Michael, King of the Romanians, Prince of Hohenzollern (born October 25, 1921), reigned as King of the Romanians (Maiestatea Sa Mihai I Regele Românilor, literally "His Majesty Michael I King of the Romanians") from July 20, 1927 to June 8, 1930, and again from September 6, 1940, until forced to abdicate by the communists backed up by orders of Stalin to the Soviet armies of occupation on December 30, 1947. A great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria and a third cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, he is one of the last surviving heads of state from World War II, the others being Simeon II of Bulgaria and King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia.
King Michael I was the last monarch behind the Iron Curtain to lose his throne. At the end of the war, King Michael I was awarded the highest degree (Chief Commander) of the Legion of Merit by U.S. President Harry S. Truman. He was also decorated with the Soviet Order of Victory by Joseph Stalin "for the courageous act of the radical change in Romania's politics towards a break-up from Hitler's Germany and an alliance with the United Nations, at the moment when there was no clear sign yet of Germany's defeat," according to the official description of the decoration. However, according to both Encyclopedia Britannica and the Albanian Communist leader Enver Hoxha, King Michael surrendered in a situation in which he could do nothing else, when the Soviet conquest had become inevitable. It is rather for his surrender that he was awarded the Order of Victory according to Hoxha.
In November, 1947 King Michael I travelled to London for the wedding of the future Queen Elizabeth II, an occasion during which he met Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma, who was to become his wife. According to unconfirmed claims by so-called Romanian 'royalists', King Michael did not want to return home, but certain Americans and Britons present at the wedding encouraged him to do so; Winston Churchill is said to have counseled Michael to return because "above all things, a King must be courageous." According to his own account, King Michael rejected any offers of asylum and decided to return to Romania, contrary to the confidential, strong advice of the British Ambassador to Romania.
However, on December 30th 1947, King Michael I was forced at gun point by Petru Groza to abdicate Romania's throne in his own Royal Pallace which was surrounded by the communist government's numerous secret police forces. Later the same day, the communist-dominated government announced the 'permanent' abolition of the monarchy and its replacement by a People's Republic, broadcasting the King's pre-recorded radio proclamation of his own abdication. On January 3 1948, Michael was forced to leave the country, followed over a week later by Princesses Elisabeth and Ileana, who collaborated so closely with the Russians that they became known as the King's "Red Aunts.
There are several accounts as to why King Michael I abdicated. As recounted by Michael himself, the communist prime-minister Petru Groza had threatened him at gun point and blackmailed him that the government was to shoot 1,000 arrested students if King Michael didn't abdicate. In an interview with The New York Times from 2007, Michael recalls the events: “It was blackmail. They said, ‘If you don’t sign this immediately we are obliged’ — why obliged I don’t know — 'to kill more than 1,000 students' that they had in prison.” According to Time magazine, the communist government threatened Michael that it would arrest thousands and steep the country in blood if he did not abdicate.
But according to the book Special Tasks: The Memoirs of an Unwanted Witness -- A Soviet Spymaster, the autobiography of the former leader of the Soviet intelligence agency NKVD, major general Pavel Sudoplatov, the deputy Soviet foreign minister Andrey Vyshinsky personally conducted negotiations with King Michael for his abdication, guaranteeing part of a pension to be paid to Michael in Mexico. According to a few articles in Jurnalul Naţional, Michael's abdication was the result of his negotiations with the Communist government, not of a blackmail, which allowed him to leave the country accompanied by the goods he requested and by some of the royal retinue.
According to the Albanian communist leader Enver Hoxha, who recounts his conversations with the Romanian communist leaders on the king's abdication, King Michael was threatened with a pistol by the Romanian Communist Party leader Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej rather than Petru Groza so as to abdicate- which has no factual evidence. He was allowed to leave the country accompanied by some of his Entourage and, as confirmed also by the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev recounting Dej's confessions, with whatever properties he desired, including gold and rubies. Hoxha does say in his book that the Romanian communist leaders had threatened King Michael with their loyal army troops, which had encircled the royal palace and its troops loyal to King Michael.
According to Time magazine, in early 1948 there had been (unconfirmed) negotiations between King Michael and the communist government over the properties he left behind in Romania and those negotiations delayed his denunciation of the abdication as illegal.
There are reports that Romanian communist authorities, obedient to Stalin, allowed King Michael to part with 42 valuable Crown-owned paintings in November 1947, so that he would leave Romania faster. Some of these paintings were reportedly sold through the famed art dealer Daniel Wildenstein. One of the paintings belonging to the Romanian Crown which was supposedly taken out of the country by King Michael in November 1947, returned to Romania in 2004 as a donation made by John Kreuger, the former husband of King Michael's daughter Princess Irina.
In 2005 Romanian Prime Minister Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu denied these accusations about King Michael, stating that the Romanian government has no proof of any such action by King Michael and that, prior to 1949, the government had no official records of any artwork taken over from the former royal residences. However, according to some historians, such records existed as early as April 1948, having been, in fact, officially published in June 1948.
According to Ivor Porter's authorized biography, "Michael of Romania: The King and The Country" (2005), which quotes Queen-Mother Helen's daily diary, the Romanian royals took out paintings belonging to the Romanian Royal Crown on their November 1947 trip to London to the wedding of the future Queen Elizabeth II; two of these paintings, signed by El Greco, were sold in 1976.
According to recently declassified Foreign Office documents, when he left Romania, the exiled king Michael's only assets amounted to 500,000 Swiss francs. Recently declassified Soviet transcripts of talks between Joseph Stalin and the Romanian Prime-Minister Petru Groza show that shortly before his abdication, King Michael received from the communist government assets amounting to 500,000 Swiss francs. King Michael, however, repeatedly denied that the communist government had allowed him to take into exile any financial assets or valuable goods besides four personal automobiles loaded on two train cars.
In January 1948, Michael began using one of his family's ancestral titles, "Prince of Hohenzollern," instead of using the title of "King of Romania." After denouncing his abdication as forced and illegal in March 1948, Michael resumed use of the kingly title.
On 10 June 1948 in Athens, Greece, he married Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma (b. Paris, 18 September 1923). They lived first in Britain and later settled in Switzerland. The Communist Romanian authorities illegally stripped him of his Romanian citizenship in 1948. He became a commercial pilot and worked for an aircraft equipment company. He and his wife have five daughters.
In 1992, three years after the revolution which overthrew the Communist dictatorship, the Romanian government allowed Michael to return to his country for Easter celebrations, where he drew large crowds. In Bucharest over a million people turned out to see him. Michael's popularity alarmed the government of President Ion Iliescu so Michael was forbidden to visit Romania again for five years. In 1997, after Iliescu's defeat by Emil Constantinescu, the Romanian Government restored Michael's citizenship and again allowed him to visit the country. He now lives partly in Switzerland at Aubonne and partly in Romania, either at his Săvârşin castle in Arad county or in an official residence in Bucharest—the Elisabeta Palace—voted by the Romanian Parliament by a law concerning arrangements for former heads of state.
Michael has the following children:
Both Elena and Irina have sons as well as daughters. Sofia, whose marriage was not accepted by her father, has a daughter.
For further details, see the genealogical listing.
According to the succession provisions of the Romanian kingdom's last democratically approved monarchical constitution of 1923, upon the death of King Michael without sons, the claim to the Crown devolves once again upon the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen family, (see "Line of succession to the Romanian throne").
However, on December 30, 2007, on the 60th anniversary of his abdication, King Michael signed the Fundamental Rules of the Royal Family of Romania, by which he designated Princess Margarita as heiress to the throne with the titles of "Crown Princess of Romania" and "Custodian of the Romanian Crown." On the same occasion, Michael also asked the Romanian Parliament that, should it consider restoring the monarchy, it should also abolish the salic law of succession.
Michael has undertaken some quasi-diplomatic roles on behalf of post-communist Romania. In 1997 and 2002 he toured Western Europe, lobbying for Romania's admission into NATO and the European Union, and was received by heads of state and government officials.
In December 2003, to the "stupefaction of the public opinion in Romania", Michael awarded the "Man of The Year 2003 prize to the then Prime Minister Adrian Năstase, leader of the PSD party, on behalf of the tabloid "VIP." The daily "Evenimentul Zilei" subsequently complained that 'such an activity was unsuited to a king and that Michael was wasting away his prestige', with the majority of the political analysts 'considering his gesture as a fresh abdication'. One notes that such commentaries implicitly admit that Michael is still a king, albeit without his throne, and that they would like to retain the status quo on the 'basis' of unproven speculations which are often repeated that "he might be unfit to rule again as a parliamentary king".
Michael is passionate about cars, especially military jeeps. He is also interested in airplanes, having worked as a commercial flight pilot during his exile.
On May 10 2007, King Michael received the Prague Society for International Cooperation and Global Panel's 6th Annual Hanno R. Ellenbogen Citizenship Award, previously awarded to Vladimir Ashkenazy, Madeleine Albright, Václav Havel, Lord Robertson, and Miloš Forman. On April 8, 2008, King Michael and Patriarch Daniel were elected as Honorary Members of the Romanian Academy.
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