Queen Victoria's second son, Prince Alfred, burst into tears when his daughter Marie married the heir to the Romanian throne at the tender age of seventeen. History was to prove that Alfred's tears for his daughter were apt as she lived through the tumult of intrigue, back-biting and jealousy that lay behind the stately protocol of the Romanian court. To the British a century ago, Romania might as well have been on the moon, writes BRENDA RALPH LEWIS in her continuing series. The country was a mere thirty years old, ruled by a member of the House of Hohenzollern with a population of illiterate and superstitious peasants and gypsies. The romantically-inclined Marie was a great beauty who could count the young Winston Churchill among her admirers—but she found her new home was scarcely less outlandish than the haunt of Count Dracula created by Bram Stoker a few years after her marriage.
Marie as the new teenage Queen of Romania—far from home in a country which the rest of Europe regarded as barbaric and semi-oriental.
ONE OF THE harsher facts of British Royal life in the nineteenth century was the parting of families involved in Royal marriages. This was most true of princesses who, almost routinely, went into gilded exile in the courts of Europe and brought up the foreign children of foreign husbands far from England and home.
The cost, often, was homesickness, loneliness and isolation, and since many princesses married very young, parents suffered agonies of anxiety and doubt that they had made the right decision.
Prince Albert, for example, was full of fear and trepidation when his eldest daughter, Vicky, married a Prussian prince in 1858 at the age of seventeen. Thirty-five years later, Albert's second son, Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, burst into tears before his first daughter Marie, also seventeen, married Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of Romania.
Neither Albert nor Alfred were soft men, easily distressed in a sentimental situation. On the contrary, both were tough-minded and worldly, but they both knew too much about the intrigues, back-biting, jealousy and sometimes morbid cruelty that lay behind the glittering facade and stately protocol of the European Royal Courts. Both fathers, in fact, had every good reason to dread sending their daughters as brides into such hostile environments.
Alfred had an extra cause for concern, for Romania a century ago seemed tantamount to the Moon. Created as a country barely thirty years before, it was backward, barely civilised, peopled by illiterate superstitious peasants and gypsies and riven with all the corruption, immorality and underlying barbarism of its semi-oriental atmosphere.
Russians, Turks and Greeks had all used Romania as a battleground for centuries, leaving it basically unstable and vulnerable despite seventeen years of tight control and energetic modernising on the part of its king, Carol I. Carol, his nephew and heir Ferdinand and the rest of the Romanian royals were, at least, a familiar quantity. Like the British Royal Family, they were German by origin and belonged to the Hohenzollern Royal House which was headed by Marie's cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm.
Carol, formerly Karl Eitel, Prince of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen in southern Germany had become king by invitation in 1866. He was that formidable figure—a puritan martinet, devoted to efficiency, moral probity and hard work, but even he had not essentially altered the mysterious and menacing ambience that lay deep inside the nature of his adopted land.
In 1897, four years after Marie first went to Romania, a melodramatic Western view of Carol's kingdom appeared in Bram Stoker's classic horror story Count Dracula, which was set in Transylvania, the original Romanian homeland, by then just across the border in Hungary. The success of Stoker's novel stamped the region as a place of strange nightmare happenings and weird beliefs and, as far as Marie was concerned—but for the vampires—the real Romania was scarcely less outlandish.
The Royal world she knew and left behind while still little more than a child was an entirely different proposition, and did nothing to prepare her for the realities of her married life.
MARIE WAS ONE of five children, brought up by their mother, Duchess Marie of Edinburgh, daughter of the Tsar of Russia, with a curious mixture of strictness and rumbustious freedom.
With her brother Alfred and three sisters, Victoria Melita, Alexandra and Beatrice, Marie imbibed a strict code of behaviour: unfailing punctuality, no emotional displays, no refusing food at table, however unpalatable, and no over-familiarity with elders. The Duchess, who was more concerned with social than with academic attainments, also insisted that her children become adept at table conversation.
This was an area where Marie in particular shone. She was a natural raconteuse and even when quite young could hold the attention of a table full of adults with a good story well told. Marie had all the instincts of an actress and kept her brother and sisters entertained with dramatic renderings of fairy tales, using as props whatever came to hand—a tablecloth or curtain for a Royal robe, or the serviettes to imitate the flight of mythical birds.
However strict she was in other ways, the Duchess of Edinburgh never stunted her children's urge for self-expression. They were allowed to play pirates or cowboys and Indians, climb trees, get scratched and dirty, run about in the sunshine and become tanned,
Even slide about in the mud of Queen Victoria's aviary hill at Buckingham Palace. All this was extraordinary at a time when girls, princesses most of all, were supposed to be delicate, diffident creatures too tender to be exposed to rough and tumble.
Marie's childhood, as was inevitable, turned her into a tomboy and instilled in her a great love of personal freedom which she never relinquished. It also gave unfettered rein to her romantic imagination which filled her head with dreams of handsome princes on white chargers and endings that were, of course, always happy ever after.
This, and her total innocence of the realities of marriage and sex—also her mother's doing—gave Marie an exalted concept of men. She tended to see them as gallant knights, and was always seeking the great soul-mate and the thrill of passion without its brutality.
The circumstances of her life as a princess of great beauty and fine lineage encouraged these idealistic dreams. She became accustomed early on to admiration, first from relations and friends, then from young bucks with appreciative eyes for her fair-haired loveliness, marvellous blue eyes and shapely figure. As a natural flirt with much of the coquette about her, Marie found it easy to stoke this ardour, and to fall in and out of love with no hearts seriously broken.
She was too kind-hearted to want anyone to get hurt on her behalf, but too young and carefree to realise that, with certain more sensitive young men, she caused hurt just the same.
The young Winston Churchill fell for her and so did her Russian second cousin, Grand Duke George Mikhailovitch. Churchill, himself a great romantic, was content to worship from afar and Russian George, though he proposed marriage, was disappointed but not devastated when he was turned down. It was English George, the future George V, who was really put out when, in a letter dictated by her mother, Marie told him she could not marry him.
George and Marie were first cousins, and had known each other since childhood, enjoying a specially close and loving relationship which somehow led George to presume that marriage was a natural consequence once Marie, ten years his junior, was old enough.
Marie's mother, as always, had other ideas. For a start, she disapproved of the marriage of first cousins even though many such unions, including that of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, had proved both successful and healthy. For seconds, the Duchess hated England and her Royal in-laws and had no intention of forging through her daughter a link that would make her the mother of a future English Queen Consort.
Instead, Marie's mother had her eye on Ferdinand of Romania, a country where her hated in-laws had Royal connections, but no influence.
FERDINAND HIMSELF was hardly prepossessing. At twenty-seven, he was handsome enough in his stolid fashion, but also timid, unimaginative and completely under the thumb of his overhearing uncle, King Carol.
Shortly before the Duchess of Edinburgh began to consider him as a future son-in-law, Ferdinand gave a characteristic example of how easily he could be squashed. With barely a squeak in his own defence, he gave up Helene Vacarescu, a Romanian, when Carol forbade the match. Ostensibly, the choice for Ferdinand had been Helene or the throne, but he knew what the score was. Though he genuinely loved Helene he was far too frightened of Carol to defy him by choosing her.
The attempt to bring about this ill-starred union had been largely the work of Carol's wife, Queen Elisabeth, better known by her pen-name, Carmen Sylva. Elisabeth was undoubtedly the most weird character Marie was to encounter in Romania, or anywhere else.
Far gone in eccentricity, she dabbled in spiritualism, levitation and faith-healing and believed Helene was the reincarnation of her only child, a daughter who had died, aged four, in 1874. Elisabeth wore lifelong mourning for the child, whom she commemorated in high-flown poetry, and she was also given to wandering about in flowing white robes and veils, playing the violin to the fir trees close to the Royal mountain palace at Sinaia.
When Carol destroyed her plans for Ferdinand and Helene, Elisabeth's was typically exaggerated. She fled Romania, taking Helene with her and did not come back for three years. However, her well-known peculiarities did enable Carol to assure Queen Victoria that Helene had been nothing but a fantasy creation of Elisabeth's. Victoria, who was worried that her grand-daughter Marie might ally herself with a man in love with someone else, believed him.
Once her grandmother gave her approval, there was no turning back for Marie. Her engagement to Ferdinand was announced in June 1892, and the marriage took place at Sigmaringen on 10th January, 1893. Marie's mood was one of trepidation, common to those about to step into the unknown. She hardly knew Ferdinand but had already sensed a sadness about him that derived from his position—he would have termed it "plight"—as heir to his domineering uncle.
The newly crowned King and Queen in procession under the Royal Canopy borne by a guard of honour after their coronation in the Romanian capital of Bucarest. In the Twenties, the new Queen took upon herself the role of her adopted country's greatest publicist.
ROMANIA HAD been pictured for Marie by Ferdinand's aide-de-camp as a beautiful romantic land, full of picturesque villages and people waiting en masse to love and admire her as their future queen.
However, Marie, working only on instinct, did not quite believe him but was too naive and innocent, as yet, to pin down the true significance of her own, and her father's doubts.
It was not long before doubt began to become certainty. Marie arrived with Ferdinand in Bucarest, the Romanian capital, in a state of stage fright, which was calmed to an extent by the welcome she received. Bands played, cannon saluted, crowds cheered, bouquets, flowers and kisses rained on the beautiful grand-daughter of the Queen of England and the Tsar of Russia who was to bring prestige to the Romanian throne which, till now, it had signally lacked.
All the same, once the celebrations were over and Marie retired with Ferdinand to their apartment in King Carol's palace, she could cling only to her one consolation, a box of nicknacks she had brought with her from home.
They were typical child's treasures and the souvenirs of the life she had so reluctantly left behind. The box contained photographs of Rosenau Castle in her father's Duchy of Coburg, a cutting from the tail of her favourite pony, mementoes from Venice and Malta, where Marie had flirted with English cousin George on carefree picnics, and a crystal clock George had given her. It was inscribed to "Darling Missy", Marie's family nickname, at Christmas 1891.
As Marie quickly discovered, the box and its sentimental contents were all she could call her own in Romania. Everything else was taken over by King Carol. The newlyweds' apartment, hideously decorated and poorly furnished, was his creation. The lack of companionship and absence of a social life was his idea of early married life. Accustomed to controlling Ferdinand at will, Carol presumed he could do the same with Marie and forbade her favourite activity, riding, refused to let her drive out into Bucarest, and kept her from any contact with its inhabitants.
The king was not all iron, though. With no children of his own, he simply did not understand the needs of young people. However, even when this was pointed out to him, and he made an effort to provide Marie with entertainment, his choices revealed his limitations yet again. Carol organised tea parties with the wives of court officials, a tour of Bucarest's fortresses and visits to a nearby monastery and convent—hardly the sort of thing to delight the heart of a seventeen year-old girl.
Already, by the Spring of 1893, Marie knew she was pregnant. At first, she felt resentful and more trapped than ever before. She was insulted, somehow. to find that her chief use to Romania was to provide heirs to the throne. This, though, was by no means the end of it. After her first son, Carol, was born on 15th October 1893, she realised that he was just as much public property as she.
King Carol once again took over and, without consulting either of the new parents, chose a wet-nurse for the infant prince, his governess, servants, nursery-maids and other attendants. Later on, Carol chose his namesake's tutors and aides as well.
For Marie, these people had sinister significance as Carol's spies in her household, and she had little doubt that she was the one they were set to watch. English princesses had a reputation in Europe for bringing forward-looking ideas or—horror of horrors—democratic influences to their husbands' countries and they were disliked and feared for it.
Marie's aunt, Vicky, had been the first example and Carol, having virtually made his kingdom single-handed, had no intention of seeing his work disturbed by a little minx with liberal ideas. Carol need not have worried. Marie had nothing of Vicky's intellectual weight and her education, compared to Vicky's, had been minimal.
The then Duke and Duchess of York (above) with Queen Marie at the christening of her grandson, Peter, in 1923. Marie's husband, King Ferdinand, stands behind her and the other couple in the picture are the King of Yugoslavia and the Queen of Greece. Ferdinand had come to the throne of Romania the year before.
As a child, Marie had shown all the instincts of an actress and it flowered in Romania where she chose brilliantly embroidered peasant dress for daywear.
MARIE, NEEDLESS to say, became extremely unhappy. Ferdinand gave her no support and their only common interests, photography and flowers were hardly enough to forge a strong relationship between them.
Even her children—and Marie had six in all—were insufficient compensation for a spirit that yearned to be free rather than a mere appendage to the might of King Carol. Even so, it was several years before Marie, unable to bottle up her love of freedom any longer, began whittling away at the king's control.
Carol had forbidden her to ride. Marie stunned both him and the Court by riding astride, breaking all precedent and all priggish concepts of what was seemly for a woman on horseback.
Carol restricted her journeys outside Romania. Marie responded by turning one permitted visit, to Russia in 1896, into a triumph where she and her sister Victoria Melita were belles of the ball, enslaving every likely young man in sight despite the fact that both of them were wives and mothers by this time.
The golden-haired Marie and the dark, intense Victoria Melita were an entrancing pair, and all the admiration they received went to their heads. However, the sisters, always close to one another, had something much more fundamental in common as well.
Victoria, like Marie, was discontented with her husband, Grand Duke Ernest of Hesse-Darmstadt, whom she had married in 1894, and had done what Marie had not yet dared—she had taken a lover, the Russian Grand Duke Cyril. Later on, after a scandalous divorce, Victoria married him.
Marie, more strictly controlled by circumstance than her sister, never went quite that far but after 1897, when Victoria Melita spent four months with her, she made what amounted to a unilateral declaration of dependence. She embarked on the first of her many extramarital romances, with a long-time admirer, Lieutenant Zizi Cantacuzino. It was, apparently, a very platonic affair punctuated by candlelit dances, riding through the woods, holding hands and much mutual gazing into eyes.
Prudence had never been Marie's forte and within a couple of years, the Cantacuzino affair was public property, fuelled to a peak of speculation by the fact that Marie was pregnant with her third child. At this juncture, King Carol, egged on by Queen Victoria, stepped into smother the scandal by exiling Cantacuzino and packing Marie off to home and mother in Coburg. There, on 11th January 1900, Marie gave birth to a daughter, another Marie.
After she returned to Romania three months later, Marie lay low for a time, realising at last how heedlessly she had compromised herself. Restraint, however, was too foreign to her nature and in 1902, when she and Ferdinand went to England for the coronation of her uncle, King Edward VII, she was soon up to her impulsive tricks again.
This time, it was with a young American, Waldorf Astor. History, still all too recent, began to repeat itself. Astor was handsome, charming, witty, attentive, and Marie undoubtedly fell in love with him. The affair was still going strong in 1903 when Marie gave birth to her fourth child, Nicolas, and Ferdinand, in his turn, was finding solace elsewhere.
Tongues wagged with rumours that Nicolas—in fact, a mirror image of Ferdinand—was Waldorf Astor's son. What the gossips ignored was the fact that Marie was equally close with Waldorf's sister, Pauline Astor, who did even more than her brother to provide her Royal friend with shared mutual interests and a sympathetic ear for her many troubles.
The Astor relationships ended in the most natural way, with the marriages of both brother and sister. In 1906, when Waldorf's forthright American wife, Nancy, discovered that Marie was writing to him every day, she put an end to the correspondence.
Fortunately for Marie, she had a new set of friends among the Romanian aristocracy by this time, and was able to depend on them for the closeness and support she craved. She thrived on sympathetic attention, which fed her childlike personal vanity, and found it particularly with the Stirbeys, her friend Princess Nadeje and Nadeje's husband Prince Barbu, and his sister Princess Marthe Bibescu.
It was only a matter of time, though, before Barbu Stirbey emerged as the new love of Marie's life. He was just the man for it, with his dark Romanian good looks and hypnotic personality. Stirbey, however, was a man of far greater substance than Marie's former admirers—a self-made industrialist and commercial millionaire with a great interest in the political future of Romania. Beauty, in other words, had at least met brains.
In 1907, when Barbu and Marie first became close, the future of Romania looked black. That year there was a peasant rebellion which involved looting and burning on great estates like the Stirbeys' at Buftea, just outside Bucarest. Eventually, the revolt was quelled by new laws that gave the peasants certain land rights. For a time, though, Bucarest was under threat from a 4,000-strong peasant army and wives and children were sent for safety into the countryside.
The Stirbeys and Marie were thrown together at this time of crisis and it was then that Barbu Stirbey made the transition from just another social acquaintance to a strong influence in Marie's life. For the first time she began to learn, from him, about more serious problems—the backwardness of Romania, the gulf between rich and poor, and the perils of socialist revolution that could sweep away the old order and their high-born, privileged class with it.
If somewhat late in the day, Marie was acquiring a social and political conscience. What Barbey could not give her, though, was personal experience of the real, cruel world outside the gilded Royal portals which, till now, had bounded Marie's existence. This Marie acquired for herself in the Balkan War of 1912, when she witnessed suffering or a large scale in field hospitals close to the fighting fronts.
Marie was appalled to see men dying on stretchers from unbandaged wounds, or burning with cholera, unwashed, unfed and untended. Sights like these turned a woman many—including perhaps herself—considered a vain little flirt into a campaigner of missionary zeal.
Heedless of discomfort, dirt and the danger of infection, Marie toured the ramshackle rooms that passed for wards, brought in cigarettes, food and other comforts for the men and sat by cholera victims as they fought the live-or-die crisis of the disease. The experience was horrific, but cathartic. Marie emerged from it with a new resolve to be of service to her country and with the courage to face any adversity that came her way.
The metamorphosis of Marie came just in time. In October 1914, King Carol died and Ferdinand ascended the throne of Romania. At once, he was confronted with an emergency. The First World War had begun only two months before and Ferdinand, shrinking from the chance that Romania might be drawn in against his birthplace, Germany, fought hard for neutrality.
Events were against him. In 1916, when the Russians, advancing westward, thrashed the Germans and their Austrian allies in Transylvania, Romanians saw a chance of retrieving their original homeland.
Ferdinand could not resist the tide of national sentiment, and was obliged to sign a declaration of war at the end of August. It was a fearful mistake. Once the Germans and Austrians had recovered their equilibrium, the Romanian army was thrashed in one defeat after another, until the hospitals in Bucarest were filled with wounded men, and the victims of German air raids on the capital. Marie set up her own hospital in the grounds of the Royal Palace, and tirelessly toured this and other hospitals, serving meals, providing comforts and carrying armfuls of blankets to warm the patients as a bitter, freezing winter set in.
Tragedy also struck directly at her at this dramatic time. In November 1916, her youngest son, Prince Mircea, died of typhoid, aged three. It was, however, typical of the new, stronger and more valiant Marie that she forced herself to work through her grief. She went out to bring aid to villages stricken by an outbreak of typhus in 1917 and toured the war front where she sat with the soldiers in foxholes filled with mud and water. By this time, just over a year after entering the War, the Romanian cause was hopeless. The Bolshevik revolution removed Romania's ally, Tsarist Russia, and her army was clearly unable to fight on alone.
There was talk of Marie, Ferdinand and their children fleeing for safety to England, but Marie refused to leave. She was all for resistance at any cost—and to the last. It never came to that. Romania surrendered on 6th December, 1917, and a pro-German government was installed which Marie stoutly refused to recognise.
But there was no play-acting involved when she set up her own hospital in the Palace grounds for victims of German air raids on the capital Bucarest, during the First World War.
HER STAND WAS reported, with much pride, in the British press which called her "the living centre of Romania in exile under the shadow of defeat." American papers put it more dramatically: "Romanian Queen defies Kaiser!" screamed their headlines.
Eventually, within a year, the need for Marie's defiance was removed. In November 1918, the German war effort in western Europe collapsed and Germany surrendered.
Meanwhile, a family scandal had arisen which eclipsed any of Marie's actual or rumoured love affairs. In September 1918, 25-year old Prince Carol married a Romanian society girl, Zizi Lambrino, in German-held Odessa, on the Russian Black Sea coast. Ferdinand and Marie were horrified. Not only had Carol flouted the law which barred Royals from marrying Romanians, but he had done so with the aid of his country's enemies. What was more, he had deserted his regiment, a capital offence.
The mild-mannered Ferdinand, for once roused to near manic fury, sent an aide to bring Carol home and clapped him into confinement at Bistriza monastery high up in the mountains. There were terrible scenes when parents and son confronted each other. Ferdinand accused Carol of treachery. Marie spoke of personal betrayal. Carol loudly defended Zizi and their marriage was annulled in January 1919. To compound the whole sorry affair, Zizi was pregnant at the time.
Carol was bundled off a world tour to "forget" and the cure seemed to work. Shortly after his return to Romania, he proposed to, and was accepted by, Princess Helene of Greece. "Carol is saved!" Marie exulted, believing, like so many Royal mothers before her, that a good marriage was rogue's salvation.
What she could not know was that Carol was rotten through and through, and that, within a mere five years, he would desert Helene and Romania for yet another and far more damaging love.
Marie evolved into the next stage in her life, as mother-in-law and grandmother, without essentially changing or making any concession to the supposed dignities of mature years. She was still coquettish, still beautiful, and still theatrical. She went in for large sweeping gestures and dazzling smiles and indulged her still vibrant romantic sense in her own special dress—brilliantly embroidered peasant frocks for day, and flowing veils and robes for evening. Marie could afford the flamboyance.
After the War, she was a national heroine, and had emerged as what she always wanted to be—a personality in her own right.
In the 1920s, Marie embarked on a career of her own as Romania's greatest publicist. She ventured into print in syndicated columns for foreign newspapers with her opinions about men, marriage, fashion, beauty and, more seriously, women's rights and the lives and aspirations of Romanians. In 1925, she used her fiftieth birthday as fresh copy, and wrote an article entitled "Facing Fifty".
The following year she toured the United States, where she parried the questions of inquisitive reporters with witty one-liners and thrilled crowds from coast to coast with appearances worthy of a major screen star.
Marie spent nearly two months in America, but the adulation she had received there was cancelled out completely as soon as she set foot again in Europe. Ferdinand, she learned, was dying. He had already been ill, but not dangerously so, when she left for America, but within a few weeks had deteriorated so greatly that he could do little but shuffle painfully about in robe and slippers.
To compound matters, Ferdinand's condition was causing a national crisis. Hungary and Russia were making threatening noises and preparing to invade just as Romania was losing a king who would be replaced on the throne, not by Prince Carol, but by Michael, the six year-old son of Carol and Helene.
Marie's son Carol was power-mad, paranoid and dangerous. But like so many Royal mothers before her, she thought that a good marriage would be the rogue's salvation.
Queen Marie leaving London's Ritz Hotel (top) on her last visit to Britain in 1936, a period in which she was virtually in semi-exile because of the actions of her son, King Carol.
Her trip to the United States in 1926 was a great success when she was treated like a major filmstar and admitted into the Sioux Indian nation as a "war woman" at a ceremony in the Sioux reservation in North Dakota. The Sioux chief, Red Tomahawk, gave her the name of "The Woman Who Was Waited For".
An earlier, happier moment (top right) as she cuddles her grand-daughter, Princess Alexandra of Hapsburg.
THIS WAS THE consequence of Carol's latest escapade. In 1925, after attending the funeral of Queen Alexandra, Edward VII’s widow, in London, he failed to return home, but headed instead for Paris where he joined his mistress, one Elena Lupescu.
The couple decamped for Italy a week later, and Carol notified his father that once again he was renouncing his position as Crown Prince. This time, his resignation was accepted and Prince Michael, then four, was proclaimed heir in his father's place.
By the time Michael stood on the brink of succession two years later, the threats from Hungary and Russia made a prospective child-king, controlled by a regency, a recipe for disaster. As a grown man, Carol, whatever his sins and his betrayals, was preferable. Michael was nevertheless proclaimed king on 19th July 1927, the day after his grandfather died.
Carol meanwhile kept well away from Romania, where the foreign threats of invasion fortunately lapsed. By 1930, though, the country was once more imperilled—this time by rising fascism, the effects of the worldwide economic depression and the complete inability of the Prime Minister, Juliu Maniu, to cope.
It was Maniu who started a buck-passing exercise, planning to get Carol back so as to offload the country's problems onto him. Carol, for his part, saw his moment and on 6th June 1930 he flew back to Bucarest. That afternoon, he was proclaimed King Carol II and young Michael was demoted to Crown Prince.
It took only a short while for Juliu Maniu to realise the enormity of what he had done. Carol had returned not for the good of Romania, but for revenge. Almost as soon as he was installed, he embarked on an orgy of persecution and harrassment of all those he hated. Barbu Stirbey, whom Carol had loathed ever since he became Marie's ally and confidante, was exiled. His ex-wife Helene was spied on, her house was ransacked and searched and she, too, was eventually thrown out of the country.
Marie, now very vulnerable with Stirbey gone, was deprived of the money and property Ferdinand had left her, and—greatest insult of all—had to stand by and see Carol bring back his mistress Lupescu, in triumph.
It was an unbelievable nightmare. Carol even turned on Princess Ileana, the sister who had always been closest to him, and Marie, feeling threatened as never before, fled to France and Germany taking Ileana with her. For a long time, Marie had deceived herself, as mothers will, that Carol's cruelty was the work of his disreputable associates—like Puiu Dumitrescu, a pimp and playboy, or Elena Lupescu, who was filling posts at the Royal Court with her grasping friends and relatives.
Carol's cruelties, however, at last revealed to his mother what he was—paranoid, power-mad and dangerous. Even now, though, Marie could not abandon Carol entirely, and never los the hope that one day, he would change, take her back and accord he the honours the mother of a king deserved. As she waited in this brave but futile hope, Marie occupied herself with her grandchildren, her riding, her garden, the publication of her autobiography, and with her latest admirer, the devoted General Zwiedineck.
The time for hope was, however running out. In April 1937, Carol struck yet again and exiled his brother Nicolas, Marie's favourite son, together with his wife. News of this latest act of wickedness struck Marie particularly hard, for she had fallen ill, with liver problems. She was ordered complete rest, but steadily grew worse until by the summer of 1938 she realised she was dying. She wanted to go home to Romania and in mid-July left the Dresden sanatorium where she was being treated to return to Bucarest.
She had to go by trail because Carol had refused to send an aircraft for a quicker, more comfortable journey. Marie almost died on the train when the lurching of the carriage brought on a haemorrhage, but she survived and reached Sinaia on 18th July.
As she lay in the old nursery in the Palace, Carol, her daughter Lisabetta and Carol's son Michael, gathered round her. Over and over again, Marie called for Nicolas and Ileana, her favourite children, and for General Zwiedineck. Carol, cruel to the last, stopped Zwiedineck from entering the room, and delayed contacting his brother and sister until Marie went into a coma at five in the afternoon. Half an hour later, she died.
When Barbu Stirbey, living in exile in Switzerland, asked for permission to return for Marie's funeral, Carol predictably refused to let him come. This, however, was the only act of posthumous revenge he was allowed.
What Carol could not control was the heartfelt grief that swept Romania at Marie's death. Bucarest turned out in mauve, the mourning colour she had requested, and all along the rail line taking her to the cemetery at Curtea de Arges, peasants knelt in prayer. And at every station along the line, crowds waited to throw so many flowers that the coffin of the Queen they had long called "Mamma Regina" almost disappeared, smothered in its coverlet of flowers.
For readers who want to read more on Queen Marie, Brenda Ralph Lewis recommends these books which should be available from libraries and good bookshops—The Story Of My Life by Queen Marie (3 volumes, Cassell 1934-35); Marie of Romania: The Intimate Life of a 20th Century Queen by Terence Elsberry (Cassell 1972).