ElenaLupescu was the daughter of Elise (or Eliza) and Nicolae Lupescu, an apothecary. Her mother, née Falk, was an Austrian-born Jew converted to the Roman Catholic Church prior to her marriage. Most sources agree that Nicolae Lupescu was a Jew who adopted this name upon his conversion to Orthodox Christianity, the established religion in Romania. There are three different versions as to his surname prior to conversion—it may have been Grünberg (variant spellings “Grunsberg”, “Grümberg”, etc.); or it may have been Wolff (variant spelling “Wolf”); or it may have been originally Grünberg and it was later changed to Wolff. The latter version is the most common, but, on balance, the first is the most probable. Also obscure is the origin of the nickname “Magda”, by which she was known later. According to Elena Lupescu herself, it was originally a mistake of an Italian journalist; but according to an alternative version, “Magda” was, at the time, Bucharest slang for “reformed prostitute”.
She had a younger brother, Constantin Schloim Lupescu.
According to Quinlan, at some point during Elena’s childhood, her family moved to Sulina, a port on the Danube, where Nicolae Lupescu opened an apothecary. In 1912 they moved back to Jassy, and her father started a novelty shop. There is no information about Elena’s life during Romania’s participation in World War I (1916–1918), when much of the country, including Bucharest, was occupied by the Central Powers and a temporary capital was established at Jassy.
On February 17, 1919 Elena Lupescu married Ion Tâmpeanu, an officer in the Romanian Army. There are few details of their life together; according to Quinlan, Elena did not adapt well to garrison life and had several affairs. The marriage ended in divorce, but it is not clear when. Quinlan places it in 1920; while, according to Easterman, she was still married to Tâmpeanu in 1923, when she first encountered Carol. After the divorce, Elena resumed her maiden name, Lupescu.
There is little merit to any of these arguments. As far as Romanian law of the time went, Nicolae Lupescu ceased being a Jew upon his conversion—there was nothing preventing him from owning an apothecary. But even before his conversion, the law could have been easily circumvented in a country as rife with corruption as Romania, especially in Jassy, where Jews were close to half of the city’s population.
As to Elena’s education, she was a German-speaking Catholic daughter of a Catholic mother, that is, the very student who would have been most readily admitted at a school run by German nuns. But even her being Jewish would not have necessarily constituted a major obstacle. For instance, between 1890 and 1916, Jews constituted, on average, 7% of the student body of the Lycée “Gheorghe Lazăr” of Bucharest, a boys’ school described as “the school of the Romanian élite”.
Finally, her marriage to an Army officer would not have been problematic, because neither she nor her parents were legally Jewish, and most Romanians would not have regarded her as such. That came later, when the character of Romanian anti-Semitism gradually changed and her parents’ Jewish origins were stressed for political reasons.
Elena was a witty and outspoken woman; a tall, perhaps fleshy, redhead with milky-white skin and green eyes. Other sources are less flattering, describing her features as coarse and her conversation as vulgar. All sources agree that she walked with a peculiar swing of the hips, which, depending on one’s point of view, was either sexy or crude, and that she was, in almost every respect, the opposite of Crown Princess Elena, Carol’s spouse at the time.
Carol made no effort to hide the relationship; on the contrary, he flaunted it, and it was that, rather than his marital infidelity or Elena Lupescu’s character or background which caused the ensuing scandal. The scandal was aggravated by Carol’s earlier behavior (during the war he had contracted a morganatic marriage to Ioana “Zizi” Lambrino, although Romania’s Constitution forbade Crown Princes to marry Romanian citizens), as well as by the enmity between Carol and the very powerful Brătianu clan. It was supporters of the latter who fostered the first anti-Semitic attacks against Elena Lupescu. But, initially, knowledge of the royal scandal was restricted to the Bucharest élite and to the foreign press; the Romanian press was prevented by censorship from reporting it.
Matters came to a head in December 1925, when Carol, having represented the Romanian royal family at the funeral of Queen Alexandra, eventually ended up in Milan in company of Elena Lupescu, making the front page of almost every Italian newspaper.
Carol was fully aware that, as Crown Prince, his marrying Elena Lupescu, or, as he called her, “Duduia” was, on constitutional as well as social grounds, out of the question. He abdicated his rights to the succession to the Romanian throne, as well as his membership in the royal family (he had done so once before, in connexion to his first marriage, but that renunciation had been later rescinded), and adopted the name of “Carol Caraiman”. The renunciation was ratified by Parliament on January 4, 1926, and four-year-old Mihai, Carol’s son with Crown Princess Elena, became heir apparent; Carol was banned from returning to Romania. Elena, by that time Queen Mother, divorced Carol in 1928.
King Ferdinand, Carol’s father, died in 1927; Mihai succeeded to the throne and a regency headed by Crown Prince Nicolae, Carol’s younger brother, came into being. The regency proved unstable, and the political instability increased when Ion I. C. Brătianu, head of the Brătianu clan and leader of the National-Liberal party, died unexpectedly. His younger brothers lacked both his strength of character and his political acumen, and their hold on power weakened. In late 1928 the Liberal government was replaced by a coalition headed by Iuliu Maniu; Carol’s return seemed now to be only a matter of time. Negotiations were carried out through various intermediaries, while Carol’s supporters, including Crown Prince Nicolae and a number of Army officers, tried to pressure the government into speeding his return. Although no written evidence exists, it is likely that eventually Carol made two promises to Maniu: that he would join the regency, rather than lay claim to the throne, and that he would give up Elena Lupescu. He intended to keep neither.
Carol returned unopposed to Romania on June 6, 1930, and immediately mounted what was essentially a constitutional coup. His renunciation was declared invalid by Parliament with an overwhelming majority, and he was proclaimed King in short order. When he brought back “Duduia” is not clear; it may have been as early as the end of June, or it may have been August, but she was definitely in Bucharest by October. From then on, she was, in all but name, Carol’s wife and his partner in his political enterprises.
During the reign of King Carol II (1930–1940), corruption and political intrigue in Romania rose to unprecedented heights. Carol and Duduia weathered economic crisis, labour unrest, the rise of Fascism, assassination attempts and military plots, to become the master manipulators of Romanian politics. Those Carol could not bribe, he forced into retirement (Maniu) or imprisoned (Ion Antonescu); those he could not bend to his will, he suppressed ruthlessly (the Legion of the Archangel Michael); and, in the process, the couple accumulated an impressive fortune.
Elena Lupescu is sometimes described as the power behind the throne, especially (for obvious reasons) by those close to the extreme right. Duduia undoubtedly enjoyed a great deal of influence of the King, but Carol's actions were entirely consistent with his behaviour prior to meeting Elena Lupescu. Moreover, the speed with which, upon his return, when Duduia was still abroad, he out-manoeuvred any opposition to his plans is ample demonstration of his political abilities. Their relationship is perhaps best viewed as a partnership, with Elena the junior, but very influential, partner.
Elena Lupescu did not enjoy any official status, and, until 1938, did not accompany the King on any state functions. However, she entertained at her Aleea Vulpache villa in downtown Bucharest the cream of Romanian high society: politicians, industrialists (Max Auschnitt, Nicolae Malaxa), press magnates (Pamfil Șeicaru), and blue-blooded aristocrats (Marthe Bibesco). It was even rumoured at some point (but never proved) that the leader of the violently anti-Semitic Iron Guard, Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, might have been hiding there from the police.
In 1938, Carol put an end to parliamentary democracy and proclaimed himself a dictator. But international developments were beyond his control. By the summer of 1940, France had fallen and the Versailles system had collapsed, leaving Romania friendless and almost completely surrounded by enemies. In quick succession, without firing a shot in her own defence, Romania was forced to make painful territorial concessions to the USSR, to Hungary, and to Bulgaria. Whether any government could have survived such a catastrophe is doubtful; but to survive both it and Hitler’s personal enmity was impossible.
By early September, Carol was out of options. He was forced to abdicate in favour of his son Mihai (September 6); General Antonescu assumed dictatorial powers with the support of the Army and most political parties. A few days later, Carol, Duduia, their faithful aide, Ernest Urdăreanu, and as many belongings as they could pack in a hurry, left Romania aboard a special train. They crossed the border in a hail of bullets: the Legionnaires were trying to revenge their leader, assassinated on Carol’s orders.
Elena Lupescu did not tolerate well Mexico City’s high altitude, so in 1944 they moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. But her health did not improve; by early 1947 her condition was diagnosed as pernicious anaemia. After 22 years together, Carol and Elena Lupescu were finally married in a hotel room in Rio de Janeiro, either on June 3, 1947 or on July 5, 1947; it was Carol’s third marriage, and Elena’s second. Henceforward, she would be known as Princess Elena of Romania.
Elena’s health improved, but they were advised to move to a more temperate climate. Carol and Elena finally settled in Estoril, Portugal. There Carol died suddenly of a heart attack in 1953. He was interred in the royal pantheon of the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora in Lisbon. Elena survived him by 24 years, and was eventually buried next to him.
In 2003, the remains of King Carol II and Princess Elena of Romania were brought back to the country of their birth at the request and expense of the Government of Romania. They were interred in the Curtea de Argeş Monastery complex, the traditional burial ground of Romanian royalty; but, not being of royal blood, Elena was buried in the monastery’s cemetery, rather than in the Royal Chapel.