Princess Marie Alexandra Victoria of Edinburgh was born in Kent on the 29 October 1875. At her birth, few would have predicted that a British royal princess and granddaughter of Queen Victoria would work tirelessly as a nurse during the Great War. Still fewer that she would end her days despised by a communist regime.
Marie, or Missy as she was known, was born the daughter of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia. Missy grew up in a happy household with her brother, Prince Alfred, and her sisters, Princesses Victoria Melita, Alexandra and Beatrice. The family spent much of their early life at Eastwell Park, as their mother preferred this to Clarence House, their official residence. Marie’s father, the Duke of Edinburgh was a member of the British Royal Navy and was frequently away from the family home on duty.
In 1886, when Marie was eleven years old, the Duke of Edinburgh was named commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean Fleet and the family took up residence at San Antonio Palace in Malta. Marie enjoyed the time in Malta, however, this was not to last. The Prince of Wales’s renounced his rights to the duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The Duke of Edinburgh became heir presumptive to Ernest II, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and the family relocated to Coburg in 1889.
By 1892, Marie was being courted by several royal princes. At the end of the year King Carol of Romania visited London in order to meet the Duke of Edinburgh and Queen Victoria, to ask approval of a marriage between Marie and his son Prince Ferdinand. On 10 January 1893, Marie and Ferdinand were married at Sigmaringen Castle in Germany.
After the ceremony Marie and Ferdinand spent a few days travelling from Germany to Romania where Marie was warmly welcomed by the Romanian people.
Marie gave birth to her first child, Prince Carol, on 15 October 1893. He was followed by Princess Elisabeth in 1894, Princess Maria in 1900, Prince Nicholas in 1903, Princess Ileana in 1909 and finally Prince Mircea in 1913.
Around 1897, Marie met Lieutenant Gheorghe Cantacuzène, a member, albeit through an illegitimate branch, of an ancient Romanian princely family and a descendant of Prince Șerban Cantacuzino. The two soon became romantically involved, but stopped the affair when it became publicly known. There was some speculation that Marie’s second daughter, Maria, was Cantacuzène’s daughter, and not Ferdinand’s. Over the following years, Marie was also rumoured to have been romantically linked to Grand Duke Boris Vladimirovich of Russia, Waldorf Astor, Prince Barbu Știrbey and Joe Boyle.
On 29 June 1913, the Tsardom of Bulgaria declared war on Greece, thus starting the Second Balkan War. Romania entered the war, allying itself with Greece. The war, which lasted a little over a month, was worsened by a cholera epidemic. Realising the seriousness of the situation, Marie travelled between Romania and Bulgaria, working in several hospitals tending to the sick. Soon after the war ended, King Carol became ill.
On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated, on 28 July, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia and on 3 August, King Carol held a Crown Council at Sinaia, in order to decide whether Romania should enter the war. Although Carol was in favour of supporting Germany and the Central Powers, the council decided against it. Not long after the council, Carol’s illness worsened. He died on 10 October 1914 and Ferdinand succeeded as king.
At the time of Ferdinand’s ascension to the throne, the government was led by the liberal prime minister Ion I. C. Brătianu. With Brătianu’s help, Marie began pressuring Ferdinand into entering the war on the side of the Triple Entente.
On 2 November 1916, Marie’s youngest son, Prince Mircea, died of typhoid fever. In December 1916, Bucharest fell to Austrian troops, and the royal court moved to was Iași, in Moldavia. Marie continued to work as a nurse in the military hospitals.
At the end of the war, Romania, as one of the winning countries, attended the Paris Peace Conference. The official delegation was led by Brătianu, whose attitude, combined with Georges Clemenceau’s reluctance to overlook Ferdinand’s attitude at the end of the Second Balkan War led to open conflict and the Romanian delegation left Paris. In order to resolve the situation, it was decided that Marie should attend the conference, instead of Brătianu.
Marie arrived in Paris on 6 March 1919. She was popular with the French people, due to her boldness during the War. Marie shocked many officials by leading negotiations herself. She left Paris with numerous supplies for Romania’s relief and later that year, the conference resulted in the international recognition of Greater Romania, thus doubling Ferdinand and Marie’s kingdom to 295,000 square kilometres and increasing the population by ten million.
In 1924, Ferdinand and Marie undertook a diplomatic tour of France, Switzerland, Belgium and the United Kingdom. In England, she was warmly welcomed by George V. These state visits were a symbolic recognition of the prestige Romania had gained after World War I. Whilst visiting Geneva, Marie and Ferdinand became the first royals to enter the newly established headquarters of the League of Nations.
Prince Carol’s relationship with Marie was strained when he left Romania to live abroad with his mistress. In January 1926, he sparked a dynastic crisis when he officially renounced his rights to succeed Ferdinand, simultaneously waiving all parental rights over Prince Michael, (Marie’s grandson) who had been proclaimed heir. A Provisional Regency Bill was passed, which created a regency council to support Prince Michael, if necessary. Marie and Ferdinand were concerned that a regency might create political disturbances which in turn might lead to civil unrest. This concern was, in part, due to Ferdinand’s ill health. Ferdinand was suffering from intestinal cancer, and died on 20 July.
Michael automatically succeeded as king upon Ferdinand’s death and the regency council took charge of his role as monarch. In May 1928, Carol, who had been living in England with his mistress, attempted to return to Romania. He was prevented from doing so by English authorities, who then expelled him from England.
Marie’s popularity was dented during Michael’s reign, after refusing to be part of the regency council, and in 1929 she was accused by the press of plotting a coup. On 6 June 1930, Carol arrived in Bucharest and made his way into Parliament, where the Act of Succession 1927 was duly declared null and he was acclaimed as King Carol II. The relationship between Carol and Marie remained strained however, as Carol sidelined Marie’s counsel during his reign.
During the summer of 1937, Marie fell ill. Her personal physician, Dr. Castellani, determined she had pancreatic cancer, although her official diagnosis was cirrhosis of the liver. In February 1938, she was sent to a sanatorium in Italy. Growing weaker, she requested that she be taken back to Romania, in order to die there..
Marie died on 18 July 1938. She was interred at the Curtea de Argeș Monastery, and her heart was placed in a small golden casket and interred in her Stella Maris chapel in Balchik. In 1940, after Southern Dobrudja was ceded to Bulgaria during World War II, her heart was transferred to Bran Castle.
During the forty-two year of communist rule in Romania, Marie was frequently portrayed as an ‘agent of English capitalism’ and as extremely as promiscuous.
In Romania, Marie is known by the nickname ‘Mama Răniților’ (Mother of the Wounded), or simply as ‘Regina Maria’. Marie is also nicknamed ‘the mother-in-law of the Balkans’, due to her children’s marriages among ruling houses in the Balkans.