Marie of Romania (1875-1938) was a British Princess by birth and a Romanian Queen by marriage.
Princess Marie married Prince Ferdinand in Sigmaringen, Germany, on 10 January 1893. The marriage, which produced three daughters and three sons, was not a happy one. The couple’s two youngest children, Ileana and Mircea, were born after Marie met her long-time lover, Barbu Ştirbey. Historians generally agree that Ştirbey was the father of Prince Mircea. The paternity of Ileana is uncertain, as is the paternity of Marie’s second daughter, Maria (or Mignon), the future Queen of Yugoslavia. Ferdinand’s paternity of the three other children, Carol, Nicholas and Elisabeth, has not been disputed.
Prince Carol announced that he no longer wished to be considered a member of the royal family and his father, in the last year of his reign pronounced the destitution of the heir apparent.
Prince Nicholas, after an undistinguished career at Eton, entered the Royal Navy and was serving in the Mediterranean Fleet, frightening the Maltese to death by tearing round the narrow streets on a Red Indian motor-bike. Stories are still told in naval wardrooms about the Valletta prostitute who set up in business for herself under the sign BY APPOINTMENT TO H.R.H. PRINCE NICHOLAS OF ROMANIA.
His mother was having better luck with her daughters. A dedicated matchmaker, Marie was determined to see the three girls nothing less than queens. Elisabeth had become Queen of Greece—a queen without a throne, it was true, and soon to be without a husband, for the marriage did not work out. Mignon, the second daughter, had taken King Alexander of Yugoslavia for a walk in the forest at Sinaia and come back engaged.
Marie, finding her country in a grim mood, swept off on travels. She took England by storm, danced a quadrille with King George and Queen Mary, and wrote a piece for a daily newspaper called “My Ideal Man”. Her fan-mail was delivered in a truck and it added up to one massive outburst of praise for her good looks, courage, charm, stamina, artistry, authorship, botany and tapestry-work. A journalist on the Toronto Star called her “a first-rate bridge-player, a second-rate poetess, a very high-grade puller of European political strings . . . who uses more make-up than all the rest of the royal families combined“
Her favourite home was more of a seaside villa than a palace. Ferdinand did not sleep here. He died before the Quiet Nest was completed. His widow did, and whom she might have slept with supplies legends for guides to entertain western tourists with. To be fair, they are only retelling gossip which circulated during Marie’s lifetime—gossip which is purged of its original malice for, as the manager of the Balchik rest-home says, ‘What is the use of being a Queen if you can’t take a lover?’
The boatman Hassan; the head gardener who cultivated for her a black rose; the Italian architect Fabrice … in the Balchik story they join the list of lovers. The list is headed by the Crown Prince of Prussia and Waldorf Astor of Cliveden, whose wife Pauline complained that Marie was writing to him every day, and must stop it. It continues with Rosciori hussars, Russian grand dukes, a Polish count, a German envoy, Colonel Joe Boyle, Prince Stirbey, two or three minor Romanian politicians, Colonel Eugen Zwiedeneck, a young aide at Balchik . . . A younger member of the royal family says: ‘Great-grandmama was very naughty. Stable-boys and everything.’
In 1930 came the sensational return of the exile: Prince Carol, the dispossessed heir who marched on Bucharest and accomplished a quiet coup against his little son.
History and the popular press have been hard on Carol II of Romania. He is a weak-chinned would-be dictator, a drunkard, intriguer and womaniser; a Byzantine character. Close to former royal circles, they speak with some embarrassment of the defect which destroyed the dynasty :
‘I hardly know how to put it . . . Carol was . . . well, you know about Cleopatra’s nose ? Half an inch longer, and the history of the world might have … it wasn’t Carol’s nose, it was another organ… half an inch shorter, and our history . . . you follow me? Lupescu was the only woman who could … eh? You understand?’