L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Princess Helen of Greece and Denmark, Queen Mother of Romania, by Bassano, 22 November, 1934

Princess Helen of Greece and Denmark* (2 May 1896, Athens – 28 November 1982, Lausanne), third child and eldest daughter of the future Constantine I, King of the Hellenes, and of his wife, Princess Sophie of Prussia.  Later Queen Mother of Romania.

In these portraits, Helen has borrowed a tiara that belonged to her mother, Sophie, Queen of the Hellenes.

Helen grew up in a close and happy family, but in the midst of World War I, with outside pressure on neutral Greece, and political plotting from within, King Constantine was forced to abdicate and he and his family went into exile in Switzerland. In their father's place, her brother Alexander was made the puppet king of Greece. After his sudden death in 1920, the Greek people recalled King Constantine to the throne and he and his family returned to Greece.  (Constantine would be forced, once again, to abdicate, only two years later.)

In the meantime, in December 1919, Helen had met a second cousin, Crown Prince Carol of Romania. Carol was just completing a world tour after his forced divorce from his first wife, a commoner. Helen and Carol spent more time together during the engagement celebrations, in Romania, of her older brother George to Carol's sister Elisabeth. And in November of 1920, Carol returned to Zurich where the two became engaged, though Helen's mother opposed the match.

The next month, the Greek royal family returned to Greece, and on 10 March 1921 the couple was married in Athens. After their honeymoon, they went to live in Bucharest. Their first and only child, Michael, was born on 25 October 1921. (Born only seven and a half months after the wedding, and at a full nine pounds, there were rumors that Michael was conceived before his parent's marriage.) At first happy, the marriage soon began to deteriorate, and in 1925 Carol began an affair with Elena Lupescu, a relationship that would last the rest of his life. That same year, he renounced his rights to the throne and left Romania. On 20 July 1927 his father, Ferdinand I, died and five-year-old Michael succeeded as king under a regency of which Helen had no part. A few months later, from exile, Carol asked for a divorce. She refused at first, but after much government pressure, the marriage was dissolved in June of 1928.

Two years later, with a coup d'état, Carol returned to Romania and, with the government in disarray, he was proclaimed king. Helen and her son, Michael, continued to live in her own home in Bucharest. The government and public opinion were strongly desirous of an annulment of the couple's divorce. Carol opposed this - Elena Lupescu had secretly returned to Romania, and they were living together - and because Helen refused to oppose the annulment of the divorce, Carol began a campaign of intimidation and persecution against her; guards were placed around her home, and her friends were harassed. Unable to endure this treatment, she left Romania, visiting London and then going to stay with her mother, the once-again-exiled Queen of the Hellenes, in Florence. With an ongoing argument with Carol about how often and where she could see her son, she returned to Bucharest in 1932, but Carol started a press campaign against her, accusing her of, among other things, emotional instability. Eventually the government granted her - official - permission to reside in Romania six months of the year and to take Michael abroad for one month each year, but unofficially she was expected to remain in exile. She returned to Florence, and for the next ten years, was only able so see Michael for about two months a year.

Carol continued his irrational behavior and his mismanagement of his country, but in 1940 was finally outmaneuvered by his pro-German Prime Minister Antonescu who, by this time, had dictatorial powers. Carol once again went into exile, and eighteen year old Michael was made king, though completely under the domination of Antonescu.  His mother returned to Romania and spent the war years helping with the care of the wounded.  Also, for her involvement in the rescue of Romanian Jews from the Nazi's, Israel later awarded her with the status of Righteous Among the Nations.

In 1944 King Michael was able to wrest control of his country from the pro-German faction, an action that helped bring the Axis powers to a swifter defeat.  At the war's conclusion, Michael was lauded as a hero but, with the rapid Soviet takeover of Romania, he was only able to hold on until 1947, when he was forced - at gunpoint - to abdicate.  (In 1997 his citizenship was restored, and he now lives part of every year in Romania.)

Helen returned to Florence, and the rest of her life was spent there and in Lausanne, where she died at the age of eighty-six.

Princess Helen with her son, Michael, circa 1927.


*  The princes and princesses of Greece carry the appellation "of Greece and Denmark", because the first king of the present dynasty was born a prince of Denmark.  The kings and queens have also styled themselves "of the Hellenes", rather than "of Greece"; of the people, rather than of the country.

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