October 25, 2010 marks the 89th birthday of King Michael of Romania. He was born October 25, 1921 at the Peleş Castle in Sinaia, the Romanian royal retreat in the Carpathian Mountains. He was the only child born to Crown Prince Carol and Princess Helen of Greece and Denmark. Through both his parents, King Michael is descended from Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom.
Michael's childhood was less than idyllic. His parents' marriage had quickly soured, and when he was just four his father, Carol, abandoned the family and ran off with his mistress, Elena Lupescu. In the process he renounced his rights to the Romanian throne and his position in the royal family, making Michael the new crown prince. Following the death of his grandfather, King Ferdinand, in 1927, he succeeded to the throne as Michael I, King of the Romanians. Because he was just six years of age, a regency was established under his uncle, Prince Nicolae of Romania, the Romanian chief justice and a bishop in the Romanian Orthodox church.
In 1930, Michael's father Carol returned to Romania and swept into Bucharest to reclaim his throne. He was proclaimed King Carol II and demoted his son back to the rank of crown prince. Carol II removed Michael from his mother's custody, had her placed under virtual house arrest and filled her house with spies. In 1940, a coup d'etat ousted King Carol from Romania for the final time, and Michael, now aged nineteen, returned to the throne.
Romania during this time was under a military dictatorship led by Ion Antonescu, who was in close collaboration with the Nazis. On August 23, 1944, the King rallied pro-Allied politicians and troops and launched a coup against Antonescu's regime. He then sided Romania with the Allies, and by allowing Soviet troops to march through Romanian territory, it is believed that World War II was cut short by as much as six months. The events of August 23 became known as King Michael's Coup, and was regarded as his finest hour as sovereign of the Romanians.
In 1945, however, King Michael was forced to appoint a pro-Communist government, who were not the least-bit sympathetic to the monarchy, and his role was curtailed to nothing more than a puppet king. On December 30, 1947, troops loyal to the communists surrounded the royal palace and issued an ultimatum to the king: either he renounce the throne and the Romanian monarchy be abolished, or the army would launch a killing spree against those suspected of being royalists. Wishing to avoid bloodshed, King Michael abdicated and four days later fled Romania with his mother, Queen Helen.
Shortly after his abdication, he married Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma in Athens at the invitation of his uncle, King Paul of Greece. They have five daughters - Margareta, Helen, Irene, Sophia and Marie. The exiled King and Queen of the Romanians spent much of their lives living in Switzerland, but in 1992, following the collapse of communism in Romania, they returned to Romania for the first time in decades amid scenes of national fervor. This visit alarmed the government of President Ion Iliescu, who banned the King from returning to Romania. Following Iliescu's defeat in 1997, however, this ban was lifted and the Romanian royal family have been allowed to return and were offered one of their former palaces as a permanent residence.
King Michael remains a popular figure in Romania, and although it doesn't seem likely the monarchy will be restored in the near future, he continues to attract the respect and attention of the Romanian people. The 50th wedding anniversary of King Michael and Queen Anne in 2008 was covered widely by the Romanian media, despite the fact that Anne never lived in Romania as a reigning Queen.