Marie of Roumania, 1875-1938: The Peoples’ Queen

“Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea,
And love is a thing that can never go wrong,
And I am Marie of Roumania.”

Americans, if they know of Marie at all, will half-remember Dorothy Parker’s  typically snarky quatrain above.  She deserves a lot better, and so, a short primer.

Marie was born in Kent in 1875, granddaughter of Queen Victoria on her father’s side and Tsar Alexander II  on her mother’s.   In 1893 she married Ferdinand, heir to the Romanian throne.

It was not the most passionate of marriages, but what she lacked in that area she more than made up for in her love of her new country and its people,  and somewhat in the manner of Lady Diana, soon became something of a peoples’ princess.  She learned the language, frequently wore the traditional Romanian clothing, and developed a powerful appreciation for her subjects (not least of all the gypsies of Romania and their peculiar culture).

When the First World War erupted, she was to be found in Red Cross gear tending to the country’s wounded soldiers.  She advocated for her country with an admirable energy a strong pen, and a good sense of public relations. In 1916, at the height of the war, Marie wrote My Country, reminding the English speaking world that there was more to the Great War than Flanders Fields and the Russian Front. After the war, she attended the Peace Conference at Versailles and in the great border redistribution was able secure a good deal of Romania’s territory that might otherwise have been lost.

She followed up My Country in the twenties and thirties with articles and memoirs (serialized in the Saturday Evening Post) and books pertaining to all things Romanian, including a volume of fairy tales.  The writings and the numerous pictures of her (to say nothing of appearance on advertisements for chocolate and Houbigant perfume)  were enough to make Marie  something of a household name in the west at that time. Small wonder Ms Parker’s audience got the reference.

King Ferdinand died in 1927, their son was crowned King Carol II.  He, like Ferdinand, was  over-shadowed by Marie in all things, not least in her affection for Romania and Romanians.  (For those inclined to gossip, there is strong evidence that she took up with prime minister Prince Barbu Stirbey, 1873-1946,  likely father of her youngest child Mircea, 1913-1916. A passionate woman, Marie.)

The queen herself died of a sudden illness in 1938, young as these things go.  The nation mourned, but it was perhaps just as fortunate that she was spared the second war and its aftermath.  Her grandson King Michael was forced to abdicate in 1947 when the communists took over.   Royal residences, including the queen’s much loved Pelisor castle outside of Bucharest, became state property.  Marie’s old caretakers were retained, and it is from them we get the story that she was not one to give things up easily.

The first party official to inspect the building strode into three rooms particularly associated with the old queen.   Seemingly out of nowhere, the rooms suddenly burst with the smell of violets,  recognized by the old caretakers as a particular favorite of the queen who had been given it by a visiting dignitary from India.  It unnerved the party official, but wisely he kept his mouth shut.

Two years later the party boss from Bucharest was visiting.  Again, the rush of perfume, and again only in three rooms noted for the Queen’s connections.  The fellow was infuriated and had soldiers rush through the place in a vain attempt to find out who was playing this practical joke.  They came up with nothing.

The last two appearances of the wandering perfume, smaller ones, were in 1958 and in 1965.  Was their any significance to these?  Well, the first occurred prior to the death of the first communist leader Petru Groza and the latter, to the death of his successor Gheorghiu-Dej.  Pelisor Castle became and remains a national, indeed, an international treasure. (Unlike, say, The People’s Palace.)

Is the tale of the violet perfume at all true?  I certainly hope so.  The story goes that Ceausescu, last of the Romanian communists, hated the place and rarely visited.

One likes to think that part of his discomfort was good Queen Marie breathing down his worthless neck.

(I stumbled over the story at Tom’s Place, a nicely idiosyncratic blog, which hosts this more detailed link.  I would have let it speak entirely for itself if not for the fact that internet links can die without warning and the story is far too interesting to risk being lost. For those who can read Roumanian, the original article can be found in the in March 13, 2000 (Nr. 404) issue of  Formula AS Magazine)

*****

The Last Romantic: A Biography of Queen Marie of Roumania, by Hannah Pakula, 1984

Marie of Romania: The Intimate Life of a 20th Century Queen by Terence Elsberry, 1972

The Story Of My Life by Queen Marie, 3 volumes, 1934-35

2 thoughts on “Marie of Roumania, 1875-1938: The Peoples’ Queen

  1. Gosh, now that you’ve re-acquainted us with Marie of Roumania, please follow up with a profile of her dear friend Sam Hill. Whether he is the “Sam Hill” of “What in the Sam Hill…” or not (it’s unlikely), he befriended Marie and another celebrity of the time, the dancer Loie Fuller, and roped them into visits to deepest Washington State. More than that I will leave to you, but Sam Hill was quite the visionary in his own way.

    • Okay, never heard of them, which is, of course, one reason I do what I do – to find out about people I should know about but do not. More on these people in due course.

      Many thanks

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