Michael of Romania by Ivor Porter
Michael of Romania by Ivor Porter is a great book. Full title: Michael of Romania The King and The Country by Ivor Porter. I’ve decided to read it after King Michael passed away last December and I found this book at the central library. I didn’t expect to find a book about King Michael considering our public library in Liverpool is not the biggest in the country. This is going to be a long post, but only a short summary of the book.
King Carol I became the first King of Romania, in 1866, even if the country was still under Turkish suzerainty. He was succeeded by his nephew King Ferdinand I. He married Queen Marie, granddaughter of Queen Victoria. In 1914 Ferdinand becomes King. Four years later, Carol, his son, marries a commoner and has a son with her. His marriage is annulled and he marries Helen of Greece in 1921. In the same year, Michael is born. Carol exiled himself in 1925 with his mistress, after he renounced the throne. In 1927 King Ferdinand dies and Michael becomes King. Three years later Carol will become King after there were issues with the regency.
Aged only 15, Michael represented Romania at the Coronation of King George VI in London, living at Buckingham Palace. A few years later, under pressure from Hitler and Stalin, King Carol II gave away parts of Romania in 1940, even before Romania joined the war. Carol II abdicates in September 1940 and Michael becomes King. His prerogatives were even less than his fathers’ before him. General Antonescu was the one who ran the country. After his father left Romania, his mother was invited back, after living for 8 years in exile.
In 1941 Romania joined the war as an ally for Germany as General Antonescu wanted, without asking King Michael. Both Hitler and Antonescu thought King Michael was too young to rule and didn’t take him seriously. He and his mother intervened on behalf of Romania’s persecuted Jews and established secret links with the allies. Later that year, he was forced to meet with Mussolini and Hitler (link to my review of Mein Kampf).
In 1943, King Michael talked against the Germans in his speech. On 23rd August 1944, he organized a coup d’etat, arrested Antonescu and others pro-Nazi generals and ministers. After that, Russians practically invaded Romania. As both Britain and U.S. where not interested in Romania, King Michael had to deal with pressure from the Soviet Russia on his own.
I remember bits from what my grandfather told me. He was a teenager during WWII. He, as other Romanians, felt like it was a German invasion, followed by a Russian invasion. It didn’t feel like they were allies. He said the Germans were nice and polite, giving chocolate bars to children, unlike the Russians. The Russians were renowned for their stealing. When I talked with my husband, he recalled similar stories told by his grandmother, that lived in a different region of the country. The sad part is that this happened after Romania joined the US, UK, and Russia.
King Michael appealed to the British and American government, but didn’t receive any help from them. Roosevelt died in 1945 and Churchill lost his ministerial position in the same year. On 8th November 1945, people gathered in Bucharest in a pro-King demonstration for his name-day. The communists interfered and attacked the people, resulting in 13 people dead and many injured. In December that year, a Russian colonel ordered 12 Romanian soldiers to draw to decide which of them is going to kill King Michael. The one that had to do it, decided to kill himself instead. He left a suicide note to his family. The Russian colonel was later killed, nobody was charged for his death.
On 17th May 1946, after a very short trial, Antonescu and a few other prisoners were sentenced to death. The King appealed for commutation of the sentences. All the prisoners except Antonescu asked for a royal pardon. The Russians agreed with pardons for only 3 of them. Antonescu was executed by a military firing squad on 1st June 1946.
In 1946, King Michael signed a decrees lowering the age for electors and opening the candidature to women. Elections took place in November, with an official result that the communists have won. The reality is that, even with their forceful interventions, they, in reality got at least 20% less votes than it was mentioned in the results. As UK and US didn’t protest, nothing happened. King Michael was forced to accept the results, as he had no support. Not opening the Parliament could have ended in war with Russia. The Peace Treaty was signed on 10th February 1947.
A few months later, on 10th May 1947, King Michael received the US Legion of Merit in recognition of his services to the Allied Power against Hitler. Surprisingly, the King and his mother were able to attend the wedding of Elizabeth and Phillip at Buckingham Palace in November. King Michael flew the plane to Heathrow himself. They stayed at Claridge’s. Members of the family told them not to return to Romania. At the wedding, King Michael met Anne, Princess of Bourbon Parma. They were supposed to meet before, but due to the political situation in Romania, the visit was cancelled. She joined the army, and trained as a nurse and mechanic. She served in war on different fronts and was awarded the Croix de Guerre. Firstly she didn’t want to go to the wedding, but was convinced by her cousin.
They spent a few days together and, then, he asked her to marry him. Princess Anne waited to be sure, but, on 6th December, they were unofficially engaged.
Peles Castle. Picture from my personal archive.
On 21st December, King Michael and Queen Helen were back in Romania. On 30th December, King Michael signed the abdication under duress, called from Peles under false pretence. He was blackmailed that young students that protested against the communist party would be executed. His life and his mother’s life were in danger too. The staff was under arrest while the communists were talking with the King.
Details from Peles Castle. Pictures from my personal archive.
The communist propaganda said that he had received a large sum of money and that he abdicated in order to be able to marry. That was obviously absurd, as his future wife was a princess. Even after revolution in 1989 these things were told. They also said that the King left the country with a train filled with artwork and jewellery. That was untrue.
In exile, the King had to sell some of his cars as the communists didn’t send him the income from his estates in Romania, as they promised. He was offered a guest house near the White House by President Truman, but refused and returned to Europe. After trying to get a dispensation from the Pope, with no avail, King Michael got married in Greece in the Orthodox faith. In less than one year, they had their first child, Princess Margareta.
King Michael tried to set up a National Committee with other Romanian refugees. It wasn’t successful at first, but in a few years a cultural centre opened in Paris. Meanwhile, in Romania, things changed. In 1948 the industry, mining, transport, and banking were nationalized, chunks of Romanian history was edited out of the curriculum. The Gendarmerie was replaced with Militia, and Securitate replaced Siguranta. Militia and Securitate will be means to oppress free speech and people not agreeing with the left-wing politics.
In 1951 King Michael was offered a house, servants, and an annual income in US. He refused. After receiving an invitation from Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, they decided to move to England. They rented a wing in Bramshill Hall, near Reading. They were often invited to Balmoral and Sandrigham. Queen Anne was a childhood friend of Prince Philip and King Michael had a close relation with King George. People in UK believed that Romanian chosen communism.
A year later, they moved to another house as Bramshill Hall was sold. Having a big garden meant they were able to start growing produce that they will sell, like roses and chrysanthemums. The farm continued to grow, with chickens, geese, ducks. Leading a simple and happy life for a while, but still being involved in what happened in Romania. After only a few years, they sold the chickens, and moved to Switzerland for the next four decades. King Michael accepted a job offer as a pilot. In only 2 years the business was sold and he had to find another source of income. He started a business making automated black boxes for barriers at railways crossings and toll stations. He eventually got finance, but it proved difficult, as the Swiss didn’t see the importance of these boxes.
He trained as a broker and worked for nine years at New York Stock Exchange, until 1973. During the 1970s, Princess Margareta studied liberal sciences, sociology, and international law at Edinburgh University, with financial help from a family of friends. Meanwhile, in Romania, after Gheorghiu-Dej’s death in 1965, Ceausescu would assume leadership, becoming president in 1974. He would be received with honours at Buckingham in 1978. In the last 7 years of his presidency he wanted to pay off all the debts. That lead to exporting food, energy to huge costs for the population. Gas, electricity, food were scarce and rationed. Furthermore, abortion and contraception were forbidden. The restrictions didn’t stop Ceausescu demolishing hundreds of houses and 26 churches so the House of the People could be built in their place in 1984. Ceausescu would be president until 1989, when, after a quick trial, he and his wife were executed, on Christmas Day.
The King waited for the new government to invite him. The Romanians though were too dependent on the state to try anything new. The new government was formed from old communists. Nothing changed. On 12 April 1990, King Michael wanted to return to Romania for Easter, after 42 years in exile. He was asked by the Romanian authorities to postpone his trip. Iliescu, left-wing, won the elections with 85%. Demonstrations against the new government were dealt with by miners, brought to Bucharest to “make order”, twice. The aftermath after the second time this happened was 20 dead and 650 injured.
King Michael did his best during this time, speaking about the situation in Romania at different events. King Michael, Queen Anne, Princess Sophie, and Princess Margareta wanted to have a private visit, one day only, during Christmas 1990. On their way to Curtea de Argeș, they were stopped by police with automatic weapons. They were forced to return to the airport under heavy police escort. They had to leave the country with a Romanian military airplane.
In 1992, Iliescu won 61% of votes in the election. Three extremist parties, both left and right, gained seats in Parliament. He said King Michael can come in Romania as a private citizen. The Archbishop of Moldavia invited the King for Easter and he accepted. The Archbishop lead Michael to the door in the Iconostasis, a procedure from the Byzantium which said that only priests and kings were allowed to pass through the door. Several hundred thousands of people gathered in Bucharest to see the King.
The King tried to visit again Romania, but he was denied entrance to Romania in 1993, by the Iliescu government. The Romanian government tried to discredit King Michael and Princess Margareta. They tried to arrange so he was not invited to the 50th anniversary of VE Day in London. In 1996, King Michael said in his 10th May statement that NATO and EU should not isolate Romania in their future plans for expansion.
Princess Margareta met her husband, Radu Duda, in a Romanian hospital where he was rehabilitating children with drama therapy. They got married on 21 September 1996 in Lausanne. Two months later, Iliescu lost the elections. In February 1997, the new government annulled the communist decree and King Michael had his Romanian citizenship back. He visited Romania for a few days and had private discussions with the new, right-wing, government. He lobbied for the integration of Romania in NATO. Clinton and the US offered their support for only three countries: Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland, but he made a visit to Bucharest and said further reforms will pave the way into NATO.
More political struggles happened in Romania. The right-wing government was voted out the following elections, the only alternative was a far-right party. Iliescu won again. Now Iliescu had a mild attitude towards the King and invited him to Romania. The book ends with the elections from 2004.
On 25 October 2011, on the occasion of his 90th birthday, King Michael delivered a speech before the assembled chambers of the Romanian Parliament. In 2016, Queen Anne passed away. On 5th December 2017, King Michael passed away. He was flown in Romania. King Michael was buried on 16 December with full state honours at Curtea de Argeș, beside his wife.
Michael of Romania by Ivor Porter
Details about the picture: The small red table runner is Romanian, so is the plate and the cup. The dessert is called cozonac and it’s a traditional Romanian dessert, made for special occasions, including Christmas, Easter.
My rating: 5/5 Stars.
Would I recommend it: Yes
Published by: Sutton Publishing
Year it was published: 2005
Genre(s): Non-fiction. Biography.
About the author: Ivor Forsyth Porter was British Ambassador. He received royal honours in Romania and United Kingdom. In December 1943, Porter was one of a covert three-man mission that was parachuted into Romania to instigate resistance against the Nazis at “any cost”. The mission was called Operation Autonomous. He was captured and held as prisoner-of-war until King Michael of Romania carried out his anti-German coup d’état, on 23 August 1944. Porter met King Michael that night. He remained in the country during the King’s desperate efforts to prevent Soviet domination.
Website & Social Media Links: twitter account of the Romanian Royal Family