Wednesday, March 10, 2021

A Century Since the Marriage of Crown Prince Carol of Romania and Princess Helen of Greece

Newly-married Crown Prince Carol and Crown Princess Helen of Romania with their sisters Princess Ileana of Romania and Princess Katherine of Greece.

One hundred years ago today, on 10 March 1921, Crown Prince Carol of Romania and Princess Helen of Greece and Denmark married at Athens. The civil ceremony took place at the Royal Palace; this was followed by the Greek Orthodox religious ceremony at the Metropolitan Cathedral. The couple's siblings, Crown Prince George of Greece and Princess Elisabeta of Romania, had married on 27 February 1921 in Bucharest. George and Elisabeta returned to Athens for the wedding of Carol and Helen. 

Crown Prince Carol and Crown Princess Helen of Romania enter Bucharest, 1921.

Carol of Romania and Helen of Greece were second cousins, both being great-grandchildren of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Carol was the grandson of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and later of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, who was the father of Carol's mother Queen Marie of Romania. Helen was the granddaughter of Empress Victoria of Germany, who was the mother of Helen's mother Queen Sophie of Greece. In 1920, Helen met Carol for the first time when his mother Queen Marie extended an invitation to Helen and her sister Irene to visit Romania. On 24 October 1920, Carol's grandmother Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna, Dowager Duchess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, died in Zurich. The next day, 25 October, Helen's adored brother King Alexander of Greece died in Athens. As Helen and Irene were still in Bucharest, Queen Marie offered to take the sisters as well as their brother George, recently engaged to Marie's daughter Elisabeta, to Switzerland. The queen was to attend her mother's funeral in Switzerland, while the Greek siblings went to join their parents in Lucerne. Shortly before the Royal Train's departure from Romania, Carol decided to go with his mother and cousins. Helen later recalled in the biography Queen Helen of Rumania by Arthur Gould Lee: "I was attracted to him and felt that later I could come to love him. But what really made me say 'yes' was the thought of Alexander. All through the exile my one hope had ben to go back to the country we both loved, but now he was no longer there I felt I could not face Athens and Tatoi again. To marry Carol and go to Rumania, and not to have to live in the place that would constantly wound me with memories, seemed in these days of sorrow a kind of deliverance. From the beginning, my father had said that I myself must decide, and he never let me feel that he was against the marriage. It was my mother who was so upset, chiefly because of the differences of upbringing and background and also because she was in despair at the idea of losing me so soon after the grievous loss of Alexander. But I insisted, and for some time my mother tried pleading with me, and using every argument to induce caution. I little realised then how true were her warning words. Had I listened, I would have been spared years of misery. As it was, the engagement was duly announced.

Crown Princess Helen and Prince Michael of Romania, 1922.

After their marriage, Carol and Helen returned to Romania. On 25 October 1921, the couple's only child, Prince Michael (the future King Michael of Romania) was born at Peles Castle. By 1924, the marriage of the Crown Prince and Crown Princess had irretrievably broken down. Their union was dissolved by divorce in 1928. Carol later remarried and died in exile in 1953; Helen never remarried and devoted the rest of her life to supporting her son and his family. Queen Mother Helen of Romania died in 1982.

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