Romania’s last king, Mihai I al Romaniei (King Michael) died on December 5 at his Swiss residence at Aubonne, the royal family announced.
Mihai I was one of the final surviving leaders that held office during the Second World War, and enjoyed strong support from the Romanian population. With his death, the largely hypothetical prospect of a reinstatement of the monarchy fades even more, even though just one month earlier lawmakers had drafted a bill on the establishment of the Royal House as a state institution.
The royal family is currently represented by Mihai’s daughter Principesa Margareta a Romaniei (Princess Margret of Romania), who despite her involvement in charities and intense public activism was not able to achieve the high level of popular support enjoyed by her father.
Romania’s monarchy was established in 1861, with Carol I, born Prince Karl of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, who ruled the country from 1866 to 1914.
Mihai I ruled for a brief period during 1927-1930 (under a regency council since he was a child at that time) and later from 1940 to 1947. His most significant move was breaking the country’s alliance with Nazi Germany on August 23, 1944, when Romania joined the Allied forces.
His abdication in 1947, forced by the occupying Soviet troops, remains his most controversial decision. The country was at that time already under a communist regime, and Russian troops on the country’s territory reportedly took hostages to persuade Mihai I to abdicate and declare Romania a republic. After abdicating, Mihai was sent into exile, confiscated of his properties, and stripped of his citizenship.
Returning in 1990 after the fall of communism in Romania, he was received with hostility by the reformed communist regime of then president Ion Iliescu, who saw his position at risk. However, in 1992, he was given a 24-hour visa and received a warm welcome from one million people in Bucharest. He regained Romanian citizenship only in 1997, after Iliescu and his party lost power. Later, the royal family was given an institutional role and it was able to recover, like any other Romanian citizens, some of the properties confiscated by the communist regime.
Mihai I retired from public life last March, as his wealth declined. His wife, Regina Ana died in August 2016.