King Ferdinand

When The World Met Marie, The Saucy Queen of Romania

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By Ken Zurski

Queen Marie of Romania

Because of her stance against the Central Powers during the war, in 1919, King Ferdinand of Romania sent his British born wife Queen Marie to Paris to attend the Treaty of Versailles in his place. “My God, I simply went wherever they called me,” she said, stating only the obvious.

The glamorous Queen did more than just attend. She hobnobbed with the press, flirted with world leaders, and although she had an important job to do for her country, found time to go on lavish shopping sprees too.

By the time the historic Treaty was over, everyone knew a little bit more about the outlandish Queen Marie. And thanks in part to her unorthodox efforts, Romania, at least on paper, had doubled in size.

Born into royalty as Princess Marie of Edinburgh in 1875 in Kent, England, Marie was the eldest daughter of her mother also named Marie, the only surviving child of Tsar Alexander II of Russia, and Alexander, the second son of Queen Victoria and a naval officer who moved the family extensively throughout her childhood.  The Princess was a good catch, even as a youth, and gentleman came calling for her including a first cousin George (later George V of England) who professed his love for Marie, but was turned away. Marie’s immediate family did not believe in first cousins getting married.

In 1893, at the age of 18, Marie married Ferdinand, a third cousin, who by default, was the heir to the Romanian throne. King Carol I, Ferdinand’s uncle, and his wife had only one daughter so the succession fell to his brother Leopold, who renounced his rights in 1880. Leopold’s son did the same in 1886. So even before the turn of the 20th century, Ferdinand was the heir-presumptive.  In 1916, when Carol died, Ferdinand became the King and Marie the Queen of Romania.

King Ferdinand and Queen Marie

Marie was a different kind of Queen, less submissive and daringly independent. During the start of World War I, Marie spent time with the Red Cross in hospitals tending to the sick and wounded and risking her own life in the disease filled tents. Although she was British, she had great respect for the Romanian people and would venture into the countryside unaccompanied by guards to greet them. Many villagers crowded her in adulation; kissing her hands and falling down at her feet. “At first it was difficult unblushingly to accept such homage,” she wrote, “but little by little I got accustomed to these loyal manifestations; half humbled, half proud, I would advance amongst them, happy to be in their midst.”

In contrast to Marie’s adventurist spirit her husband, the King, was a dud; dull, shy and as one writer described “stupid” too. His most enduring feature was his ears which stuck out the sides of his head like a teddy bear. He said little and mattered even less.

Marie, however, was the complete opposite. Pretty and intelligent she spoke out when asked and seemed to have a good knowledge of foreign affairs. She also had little interest in being a committed wife. Blaming a loveless marriage, she was boldly unfaithful and found multiple lover’s in dashing figures like a Canadian millionaire miner from the Klondike. In her later years, rumors abounded that one of her longstanding paramours, the nephew of Romania’a Foreign Minister  Ion I. C. Brătianu, was the father of her children (six in all, three girls) except for the one that eventually became a bad King. That one was Ferdinand’s, went the biting accusation.

The Big Four leaders

When the war ended in November 1918, King Ferdinand decided to send his wife to the Treaty of Versailles also known as the Paris Peace Conference  a meeting of allied leaders, including the Big Four (Italy, England, France and the U.S.) to form a peace treaty and draw a new map of Europe by releasing the disposition of German colonies among contributing countries.

Sending the Queen was an obvious choice, if unprecedented. In Romania, Marie was the outspoken one, not her husband, who remained mostly silent.

So Marie went and brought her three daughters along with her. Together they shopped, dined and were generally the life of any party they attended. The Queen wore out those who tried to follow her. She charmed her way to negotiations and gained admirers along the way. “She really is an unusual woman and if she was not so simple you would think she was conceited,” chimed the British Ambassador to France. David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, was just as forthright: “{Marie] is a very naughty, but a very clever woman.” he professed.  Edward House, an American diplomat and President Woodrow Wilson’s chief adviser on European diplomacy and politics, was even more complimentary, calling her, “one of the most delightful personalities of all the royal women I have met in the West.”

Instead of being intimidated, which many had predicted, Marie intimidated others with her saucy looks, manners and speech. In one instance of queer brashness, she invited herself to lunch with President Wilson, then showed up fashionably late with an entourage of ten in tow. “I could see from the cut of the President’s jaw,” one guest noted, “that a slice of Romania was being looped off.” According to reports, Marie spent the evening talking about love. “I have never heard a lady talk about such things.” remarked Wilson’s traveling doctor, ” I honestly do not know where to look I was so embarrassed.”

In the end, Romania grew in size and population. In fact, of all the contributors at the conference, Romania is widely considered to have picked up the greatest gains, including Transylvania which became – and still is – a part of “Greater Romania.” King Ferdinand could only wait for word back home. He sent letters of encouragement and advice to his wife, which she mostly ignored.

Queen Marie left Paris upbeat.

“I had given my country a living face,” she said about her visit.

Clearly an understatement.

(Sources: Paris 1919 by Margret MacMillian;  My Country by Queen Marie; various internet articles)