Bucharest

Carol II: The Playboy King

more than a year ago
By Paul D. Quinlan. Reviewed by Chris Lawson

He fathered four children two of them with a schoolgirl, deserted his regiment, had dinner with Hitler, was awarded the Order of the Garter, left Romania in a train under a hail of bullets with 100 suitcases including priceless Old Masters, was married in a hotel room in Rio and died in Estoril aged 59. His dubious political record, and the company he kept, denied him his dearest wish, to spend the war years in the USA.

Maria Martini, a high school student, who may well have been a minor, gave him a son and a daughter, who were immediately adopted. But four other women played a decisive role in the life of King Carol II of Romania. Zizi Lambrino, his first wife and a commoner, also provided him with a son, Carol, in a morganatic marriage contracted in Ukraine. His legitimate wife, Elena of Greece, was the mother of ex-King Mihai, whose behaviour throughout his long life has been impeccably correct.

Carol’s mother, Queen Marie, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, burnished her reputation as a mix of Florence Nightingale and Princess Diana with the maimed and the wounded on the battlefield of the First World War by bringing back Transylvania from the Versailles Peace Conference. Promiscuous in the extreme, there were even doubts about the parenthood of one of her children. Relations between her and Carol were strained and those with his siblings were not much better. He spent much of his royal dictatorship (1930-1940) in family squabbles and rotating prime ministers.

He met Elena Lupescu, the love of his life, in 1925. With her alabaster skin, green eyes and Titian hair, she came from a converted Jewish family in Iasi. Cunning, greedy and ambitious, she was to be by Carol’s side until his death in 1953.

Neither a good king nor a decent human being, Carol acquired the reputation of being the most corrupt crowned head of 20th century Europe. Destroying his country’s parliamentary form of government, he led the country to chaos and dismemberment, although the Great Depression can be blamed for much, together with the sinister and murderous Iron Guard, a nationalist, anti-Semitic movement with its roots in the Orthodox Church.

The Hitler-Stalin Pact overwhelmed Carol. Romania lost Northern Transylvania, Northern Bukovina and Bessarabia. He was forced to leave the country by the syphilitic “Red Dog” Antonescu, a Romanian Army career officer, who went on to compound Romania’s woes by joining Hitler in the invasion of the Soviet Union. Romania lost two armies and a third of a million men.

Carol and Lupescu spent the war years wandering about South America before settling in Portugal. Carol tended his stamp collection and lived a life of luxury before dying of a heart attack in 1953. His coffin was kept amongst the tombs of Portuguese kings in the Cathedral of Sao Vicente de Fora in Lisbon, draped in a fading Romanian royal flag, before it was buried in the Cathedral of Curtea de Arges in 2003. Lupescu was buried separately. Carol and Mihai never met again.

Given such a life it would be difficult to write a bad book about Carol, the Playboy King. Paul Quinlan has written a very good one.
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