King Carol II of Romania earned the title “The Manipulative King” for his many political ploys, both inside and outside of Romania. But, fascinating as Carol II’s exploits in the game of thrones might have been, the real manipulations weren’t political—they were personal. Move over Harry; from abdications to coups to secret marriages, Carol II was the ultimate playboy prince.
Carol II was born in Romania in 1893. He was the son of Crown Prince Ferdinand I and Crown Princess Marie of Romania. But unless you were looking at his family tree, you wouldn’t have known whose son he was. From the time that Carol II was born, his grand-uncle, King Carol I, took the heir to the throne under his overbearing wing.
Carol’s mother was of English descent but she quickly abandoned all of her Victorian morals when she set foot on Romanian soil. The English-born royal “went native” and carried on numerous affairs—much to the horror of Carol II’s prudish grand-uncle. It was almost immediately obvious that Carol II was going to follow in his mother’s lascivious footsteps.
Carol II quickly followed his mother’s lead. The young (and terribly handsome) heir to the Romanian throne quickly developed a reputation as a playboy. Of course, it was all fun and games at first—emphasis on fun—but it didn’t take too long for Carol II’s escapades to land him and the royal family in hot water.
4. He Loved Martinis
Carol II’s playboy ways were harmless at first—but there were scandalous consequences just ahead. By the time that Carol II was just 19 years old, he had managed to create his first of many palace scandals. Much to the pleasure of the newspapers, the heir to the Romanian throne fathered two illegitimate children with a schoolgirl named Maria Martini. His grand-uncle was not impressed.
While Carol’s mother might have been proud of her son’s philandering ways, his grand-uncle—the King—was far less pleased. In order to put an end to Carol II’s shenanigans, the King resolved to instill some discipline in his grand-nephew. The King had Carol II commissioned as an officer with the Prussian guards. But there was no taming Carol II. Ever.
Carol II was like a fish out of water in the rigid Prussian guards. Not surprisingly, the womanizing prince didn’t take to marshal life. So, in 1914, at the outbreak of WWI, he did what any royal bad boy would do and skipped the fence, deserting his unit. It didn’t take Carol II anytime whatsoever to get right back to his royally rebellious ways.
It was bad enough that Carol II had a reputation for partying. To make matters worse, he kept bad company that made his royal family blush. Carol had little interest in royal and highborn women. He much preferred the informal, spontaneous, funny, and passionate women of the common folk. His search for adventurous women nearly tore the Romanian palace down.
Carol II’s family wanted the prince to settle down, but his choice of a partner shocked the royals to the core. Carol II had become recklessly infatuated with his best friend’s sister, Joanna Marie Valentina “Zizi” Lambrino. She was the daughter of a general and thus a commoner—i.e., a totally unfit match for a prince. That didn’t stop Carol from following his heart.
The royal court in Romania—as well as the elected government—disapproved of Carol II’s choice for a bride. They tried hopelessly to dissuade the prince from marrying a simple commoner but, according to a journalist writing on the matter, “Carol fell [madly] in love and was at no pains to dissemble it". He was about to disassemble the palace instead.
Carol II was a royal rebel par excellence. He wasn’t about to let some palace disapproval ruin his romance with Zizi Lambrino. So, he did what any rebellious young man would do given his parents’ disapproval. In 1918, Carol snuck Zizi across the Romanian/Ukrainian border, where they tied the knot in an Orthodox cathedral in Odessa.
When the royal court learned about Carol II’s secret marriage, they erupted in a fury. The King dashed Carol II’s hopes of a romantic honeymoon by ordering him into confinement in a monastery for 75 days. If the King had hoped that a couple of months in a monastery would make Carol II come to his senses, he was horribly mistaken.
Carol II’s sudden and secretive marriage caused ripples well beyond the royal household. Even stuffy politicians were upset with the prince’s reckless behavior and casual disregard for protocol. The then prime minister of Romania even came within a breath of accusing Carol II of treason. All of this only made Carol even more determined.
Carol II didn’t back down in the face of the pressure from his family and the politicians. He loved Zizi. He loved her more than he loved the crown. When his family tried to stage an intervention, the prince threatened to renounce his titles for the sake of his marriage. The prince might have been full of games, but he was not bluffing.
Carol II was determined to maintain his marriage to Zizi Lambrino, despite the fierce opposition from the palace and the politicians of Romania. But, in all honesty, there was little that he could do. The Romanian Supreme Court ruled his marriage to be unconstitutional and annulled it. Caro and Zizi continued their torrid romance anyway—because Carol II had just one last arrow in his quiver.
The Romanian Supreme Court had outmaneuvered Carol II by throwing the constitution at him. But Carol II still had one card to play. The courts couldn’t tell him what to do if he wasn’t a prince. So, Carol II signed papers renouncing his title as crown prince and waiving his claim to the throne. And that's the end of that, right? Not by a long shot; the palace had other plans for the prince.
Instead of allowing Carol II the freedom to renounce his titles, the palace conspired to ruin his marriage. According to one writer, “intriguers… cunningly [threw] other young and attractive women in his [Carol II’s] view" and eventually "corroded his relations with his wife". Turns out, it was all too much for the prince and he had to get away.
Carol II continued living with Lambrino after the annulment of their marriage, but the pressure finally got to him. Following his disastrous marriage, he had to get away from it all. Far, far away. Instead of remaining in Romania, Carol II left his not-wife and their only child behind and traveled the world. When he returned home in 1920, a new love was waiting for him.
After his whirlwind trip in 1920, Carol II returned to Romania and stepped off the boat...right into a trap. A love trap. Helen of Greece and Denmark was in town to celebrate the announcement of her brother’s engagement to Carol II’s sister. Love must have been in the air for the Romanian and Greek royal families.
Carol II wasn’t exactly in the mood to entertain guests after he returned from his trip around the world. The prince was probably tired and jetlagged—and still hung up on Lambrino. He had no time for Helen of…whatever and wherever. For the duration of her stay in Romania, Carol II was apparently “cold” and “distant” towards Helen. But then his heart melted.
Helen’s stay in Romania came to a sudden end. Thanks to two unexpected tragedies, she abruptly had to return to Switzerland. Carol II’s hard heart melted and he decided to accompany the grieving princess on the trip. While on the train, the two shared their stories. Despite Carol II confessing to Helen about his secret marriage, the sparks were flying between the two.
Carol II must have pulled out all of his best moves on that train ride from Romania to Switzerland. When they arrived in Switzerland, Carol II did the last thing his disapproving parents would have expected him to do. The playboy prince decided to walk the straight and narrow. He got down on one knee and popped the question to Helen. The notably royal Helen.
By the time that Carol II was ready to cave to palace pressure and marry a princess, fulfilling his royal duties, it was too late. His womanizer reputation—and scandalous first marriage—were tabloid fodder. Even though he was a prince, Helen’s family disapproved of the match. Nevertheless, Helen insisted because she loved him. She wouldn’t feel that way for long.
In March of 1921, less than a year after they met in Romania, Helen made an honest prince out of the rakish Carol II. The royal couple spent a two-month honeymoon in Greece and, for a time, it looked like Carol II was finally going to settle down. Of course, all of his escapades up to this point had just been Carol II’s opening act. His scandalous behavior was just getting started.
Carol II’s new princely behavior was bad news for the tabloids—but they weren’t without material for long. Less than eight months into their marriage, Carol II and Helen kicked up the first of many newspaper frenzies. Helen gave birth to their first and only child, and since journalists could do math, this sparked rumors that Carol and Helen had conceived out of wedlock. Now we know what happened on that train.
Just like with the Prussian guards, Carol II couldn’t stand the strictures of married life—unless, of course, that marriage had been a secret elopement in a foreign country. It wasn’t long before Carol was bored of his wife. It didn’t help that he hated her family and that they hated him. To make matters worse, Helen had stopped performing her “marital duties". And we all know how important that was to Carol II.
Carol had one good theory for why his wife wouldn’t perform her “marital duties” She was, he thought, performing them with someone else. Carol II suspected his wife was having an affair with Prince Amedeo of Savoy, Duke of Aosta. So, of course, Carol did exactly what you'd expect: He thought he would start up a lurid affair of his own.
Carol II’s new princely behavior was just a front. As it turns out, Carol II had been carrying out many affairs throughout his marriage to Helen. I’m not sure then why he was so upset that she wasn’t performing her “marital duties,” but we’re not judging. It seemed that Helen was happy to let her husband have his fun…until Carol finally crossed the line.
Carol II had many (read: more than we can count) affairs and none of them had been serious. After Lambrino, it seemed like the prince wouldn’t ever love again—much to the relief of his royal parents. But then, in 1923, Carol II mended his broken heart and began an affair with Magda Lupescu. Like Lord and Lady Macbeth to Scotland, these two would rock the Romanian kingdom.
Carol II traveled to the United Kingdom in 1925 to represent the Romanian royal family at the funeral of the Dowager Queen Alexandra. Notably, his wife Helen did not make the trip. Despite promising his father, the king, to be on his best behavior—oh, please—Carol took the opportunity to flaunt his already well-known affair with Lupescu. And he was just getting warmed up.
After posing for paparazzi with his mistress, Lupescu, Carol II revealed the real reason for his trip to the United Kingdom. Following the conclusion of his official duties, the Romanian crown prince refused to return to Romania. For the palace, it was the Lambrino scandal all over again. And Carol was about to come through on a promise he had made years ago.
Carol II’s behavior caused an absolute outrage back in Romania. The palace was beside itself in shock. The politicians were indignant. Their prince had gone too far this time. And that’s exactly what Carol II wanted. In December of 1925, Carol II renounced his titles and his claim to the Romanian throne with the assent of parliament. He was finally free—or so he thought.
Carol II was a lot of things—and cowardly might be one of them. The former crown prince couldn’t bear to face his wife, Helen, face-to-face following his little stunt. So, he took the cowardly way out. Carol sent Helen multiple divorce papers in the mail while traipsing around Europe with Lupescu. For whatever reason, Helen refused to sign the papers. No, nothing could be that simple for Carol II.
Carol II and his mistress, Lupescu, were beating around Italy in June 1926. Helen showed up, and arranged a meeting with her husband. She probably wanted to hash everything out. Carol II initially agreed to the meeting but then, at the last minute, cancelled. He was probably a little occupied with Lupescu. Helen finally agreed to the divorce in 1928.
Carol II had been yachting around Europe with Lupescu since 1925 when they pulled the rug out from under the Romanian palace. But while the couple were canoodling on beaches, the Romanian government was keeping a careful eye on them with spies. Nothing dramatic happened—until the royal deserters showed up in Britain in 1928.
Carol II and his mistress, Magda Lupescu, were the toast of the town in Britain. When they appeared together in public, Lupescu wore her most expensive furs and jewellery. But behind closed doors, Carol II wasn’t loving his new life as a civilian. In a dusty old cellar belonging to the former crown prince of Romania, British authorities made a shocking discovery.
Ever since Carol II first laid eyes on Zizi Lambrino, he had been chomping at the bit to ditch his royal titles. But it seems like the ex-prince didn’t know what he wanted. British authorities uncovered the former prince’s plot to return to Romania and take control. He even had detailed political manifestoes that he would bring to devastating fruition in a ten-year-long totalitarian regime.
When British authorities uncovered Carol II’s plot against his former countrymen—and royal household—in 1928, they had no options. The authorities booted Carol and his common-law partner, Lupescu, out of the country. It was a major setback for the playboy prince turned political pawn—but he wouldn’t be down and out for long.
The tides turned in Carol II’s favor in 1930. After a coup—of which, I’m certain that the innocent former prince had no part—Carol II returned to Romania. He deposed his own five-year-old son and claimed the throne for himself. While Carol II had seemed uninterested in the crown in the past, he took to royal rule like a duck to water. If ducks were dictators and cult leaders.
One of the conditions of Carol’s return to Romania and ascension to the throne was reconciliation with his ex-wife, Helen. Carol II initially refused to even see Helen—again, eye roll—but eventually relented. He finally agreed to a joint coronation ceremony with his estranged wife. But once again, Carol II was just manipulating everyone to get what he really wanted.
For the coronation ceremony, Carol refused to grant Helen the title of "Queen of Romania". Even though she was, you know, his wife. To add insult to injury, Carol had Lupescu return to Romania to continue their…I’m not sure what to call it anymore. Any hope of reconciliation between Carol and Helen was over and he let her live in exile. The rest of the country wouldn’t be so lucky.
Carol II quickly consolidated his power in Romania. And the first thing that he had to do was to scrub his womanizer image. He was, after all, a king now. So, to improve his image, Carol II promulgated some of the most outlandish propaganda ever written. He depicted his return to Romania via airplane as a literal “descent from the heavens". And that was just the opening chapter.
Carol II managed to build a whole cult of personality around himself. History knows him as the “Manipulative King” but, if Carol II was writing the story, that’s not how he would have told it. Renowned Romanian writer Cezar Petrescu described Carol II as nearly a god, “father of the villagers and workers of the land,” and as the “king of culture".
No cult is complete without rituals…and Carol II had the biggest and best rituals. Every year, Carol II had the entire Romanian kingdom celebrate “Restoration Day,” i.e., a day to commemorate his “descent from the heavens". He had 25,000 Romanian youths march and then spell out “Carol 2” and his monogram using their bodies.
Carol II’s rule wasn’t all about show, though. He had gone from playboy prince to puppeteer. In 1937, he appointed a prime minister who had only 9% of the vote. But it wasn’t a foible on Carol II’s part. It was a masterstroke of manipulation. The prime minister was so unpopular that Carol II just had to suspend the constitution and claim near-absolute power for himself. Funny how things work out.
Carol II used his newfound power to dispose of some of his old political rivals—you know, the ones who had stood in the way of his scandalous love affairs. He had a powerful enemy, Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, disposed of in truly diabolical fashion. After ordering his enemy’s execution, he had the official story modified to state that Codreanu and his conspirators had been “shot while trying to escape".
Carol II’s despotic tendencies began to garner the ire of his people. They called the execution of Codreanu and his allies “the night of the vampires". The man had turned into a monster. His careful manipulations of other countries and his own people—the very thing that had gotten him into power—had made him deeply unpopular. Finally, the pressures of WWII forced Carol II to abdicate in 1940.
For the last time, Carol II fled from Romania. The deposed king would spend the rest of his life in exile—you might think he’d be happy about that—bouncing between Mexico, Brazil, and Portugal. Of course, just because he was in exile didn’t mean that he was going to stop trying to manipulate his way back onto the throne.
Carol II made several unsuccessful attempts to reclaim his crown, including starting up a magazine to propagate the tenets of his disbanded cult of personality.
After years of living together as a common-law couple, Carol II and Lupescu finally got what they had always wanted. In 1947, Carol II married his long-time fling in Brazil. It’s not clear whether or not he carried on multiple affairs—we’ll let his history speak for itself. The would-be-but-never-actually-was Queen of Romania, Magda Lupescu, stylized herself as Princess Elena von Hohenzollern.
They remained together for the rest of their life.
Carol II finally passed in Portugal in 1953. But, given how much damage he had caused throughout his life, his funeral was no big deal. His own son, Michael, who had ascended to the throne once again, couldn’t forgive his father for how he had treated him and his mother—and for deposing him when he was barely out of diapers. Carol II’s own son did not attend the ceremony.
For all of his affairs, Carol II’s most tumultuous relationship was with his own crown—weary is the head, and all that. To summarize the playboy prince turned cunning king’s rocky relationship with his own royalty, Carol II’s final resting place is pretty fitting. He and Lupescu were buried outside of the cathedral where the kings and queens of Romania are interred.
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