by Scott Mehl
King Mihai of Romania
King Mihai I of Romania was born on October 25, 1921, in a chalet on the grounds of Peleş Castle in Sinaia, Romania. He is the only child of King Carol II and his second wife, Princess Helen of Greece and Denmark. When he was just four years old, his father renounced his own right to the throne, and Mihai became heir apparent to his grandfather, King Ferdinand. Upon the King’s death on July 20, 1927, Mihai took the throne as King of Romania. Because of his age (not yet 6 years old), a regency council was established, led by Mihai’s uncle, Prince Nicolae.
In June 1930, in a coup d’état engineered by Prime Minister Iuliu Maniu, Mihai’s father returned to Romania, declared his earlier renunciation invalid, and was proclaimed King by the Romanian Parliament on June 8th. Mihai was ‘demoted’ to Crown Prince. However, unhappy with King Carol II’s actions and policies, on September 6, 1940 another coup d’état took place, this time under Prime Minister Ion Antonescu, and Carol was forced to formally abdicate. Mihai was once again King of Romania.
In November 1947, while in London to attend the wedding of two his cousins, Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten, King Mihai first met his future wife (and second cousin, once removed), Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma. She is the daughter of Prince René of Bourbon-Parma and Princess Margaret of Denmark. There was some matchmaking going on, with the King’s mother trying to get the couple together, as well as some help from Anne’s cousin, the future Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg. According to the King, he proposed a week later and the couple were engaged. Wanting to inform his government before making any official announcement, he returned to Romania.
On December 30, 1947, he was summoned to Bucharest to find his palace surrounded by troops loyal the Communist regime. With threats of bloodshed, and according to the King’s own account, a gun to his head, he was forced to sign a document of abdication. Four days later, he was forced to leave the country. In March of 1948, he publicly announced that his abdication was invalid, as it had been forced upon him, and that he remained the rightful King of Romania.
Meanwhile, plans were still underway for Mihai’s wedding to Anne. The couple had reunited in Switzerland and were facing one of the biggest obstacles in their upcoming life together – religion. Anne was Roman Catholic while Mihai was Orthodox. A dispensation was sought from the Pope, who insisted that Mihai promise any children would be raised Catholic. The King would not, and could not, make this promise as it would violate the Romanian constitution, and the Pope refused to sanction the marriage. But the couple, with the support of most of their families, vowed to marry anyway. Years later, in 1966, they had a second wedding in a Roman Catholic church in Monaco.
On June 10, 1948, Mihai and Anne were married in an Orthodox ceremony held in the throne room of the Royal Palace in Athens. Attendants included Mihai’s cousin Sophia (now Queen Sofia of Spain) and his uncle, King Paul of the Hellenes. Noticeably missing were the bride’s parents. Because of the religious differences, Anne’s uncle Prince Xavier of Bourbon-Parma had issued a statement refusing to condone a wedding which went against the wishes of the Pope. He also forbade her parents from attending. However, her maternal side of the family did attend and her mother’s brother, Prince Erik, Count of Rosenborg, gave her away. Upon the marriage, and despite Michael having lost his throne, Anne took the title of Her Majesty The Queen of Romania. The couple first lived at his mother’s home, Villa Sparta, in San Domenico, Italy before moving to Switzerland in 1949. Two years later they moved to England where they remained until returning to Switzerland in 1956. They have five daughters:
- Crown Princess Margareta (1949)
- Princess Elena (1950)
- Princess Irena (1953)
- Princess Sophie (1957)
- Princess Maria (1964)
King Mihai worked as a commercial pilot and worked for an aircraft equipment company. It would be 43 years before he set foot on Romanian soil again. In December 1990, the King was given permission for a 24-hour visit. However, this ended up being cut short and he was forced to leave early. He visited again 1992, but the mass outpouring of crowds and supporters concerned the current government and he was banned again for several years. Finally, in 1997, the Romanian government restored Mihai’s citizenship and in the following years, several properties were returned to the royal family. The King and Queen lived primarily at the Elisabeta Palace in Bucharest, and their country home, Săvârșin Castle, in Transylvania. They also had a home in Switzerland.
In the years after returning to Romania, King Mihai was active in the promotion of Romania around the world but did not make any overtures toward the restoration of the monarchy. However, he made changes to the House Laws to ensure the succession of the current royal family. In 2007, he established the Fundamental Rules of the Royal Family of Romania, in which he changed the line of succession to allow his daughters to succeed (until then, women were excluded). He named his eldest daughter as Crown Princess and Custodian of the Romanian Crown, and his heir as Head of the Royal House of Romania.
On March 2, 2016, it was announced that King Mihai had been diagnosed with chronic leukemia and metastatic epidermoid carcinoma and that he was withdrawing from public life. Crown Princess Margareta took on his public duties. King Mihai’s wife Anne died on August 1, 2016 in a hospital in Morges, Switzerland, at the age of 92.
King Mihai died at his residence in Switzerland on December 5, 2017 at the age of 96. His body will lie in state at Peleș Castle and then at the Royal Palace of Bucharest. The funeral service will be held at Bucharest’s Romanian Orthodox Patriarchal Cathedral and the King will be buried at the Cathedral of Curtea de Argeș.