Romania’s wartime king dies, 96
King Michael of Romania (pictured), who has died aged 96, game to the throne in 1927, aged five, reigned until 1930 and returned from 1940 to 1947.
He is the only person to both precede and succeed his own father as king and was the last surviving head of state from the Second World War.
By the time he was 30, Michael had been overthrown twice, met and defied Hitler, dined with Mussolini, launched a successful coup against Hitler’s Romanian puppet leader Marshal Ion Antonescu and finally been forced to abdicate at gunpoint by Stalin’s forces.
The great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria went to live in exile in Switzerland and was regularly frustrated in attempts to revisit Romania.
Michael reluctantly met Hitler in December 1941, saying that he “howled like a savage”, and he had a meeting with Winston Churchill.
With the abdication of his playboy father, King Carol II, in 1940, an unpopular royal dictatorship was replaced by a military tyranny, headed by Antonescu. At 18, Michael, was poorly educated and isolated but began making his opposition to Hitler known by 1943.
He intervened alongside his mother on behalf of Romania’s Jews, established secret links with the allies and in 1944 became the focal point for a small group of rebel politicians ready to attempt an overthrow.
His key achievement came on August 23, 1944, when Michael, whose powers were seen as largely ceremonial, summoned Antonescu to his palace and arrested him.
The royal palace was bombed by the Germans the day after Michael left.
He was born Prince Michael of Romania at Peles Castle in Sinaia amid the Carpathian Mountains in 1921, the only child of Crown Prince Carol of Romania and his second wife, Princess Helen of Greece and Denmark, daughter of King Constantine.
Michael‘s coup paved the way for a Soviet takeover of Bucharest 10 days later as Germany retreated. Historians have said the coup might have shortened the war by months, saving tens of thousands of lives.
Michael was later awarded the Legion of Merit by US president Harry Truman.
He was disappointed by western inaction against the Soviet Union and bullied by the infamous Andrei Vyshinsky, the prosecutor of Stalin’s 1930s show trials, Michael was the last monarch to abdicate from countries under Moscow’s grip.
In 1947 he was forced to sign his abdication when the palace was surrounded and the death of 1,000 students was threatened.
He tried chicken farming in the English county of Hertfordshire, commercial flying in Switzerland and stockbroking in the US. Michael made Christmas broadcasts to Romania on Radio Free Europe and worked with the national committee he had established to maintain links with the country.
After the fall of Communism, he returned in December 1990.
“King Michael! King Michael!” crowds shouted on his arrival. But the country’s leadership, which had been elected that May, was shocked at his popularity and banished him again, saying he failed to gain the proper permission for his visit.
He was allowed to return for Easter celebrations in 1992 but again the Romanian leadership was reportedly shocked by the size of the crowds he attracted. Michael was not allowed to return again until 1997.
Romanian King Michael I (front row, centre) and Prime Minister Nicolae Rădescu. Picture credit: Wikimedia