Marie was always destined for greatness, but she also had a habit of exceeding expectations. She was a true queen who proved that anything a man can do, a woman can do better… and with much more style! So polish off your crown and follow the thrilling story of Queen Marie of Romania.
Born on October 29, 1875 in the English county of Kent, Marie Alexandra Victoria quickly became the favorite of the family. She was beautiful, bossy, and had an unquenchable appetite. So her family gave her the nickname to match her vitality: She went from prim and proper Marie to the far spunkier (and far more appropriate) “Missy.”
Growing up, Missy rarely saw her father, The Duke of Edinburgh, who was always away working as a captain in the British Royal Navy. She later claimed that they were so distant that for many years, she couldn’t even identify the color of her own father’s hair. It was her mother, the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrova, who ruled the household and raised Missy and her three siblings. Marie learned a lot from watching her independent, girl-boss of a mom.
Marie’s mother, the Duchess, was intelligent and educated, but unfortunately, she seemed to think that the apple fell far from the tree. She actually thought her children were rather dull and unintelligent. The Duchess believed they were so hopeless that they wouldn’t even benefit from a formal education. Clearly, the Duchess didn’t realize that underestimating her daughter was a big mistake.
To be fair to the Duchess, Marie may have not been that interested in sitting around with her nose in a book. Instead, she wanted to have fun. In 1886, the family moved to Malta where Marie truly had a ball. There the family hosted countless parties that attracted fancy quests. Eleven-year-old Marie got to ride around on her own white horse and spent most of her days at the theatre. But little did she know that her days of fun wouldn’t last forever.
While adhering to her busy party girl schedule in Malta, Marie managed to find time to fall in love. Her first romance was with a dashing captain on her father’s ship. And although his name was Maurice, Marie only ever called him by a romantic nickname: Captain Dear. But Marie’s childhood romance was unfortunately short-lived. However, she had another long-distance romance in her future…
Many dignitaries and royals would visit Marie and her family, but the most special guest was England’s Prince George (who would later become King George V). He loved all of the siblings in the family but his favorite of them all was our girl Missy, who he absolutely doted on. It’s almost as if George recognized greatness when he saw it.
Unfortunately, Marie’s fun in Malta didn’t last forever. It all came to a crashing end when the family moved to Coburg in Germany. Suddenly, her days of white horses and first crushes were over, and she didn’t exactly take the change well. In melodramatic fashion, she declared that this move marked the end of her happiness.
Once the family moved to Germany, Marie also had to give up one of her favorite things: fancy clothes. Her mother hired an authoritarian German governess who quickly began a reign of terror over the children. Thinking that the royal youngsters were far too spoiled, the governess replaced their soft beds with cots, put them on a seriously strict lesson plan, and traded their beautiful silk dresses with rough cotton ones. Needless to say, Marie considered this governess her enemy.
Marie and her sisters did find something to amuse themselves in between their governess’s arduous school schedule. And of course, it was boys! They would spend their time watching their brothers gallivanting with their friends and excitedly discuss their strengths and shortcomings. Little did she know that soon she would be judging her own suitors.
While Marie loved girly things like gossip and dresses, she wasn’t afraid of getting rough. She was a very active girl who enjoyed skating and even played ice hockey. You could imagine that she was a fearsome opponent!
As the siblings grew into their teens, Marie started to stand out from the pack for something other than her vitality and brains: she was turning into a beautiful and charming young woman. Marie had long, shining auburn hair, fair skin, bright blue eyes, and a vivacious personality. Needless to say, the young royal was very popular with the boys.
One of Marie’s most desperate suitors was her cousin, England’s Prince George of Wales. One day, he comforted Marie while she cried over some teenage drama. During their hangout, they realized that they liked each other more than first cousins should. But young love barrels on! George was in the navy and while he was away he pinned over Marie and sent her many passionate love letters. It seemed that Missy had a new “Captain Dear”, although this love would prove to be as doomed as her first.
As Missy and George’s romance became more serious, their families started discussing a possible engagement. And while most relatives were on board for this royal match, the two matriarchs started a bitter feud. George’s mother, Alexandra, detested the Duchess Maria’s pro-German sentiment, and the Duchess loathed the idea of her daughter returning to her hated England. She was also a little petty, and couldn’t bear that Alexandra, the Princess of Wales, was higher up the social ladder than her.
Unfortunately, the family conflict proved too much for Missy, and when George finally proposed, Marie was forced to refuse to marry him. Their star crossed romance came to a heartbreaking end for both parties. However, Marie was still young, charming, and beautiful, so it wouldn’t take very long before she had a new suitor in her life.
Before long, the Duchess was sniffing around for a more suitable match for Marie. She found one in the Crown Prince Ferdinand, nephew of King Carol I and heir to the Romanian throne. Not only were they a good match, but their marriage could help smooth over the conflict between Romania and Russia (Marie’s mother was Duchess of Russia before moving to England). Marie finally had a mother-approved boyfriend!
In an effort to secure the marriage, The Duchess dolled Marie up and sent her off to a gala to meet the prince. Not only was this a romantic meeting, but it turned out to be the first of many diplomatic missions she would undertake in her life.
At their first meeting, Marie and Prince Ferdinand hit it off. The pair talked easily and found each other quite likable. Though Marie thought the prince was a little awkward, she concluded that his kindness more than made up for his occasional fumbles. Meanwhile, the prince admired Marie’s command of German. Missy finally had a reason to be grateful for her strict German governess!
Although their courtship wasn’t as passionate or dramatic as her time with Prince George of Wales, it proved to be a lasting one. In 1892, Marie officially accepted Ferdinand’s proposal. But the couple had to wait until after Marie’s birthday to marry. You see, at this point, Marie was only sixteen years old!
Most girls dream of the perfect marriage ceremony, but Marie was not like most girls. She had not one, not two, but three marriage ceremonies in one day. The civil ceremony was in the morning, then a Catholic ceremony in the afternoon, and finally an Anglican ceremony in the evening. Hopefully, she wore comfortable shoes.
After an exhausting wedding day, Marie hoped to have a relaxing honeymoon. Instead, she felt obliged to visit distant relatives in Vienna, and had her stay there cut short because of dangerously strained relations between Austria and Romania. The newlyweds fled under cover of night and finally arrived in Romania by dawn.
Marie arrived in her new home after the drama-filled honeymoon. And the Romanian people welcomed their future queen warmly. It seemed little Missy was finally fulfilling her destiny to be a great monarch. But the first few years of marriage were not entirely pleasant. As many young couples can attest, getting used to living with your spouse around can be difficult, especially if you’re only 17. It took a while for the newlyweds to learn how to live together without conflict or tension, but they eventually grew to respect and cherish each other’s differences.
One of the differences Ferdinand cherished in Marie was her worldliness. Shy and a little awkward, Ferdinand wasn’t exactly a social butterfly. But Marie had always been bright and social and Ferdinand admired her intelligence and confidence. As they say, opposites attract! He was rarely seen at official events without his distinguished wife at his side.
Marie frequently had to deal with sexism in the court. She even had to endure it when she gave birth to her son, Carol. In agony during labor, Marie demanded chloroform to ease the pain, but the doctors refused for a chilling reason. Apparently, the pain of childbirth was punishment for Eve’s sin and women just had to endure it. She eventually took the drug after both her mother and grandmother intervened, but needless to say she did not enjoy the experience!
Marie did not enter into Romanian society easily, and she grated against the repressive and stuffy environment at court. She disliked how much control the authoritarian King Carol had over her and Ferdinand. She often got into verbal jousts with members of the court and became notorious for her independence and rebelliousness.
Her constant conflict at court and Ferdinand’s frequent absences for work left Marie lonely and dejected. Marie also didn’t have access to her two children and she missed them terribly. She felt like she could never do or say the right thing, and was always being admonished. She spent many angsty days alone in her chambers, perhaps longing for the carefree years of her youth.
Marie’s husband, not to mention her claim to the throne, was under serious threat in 1897 when Ferdinand was struck with Typhoid fever. He spent days in a delirious spell and came so close to death that the court began to prepare for Marie’s son, the three-year-old Prince Carol, to become the heir to the throne. Missy saw her queenship slipping right through her fingers.
From the brink of doom, Ferdinand managed to pull through and, after many months of convalescence, made a full recovery. During his recovery, the family moved to the countryside where Marie went on long walks with her children and rose horses. She briefly got to relive the freedom she felt as a child, but a massive scandal was just around the corner.
Horse rides and brisk walks weren’t the only things she enjoyed during her year of rest. It was also the time when she first met the dashing Gheorghe Cantacuzène. He was from an ancient line of princes and this mysterious parentage appealed to the often bored princess. He wasn’t exactly good looking, but he was incredibly charming and funny, and he knew how to dress to impress.
Marie couldn’t resist this dashing prince, and the two began a torrid secret affair. She had to dodge countless rumors, including one which claimed she given birth to Gheorghe’s lovechild after she spent a year with her mother in Coburg. But as soon as the affair became public, Marie had to break it off with her stylish lover.
In 1900, Marie gave birth to her second daughter, Maria (nicknamed Mignon). It should have been a happy day, but instead it was the beginning of a lifelong scandal. The royal family was immediately plagued with speculation over the baby girl’s parentage. Many believed that Mignon was another love child from Marie’s affair with Gheorghe. Even so, this scandal didn’t inhibit Mignon’s success; she actually went on the become Queen of Yugoslavia.
Although her affair with Gheorghe ended around the turn of the twentieth century, Queen Marie had not seen her last scandal. There were rumors that she had affairs with many more celebrated men, including a Russian archduke, a British politician, a Romanian prince, and a Canadian adventurer. She clearly had eclectic taste!
Not only was Marie the talk of the town for her rumored affairs, but she was also known as a fashion icon. In a show of solidarity with the Romanian Peasant Revolt in 1907, Marie started wearing Romanian folk costumes. This started a surprising fashion trend as well-to-do women began wearing traditional peasant clothing, such as thickly woven skirts and head coverings.
Marie’s interests took a serious turn as Romania became embroiled in the Second Balkan War. The conflict amplified a cholera outbreak, and Marie decided to enter the fray and lend her services as a nurse. She visited hospitals in conflict struck areas, and tended to the sick and wounded. She even brought her daughters along with her. This experience would be a turning point in Marie’s life, but it was also a dark omen of things to come…
Marie feared that her country was descending into turmoil after the 1914 assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the Archduke of Austria. But this didn’t mean that she was one to step away from a fight. Even though the Romanian Crown Council decided that Romania wouldn’t enter the exploding conflict of WWI, Marie vehemently disagreed with this decision. She wanted to fight for the Allies.
On October 10, 1914, after a lengthy illness, and while the country was on the verge of war, King Carol succumbed to his illness. Ferdinand and Marie officially became king and queen the next day. And although it would be eight long years before she received her official coronation, Marie took to the role immediately, relishing in her new power and influence.
Marie would never have been content to be a sweet and retiring queen, and once she steps up to her throne she immediately pressures Ferdinand into entering the conflict. She even enlisted help from Romania’s prime minister and called in favors from her royal relatives across Europe. Eventually her persistence won, and in 1916 Romania officially joined the conflict. This event cemented what many already knew to be true: Marie was one fearsome leader.
Only months after her victory at court, Marie endured a great loss. Her three-year-old son, Prince Mircea, whose name comes from the word “peace”, tragically passed from Typhoid fever. In a terrible twist, the devastated Marie didn’t have long to grieve her son’s passing. Enemy forces were closing in on her and her family, and the entire group had to flee immediately.
Prone to action, Marie didn’t slow down after her loss. Instead, she threw herself into work. Every day she would put on her old nurse uniform and head out to meet the injured and sick servicemen arriving from the front lines and transport them to hospitals. She desperately wanted to help her country, and soon she would do so in her most intense way yet.
Marie had embarked on diplomatic missions before, but her tact and intelligence were about to take the world stage. After the end of World War 1, in 1919, several heads of state met at the Paris Peace Conference to negotiate the outcomes of the conflict. Romania was present, but the delegation left the conference after clashing with the other leaders. In an attempt to quell the drama and recover from the humiliating departure, Romanian officials decided to send their best weapon: their charismatic queen Marie.
Unlike her compatriots, Marie was a complete hit in Paris. She was met with crowds of onlookers, won over many of the other leaders, and secured resources and supplies for her country’s relief efforts. She even shocked the male delegates by deciding to lead the negotiations herself. Of course, Marie wasn’t content to be the token monarch who sat around and looked fancy. She rolled up her sleeves and contributed.
Soon enough, Marie’s diplomatic skills brought her even more power and influence than ever before. The Paris Peace Conference officially recognized certain regions surrounding Romania as part of Greater Romania. As a result of her wildly successful visit to Paris, Marie’s kingdom doubled. And of course, this meant that an enormous party was in order.
Marie had always had a love for beauty, theatre, and fashion and in October 1922, she would get to indulge all three at the party to end all parties. She and Ferdinand planned one of the most elaborate coronations that Romania had ever seen. The royals built a whole cathedral for the occasion and they served steak to over 20,000 people. Mare wore an elegant, custom-made silk and fur costume and a famous Parisian jeweller made Marie a crown of solid gold.
These were the good times for Marie, and unfortunately, they wouldn’t last long.
Marie was no stranger to scandals and affairs, but she always managed to maintain her reputation. However, her eldest son was less concerned with appearances. The tempestuous Prince Carol was a womanizer and daredevil. In 1925, his bad boy ways spiralled out of control. The prince became involved with Magda Lupescu, the daughter of a common apothecary. Even though he was a married man at the time, Carol flaunted his new relationship, to the horror of both Marie and all of Romania.
Marie may have hoped that Prince Carol would end his affair and return to his wife, just like she had with King Ferdinand. But instead he announced that he was abdicating the throne, abandoning his wife and children, and moving abroad with Magda. Not only was this an utter betrayal, but since Ferdinand was gravely ill, Marie had to prepare her five-year-old grandson, Michael, to inherit the throne.
On July 20th, 1927, Marie’s husband of 34 years and the king of Romania, passed from an intestinal disease. Sadly, Marie didn’t have much time to grieve. She had to be there for her grandson who, at the tender age of five, became king of Romania. This unusual situation threw the royal court into turmoil and in the years to come, Marie’s status as beloved queen took a huge hit.
In 1930, after years of tumult in the Romanian court, Carol returned to the country and set his sights on regaining the throne. Evidently, he’d inherited his mother’s can-do attitude. In a short time, Carol successfully usurped his own son Michael! Marie was initially pleased to hear of her son’s return, hoping that he would restore order to the court. But instead, her son betrayed her yet again.
After returning to Romania and reclaiming the throne, Carol began to ice out his mother, refusing to take her counsel on personal and state affairs. He set out to make her life as miserable as possible. He interfered with her inheritance, fired her staff, and monitored her constantly. But despite all of this horrifying treatment, Marie was still willing to help her son.
King Carol was also caught in the political conflict between the court and the extreme Romanian party, The Iron Guard. After the assassination of his closest confidante, Carol feared he would be next and refused to appear at the upcoming independence parade. In the end, his mother took his place. She didn’t realize at the time that it would be her last public appearance.
Even after Queen Marie had stepped up for him, Carol was still determined to ruin her life. He began relentlessly pressuring her to leave Romania. But Marie was still a bold and determined monarch who refused to leave the country she loved. Instead, she left the court at Bucharest and went to live at one of her homes in the Romanian countryside.
After several years of peace and quiet in the country, Marie fell ill. She had cirrhosis of the liver and had to follow a strict health regimen. But when her condition didn’t improve, she traveled to a hospital in Italy for treatment. Fearing that she wasn’t going to recover, Marie returned to her beloved Romania. She passed there on July 18, 1938.
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