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.