Carol I of Romania, original name Prince Karl Eitel Friedrich Zephyrinus Ludwig of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, later simply of Hohenzollern (April 20th, 1839 - 10 October, 1914), German prince, was elected Domnitor (Prince) of Romania on April 20th, 1866, following the overthrow of Alexandru Ioan Cuza, and proclaimed king on March 26th 1881, with the acquiescence of the Porte and the Turkish Sultan whose armies were defeated in Roumania's 1877 Independence War with the Ottoman Empire by the Roumanian-Russian army under the command of Prince Charles I. He was, then, the first ruler of the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen dynasty which would rule the country until the imposition of a Stalin-directed republic, dictated at gun point in a coup d'etat devised by Dr. Petru Groza whose government was backed up by the Soviet armies of occupation in 1947; this forced abdication (and later exile) of King Michael I of Roumania by his former Soviet allies occurred shortly after the soviet dictator Joseph (Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili) Stalin bestowed the Soviet Order of Victory upon King Michael I for his central role in the overturn of the Germans in Roumania in late August 1944.
During the Independence War of 1877-1878, Prince Charles personally led Roumanian troops, and also assumed command of the Russo-Roumanian army during the siege of Pleven, (in Romanian, Plevna) with the acquiescence of Russia's Czar Alexander II. The country achieved full independence from the Ottoman Empire (Treaty of Berlin, 1878), acquired access to the Black Sea, and later also acquired the Southern part of the Dobruja from Bulgaria in 1913, but lost Bessarabia in 1878 to its Russian 'allies'. Domestic political life, still dominated by the country's wealthy landowning families organised around the rival Liberal and Conservative parties, was punctuated by two widespread peasant uprisings, in Walachia (the southern half of the country) in April 1888 and in Moldavia (the Northern half) in March 1907.
Carol's childlessness left his elder brother Leopold next in line to the throne. In October 1880 Leopold renounced his right of succession in favour of his son William, who in turn surrendered his claim eight years later in favour of his younger brother, the future king Ferdinand.
Although he was quite frail and not very tall, prince Karl was reported to be the perfect soldier, healthy, disciplined, and also a very good politician with liberal ideas. He was familiar with several European languages. His family being closely related to the Bonaparte family (one of his grandmothers was a Beauharnais and the other a Murat), they enjoyed very good relations with Napoleon III of France. Romania was, at the time, under the influence of French culture and Napoleon's recommendation of Prince Karl of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen weighed heavy in the eyes of Romanian politicians of the time, as did his blood relation to the ruling Prussian family. Ion Brătianu was the leading Roumanian statesman who was sent to negotiate with Karl and his family the possibility of installing Karl on the Romanian throne. Ion Brătianu was to meet privately with Prince Karl at Dusseldorf, where he arrived on Good Friday 1866 "to lay the offer of the Roumanian people before Prince Charles and his father. In an audience granted by the latter on the following day, March 31, Brătianu announced the intention of the Lieutenance Princi`ere, inspired by Napoleon III, to advance Prince Charles Anthony's second son, Charles (n'ee Karl), as a candidate for the throne of the Principalities" (p.11, Ch. II of ref. 2 in the Notes.) There he submitted the proposition that Prince Charles become the official ruler ('Domnitorul Romaniei') and Prince of Roumania, that is, of both Vallachia and Moldavia (but not Transylvania, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time). Although Prince Charles may have been favourably inclined, he needed the approval or nodding consent of both Bismark and Napoleon III before providing a definitive and positive answer; "Prince Charles (Karl) replied that he possessed courage enough to accept the offer, but feared that he was not equal to the task, adding that nothing was known of the intentions of the King of Prussia, without whose permission, as chief of the family, he could not take so important a step. He therefore declined for the moment to give any definite answer to the proposals of the Roumanian Government. Brătianu returned to Paris, after promising to take no immediate steps in the matter... on p. 13: Prince Frederick Charles also at once started upon a minute discussion of the Roumanian question. He seemed to be intimately acquainted with the issue, and volunteered the opinion that I (Karl) was intended for better things than to rule tributary Principalities: he therefore advised me to decline the offer." (loc.cit.) Furthermore, the written reply from the King of Prussia to his cousin Prince Charles Anthony's memorial was discouraging: "Two questions still remain undecided: (a) Is there to be a union or not? (b) Is there to be a foreign Prince or not? Russia and the Porte are against the union, but it appears that England will join the majority, and if she decides for the union the Porte will be obliged to submit. In the same way both the former States are opposed to the election of a foreign Prince as the ruler of the Danubian Principalities. I have mentioned this attitude to the Porte, and yesterday we received a message from Russia to say that it was not disposed to agree to the project of your son's election, and that it will demand a resumption of the Conference... All these events prevent the hope of a simple solution. I must therefore urge you to consider these matters again... and we must see whether the Paris Conference will reassemble again. Your faithful Cousin and Friend, WILLIAM. P.S.-- A note received today from the French Ambassador proves that the Emperor Napoleon (III) is favourably inclined to the plan. This is very important. The position will only be tenable if Russia agrees...on account of her professing the same religion and owing to her geographical proximity and old associations... If you are desirous of prosecuting this affair your son must, above all things, gain the consent of Russia. It is true that up to now the prospect of success is remote...". A "most important interview then took place between Count Bismark and Prince Charles (Karl) at the Berlin residence of the former, who was at the time confined to his house by illness. Bismark opened the conversation with the words: 'I have requested your Serene Highness to visit me, not in order to converse with you as a statesman, but quite openly and freely as a friend and an adviser, if I may use the expression. You have been unanimously elected by a nation to rule over them. Proceed at once to the country, to the government of which you have been called!' ...'Ask the King for leave--leave to travel abroad. The King (I know him well) will not be slow to understand, and to see through your intention. You will, moreover, remove the decision out of his hands, a most welcome relief to him, as he is politically tied down. Once abroad, you resign your commission (in the Prussian army of the King), and proceed to Paris, where you will ask the Emperor (Napoleon III) for a private interview.' " (loc.cit.).)
Young Karl had to travel incognito on the railroad Düsseldorf-Bonn-Freiburg-Zürich-Vienna-Budapest, due to the conflict between his country and the Austrian Empire. He travelled under the name of Karl Hettingen. As he stepped on Romanian soil, Brătianu bowed before him and asked him to join him in the carriage (at that time, Romania didn't have a railroad system).
On 10 May 1866, Karl entered Bucharest. The news of his arrival had been transmitted through telegraph and he was welcomed by a huge crowd eager to see its new ruler. In Băneasa he was handed the key to the city. As a proverbial sign, on the same day it had rained for the first time in a long period of time. He pledged his oath in French: "I swear to guard the laws of Romania, to maintain its rights and the integrity of its territory".
Immediately after arriving in the country, the Romanian parliament adopted, on 29 June 1866, the first Constitution of Romania, one of the most advanced constitutions of its time. This constitution allowed the development and modernization of the Romanian state. In a daring move, the Constitution chose to ignore the country's current dependence on the Ottoman Empire, which paved the way for Independence.
Article 82 said "The ruler's powers are hereditary, starting directly from His Majesty, prince Carol I of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, on male line through the right of first-born, with the exclusion of women and their issue. His Majesty's descendants will be raised in the Eastern Orthodox Religion."
After the proclamation of the Independence (1877), Romania was effectively a kingdom. From 1878, Carol held the title of Royal Highness (Alteţă Regală). On 15 March 1881, the Constitution was modified to state, among other things, that from then on the head of state would be called king, while the heir would be called royal prince. The same year he was crowned King.
The basic idea of all the royalist constitutions in Romania was that the King rules without governing.
'The turks having assembled in great force at Plevna are crushing us. Beg you to join, make a demonstration, and, if possible, cross the Danube, as you wish. This demonstration between Jiul and Corabia is indispensible to facilitate my movements. NICHOLAS" (the Russian Commander, General Nicholas, appointed by Czar Alexander II). "Prince Charles replied that the Fourth... (i.e., Roumanian) Division would hold Nikopoli, and that the Third occupy the position quitted by the Fourth";... "Prince Charles refused to allow the Third Division to cross, as he had no intention of allowing his army to be incorporated with the Russian."
In the beginning of his 48 years of rule (the longest rule any Roumanian principality has ever known), Prince Charles prepared/trained Roumania's armies and fought together with them to gain Roumania its independence from both the Ottoman Empire and its Russian 'allies'. After victory and the subsequent peace treaty, the (1881) crowned King Carol I raised enormously the country's prestige with the Porte, Russia, and Western European countries, procured funding from Germany-- arranged for Romania's first railway system, successfully boosted Romania's economy to unprecedented levels in its history, and also initiated the development of the very first Roumanian sea fleet and navy with the port at ancient Tomis (Constantza). In the beginning, some of his efforts to encourage economical prosperity in Roumania encountered quite strong opposition from a large section of his government, and at one point he even oferred to abdicate if his leadership continued to be challenged to a stalemate by such Roumanian political, dissenting factions and their continuous bickering. During his reign, Roumania became the paid 'agricultural supplier' of both Western Europe and Russia, exporting huge quantities of wheat and corn. He also succeeded (where his predecessor's attempts failed) to reward and endow with farmland many of the surviving Roumanian veterans who fought along with him in Roumania's Independence War.
He then firmly established on March 26th, 1881, upon his Corronation as the first King of Roumanians, a Hohenzollern-family based dynasty, with his main purpose being that of making his new, adopted country a durable and sustainable, permanent one, well-integrated with Western Europe; thus, King Carol I's true intent in establishing 'his' dynasty was to allow the Romanian nation to exist free and independent of its Eastern and Western, militarily powerful neighbor states, by preventing the latter to reverse after his demise what he accomplished in his lifetime. By a rather strange (but perhaps meaningful) coincidence, his former Russian 'ally' in the Independence War, the Czar (Tsar) Alexandr II Nykolaevich died, assassinated by the 'russified' Polish-Lithuanian Ignacy Hryniewiecki--known as "Ignaty Grinevitzky", only two weeks before the Corronation of King Carol I in 1881. (The Tsar's assassination had been meant to ignite revolution in Russia , whereas in neighbor Roumania, the crowning of its first, independent King was received with great enthousiasm by most Roumanians, who were then looking forward to a much brighter future as free, just liberated descendants of an ancient people).
After leading Roumania's (and also allied Russia' s) armies to victory in its Independence War, King Carol I received repeatedly similar offers to rule over two other countries as well, the neighor Bulgaria and also Spain, but he courteously declined such serious propositions as he saw these as a conflict of interest which he could not accept. In the Carpathian mountains, he built Peleş Castle, still one of Romania's most visited touristic attractions. The castle was built in an external, German style, as a reminder of the King's origin, but its interior was, and is, decorated in various elegant styles, including art objects of neighboring nations, both East and West. After the Russo-Turkish war, Romania gained Dobruja and King Carol I ordered the first bridge over the Danube, between Feteşti and Cernavodă, linking the new acquired province to the rest of the country.
King Carol I left Roumania an unprecedented, rich legacy in its entire history of more than a thousand years (claimed, in fact, by some historians to go as far back as two millenia to the established Roman colony of Dacia), which his follower at the throne, King Ferdinand I will succeed to build upon, to what was called before WWII the ' Greater Romania ' (in Romanian: România Mare), that will also include the other three Roumanian principalities of: Transylvania, Bukovina (Bucovina) and Bessarabia (Bassarabia--now the Republic of Moldova).
When he was elected prince of Romania, Carol was not married and, according to the Romanian Constitution he himself had approved, he was not allowed to marry a woman of Romanian origin. In 1869, the prince started a trip around Europe and mainly Germany, to find a bride. During this trip he met and married at Neuwied on 15 November 1869 princess Elizabeth of Wied. Their marriage was said to be 'one of the most unfitted matches' in history, with Carol being a 'cold' and calculating man, whereas Elizabeth was a notorious dreamer and a poet at heart. They had only one child, Princess Maria, born in 1871, who died on the 24th of March 1874. This is said to have led to the further estrangement of the royal couple, Elizabeth never completely recovering from the trauma of losing her only child.
After the proclamation of the Kingdom of Roumania in 1881, the succession became a very important matter of state. Since Carol I's brother, Leopold, and his oldest son, William, declined their rights to succession, the second son of Leopold, Ferdinand, was named Prince of Romania, and also heir to the throne. Elizabeth tried to influence the young Prince into marrying her favorite lady in waiting, Elena Văcărescu, but according to the Roumanian Constitution the heir was forbidden from marrying any Roumanian lady. As a result of her attempt, Elizabeth was exiled for two years, until Ferdinand's marriage to Princess Marie of Edinburgh.
Towards the end of their lives, though, Carol I and Elizabeth are said to have 'finally found a way to understand each other', and were reportedly to have become 'good friends'.
Boris Crǎciun - "Regii şi Reginele României", Editura Porţile Orientului, Iaşi