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European Kingdoms

Eastern Europe


Romania / Rumania

In the ancient world, areas of south-eastern Romania formed parts of the kingdom of Thrace. More usually, this 'kingdom', which covered a much larger area than today's Thrace, was territory for a mass of tribes, all vying with each other for supremacy but also valiantly resisting Macedonian and then Roman expansion. To the north of Thrace, various tribes which included the Roxolani inhabited areas of modern Romania during the first century BC. Further north, some territory was under the control of the Germanic tribe of the Gepids in the sixth century AD. The Eastern Romans dominated the region for the latter half of the first millennium, followed by the Ottomans in the latter half of the second millennium. It was during Ottoman domination that Romania emerged.

The correct form of the country's name - whether Romania or Rumania - has produced a little confusion over the years. The latter form predominated in English until the later twentieth century, to be superseded by 'Romania'. Both forms were adopted by the mid-nineteenth century when the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia were unified to form this new state. The form of the name with the 'o' was introduced by the time of unification to stress the descent of the Rumanians from the ancient Romans. In this period Cyrillic script was replaced by Latin and the language was heavily re-Latinised. Since then, the Rumanian state has always promoted the spelling with an 'o', even in foreign languages.

Kingdom of Rumania (Hohenzollern)
AD 1881 - 1947
Incorporating the Romanian Old Kingdom & Greater Romania

The state of Romania (or Rumania in older usage) came into being as a principality in 1859 under Ottoman suzerainty. It was formed out of the late-Byzantine and then Ottoman-ruled Danubian principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia. The new country gained independence from the Ottomans in 1877-1878 following the Ottoman defeat at the hands of Russia. Karl (or Karel) of the Prussian royal family of Hohenzollern had already been invited to form a new monarchy for Wallachia, and so he became the first king of Rumania in 1881 when the kingdom was officially proclaimed.

This was the period, until 1913, that would later be referred to as the 'Romanian Old Kingdom'. It was used to describe a Romania that consisted only of Moldavia and Wallachia. Northern Dobruja was soon added in return for Rumania's part in the 1876-1878 Russo-Turkish War and in compensation for the loss of some territory which abutted southern Bessarabia (now mostly within Moldova). This gave the kingdom much of its Black Sea coastline to the north of the Danube.

Much more territory was added out of the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire, between 1918-1920. Romanians in the Hungarian province of Transylvania had already formed a 'National Party' to campaign for their rights, but had met with repression by the Hungarian authorities. Now they too were able to join Rumania, in 1919, beginning the 'Greater Romania' period which lasted until 1940.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from Hitler's Forgotten Ally: Ion Antonescu and his Regime, Romania, 1940-1944, Dennis Deletant, 2006, from Europe Since 1945: An Encyclopaedia Volume 1, Bernard A Cook (Ed), and from External Links: BBC Country Profiles, and Orbis Latinus.)

1881 - 1914

Karel / Carol I

Charles Eitel Frederick of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen.


A mass revolt by poor peasants is triggered in Moldavia. It quickly spreads to Wallachia, fuelled by discontent over heavily imbalanced land ownership rights. The nobility own much of the land, leasing it to agents for a regular rent, who then sub-let it to the peasants, intending on making a quick profit. The revolt is bloodily crushed.

Stefan Luchian, Distribution of Maize
The Rumanian Peasants Revolt of 1907 was the result of long-simmering discontent at land ownership in the country - Rumanian artist Stefan Luchian's 1905 painting of peasants shows their relative poverty in Distribution of Maize


Rumania avoids the First Balkan War between the Ottoman empire and the Balkan League. Following the Second Balkan War in the same year in which Rumania is opposed by a belligerent Bulgaria, the latter's Southern Dobruja region is annexed to Rumania, giving it territory to the south of the lower Danube.

1914 - 1927


Nephew. Daughter Marie m King Alexander II of Yugoslavia.

1916 - 1918

The death of King Karel in 1914 has ended Rumania's alliance with the First World War Central Powers. On 17 August 1916, Rumania, long courted by the Allies, is finally persuaded by promises from France and Russia that it will gain the principality of Transylvania from Hungary. Its war effort is quickly defeated when it attacks into Hungary instead of holding a front against Bulgaria, as agreed. However, when the Russian and Austrian empires collapse it gets what it wants.

Furthermore, the ethnic Rumanians of the Russian provinces of Bessarabia and Moldavia declare a Moldavian People's Republic in January 1918, with the Rumanian army close at hand. In April, these regions become part of Rumania proper. The country's gains in terms of populace amount to about a quarter of its total figure, although it has lost Southern Dobruja to Bulgaria.

Vienna in 1918
With the various peoples who made up its ethnically-diverse population pulling apart from it in 1918, Vienna was left with a rump state which greatly reduced its power and significance in post-Austro-Hungarian empire Europe

1919 - 1920

As part of the peace settlement at the end of the First World War, Rumania acquires several territories which have resident Rumanian populations, and virtually doubles its size and population. The county of Krassó-Szörény is reassigned from the kingdom of Hungary in 1920, along with several neighbouring Hungarian territories including much of the Banat, all of which gives Rumania more territory along the banks of the Danube. As promised by the Allies, the region of Transylvania is included in this handover as part of the dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian empire. This is the period of 'Greater Romania' which is used to describe the state up until 1940.


Upon the death of King Ferdinand, his son Karel is prevented from succeeding him thanks to a scandalous lifestyle and a renunciation of his rights to the throne. Instead his own son, the young Michael, is placed on the throne with Karel's brother Nicolae acting as regent. Karel spends three years in exile.

1927 - 1930

Michael / Mihai

Infant son of Karel II. Born 1921.

1927 - 1930


Uncle and regent.


Karel changes his mind about accepting exile and returns to the country. With the support of the governing National Peasants' Party he proclaims himself king, effectively deposing his own son. This is despite having permanently signed away any right to rule in official documents which had been written and signed in front of his own father.

1930 - 1940

Karel / Carol II

Son of Ferdinand. Forced to abdicate.


As with elsewhere in Europe, this decade is an unsettled and dangerous one for Rumania and its eastern regions of Bessarabia and Moldavia. The country witnesses the rise of the green-shirted fascist 'Iron Guard' mass movement and weakened government after government as the country lurches towards nationalist leanings.

King Karel II of Rumania
King Karel II - pictured next to his brother, the more elaborately-dressed Prince Nicholas (on the right) - became increasingly dictatorial during the troubled years of the 1930s


Following the country's slide towards fascism and his own somewhat mixed relationship with fascism's leaders in Rumania, Karel II establishes an absolute monarchy - effectively a dictatorship.


Russia seizes Bessarabia, before Rumania becomes an active ally of Nazi Germany. The seizure is made under the terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The industrialised territory to the east of the Dniester, generally known as Trans-Dniester or the Dniester region, is taken from Ukraine and combined with Bessarabia to form the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. The Treaty of Craiova sees Rumania agree to hand back a recaptured Southern Dobruja to Bulgaria on 7 September 1940.

Following the Molotov-Ribbentrop territorial losses, King Karel is forced to abdicate in favour of his son by General Ion Antonescu. As soon as he commits the act, Antonescu seizes power himself and uses Michael as a figurehead.

1940 - 1947

Michael / Mihai

Restored. Used as a fascist figurehead. Exiled.

1940 - 1944

Ion Antonescu

Fascist dictator and army marshal. Executed.

1940 - 1944

After some internal strife, the fascists rule Rumania as part of the Axis Alliance with Nazi Germany. The country is governed by its pro-German dictator, with the king powerless. Antonescu's rule is marked by anti-Semitic atrocities, including racially discriminatory laws, deportations, and pogroms. The king and his mother, Queen Helen, are kept informed about the next actions planned against the Jews. The queen then seeks urgent meetings with Antonescu, and manages to have many anti-Jewish measures and orders rescinded, saving many thousands of Jewish lives.

Berlin 1945
Poet Yevgeny Dolmatovski recites his works on Berlin's Pariser Platz just a few days after the German surrender - a remarkable poetry recital with the bullet-riddled Brandenburg Gate flanked by ruins and two tank barrels hovering above the heads of soldiers


In August King Michael requests a meeting with the now-Marshal Antonescu, and demands his resignation. Antonescu refuses, so three soldiers and a captain, listening in the next room, enter and arrest him. A provisional government is formed, and an armistice announced which ends hostilities against Soviet troops who are already pushing towards the country's borders. Within hours, German planes bomb the royal palace and Romania joins the Allies. Antonescu is executed by the communist authorities after the war. The sudden appearance of Soviet troops in Romania causes panic in Bulgaria.


With the USSR occupying the rest of Eastern Europe at the end of the Second World War, Rumania is taken over by communists. Having returned home to Rumania to announce his engagement to Princess Anne Antoinette Francoise Charlotte of Bourbon-Parma, the king is forced to abdicate by Petru Groza, the communist prime minister (known as the 'red bourgeois' thanks to his own upper-middle class background).

If the king does not comply, Groza threatens the death of about a thousand pro-monarchy supporters, most of them students who had been arrested at earlier rallies. The king signs, and an impromptu meeting of parliament witnesses the proclamation of the republic of Romania.

Modern Romania
AD 1947 - Present Day

The largest of the modern Balkan countries, Romania is a unitary semi-presidential republic, with a Black Sea coastline and a capital at Bucharest. Its name is a legacy of the region's history within the Roman empire, originally meaning 'citizen of Rome'. It is neighboured by Ukraine to the north, Moldova along much of its eastern border (apart from the section along the Black sea coastline), Bulgaria to the south, Serbia to the south-west, and Hungary to the north-west.

The region has seen various empires come and go, starting with the Romans and their Byzantine successors, and then the Ottoman Turks, who conquered the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia from which the core of Romania was formed in the nineteenth century. The country gained Transylvania in 1919 (essentially its modern central region), losing only part of it during the Second World War. Following a relatively brief period of independence as a kingdom, Romania was taken over by communists as Soviet forces were taking over other Eastern European states at the end of the Second World War. Its monarchy, less than a century old, was abolished.

Following the communist seizure of the country, Romania's communist government pursued polices which were independent of Soviet control. It maintained an increasingly dictatorial hold over the country that could only be thrown off through an uprising in 1989. Communist figures still dominated politics until true democracy started to emerge in the mid-1990s. The king went into exile, first to England and then to Switzerland where he still lived at the age of ninety-one in 2011, along with his wife, Anne Antoinette Francoise Charlotte of Bourbon-Parma, and five daughters. After 1997 his Romanian citizenship was restored and he and Queen Anne began dividing their time between there and Switzerland. King Michael and successive claimants to the Romanian throne are shown below with a shaded background.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Security Dynamics in the Former Soviet Bloc, Graeme P Herd & Jennifer D P Moroney (2003), from Democratic Consolidation in Eastern Europe, Jan Zielonka (2001), from Russia - Continuity and Change, Gerald Hinteregger & Hans-Georg Heinrich (Eds), from European Yearbook 2000, Francis Rosenstiel, Edith Lejard, Jean Boutsavath & Jacques Martz, from De Facto States: The Quest for Sovereignty, Barry Bartmann & T Bahcheli (2004), and from External Links: BBC Country Profiles, and Romanian Royal Family, and Royal funeral for Romania's uncrowned Queen Anne (BBC).)

1947 - Present

Michael / Mihai

'Prince of Hohenzollern' (1947). 'King of Rumania' (1948-on).

1948 - 1949

A Soviet-style constitution is imposed on the country, along with purges of dissidents in the Communist Party. In 1949, one of the victims of the newly-established communist state is the heir to the throne of Mexico, Princess Maria, who dies in suspicious circumstances shortly after she is interned along with her husband.


The USSR forms the Warsaw Pact in direct response to the admission of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) into Nato whilst itself being barred from joining. The states involved in the founding of this eastern alliance are Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Russia.

Warsaw Pact meeting
Russia, plus its seven Warsaw Pact allies, signed the treaty of establishment in the Polish capital, Warsaw, on 14 May 1955, with the location of signing giving the pact its name


Following the death of Communist Party leader Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, he is succeeded by Nicolae Ceauçescu. He leads Romania away from Moscow's dominance, but after a period of fairly moderate rule his 'reign' becomes increasingly brutal and dictatorial.

1965 - 1989

Nicolae Ceauçescu

Communist dictator. Executed in a popular uprising.


The Vrancea earthquake hits the Eastern Carpathians in the Balkans, and the resultant shockwaves in Bucharest kill around 1,500 people. The magnitude 7.2 quake damages around 35,000 buildings, with over thirty in the centre of the city collapsing entirely. Almost all of the latter buildings had been erected between the 1920s-1940s without any earthquake protection.

1985 - 1987

Ceauçescu's austerity programme leads to food shortages and widespread power cuts. In 1987, the army occupies power plants and crushes workers' demonstrations in Brasov, although the writing is already on the wall for the dictatorship.


In December, demonstrations in the city of Timisoara against the harassment of a dissident ethnic-Hungarian priest named Laszlo Tokes trigger a bloody national uprising. Nicolae Ceauçescu, feared and hated in equal measure, and his wife Elena are caught by surprise and try to flee. They are captured and both are executed, side-by-side, on Christmas Day. Communism is discarded in favour of the National Salvation Front, and a democratic republic is painstakingly established, headed by Ion Iliescu.


Increasingly alarmed at the state of the Soviet Union, the prospect of its break-up, and of closer ties with Romania, the Trans-Dniester region of Moldavia unilaterally declares independence from Moldova.

Modern Chișinău
Modern Chișinău in Moldova bears all the hallmarks of mass Soviet-era concrete construction, although living standards in the twenty-first century are slowly improving

In the same year, the exiled King Michael and several members of the royal family enter Romania for the first time since they had been exiled. Their intention is to visit the tombs of their royal ancestors at the Curtea de Argeș Cathedral and attend a Christmas service there. Instead they are quickly stopped by the police, returned to the airport, and forced to leave the country.


King Michael is allowed to re-enter Romania to attend the Easter celebrations. His presence draws large crowds, which alarms the former communists who form the government. They ban him from returning to the country for five years.

1996 - 1997

Although former communists have dominated politics in Romania since Ceauçescu's fall, they are now swept aside when a centralist government is elected. The hopeful future promised by this change in direction becomes mired in prolonged political feuding. One benefit that does come out of it is the fact that former King Michael has his citizenship restored and is allowed to visit the country. He begins to divide his time between his home-in-exile in Switzerland and Romania.


Romania takes a big step in distancing itself from its Soviet legacy when it joins Nato in late March of this year. Its strategic location and Black Sea air and naval bases make it attractive to the alliance.


In January, Romania becomes a member state of the European Union. The process of joining has taken longer than in many other former Soviet-occupied states due to Romania's political in-fighting and a lack of progress on economic reform. This process had finally been kick-started relatively recently, and in April 2005 Bucharest had been able to sign the EU accession treaty.

King Michael of Romania
King Michael at the age of ninety-one was still every much the respected former king of Romania, with even his own country now showing him a warm welcome

Later in the same year, on 30 December 2007, which is the sixtieth anniversary of his abdication, King Michael signs the document entitled Fundamental Rules of the Royal Family of Romania. With this act he specifies that his daughter, Princess Margareta, is the heir to the Romanian throne with the titles 'Crown Princess of Romania' and 'Custodian of the Romanian Crown'. Michael also requests of the Romanian parliament that, should the monarchy ever be restored, the Salic Law of succession which prevents female succession be abolished.


King Michael's announcement of 2007 which had favoured his daughter as his heir has aroused the wrath of his Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen dynastic relatives in Germany. Various lawsuits have been brought by them in relation to the use of the Hohenzollern-Veringen name by Michael's son-in-law, Radu. There are fears that the Hohenzollerns may stake a rival claim to the succession of the Romanian royal house.

To head off such a possibility, Michael severs all dynastic and historical ties with the House of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen. He changes the family name to 'of Romania' and surrenders all of the princely titles that have been conferred upon him and his family by the Hohenzollerns.

Queen Anne of Romania
Anne of Bourbon-Parma, queen of Romania as the wife of King Michael, married the king after his forced abdication and exile, and did not even set foot in Romania until the 1990s


A royal funeral takes place at Curtea de Arges in central Romania on 13 August 2016. A day of mourning is also declared both in Romania and Moldova, and flags fly at half-mast. The ceremony is for Queen Anne of Romania, after she passes away in hospital in Switzerland on 1 August, at the age of ninety-two. Romania's President Klaus Iohannis, Moldova's President Nicolae Timofti, many other statesmen, and thousands of well-wishers have already paid their respects as her coffin lay in state at Peles Castle at Sinaia and at the Royal Palace in Bucharest.

Crown Princess Margareta of Romania

Dau and heir. No children.

Princess Elena of Romania

Sister and next in line to succeed.

Frederick William

Rival claimant? Prince of Hohenzollerns of Germany.