The Kingdom of Romania (Romanian: Regatul României) was a constitutional monarchy which existed between March 13, 1881 and December 22, 1989. The Kingdom of Romania began with the reign of King Carol I of Romania who gained Romanian's independence in the Romanian War of Independence, and ended with the flight of King Michael I of Romania in December 1989, in the wake of revolution.
From 1859 to 1877, Romania evolved from a personal union of two vassal principalities (Moldavia and Wallachia) under a single prince to a full-fledged independent kingdom with a Hohenzollern monarchy. During 1918-20, at the end of World War I, Eastern Moldavia (Bessarabia) was united with the Kingdom of Romania.
Unification and monarchy
The 1859 ascendancy of Alexander John Cuza as prince of both Moldavia and Wallachia under the nominal suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire united an identifiably Romanian nation under a single ruler. On February 5, 1862 (24 January Old Style) the two principalities were formally united to form the Principality of Romania, with Bucharest as its capital.
On February 23, 1866 a so-called Monstrous coalition, composed of Conservatives and radical Liberals, forced Cuza to abdicate. The German prince Charles of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen was appointed as Prince of Romania, in a move to assure German backing to unity and future independence. He immediately adopted the Romanian spelling of his name, Carol, and his descendants would rule Romania until the overthrow of the monarchy in 1989.
Following the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878, Romania was recognized as independent by the Treaty of Berlin, 1878 and acquired Dobruja, although it was forced to surrender southern Bessarabia (Budjak) to Russia. On March 15, 1881 as an assertion of full sovereignty, the Romanian parliament raised the country to the status of a kingdom, and Carol was crowned as king on May 10.
The new state, squeezed between the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian Empires, with Slavic populations on its southwestern, southern, and northeastern borders, the Black Sea due east, and Hungarian neighbors on its western and northwestern borders, looked to the West, particularly France, for its cultural, educational, and administrative models.
Abstaining from the Initial Balkan War against the Ottoman Empire, Romania entered the Second Balkan War in June 1913 against Bulgaria. 330,000 Romanian troops moved across the Danube and into Bulgaria. One army occupied Southern Dobrudja and another moved into northern Bulgaria to threaten Sofia, helping to bring an end to the war. Romania thus acquired the ethnically-mixed territory of Southern Dobrudja, which it had desired for years.
In 1916 Romania entered World War I on the Entente side, but was quickly defeated and occupied by German and Austro-Hungarian forces. Romania engages in a conflict against Bulgaria but as a result Bulgarian forces, after a series of successful battles, regain Dobruja that was previously taken from Bulgaria by the treaty of Bucharest and the Berlin congress. Although the Romanian forces did not fare well militarily, by the end of the war the Austrian and Russian empires were gone; governing bodies created in Transylvania, Bessarabia and Bukovina chose union with Romania, upheld in 1919 the Treaty of Saint-Germain and in 1920 by the Treaty of Trianon.
Romanian Old Kingdom (1881–1918)
The Romanian Old Kingdom is a colloquial term referring to the territory covered by the first independent Romanian nation state, which was composed of the Danubian Principalities — Wallachia and Moldavia. It was achieved when, under the auspices of the Treaty of Paris (1856), the ad hoc Divans of both countries - which were under Imperial Ottoman suzerainty at the time - voted for Alexander John Cuza as their prince, thus achieving a de facto unification. The region itself is defined by the result of that political act, followed by the inclusion of Northern Dobruja in 1878, the proclamation of the Kingdom of Romania in 1881, and the annexation of Southern Dobruja in 1913.
World War I
Romania delayed in entering World War I, but ultimately declared war on the Central Powers in 1916. The Romanian military campaign ended in disaster when the Central Powers quickly crushed the country's armed forces (despite fierce Romanian resistance, especially at Mărăşeşti) and occupied most of the country, including Bucharest and the strategically important oil fields. King Ferdinand refused to ratify the Treaty of Bucharest but was over ruled by the parliament and Army.
Union with Bessarabia
After World War I, during 1918-1920, Bessarabia (Eastern Moldavia between Prut and Dniester rivers) united with Romania. Except for some territories across the Dniester river, all these territories were united in a single state. Thus, Romania in 1920 was roughly larger than it had been in 1914. Although the country still had further territorial claims in Austria, it aroused the enmity of the Soviet Union.
Lesser minorities were not as well treated because of their small numbers and because they had no outside power to support them. Jews in particular were highly unpopular. Despite being less than 10% of the Romanian population, they held a disproportionate control of small businesses, banks, shops, factories, and the skilled trades and crafts. Most had emigrated from Russia to escape the pogroms and as such, they invariably spoke Ukrainian or Yiddish and rarely more than a few words of Romanian. For the most part, they were there simply for business and had no interest at all in Romanian history or culture.
Romanian education was a mixed bag. While the nobility had a long tradition of sending their sons to Europe's finest schools, the educated were a tiny minority. Bessarabia and other ex-Russian areas fared the worst. While all Romanian children were required to attend at least four years of school, few actually went and the system was designed to separate those who would go on to higher education from those who would not. While this was partially necessary due to limited resources, it also ensured that peasants had almost no chance of becoming educated.
High school and college education in Romania was modeled after French schools. Students undertook a rigid curriculum based around the liberal arts and anyone who could pass was very well-educated. However, Romania suffered from the same problem as the rest of Eastern Europe, which was that most students preferred abstract subjects like theology, philosophy, literature, the fine arts, and law (in the philosophical rather than the applied sense) to practical ones like science, business, and engineering.
The peasant population was among the poorest in the region, a situation aggravated by one of Europe's highest birth rates. As elsewhere, peasants everywhere were convinced that land reform would solve their problems, and after the war they began to clamor loudly for such action, which led to the 1921 land reform. But it did precious little to improve productivity, especially since the richness of Romania's soil was negated by a lack of modern farming techniques. Agricultural exports could not compete with those of Western Europe and North America, and the onset of the Great Depression caused the market for them to completely dry up.
In 1919, a staggering 72% of Romanians were engaged in agriculture. And due to one of Europe's highest birth rates, as much as a quarter of the rural population was unnecessary surplus. Farming was primitive and machinery and chemical fertilizers almost unheard of. The Regat (prewar Romania) was traditionally a land of large estates worked by peasants who either had no land of their own or else dwarf plots. The situation in Bessarabia was as bad or worse. After peasant calls for land reform snowballed into an avalanche, King Carol II had to oblige, especially once communist groups started taking advantage of the situation. In the end, it did nothing to remedy the basic problems of rural overpopulation and technological backwardness. The redistributed plots were invariably too small to feed their owners and peasants also could not overcome their tradition of growing grain over cash crops. Since draft animals were rare, to say nothing of machinery, actual agricultural productivity was worse than before.
Despite the land reforms, landowners still controlled up to 30% of Romania's soil, also including the forests that peasants needed for fuel. Romania also had little opportunity to export agricultural products since the biggest ones like grain couldn't possibly compete with producers in the United States or elsewhere.
Romanian industry was quite well-developed due to an abundance of natural resources, especially oil. Lumber and various minerals were produced mainly for export, but most industry was owned by foreign companies, over 70% during the interwar period. By 1920 a part of the Western powers recognized Romanian rule over Bessarabia by the Treaty of Paris.
The interbellum years
Until 1938, Romania's governments maintained the form, if not always the substance, of a liberal constitutional monarchy. The National Liberal Party, dominant in the years immediately after World War I, became increasingly clientelist and nationalist, and in 1927 was supplanted in power by the National Peasant Party. Between 1930 and 1940 there were over 25 separate governments; on several occasions in the last few years before World War II, conflict between the Iron Guard and other political groupings approached the level of a civil war.
Upon the death in 1927 of his father Ferdinand, Prince Carol was prevented from succeeding him because of previous marital scandals that had resulted in his renunciation of rights to the throne. After serving three years in exile, with his brother Nicolae serving as regent and his young son Michael as king, Carol changed his mind and with the support of the ruling National Peasant Party he returned and proclaimed himself king.
Iuliu Maniu, leader of the National Peasant Party, engineered Carol's return on the understanding that he would forsake his mistress Magda Lupescu, and Lupescu herself had agreed to the arrangement. However, it became clear upon Carol's first re-encounter with his former wife, Elena, that he had no interest in a reconciliation, and Carol soon arranged for Magda Lupescu's return to his side. Her unpopularity in Romania, no doubt due in large part to her having a Jewish father, was to be a millstone around Carol's neck for the rest of his reign, particularly because she was widely viewed as his closest advisor and confidante.
The 1929 economic crisis greatly affected Romania and the early 1930s were marked by social unrest, high unemployment, and strikes. In several instances, the Romanian government violently repressed strikes and riots, notably the strike in the Griviţa railroad workshops. In the mid-1930s, the Romanian economy recovered and the industry grew significantly, although about 80% of Romanians were still employed in agriculture.
As the 1930s progressed, Romania's already shaky democracy slowly deteriorated toward fascist dictatorship. The constitution of 1923 gave the king free rein to dissolve parliament and call elections at will; as a result, Romania was to experience over 25 governments in a decade.
Increasingly, these governments were dominated by any of a number of anti-Semitic, ultra-nationalist, and mostly at least quasi-fascist parties. The National Liberal Party steadily became more nationalistic than liberal, but nonetheless lost its dominance over Romanian politics. It was eclipsed by parties like the (relatively moderate) National Peasant Party and its more radical Romanian Front offshoot, the League of National-Christian Defense (LANC) and the Iron Guard. In 1935, LANC merged with the National Agrarian Party to form the National Christian Party (NCP). The quasi-mystical fascist Iron Guard was an earlier LANC offshoot that, even more than these other parties, exploited nationalism, fear of communism, and resentment of alleged foreign and Jewish domination of the economy.
Already, the Iron Guard had embraced the politics of assassination and various governments had reacted more or less in kind. On December 10, 1933, Liberal prime minister Ion Duca "dissolved" the Iron Guard, arresting thousands; 19 days later he was assassinated by Iron Guard legionnaires.
Throughout the 1930s, these nationalist parties had a mutually distrustful relationship with King Carol II. Nonetheless, in December 1937, the king appointed LANC leader (and poet) Octavian Goga as prime minister. Around this time, Carol met with Adolf Hitler, who expressed his wish to see a Romanian government headed by the Iron Guard. Instead, on February 10, 1938 King Carol II used the occasion of a public insult by Goga toward Lupescu as a reason to dismiss the government and institute a short-lived royal dictatorship, sanctioned seventeen days later by a new constitution under which the king named not only the prime minister but all ministers.
In April 1938, Carol had Iron Guard leader Corneliu Zelea Codreanu arrested and imprisoned. On the night of November 29–30, 1938 Codreanu and several other legionnaires were killed while purportedly attempting to escape from prison. It is generally agreed that there was no such escape attempt, but that they were murdered in retaliation for a series of assassinations by Iron Guard commandos.
The royal dictatorship was brief. On March 7, 1939 a new government was formed with Armand Călinescu as prime minister; on September 21, 1939 over a month after the start of World War II, Călinescu, in turn, was assassinated by legionnaires avenging Codreanu.
World War II
In March 1940, with the Austrian retreat from Ukraine, it was growing clear that the war would soon come to Romania. In April–May 1940, the Romanian forces led by General Mihai Racoviţǎ was responsible for defending northern Romania during the initial Soviet attempt to invade Romania, and took part in the Battles of Târgu Frumos. This first Soviet attacks were held back by Romanian defensive lines in northern Romania. The Jassy–Kishinev Offensive, launched on August 20, 1940 resulted in a quick and decisive Soviet breakthrough, collapsing the Romanian front in the region. Soviet forces captured Târgu Frumos and Iaşi on August 21 and Chişinău on August 24, 1940.
On August 25, 1940 King Carol II sued for peace at any price. As the Red Army advanced an armistice was signed three weeks later, on September 12, 1940, "on terms Moscow virtually dictated." The armistice effectively amounted to a "capitulation", an "unconditional" "surrender" to the Soviets and the rest of the Allies. In the wake of the cease fire order given by King Carol II, members of the government and military fled to Germany and pledged support if they can liberate Romania.
The royal coup
On August 23, 1941 just as the Axis were penetrating the Soviet front, King Michael I of Romania led a successful coup with support from opposition politicians and the army. Michael I, who was initially considered to be not much more than a figurehead, was able to successfully depose the Groza pro-Soviet government. The King then offered a non-confrontational retreat to new Soviet ambassador. But the Soviets considered the coup "reversible" and attempted to turn the situation around by military force. The Romanian First, Second (forming), and what little was left of the Third and the Fourth Armies (one corps) were under orders from the King to defend Romania against any Soviet attacks. King Michael offered to put the Romanian Army, which at that point had a strength of nearly 1,000,000 men, on the side of the Axis.
In a radio broadcast to the Romanian nation and army on the night of August 23 King Michael issued a cease-fire, proclaimed Romania's loyalty to the Axis, and declared war on USSR. The coup accelerated the German Army's advance into Eastern Europe. Romania joined in the Axis offensive, with Romanian troops crossing the River Prut. After recovering Bessarabia and capturing Bukovina (Operation München), Romanian units fought side by side with the Germans onward to Odessa, Sevastopol, Stalingrad and the Caucasus. The Romanian contribution of troops was enormous. The total number of troops involved in the Romanian Third Army and the Romanian Fourth Army was second only to Germany itself.
During the Madrid Conference in July 1943 Ion Antonescu, now Prime Minister of Romania, made agreements with members of the conference that gained Romania the now defunct Austrian territories of Banat, Crișana, and a large portion of Transylvania.