HM King Ferdinand I of Romania (1865-1927) was born a Roman Catholic Prince of the House of Hohenzollern in Prussia. His father was Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen and his mother the Infanta Antonia was the daughter of Queen Maria II of Portugal. King Carol I of Romania, a distant cousin, was childless so in 1889 Prince Ferdinand was appointed a Prince of Romania, heir apparent and was repatriated from Prussia to Romania’s capital Bucharest.
King Carol’s was a draconian court and his heir was strictly schooled in political economy, financial sciences, history and the law of the nations. Romanian historian Nicolae Iorga described the prince thus: ‘blonde, tall and slim with very mild deep blue eyes. His main feature was an extreme modesty mixed with an almost painful shyness. Very courteous and polite, he always bewared (sic) of offending someone’s feelings and gave up any argument even when he knew the subject in question better than those he discussed it with. He loved solitude, nature and art. He hated the pomp and the ceremonies but inherited from his mother a shy pride and a German respect for laws and forms. Gentle without selfishness, he was deeply loved by those who knew him’.
Prince Ferdinand’s dalliance with lady-in-waiting Elizabeth Vacarescu prompted a constitutional crisis and the exile of Queen Elizabeth of Rumania (who gave the dalliance her blessing) and the lady in question. In 1893 Prince Ferdinand was married-off to Princess Marie of Edinburgh, daughter of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and the Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna of Russia. Princess Marie’s grandparents were Queen Victoria and Tsar Alexander II of Russia making the alliance a powerful one for the future of Romania’s monarchy. Princess Marie bore three sons and three daughters; the latter two of which were allegedly illegitimate.
King Carol died in 1914 on the eve of World War I. Though King Ferdinand declared Romania neutral, he was persuaded by Queen Marie to side with the allies against the German Empire in 1916 resulting in Kaiser Wilhelm II striking his name from the Hohenzollern House Register. Romania fought bravely; halting the German army’s advance into Moldavia where the Court had retreated to after the Kaiser’s troops had occupied Bucharest. Rumania’s loyalty eared the country the territories of Moldavia, Bukovina and Transylvania. Overnight Romania leapt from a relatively small territory with a population of 7.7-million citizens to an empire of 17-million.
Queen Marie was a formidable woman who had in her youth rejected the proposal of the future King George V. As Queen of Romania she was much loved and much feared. It was said of her that few royal consorts wielded greater influence than did Queen Marie during the reign of her husband. Of the early years of marriage, Queen Marie said in her autobiography ‘it was such a shame that we had to waste so many years of our youth just to learn how to live together’. Of the mature relationship she wrote ‘we became the best associates, the most loyal companions but our lives intertwine only in certain matters’. Queen Marie’s many paramours were said to include Grand Duke Boris Vladimirovich of Russia, Waldorf Astor and Prince Barbu Stirbey.
Such was Queen Marie’s influence that she attended the Paris Peace Conference in 1918 to negotiate the new territories for Romania and travelled on to London where she held talks with Winston Churchill, Lady Astor and her former swain King George V. In 1922 King Ferdinand and Queen Marie were crowned as monarchs of Greater Romania in a ceremony held in a cathedral specially built for the occasion in the Transylvanian city of Alba-Iulia. Queen Marie wore a crown specially made from Transylvanian gold set with pearls.
King Ferdinand’s eldest son and heir apparent Prince Carol proved to be a disappointment. In 1918 he eloped to the Ukraine with mistress Zizi Lambrino. The King declared the marriage annulled despite Labrino bearing the prince a son. In 1921 King Ferdinand and Queen Marie arranged for Prince Carol to marry Princess Elena of Greece and Denmark. Princess Elena did her duty and produced an heir, the future King Michael I of Romania, but Prince Carol absconded once again with the love of his life a Roman Catholic with a Jewish father named Magda Lupesca.
Prince Carol refused to renounce Magda Lupesca so King Ferdinand demanded he give-up the throne in favour of Prince Michael who was proclaimed king in 1927 under a Regency council when King Ferdinand succumbed to cancer. Prince Carol entered a morganatic marriage with Magda and in 1930 returned to Romania, deposed his son King Michael and took the throne as King Carol II. He reigned for a decade before pro-Nazi general Ion Antonescu staged a coup and reinstated Michael I as a puppet king. King Michael I would be the last ruler of Romania.