Michael, King of Romania, has died

Michael, King of Romania
1921 - 2017

Michael, the last King of Romania, has died. He was 96 years old. King Michael, who ruled his country twice, had been ill for some time. He is survived by his five daughters, the eldest of whom, Margareta, is now claimant to the long defunct throne. With him ends a chapter of European royal history.

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He died around noon on December 5th 2017 at his home in Switzerland.  Michael, King of Romania, had been ill for some time. His retirement from public life was announced in March 2016 and he was diagnosed with chronic leukaemia earlier this year. His health is understood to have worsened over the summer and a statement from his family in late autumn confirmed that he was very poorly. 

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Michael of Romania's life was colourful, dramatic and often sad but throughout it all he remained a dignified and calm presence. From his early years, he was surrounded by drama. Michael of Romania was born into a fragile family situation on October 25th 1921 at Peles Castle in Romania. His father was the heir to the country's throne but far from an ideal prince. Carol of Romania had already had one controversial marriage before he wed Michael's mother, Princess Elena of Greece and Denmark, in March 1921. At the time of his birth, Michael was second in line to the throne but in controversial circumstances - his father's first wife had had a son who was declared illegitimate as he had been born after the end of their marriage. And it wasn't long before baby Michael found his family affairs becoming even more complicated. His parents began to grow apart and this would have dramatic consequences for the young prince.

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In 1925, Carol of Romania abandoned his wife and his claim to his country's throne to set up home with his mistress, Magda Lupescu. Michael was now heir to the throne and on July 20th 1927 he became King of Romania on the death of his grandfather, King Ferdinand I. The country was ruled by a Regency Council but its failings led to the reappearance of Prince Carol who gathered enough support to be able to reclaim the throne on June 8th 1930 when Michael changed from king to heir in the space of a day. By then Carol and Elena were divorced and their son's childhood would see him split his time between them while his country plunged into political turmoil. At the age of eighteen, he took up the seat in the Romanian Senate to which he was now entitled but his life was about to change again dramatically.

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In the early part of World War Two, King Carol II was deposed by the government of Ion Antonescu who considered the monarch to be too anti German. Michael was declared King of Romania for the second time on September 6th 1940 but was little more than a figurehead. His dissatisfaction with Antonescu led to him staging a coup of his own in 1944 and declaring his union with the Allied Forces. Soon after the end of the War in 1945 he was forced to accept Soviet rule and again returned to the status of a figurehead king. His second reign came to an end on 30th December 1947 when he was forced to abdicate by the pro Soviet government of Petru Groza. He left Romania on January 3rd 1948 for exile and wouldn't set foot in his home country for more than forty years.

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Michael of Romania married Anne of Bourbon Parma on June 10th 1948 in Athens having met her at the wedding of the future Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in November 1947.  The couple went on to have five daughters - Margareta, Elena, Irina, Sophie and Maria. The former king renounced his abdication in 1948. His exile would be spent in England and Switzerland where he worked in business among other areas. But in 1990, a new phase of his royal life began.

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Following the overthrow of the Communist regime, Michael returned to Romania. His first steps in his home country were brief - less than 24 hours after landing in Romania on December 25th 1990, he was ordered to leave. He returned on several occasions and was asked at one point to run for the country's presidency - he declined the invitation. But his popularity also caused concern and he was refused entry to Romania several times during the 1990s. His citizenship was restored in 1997 by the new government and in his later years he would divide his time between Switzerland and Romania.

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Michael, the last King of Romania, enjoyed a level of personal popularity that far outstripped the overall reputation of his country's monarchy. In his later years, he was seen as a trusted figure but always said the monarchy could only be restored at the will of the people and the appetite for that move was never apparent. His death brings to an end a dramatic royal life, lived well despite struggles, and a chapter of European history. For Michael was a man born in the last days of the monarchies that dominated the continent of Europe for so long, the final chapter of those years when royalty was still linked to centuries of power just gone rather than history long past. As his family grieve a father and grandfather, the passing of Michael also brings to an end Europe's final dance with a part of its regal past. Michael, King of Romania has a place in history all of his own.

Michael, King of Romania, born October 25th 1921, died December 5th 2017.


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