Michael: The Last King of Romania


He was king before – and after – his father. He was one of the last people alive to have met Hitler, Mussolini and Churchill but not, as has been reported, the last World War II head of state: Simeon II of Bulgaria survives him. He was certainly the last king of Romania. Any hope the country’s monarchists had of restoring the throne were dashed in 1990 when the neo-communists who took over Romania in the wake of the 1989 revolution prevented the exiled king from even entering the country. His legacy is not great: a feuding family, no clear line of succession. To all intents and purposes the Romanian royal family dies with him.

Michael, or, to use his Romanian name, Mihai, was born in 1921 in the splendid mountain setting of Peles Castle, Sinaia, built for his great-grandfather Carol I, the first king of Romania. At the time Romania was a country on the cusp of a bright future: it had recently more than doubled in size thanks in large part to the charm and diplomacy of Michael’s wily grandmother Queen Marie at the Versailles negotiations.

Michael’s father, who would go on to become Carol II, had taken a Jewish mistress in the early 1920s and as such was not considered royal material by the country’s politicians, and was forced to renounce his right to the throne in 1925. It was therefore Michael, who had yet to reach his sixth birthday, who assumed the throne on the death of his grandfather Ferdinand in 1927. A trio of regents ruled on his behalf: his uncle Prince Nicolae, the patriarch of the Romanian Church Miron Cristea, and the country’s Chief Justice Gheorghe Buzdugan. The three could rarely agree and by 1930 Carol, all sins forgiven, had been invited to return to Romania to take the throne.

In 1940, accused by the would-be dictator and powerful head of the Romanian army Ion Antonescu of being ill-disposed towards Nazi Germany, Carol II was again exiled. Antonescu placed Michael, now 18, back on the throne. Although the king was officially the head of state and commander-in-chief of the army, it was Antonescu who pulled the strings and led Romania, disastrously, into war on the side of the Axis powers. By 1944, with the war lost and the Soviet army close to Romania’s pre-war borders, Michael – with the support of most of Romania’s political parties – acted. He called Antonescu to Peles for discussions, and promptly had him arrested. The Romanian army ceased fire on the Eastern Front. Three days later, on August 26, Romania rejoined the war on the side of the Allies.

A Romanian stamp shows Michael in 1943

If Michael had hoped that the removal of Antonescu would prevent a Soviet invasion he was wrong. The Soviet Union occupied the country and began the process of installing a communist government. Michael, in cooperation with liberal politicians, did what he could to delay the process, but in vain. Non-communist politicians were arrested, and at a string of sham trials were given long prison sentences. Some were executed. By the autumn of 1947, it was all over. In London for the wedding of his cousins Elizabeth Windsor and Philip Mountbatten (later Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh), Michael was warned not to return to Romania. He did, but on December 30 he was forced to abdicate. He was told thousands of students would be shot if he didn’t.

He left Romania by train four days later and was allowed to take just 12 cases of belongings. Keen to discredit him, the communist government spread false rumours that he had fled the country with vast wealth, including gold and valuable works of art. He went first to Switzerland, before moving to London until he returned to Switzerland, this time to settle, in 1956. He married Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma, a Catholic, in 1948, and fathered five children, all girls. A polymath, Michael worked as a commercial airline pilot and a broker before becoming an entrepreneur.

On Christmas Day 1990 – exactly one year after the revolution which overthrew Nicolae Ceaușescu – Michael, accompanied by several members of the royal family, landed at Otopeni Airport in Bucharest on a Danish diplomatic passport. He was given a visa valid for 24 hours. He set off for the Curtea de Argeș near Pitesti, to pray at the tombs of his royal ancestors and attend Christmas mass. He did not get far. Police stopped the cortege and forced the king back to the airport and out of the country.

He did not, in fact, make it into Romania for any length of time until Easter 1992. Even then he was refused permission to speak from the balcony of the former Royal Palace (then, as today, Romania’s National Museum of Art). Instead, he spoke from the window of his room at the Continental Hotel. Almost one million people came to hear what he had to say.

He was again denied entry to Romania, twice, in 1994 and 1995. It was only after Emil Constantinescu defeated neo-communist Ion Iliescu to become president in 1996 that Michael’s Romanian citizenship, stripped in 1948, was restored. He then lived partly in Switzerland and partly in Romania, either at Săvârșin Castle in Arad County or at the Elisabeta Palace in Bucharest. Two former royal residences – Peleș Castle and its little neighbour Pelișor – were also returned to the king. Michael kept them both open to the public.

Romanian monarchists who spent the days following his death wondering aloud what may have been had Michael had his crown restored after the revolution miss the point. He was already in his seventies, and it’s doubtful he even wanted the job. He never publicly said he was interested. The Liberal Party suggested he run for president. He wasn’t interested in that either. Besides, it is doubtful he would have been able to do much about the institutionalised pillaging of the 1990s. With a morally sound head of state, perhaps a better behaved political class might have emerged, and entry to both NATO and the EU could have happened earlier. But it’s doubtful. As events of the past few months have demonstrated, to succeed in the swamp of contemporary Romanian politics it helps to be a monster. Michael was anything but.

Michael, King of Romania, died on December 5, 2017.


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Deloitte Upsizes Its Emerging Europe Cyber Intelligence Team

Computer security concept. Virus in program code

Doing Business Across Eurasia Could Be Easier

Eurasia emerging europe schneider group

Women, to Tractors!

Tug of war contest between boys and girls. Two groups of children of different sex pulling opposite ends of rope. Concept of gender equality among kids, team sports. Vector illustration for banner

Skiing in Emerging Europe

gudauri ski georgia

Beyond Borders: Immigration Within the EU

refugees immigrants

Romania’s Budget Deficit ‘Should Start Alarm Bells Ringing’

BUCHAREST ROMANIA - June 29 2017: Romanian Prime Minister Mihai Tudose during a swearing-in ceremony at Cotroceni palace in Bucharest capital of Romania June 29 2017.

EBRD Transition Report Highlights Financial Sector Resilience


EU: Consumption Still Driving Growth

Latvian Deputy Prime Minister Highlights Riga’s Potential


Meghri Becomes Armenia’s Third FEZ

armenia emerging europe

Kaczyński Defends PiS Record

Czech Real Estate Market Is Top CEE Performer

Prague skyscrapers in blue hour with purple sky. Modern building architecture after sunset. Office center in capital city. Czech republic lighting buildings.

Slovenia Sets Green Vehicle Deadline of 2030


Romanian Car Maker Dacia Sees Sales Boom

Sables d Olonne France - May 07 2017 : Dacia Tour 2017 is a commercial operation organized by the car builder in order to present its cars throughout France - Close-up on cars

EU Membership and Transition into Market Economies Have Helped CEE Achieve Social Progress

China-Georgia FTA Takes Effect

TBILISI GEORGIA - SEPTEMBER 28: Top view of Tbilisi downtown Georgia on September 28 2016. Tbilisi is a capital and largest city of Georgia.

Poland’s Q2 2017 Growth Is Stronger Than Expected

WARSAW, POLAND - MAY 07, 2016: Building Palace of Culture and Science among the modern buildings of the city

Poles Still Keen on German Jobs

Brandenburg Gate in Berlin in Germany. The Brandenburg Gate is a triumphal arch a city gate in the center of Berlin. It is one of the most known sites in Berlin.

Retail Rents Rise Across Emerging Europe

Na Prikope Prague

Budget Chaos Hits Romanian Leu

Different Romanian Lei Banknotes on the table

Chinese Electric Car Maker Seeks Emerging Europe Base

zhi dou d2

ICT Given Huge Boost in Belarus

MINSK, BELARUS - AUGUST 15, 2016: Aerial view of the southwestern part of the Minsk with Palace of Sport and old and new other buildings. Minsk is the capital and largest city of Belarus.

Czech Republic Approves 2018 Budget

Ten czech crown coins money on black marble background

Poland Stays Cool on Euro Adoption

Euro cash and Zloty on one photo.

Moody’s: CEE Creditworthiness Holding Up

Man's hand holding pen and checking spreadsheet

Belarus’ Economy Is Slowly Recovering From Past Declines

China Eyes Moldovan Trade Agreement

CRICOVA MOLDOVA July 24 2017 :Underground wine cellar with collection of bottles in niches. Winery with 120 km of underground passages for wine storage

Poland Must Preserve Wilson Spirit

Ukraine Is Offering Europe Unique Combat and Technological Experience

Still Potential for Growth in CEE as Economies Stabilise

Bulgaria and Romania Get EBRD SME Boost

Startup Diversity Teamwork Brainstorming Meeting Concept

Poland Is Set To Become a Large Economic Zone

Aerial view over the building materials processing factory. View from above.

Moldova Launches New e-Procurement System In Search For Positive Change

Photo team work process, holding contract hand, signs documents. Account managers young crew works with startup project.New idea presentation, analyze marketing reports.Blurred, film effect, horizontal.

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