AS long as the daughter of the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-and-Gotha and granddaughter of Queen Victoria of England remained merely Princess Marie of Roumania, although the world recognized her as the most beautiful among royal princesses, it did not particularly concern itself with her life or personality. When the World War came she was in the maturity of her beauty at 39 and sedately settled in her marital relations after twenty-one years of married life with Prince Ferdinand, heir presumptive to the throne of his uncle, King Carol. With scarcely more than bare announcements in the foreign press and with no comment at all in the chancelleries of Europe she had, meanwhile, borne him six children: their Royal Highnesses, Carol, Oct. 15, 1893; Elisabeth, Oct. 11, 1894; Marie, Jan. 8, 1900; Nicholas, Aug. 18, 1903; Ileana, Jan. 5, 1909; and Mircea, Jan. 3, 1912.
The War, followed shortly after its inception by the deaths of her uncle and aunt, King Carol and Queen Elisabeth, the latter better known abroad by her pen-name of "Carmen Sylva", even by those who were ignorant of her royal title, suddenly transformed her tranquil, domestic life and made her one of the most conspicuous women in the world with an existence for which her former life had presented few analogies although plenty of preparation.
Her birth and formative influences had naturally developed her strong pro-Allies sympathies—but not more strongly than these influences had begun to dominate her husband and his people, by the thraldom in which their kinsmen had been living in Transylvania and Bukovina. Even the sympathies of her late uncle and aunt had been so developed, although they knew, just as the new King and Queen knew, that Roumania in the Autumn of 1914, was in no better condition to enter the war than was Italy at the same period.
How adequately to prepare, without unduly exciting the apprehensions of the Central Empires, became the problem of each country. This problem had been inadequately solved by Italy and hardly attempted by Roumania when the overwhelming desire of each people forced their Governments into the War. The natural and justified aspirations of each were the same—to free their nationals from alien rule. And because Roumania's position had been less fortified than that of Italy's, because, moreover, she was to suffer from the treason of an ally, she was less able to withstand the invasions of her enemies, until the permanent defeat of the Central Empires with the complete dissolution of one of them, caused both Italy and Roumania to achieve their national aspirations.
Through all this terror of war and invasion and of fear of Communist revolution the personality of Queen Marie stood out as a noble, patriotic woman of boundless sympathies and ceaseless energy—in the field, in the hospital, in councils of the ways and means to meet hygienic, social, and even political emergencies, but more than all perhaps in her personal appeals to the Roumanian people to preserve their solidarity and making even the humblest understand her character as a Queen, who measured up to their most sanguine hopes of what a Queen should be. On her part no taint of opportunism was revealed—and the obvious sincerity of her actions became an inspiring example of patriotism, loyalty, and love for all to emulate.
In the political turmoil, however, which followed that of war with the various social, political, and economic questions both individual and factional to be adjusted, the personality and even the character of Her Majesty became a prey of the forces which fought for dominance. A less pronounced personality, a weaker character, would have been completely submerged by them. It is not astonishing, therefore, that neither her glorious war work nor her character as Queen and woman, even though proven by countless witnesses, should have remained without attempts to demolish it by those who had failed to make it serve their selfish purposes. For political and social aspirations know nought of morality, and although Bucharest has been called "Little Paris", as a field for character demolition it can only be compared to that of Rome before the advent of Fascismo. Today Romans are too busy to concern themselves with the affairs of their neighbors. It is not so in Bucharest, however, nor at Sinaia, the playground of the capital.
In Vienna, the Soviet Legation playing the game of Moscow, does everything in its power to disparage Roumania's claim to the former Russian Government of Bessarabia. In Paris, there are those who are not satisfied with the way industrial concessions in Roumania have been handed out. In Rome there is the fear of the French discounting Italian interests in Roumania. In London there are suspicions of dynastic influences at work. All these conflicting ambitions seize upon anything which may serve their purpose. Thus we have the varied stories of Queen Marie's desire to control the destinies of the Balkans by dynastic alliances, when her son, Prince Carol, married Princess Helen of Greece, and one daughter, Princess Elisabeth, wedded King George of Greece, and another, Princess Marie, King Alexander of Yugoslavia. And there is the inevitable imaginative sequel that she now seeks a financial alliance for her remaining daughter, Princess Ileana, who comes here with her, among plutocratic Americans. Her Majesty's attitude toward her eldest son's royal dereliction, if not his personal deflections, should sufficiently admonish ambitious Americans. For, whatever Her Majesty's dynastic ambitions may be in Europe, she did not carelessly decide to visit this country as a Queen rather than incognita, however nearer to the masses the latter impersonation might have brought her. There is, indeed, nothing extraordinary in her mission and visit—she has simply seized a long-desired opportunity to tell, as only she knows how to tell, intelligent Americans about Roumania and to observe, as she knows so well how to observe, the phenomena of American life.
It would be too long a story fittingly to appraise the post-bellum legend that has gradually surrounded Her Majesty abroad. It is sufficient to prove that parts of its fabric cannot possibly be the truth by revealing those things whose truth cannot be questioned, although long hidden from the public gaze.
The first legend of any seriousness to be demolished is the fiction that she, on account of her anti-Teutonic attitude, was in constant conflict with her uncle and aunt during their last days, and that she even persuaded her husband, when he became King, to adopt a pro-Allied policy.
At Sinaia, twelve miles south of the now obliterated Hungarian frontier, is a monastery used as a royal residence until the late King Carol built near by the chateau of Pelesh, named after the hill on which it stands. Here, unless affairs of business or of State called the members of the family elsewhere, the uncle and aunt, nephew and niece, spent most of the year in close domestic communion and with no quarrel a confirmed whisper of which ever reached the world beyond. Here the glass windows illustrate the principal scenes of "Carmen Sylva's" writings, while the constantly changing aspects of the building itself are tributes to the creative imagination of King Carol executed by an architect friend and constantly urged on by Queen Elisabeth. There is a Roumanian legend which says: "He who completes his house dies." So Pelesh was never completed.
Around this chateau the society of Bucharest disported itself in fatigue dress, as it were, while within few distractions marred a pleasant, domestic life vitalized by the romps and laughter of children. Here "Carmen Sylva" wrote her stories and verses in German, French, Roumanian, and English and Princess Marie, although able to speak all four languages, only in English laying the foundations to that vibrant, feverish style which might well be the envy of a professional writer. And here the builder was ever changing his plans. Of that household Her present Majesty once wrote:
"When I think of old King Carol, it is always in Sinaia that my thoughts seek him first, there amongst the things which he loved. The Queen had been allowed little part in the plans of the castle; her conception of life being ardently fantastic, she was seldom consulted about things that had to be built of brick and stone. Indeed, I had always the impression that "Carmen Sylva" never really loved the castle; its sumptuous magnificence seemed to oppress her other visions, sweeter and simpler, had remained in her poet's eye. She dreamed of the days when, young and full of aspirations, she had brought her child to live in the modest white monastery in the hills. The castle in its growing beauty had never replaced for her those far-off days, when a mother's joy lived in her heart!"
Then there is the church of Curtea de Argesh:
"King Carol and Queen Elisabeth loved this sacred monument beyond any other in the land; always did they speak of it as of the place in which they wished to be laid to rest one day. Now they lie there side by side, those two companions, those two hard workers, those forerunners who knew much of the storms and vicissitudes of life. . . . . Old King Carol was the first to be laid within the sanctuary he had treasured. No vault was dug beneath the church, his coffin was simply led down under the marble flags of the floor, quite close to those who were the founders of the church in the sixteenth century: Neagoe Basarab and his wife Militza."
Then came Queen Elisabeth's turn:
"I often bless Providence for allowing "Carmen Sylva" to rejoin her husband before the fatal hour struck. She so entirely believed in the unshakable strength of her race, in its God-given right to be master of the world, that indeed too cruel would have been the blow."
It is absurd to imagine that discussion of politics with their successors could have disturbed the last days of that devoted royal pair. After the war, however, these successors did not favor Pelesh. Its memories possibly were too haunting; they sought their estates at Pelishor and Cotroceni, and the chateau perched on the Carpathian rocks remained only a symbol of a former reign—a reign austere and laborious yet sumptuous.
There is another grave, however, still more dear to Queen Marie—that of her youngest son at Cotroceni abandoned when the Teutonic invasion pressed hard. The inscription she caused to be placed there after the war reads as follows:
Then as to her return hither, she writes:
"I had become so accustomed to move about amongst the sick, the poor, the wounded, amongst those in distress, that I found it almost impossible at first to take up a normal life again. In some ways I felt like a ghost returning to haunt the home of yore. When I finally entered into the shade of the church and knelt down beside the grave of the little one who had waited there all alone for two long years, it seemed to me a lifetime that I had been away—I was another woman—war had cut an enormous gash between the life that had been and the life that would be—it was as a chasm making two separate lives out of one, and it was difficult to find the bridge over that chasm.
"For a long time," she writes, "we belonged to the unsettled part of the world. Indeed, in every way my life had been cut in two halves, the first half lying in a past further away than the mere number of years. I came back to Cotroceni, Copaceni, Sinaia, Horez; I sailed again up and down the Danube, took possession of mountains, hills and plains. I rode once more on my long sea-shores—I watched the sunsets, the harvests, the deep winter snows; I have been covered with the dust of our long, endless Roumanian roads, now become ever so much longer still."
So the old life was again taken up where it had been left at Pelesh—possibly with more official functions but certainly with not fewer domestic duties, with more letters to write and a larger establishment to direct. But all with fewer relaxations, whose false abundance form one of the principal elements in the legend of the Queen which post-bellum jealousies and conflicting aims have produced. There has been one all-absorbing relaxation, however, on which it is important to dwell as its indulgence forms a remarkable commentary on her time and energy, her love of her adopted country and its people.
In one of her rides, horseback through the country, she had noticed, just across the old frontier, a miniature fortress, probably cut in the mountain-side by the Crusaders, as a protection against the Turks. When the war was over she did not hesitate to desire to possess this castle, although for some time she learned nought of its owner. Then—
"One day—for such are the opening words to events big and small—one day, a deputation from the town of Brashov, to which it seems Bran belonged, came to me, and with words resembling words used through all ages when offering gifts to royal people, Bran was offered to me! Bran or Brana, the little castle, the solitary, rugged, pugnacious little stronghold was offered to me!
"I could hardly believe my ears, but they had brought all sorts of papers with them, with seals and signatures and solemn-sounding formulas according to the law. I, too, had to sign my name; it was all done with much ceremony, many good wishes and blessings, and fine, kind words. Then the deputation departed, leaving me with that solemn, signed, sealed paper—and Bran was mine, was mine!"
She calls it a "glorious moment" when she went to take possession and dreamed of what she would do there: "Now the lonesome, soulless, masterless little stronghold would awaken to life, would look down from its height, would suddenly become a point of gravitation, a protector watching over their weal and woe."
And so with the aid of the same old architect who had been the executor of the plans of King Carol at Pelesh, she went to work. How she turned the old castle into a habitable, rustic villa, symbolic of the rural life of Roumania, a monument to her love for her people, forms a greater insight into her character and varied virtues and accomplishments than all that, either she, or anyone else, has written. In Bran, called by her, "the Beloved," she has actually performed in miniature what she is still toiling to do for the nation. Meanwhile, it is a pity that people of that nation as well as foreigners have not yet grasped the situation with as much intelligence as have the humble peasants of Brashov, on the foothills of the Carpathians.