King Michael of Romania dead at 96

King Michael died of cancer on Tuesday at his residence in Switzerland, at the age of 96, according to royal family

King Michael of Romania, the last surviving head of state from the Second World War, who was credited with saving thousands of lives when he arrested the country’s dictator – a friend of Adolf Hitler – died on Tuesday at his residence in Switzerland, at the age of 96.

His death, who cited a diagnosis of cancer when withdrawing from public duties last year, was announced in a statement issued by the royal family.

King Michael is said to have been the only man to both precede and succeed his own father as king and outlived every other head of state from World War II.

The Kingdom of Romania was formed in the mid 19th century when Balkan principalities Moldavia and Walachia merged.

Michael himself was king from 1927 till 1930 and then again from 1940 till 1947.

Mihai Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen was born as prince on 25 October, 1921 in Sinaia, Romania. His father was Crown Prince Carol, his mother Princess Helen, who belonged to the Greek royal family.

In 1925, Carol, who was widely known as the “playboy prince”, bowed to his family’s fury over an affair he was having with a woman named Magda Lupescu. He renounced his right to the throne and went to live in Paris, leaving Michael as heir to the kingdom.

When Carol’s father, King Ferdinand I, died on 20 July, 1927, his grandson, who was five years old, succeeded him.

By June of 1930, Michael’s father returned and renounced his renunciation, and was subsequently crowned King Carol II, with Michael being demoted to crown prince.

King Michael with his mother, Princess Helen, in 1940.
King Michael with his mother, Princess Helen, in 1940.

“I have been terribly tired of wearing long trousers and a stiff hat and going to places I don’t want to go at all,” said Michael, at the time.

By September 1940, King Carol was forced to abdicate yet again, making prince Michael king. He seldom appeared in public and joined an alliance – anti-government forces which were gathering strength as Germany began losing the war.

By the summer of 1944, Michael emerged as a symbol of popular discontent.

King Carol II and his son, later King Michael II of Romania
King Carol II and his son, later King Michael II of Romania

It has been argued that his greatest achievement came on 23 August, 1944, when Michael summoned Hitler’s crony Ion Antonescu, a dictator of Romania, to his palace and arrested him.

King Michael received the Legion of Merit from the US and the Order of Victory from Moscow, for aiding the Red Army. He was the last living recipient of the award and one of only 20 to receive it.

By 1947, at the start of the Cold War, Stalin ordered Romania to have his king abdicate. Romania’s prime minister, Petru Groza, threatened to execute 1,000 of Michael’s supporters as well as himself, if he were not to abdicate.

“It was blackmail,” Michael told The New York Times in 2007. “They said, ‘If you don’t sign this immediately we are obliged’ — why obliged I don’t know — to kill more than 1,000 students that they had in prison.”

Michael abdicated on 30 December, 1947 and left Romania with over 30 family members and friends.

Michael attended the wedding of Princess Elizabeth of England and Prince Philip of Greece, in November, where he met Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma.

Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma and Michael
Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma and Michael

The couple eventually married in an Orthodox ceremony in Athens in June 1948, after Pope Pius XII refused to permit Anne, who was half French and half Danish, to marry a non-Catholic person. They remained married until Queen Anne died in 2016.

Queen Anne with King Michael (Photo: Royal Splendour)
Queen Anne with King Michael (Photo: Royal Splendour)

They had five daughters: Margarita, Elena, Irina, Sophie and Maria.

Living mainly in Switzerland, Michael went on to be a commercial pilot, a stock-broker and a chicken farmer.

He always regarded his forced abdication as illegal.

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