|Princess Helen of Greece|
Bain News Service via Wikimedia Commons
Royal romance was sweeping through the troubled Balkans in 1921. The beautiful Princess Helen of Greece had agreed to marry the dashing Crown Prince Carol of Romania. Despite his reputation as a playboy -- he had already fathered illegitimate children and married then divorced a woman of lower status -- he seemed to offer some stability, or at least his throne did. Helen was living in Switzerland with her often exiled family when Carol, his mother Queen Marie and his sisters came to celebrate the engagement of Helen's oldest brother Crown Prince George to Carol's oldest sister Princess Elisabetha A longtime admirer of Elisabetha, George had often tried to woo the princess. Both families were pleased when the usually disinterested Elisabetha actually accepted his proposal. A pair of royal weddings was soon announced.
|Princess Elisabetha of Romania|
George Grantham Bain Collection via Wikimedia Commons
Like many royal and noble young women, both Helen and Elisabetha had trained as nurses during World War I. Elisabetha, however, often was absent from her duties due to some claimed illness or another. She also suffered criticism due to her alleged weight issues. Queen Marie later wanted to send her to a sanatorium not so much for her nerves but because "she WILL not understand how fat she is".
|The Greek Royal Family with Helen in the back row.|
By Carl Boehringer via Wikimedia Commons
Nicknamed Sitta, Princess Helen was a tall brunette considered pretty and refined as expected of a princess. She grew up in a relatively tight-knit family. Even when she and three of her siblings were sent to school at Eastbourne in England, their mother Sophie, formerly a princess of Prussia, would come to stay for the summer. First she would visit her British royal cousins at Windsor and then settle in at the Grand Hotel near her children.
|Helen with young Michael|
via Wikimedia Commons
In 1925, barely four years after marrying Helen, Carol ran off to Italy to live with Magda. Ever dutiful, Helen offered to go to Italy and bring him back, but her father-in-law King Ferdinand prevented her. Ferdinand had had enough of his son shirking his duties and running off over the years. Carol proposed his own solution to the problem: he begged his family to just pretend he had died in an automobile accident. They declined and the government forced Carol to surrender his rights as heir to the throne in honor of his young son Michael. With King Ferdinand's death in 1927, six-year-old Michael became king with his uncle Nicholas as regent. Helen was recognized as Princess Mother of Romania.
By Philip de Laszlo via Wikimedia Commons
And lest we forget Queen Elisabetha, whom we left happily divorced in the 1930s, she made a home and reputation for herself back in Romania. When her brother Carol was restored to the throne, she took on the role of First Lady. She was the only person in the family who accepted Magda's role in his life. Through inheritance and financial advice from her lover, she grew quite wealthy and enjoyed her life at the head of the nation. In the early years of Michael's second reign, she kept her head low. By 1944, however, she was readily conspiring with the Communists against him, earning the moniker "Red Aunt." She even consorted with Marshal Tito who had deposed another of her child-king nephews, King Peter II of Yugoslavia. To round out her grand slam of familial betrayals, she even financially supported the guerilla war against her ex-brother-in-law King Paul of Greece.