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Last Romanian King Dies at 96

After abdicating when the communists took power in the aftermath of World War II, King Michael lived most of his life in exile.

6 December 2017

Romania’s King Michael died yesterday, a year and a half since announcing that he had been diagnosed with cancer, the BBC writes. One of Eastern Europe’s last monarchs, as well as one of the last surviving World War II heads of state, Michael had announced his withdrawal from public life back in March 2016.

 

Michael first became king in 1927, at the age of six, when his father Carol temporarily gave up the throne for three years. Carol was overthrown in 1940, and Michael reigned until 1947 when he was forced to abdicate by Soviet-backed communists.

 

“His role during WWII was controversial, as for most of that time, from 1940 to 1944, Romania was an ally of Nazi Germany and emulated its anti-Semitic policies,” Balkan Insight says.

 

Many historians, however, believe he exercised little real power until Romania switched to the Allied side in 1944, when Michael led a coup against the military dictator, Ion Antonescu.

 

The Romanian royal house has been at the center of several controversies in the past two years. In 2015, King Michel stripped his only grandson, Nicholas Medforth-Mills, of his royal title. In the absence of an official reason, the move led to much speculation, including some related to an alleged paternity case.

 

Medforth-Mills has been in conflict with members of his family over the past few weeks, after trying to visit King Michael once news about the latter’s worsening health became public, Realitatea.net writes. Medforth-Mills’ family pressed criminal charges against him, on the grounds that he tried to enter by force King Michael’s residence in Switzerland, charges that were dropped once Medforth-Mills announced that he would no longer seek to see his grandfather.

 

In a press release last month, cited by Digi24.ro, Medforth-Mills said that he had never signed a document accepting the withdrawal of his title. Speaking about the Romanian royal’s family request to put an end to appearing in public, King Michael’s grandson said that “my public appearances would have likely opened people’s eyes on backstage plotting that was supposed to remain hidden.”

 

Although the Romanian royal family is a ceremonial institution, since 2016 the state has financed its monthly expenses, estimated at 5,000 euros ($5,900) a month, while the head of the family receives a special stipend, similar to those for former heads of state, Digi24.ro writes. The royal family’s fortune, which includes several palaces throughout the country, was estimated in 2016 at around 58-60 million euros.

 

Romania will hold three days of national mourning, on 14-16 December, for the late king, Digi24.ro writes. His body will arrive in the country on 14 December.

 

Numerous leading Romanian politicians have made statements or written messages about his passing, Stirileprotv.ro reports. President Klaus Iohannis said “King Michael was one of the greatest personalities in Romanian history, whose name is left written in capital letters.”

 

Social Democrat leader Liviu Dragnea also wrote on Facebook that he was “deeply saddened” about the news, and that “the void [the former king] leaves behind is enormous, just like his contribution to World War II, and to saving the Romanian destiny.”

 

The subject of restoring the monarchy became a talking point in Romania after the fall of communism, once King Michael was allowed to return to the country. While opinions were divided on the matter, he was popular as a result of his personality, perceived as dignified and restrained, with some seeing his life in exile as a tragic consequence of 20th-century history.

 

 

  • He was a great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria, and a third cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, the current monarch. He is also a distant cousin of the reigning monarchs of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Spain.

 

  • King Michael’s eldest daughter, Princess Margareta, has become the head of the Romanian royal family, according to an official press release.

 

 

  • In 2011, then-President Traian Basescu said “many think that [King Michael’s] abdication was a patriotic act. It was not! It was a betrayal of national interests on his behalf,” adding that the former king was “a lackey of the Russians,” according to Realitatea.net.  

Compiled by Ioana Caloianu

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