Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Romania Lays to Rest Queen Marie's Heart

The heart of Her Majesty Queen Marie of Romania, the British-born wife of King Ferdinand I, was laid to rest for the final time on November 3 in a ceremony that evoked memories of the deposed monarchy's pageantry and pomp.
A casket containing the heart of Queen Marie of Romania is borne through the streets of Bucharest by soldiers. Courtesy of the Daily Mail.

Prior to Queen Marie's death in 1938, she stipulated that her heart should be interred in the chapel of the Pelisor Castle, her favorite residence. However, the queen's wishes could not be fulfilled after Pelisor and its surrounding regions were annexed to Bulgaria in 1940. Her heart was then kept at another of her homes, Bran Castle (which today is popularly advertised to tourists as "Dracula's Castle"), until the communist regime which took over in 1947 seized Bran and moved the heart to the National History Museum in Bucharest.

Queen Marie's grandson, King Michael of Romania, who was deposed in 1947 but has since returned to live part-time in Romania and is the head of the deposed royal house, announced his intentions to fulfill his grandmother's wishes by returning her heart to its final resting place at Pelisor.

Queen Marie of Romania's heart is removed from the National History Museum in Bucharest to prepare for its final burial at Pelisor Castle. Princess Margareta of Romania, eldest daughter of King Michael and heiress to the deposed royal house of Romania, stands behind the casket with her husband, Prince Radu. Margareta's sister, Princess Maria of Romania, stands behind Prince Radu. Courtesy of the Daily Mail.

The ceremony included a formal removal of the heart from the Natural History Museum by Romanian soldiers in the presence of HRH Princess Margareta of Romania, King Michael's eldest daughter and Queen Marie's great-granddaughter, who was accompanied by her husband, HRH Prince Radu, and her youngest sister, HRH Princess Maria. The casket containing the heart was draped in the Romanian and British flags, and both the national anthems of Romania and the United Kingdom were played. A procession took place through the streets of Bucharest before the heart was loaded into a car and driven to Pelisor Castle, 74 miles to the north.

Queen Marie of Romania. Born Princess Marie of Edinburgh, she was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom.
Queen Marie was a granddaughter of the British Queen Victoria. She was born in Kent, England, the daughter of Queen Victoria's second son, Prince Alfred, and Grand Duchess Marie of Russia, daughter of Tsar Alexander II. She married the German-born Crown Prince Ferdinand of Romania in 1893, and became queen consort with her husband's accession in 1914. As Queen of Romania, she was an enormously popular and beloved figure. She was a symbol of national unity and strength during World War I, and she arrived at the Paris Peace Conference in 1918 as a representative of Romanian interests. When it was suggested that she go to Paris after the Romanian prime minister failed to obtain concessions for his country, the queen boldly declared "Romania needs a face, and I will be that face." Her great ability to charm the delegates and to stand up for Romania has been credited with the creation of the Greater Romania after World War I, in which Romania gained a significant amount of territory and became a formidable power in southern Europe. Her flamboyant wardrobe and outspoken nature made her an intriguing and exotic figure. A 1926 visit to the United States garnered enormous media attention and attracted thousands of Americans into the streets of New York to catch a glimpse of her. She was also a published author, having written numerous works including two volumes of her autobiography.  

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

80th Anniversary of King George II’s Restoration to the Greek Throne

November 3 marks the 80th anniversary of a Greek plebiscite in which George II, who had been living in exile for twelve years, was voted by a majority to return as King of the Hellenes.

George II was the eldest son of King Constantine I of Greece and Queen Sophia, the former Princess Sophia of Prussia. He had first come to the Greek throne in September 1922 in the midst of turmoil within his country. King Constantine I had just been restored to the throne two years earlier, but following Greece's humiliating defeat in the Greco-Turkish Wars of 1919-1922 and the devastating massacre at Smyrna, he was forced to step down in favor of George. King George's position was far from secure, as a revolutionary committee had taken control of the government and sought to curtail the role of the monarchy as much as possible. A failed royalist coup aimed at dislodging the committee in October 1923 damaged the monarchy's credibility and led the government to formally ask the King and his wife, Queen Elisabeth, to absent themselves from the country until the mood had settled. The royal couple departed from Greece in December 1923 and the monarchy was abolished three months later.

Initially settling in Romania with Queen Elisabeth's parents, King Ferdinand and Queen Marie, George II gradually spent more time away from his wife, either in London or to visit his mother at her exiled home in Florence. King George and Queen Elisabeth were to have no children and divorced in 1935.

While the Greek royal family settled into a decade of exile, the republican government back home lurched from crisis to crisis. Over twenty-four changes of government, thirteen coups and a dictatorship took place between 1924 and 1935. Finally, in October 1935, General George Kondylis, having lost his patience with the troubled republic, staged a coup d'etat and successfully overthrew the sitting government. In its stead, Kondylis proclaimed his intention to restore the Greek monarchy and to invite the exiled George II back to mount the throne once again. A plebiscite was scheduled for November 3, 1935 to allow the Greek people the chance to vote on restoring the monarchy or maintaining the republic.

It was far from a clean vote, however. While a large number of people were dissatisfied with the unstable republic and many did profess loyalty to the exiled king, there were many cities which reported intimidation at the voting polls against those who intended to vote for the republic. Time Magazine reported in its November 18, 1935 issue that "a voter one could drop into the ballot box a blue vote for George II and please General George Kondylis, or one could cast a red ballot for the Republic and get roughed up."

In the end, an astonishing (and undoubtedly inaccurate) tally showed 98% of the votes were in favor of restoring the monarchy. Despite the methods used to obtain this majority vote, George II accepted the results and return to Greece on November 25. It was not to be the end of his troubles, however. Just six years later, the invasion of Nazi Germany forced George II and other members of the royal family to flee. They would not return to Greece until 1946, and King George II died the following year at his palace in Athens.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Birthday of HM Queen Anne of Romania

Friday, September 18th was the 92nd birthday of Her Majesty Queen Anne of Romania. 

She was born as Her Royal Highness Princess Anne Antoinette Françoise Charlotte Zita Marguerite of Bourbon-Parma on September 18, 1923 in Paris, France. She was the second child and only daughter of Prince Rene of Bourbon-Parma and Princess Margrethe of Denmark. Prince Rene was the nineteenth child of Robert I, Duke of Parma, who was dispossessed of his ducal throne in 1859 when Parma was annexed into the unified Kingdom of Italy; he was also the younger brother of Zita, the last Empress of Austria. Anne’s mother, Princess Margrethe, was the daughter of Prince Valedmar of Denmark and a granddaughter of the “father-in-law of Europe”, King Christian IX of Denmark. 

Though Anne and her brothers were reared in France and held titles as princes and princess of the deposed house of Bourbon-Parma, they were erroneously regarded in certain instances as members of the Danish royal family, as Anne’s mother was the cousin of King Christian X of Denmark. Particularly in the lead-up to Anne’s wedding to King Michael, some newspapers mistakenly referred to her as “Princess Anne of Denmark”. 

Anne’s parents were not especially wealthy, despite their close ties to many European royal houses. When the Germans invaded France in World War II, the Bourbon-Parma family fled to the United States. For a time, Anne worked at a Macy’s department store in New York City, but when her brothers returned to Europe to fight, she received her parents’ permission to serve in the war effort. She became an ambulance driver on the front and was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French government for her efforts.  

The year 1947 would mark a significant change in Princess Anne’s life. Princess Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of King George VI of the United Kingdom, was marrying her third cousin, Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark.  Anne had spent time with Prince Philip and his sisters when Philip’s parents, Prince and Princess Andrew of Greece and Denmark, settled their family in Paris after the exile of the Greek royal family in 1922 (Philip’s father was a cousin of Anne’s mother), and was subsequently invited to the wedding. She was reluctant to attend until her cousin, Prince Jean of Luxembourg, convinced her to go. Among the galaxy of European royalty that had assembled in London, Anne met the acquaintance of the young King Michael of Romania, who had arrived from Bucharest with his mother, Queen Helen. Michael was Anne’s second cousin, once removed through their mutual descent from King Christian IX of Denmark – he was the Danish king’s great-great-grandson, while she was his great-granddaughter. Queen Helen had invited Anne and her mother to their London hotel room for a visit. Anne was reportedly unaware that Helen’s handsome son would also be there, and in her embarrassment at unexpectedly meeting the king she clicked her heels in salute rather than curtsied when she first met him. 
Despite this inauspicious first meeting, Anne and Michael spent a great deal of time with each other during their sojourn in London. By the time the couple parted ways, they had become secretly engaged. However, Michael was in an invidious position back home in Romania. The Romanian government had been infiltrated by pro-Soviet factions aimed at undermining the monarchy and usurping any possible authority from him. When Michael returned to Bucharest after the wedding and announced his intention to marry Princess Anne, the government replied that a royal wedding in Romania would be ill-advised at the present time. Just a few weeks later, on December 30, the king was summoned to a meeting with government officials and forced to abdicate in favor of a communist republic. 

When Anne got wind of her fiancée’s abdication, she tried unsuccessfully to go see him in Bucharest. Her family advised her that she ought to wait for more news, and when she did finally communicate with Michael, he and Queen Helen had fled to exile in Switzerland. Distraught over the events taking place in Romania but still very much in love, Anne and Michael forged ahead with planning their wedding. Michael’s uncle, King Paul of Greece (Queen Helen's brother), offered to host the wedding in Athens and to stand in as his nephew’s best man.     
The road to King Michael and Princess Anne’s wedding had already been marred by the king’s abdication and exile, and unfortunately another obstacle – the Vatican – now stood in their way. The Pope had been spurned by King Boris III of Bulgaria, an Eastern Orthodox monarch, and his Catholic wife, Princess Giovanna of Italy, who reneged on the papal dispensation for their marriage when both of their children were baptized Orthodox instead of Catholic as promised. The pontiff was now unwilling to make concessions for another marriage between an Orthodox king and a Catholic princess. Michael and Anne’s mothers, Queen Helen and Princess Margrethe, accompanied by Helen’s sister, Irene, Duchess of Aosta (an Orthodox princess married to a Catholic prince), visited the Pope to plead the young couple’s case. Princess Margrethe reportedly became so enraged during their audience that she pounded her fist on the pope’s table, but he refused to budge – King Michael and Princess Anne’s future children must be Catholic if the princess wanted to marry with the church’s blessing. Though he was no longer a reigning monarch, King Michael was anxious to abide by the rules of the previous Romanian constitution which stipulated that his heirs must be received into the Romanian Orthodox Church. To this end, he could not agree to the conditions set forth by Rome. In the end, Anne risked the enmity of the Vatican by marrying the king without receiving a papal dispensation, while her parents absented themselves from the nuptials after Prince Rene’s brother, Xavier, Duke of Parma, as head of the Bourbon-Parma family, expressed his displeasure at Anne’s defiance of the church. In her parents’ absence, Anne’s uncle Prince Erik of Denmark gave her away at the wedding. 

King Michael of Romania and Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma were married in the chapel of the Royal Palace in Athens on June 10, 1948. After the wedding Anne became known by courtesy as Her Majesty Queen Anne of Romania. She would not set foot in Romania, however, for another forty-four years. As a footnote to the debacle with the Catholic Church, in November 1966, King Michael and Queen Anne held a wedding mass at the Church of St. Charles in Monaco and formally received the church’s blessing. 

Settling in Switzerland (with a temporary spell in England where the family lived on a chicken farm), Queen Anne gave birth to five daughters – Princess Margareta, Princess Elena, Princess Irina, Princess Sofia and Princess Maria. After the fall of communist rule across Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, the Romanian royal family began contemplating a return to their homeland. Several attempts were unceremoniously blocked by the Romanian government, but King Michael made his first visit during Easter of 1992. The public reception that accompanied the king’s visit alarmed the government of Ion Iliescu, who subsequently banned Michael from returning for the next five years. Queen Anne herself made her first visit to Romania in 1993 and returned numerous times during the years of her husband’s banishment. Since 1997, however, King Michael, Queen Anne and their family have been allowed to visit Romania without any governmental interference. They were granted use of the Elisabeta Palace as a residence and occupy an unofficial position within the country. 

In 2008, King Michael and Queen Anne celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary in Bucharest with a number of festivities and galas. Members of various European royal houses, most of whom are related to the couple, attended to mark the occasion. In recent years, Queen Anne has made less frequent visits to Romania, ostensibly due to her health. She has been seen walking with a cane for some time now and apparently has difficulty traveling. In 2011, for example, she did not accompany her husband to the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton; Princess Margareta joined her father instead.