Carol I of Romania


Carol I of Romania : biography

20 April 1839 – 10 October 1914

Early life

Prince Karl Eitel Friedrich Zephyrinus Ludwig of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen was born in Sigmaringen, the second son of Prince Karl Anton of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen and his wife, Princess Josephine of Baden. After finishing his elementary studies, Karl entered the Cadet School in Münster. In 1857 he was attending the courses of the Artillery School in Berlin. Up to 1866, when he accepted the crown of Romania, he was a Prussian officer. He took part in the Second Schleswig War, including the assault of the Fredericia citadel and Dybbøl, an experience which would be very useful to him later in the Russo-Turkish war.

Although he was quite frail and not very tall, prince Karl was reported to be the perfect soldier, healthy and disciplined, and also a very good politician with liberal ideas. He was familiar with several European languages. His family being closely related to the Bonaparte family (one of his grandmothers was a Beauharnais, Joséphine’s niece-in-law, and the other a Murat, Joachim’s niece Marie Antoinette Murat), they enjoyed very good relations with Napoleon III of France. Romania was at the time under the influence of French culture, and Napoleon’s recommendation of Prince Karl of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen weighed heavily with Romanian politicians of the time, as did his blood relation to the ruling Prussian family. Ion Brătianu was the Romanian politician who was sent to negotiate with Karl and his family the possibility of installing him on the Romanian throne.

The end of the reign

The long rule of Carol helped the quick development of the Romanian state. But, towards the end of his reign and the start of the World War I, Carol wanted to enter the war on the side of the Central Powers. However, Romanian public opinion was overwhelmingly Francophile and sided with the Triple Entente. Carol had signed a secret treaty in 1883 which had linked Romania with the Triple Alliance (1882). Although the treaty was to be activated only if Russia attacked one of the signatories, Carol was convinced that the honourable thing to do was to enter the war supporting the German Empire and his cousin, Emperor William II.

In 21 July (3 August) 1914, an emergency meeting was held with the Crown Council, where Carol told them about the secret treaty and shared his opinion with them. However, most of the Crown Council members strongly disagreed, opting for neutrality. King Carol died in 27 September (10 October) 1914. The future King Ferdinand, under the influence of his wife, Marie of Edinburgh, a British princess, was more willing to listen to public opinion.


Boris Crǎciun – "Regii şi Reginele României", Editura Porţile Orientului, Iaşi


A devoted King

King Carol was reported to be a cold person. He was permanently concerned with the prestige of the dynasty he had founded. His wife, Elizabeth, claimed he ‘wore the crown in his sleep’. He was very meticulous and he tried to impose his style upon everyone that surrounded him. Though he was devoted to his job as a Romanian prince and king, he never forgot his German roots.

In 48 years of rule—far and away the longest in Romanian history—he helped Romania gain its independence, he raised its prestige, he helped redress its economy and he established a dynasty. In the Carpathian mountains, he built Peleş Castle, still one of Romania’s most visited touristic attractions. The castle was built in German style, as a reminder of the king’s origin. After the Russo-Turkish war, Romania gained Dobrogea and Carol ordered the first bridge over the Danube, between Feteşti and Cernavodă, linking the newly acquired province to the rest of the country.

As a member of the German higher landed aristocracy (fuerst), Carol never managed to follow the much-needed liberal and poor-friendly policies initiated by his predecessor, Alexandru Ioan Cuza. Left unsolved, the grave social problems caused by the inequity of land ownership, ignited repeatedely peasant uprisings throughout the reign of Carol I. The crown-exploited peasant class was suppressed ruthlessly during 1907 revolt, at the cost of 10,000 lives."The issue burst to the forefront of national affairs once again in 1907 when Carol suppressed a peasant rebellion at the cost of 10,000 lives." – MLA Citation: "Carol I.", World History: The Modern Era, ABC-CLIO, 2010."Romanian peasants revolt in Moldavia beginning in March to protest their inability to buy land; they also protest their exploitation by the crown and by grain merchants such as Leopold Louis-Dreyfus. Some 10,000 die before Carol I can regain control of the country in April." – citation source: Trager, James, "1907" The People’s Chronology, James Trager, 3rd ed. Detroit: Gale, 2005. Gale Virtual Reference Library, numéro du document Gale : GALE CX3460601907. Being under the detrimental influence of the local landlords, the king failed to put together a sound administration, as that envisioned by Prince Cuza, or to fight the endemic corruption and inefficient government."A part of the Ottoman Empire from the fifteenth century, the independence of Moldavia and Wallachia as Romania was recognized at the Congress of Berlin in 1878. The new state was relatively weak, its administration corrupt and inefficient, and the power of the landlords remained intact. This led to a number of peasants’ revolts (1888, 1907), which were brutally suppressed." – how to cite this entry: "Romania", A Dictionary of Contemporary World History, Jan Palmowski, Oxford University Press, 2008, Oxford Reference Online.“Economic and formal political progress, however, was not matched by similar advancement of democratic processes in the social field. The liberal provisions of the 1866 Constitution were circumvented under the authoritarian governmental system, leaving much actual power in the hands of the landed aristocracy. The slowly rising middle class and small number of industrial entrepreneuers were granted some rights, but the increasing number of industrial workers and the great peasant majority shared very little in the political life of the country. A major peasant revolt in 1907 attempted unsuccessfully to rectify the serious social imbalance. The uprising was forcefully suppressed with extensive loss of life and, although some corrective measures were later instituted that improved working conditions and resulted in the division of more large landholdings, the general political strength and living standards of the peasants and workers were not materially improved." – Romania: Chapter 2A, Historical Setting, Eugene K. Keefe, Countries of the World, 01-01-1991, eLibrary, Canada.

The Constitution

King Carol with his wife and their only daughter (1873) Immediately after arriving in the country, the Romanian parliament adopted, on 29 June 1866, the 1866 Constitution of Romania, one of the most advanced constitutions in that time. This constitution allowed the development and modernization of the Romanian state. In a daring move, the Constitution chose to ignore the nominal suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire, which paved the way towards a full independence.

Article 82 stated that "The ruler’s powers are hereditary, starting directly from His Majesty, prince Carol I of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, on the male line through the right of first-born, with the exclusion of women and their issue. His Majesty’s descendants will be raised in the Eastern Orthodox Religion."

In 1877, Romania was proclaimed independent, making Carol fully sovereign over Romania. From 1878, Carol held the title of Royal Highness (Alteţă Regală). On 15 March 1881, the constitution was amended to proclaim Romania a kingdom. Carol became the first king, while the heir would be called Prince Royal. On 10 May, Carol was crowned King.

(The basic idea of all the royalist constitutions in Romania was that the King reigned, but did not rule.)