germany brought against his family by his German relatives regarding the former name Hohenzollern-Veringen of his son-in-law, Radu, and of fears expressed by some that the German Hohenzollerns may claim succession to the headship of the Romanian royal house, Michael severed all of the dynastic and historical ties with the princely house of Hohenzollern, changed the name of his family to "of Romania", and gave up all princely titles conferred upon him and his family by the German Hohenzollerns.
On 1 August 2015, Michael signed a document removing the title Prince of Romania and the qualification of Royal Highness from his grandson, Nicholas Medforth-Mills, who was also removed from the line of succession. The former king took the decision "with an eye on Romania's future after the reign and life of his eldest daughter, Margareta". The former king hoped that "Nicholas will find in future years a suitable way to serve the ideals and use the qualities that God gave him". Nicholas's mother, Princess Elena, received notification of the former king's decision in a personal letter.
Aged 16, when he was crown prince, Michael was the driver of a car that hit a bicycle; the cyclist died from the accident. The incident was censored in contemporary press, but appears in the official Censorship Records, and is confirmed by the memoirs of the former prime minister Constantin Argetoianu.
Michael was head of the Romanian Boy Scouts in the 1930s. He was passionate about cars, especially military jeeps. He was also interested in aircraft having worked as a test pilot during exile.
Shortly after the Second World War, he became interested in Moral Rearmament, which was introduced to him by his first cousin Prince Richard of Hesse-Cassel, and as Swiss residents after 1956 he and Queen Anne paid numerous visits to the MRA conference centre of Caux, where he found solace for the loss of his country and his émigré status as well as new hope for future reconciliation.
Michael and Queen Anne had five daughters, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren:
As a great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria, through both of his parents, Michael was a third cousin of Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, King Harald V of Norway, King Juan Carlos I of Spain, King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden and Queen Elizabeth II.
In addition to being the claimant to the defunct throne of Romania, he was also a Prince of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen until 10 May 2011, when he renounced this title. For most of his life, he would have been in line of succession to the British throne had he not married a Roman Catholic (though the ban on marriage to a Roman Catholic was lifted in the 2011 Perth Agreement along with the rule of male succession).
|Ancestors of Michael I of Romania|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Michael I of Romania.|
Michael I of RomaniaBorn: 25 October 1921
| King of Romania
20 July 1927 – 8 June 1930
| King of Romania
6 September 1940 – 30 December 1947
Constantin Ion Parhon
as head of state of Romania
|Titles in pretence|
|Monarchy abolished||— TITULAR —
Head of the Romanian royal family
30 December 1947 – 5 December 2017
Reason for succession failure:
Kingdom abolished in 1947