Michael of Romania [portret by Peter Kurth]

Regele Mihai I al României, regina Ana - King Michael I of Romania, Queen Ann of Romania

By Peter Kurth

[Commissioned but not published by Tina Brown, 1990 – researched, written and edited with the speed of light (8 whole days), but the king’s “news window” nevertheless had closed before it could appear in “Vanity Fair” …Tina thought it was “pretty good.”]

Once upon a time there was a handsome and sorrowful king who lived in a modest, mortgaged, L-shaped villa on the shores of Lake Geneva. His wife, the queen, was one of the loveliest royal princesses of her generation, while his five industrious daughters -- they were thoroughly modern in outlook -- worked, respectively, as a “medical sociologist,” a restorer of ancient and damaged ceramics, a horse-breeder, a “graphic designer,” and a nurse. There was a dog in the house called “Voilà” , and another named “Ecco!”, a Subaru in the garage, a Volkswagen, a Honda, and three Army jeeps, vintage World War II, all in mint condition. One had belonged to General Schuyler and another to General Patton and the third to the king himself, who used to drive it up and down the marble stairs outside his country palace at Sinaia, in the Carpathian Mountains.

"You could do it," says King Michael of Romania flatly, in the laconic style that characterizes all his conversation. He was driving cars by the time he was six, and driving them wildly, at “lunatic” speed. During his reign in Bucharest, cut short by the Communist coup of 1947, courtiers and servants had orders not to try to keep up with him as he hurtled down the Chaussée on one business or another. His appetite for excursions, flights, drives and stunts at the wheel is as strong in exile as it ever was, equaled only by his solid grounding in auto mechanics. King Michael is, simply put, a nut for engines.

"Some people garden," Queen Anne of Romania told me one Sunday at the beginning of May, as we drove from Geneva to the "Villa Serena" in Versoix, the respectable Swiss republican suburb where the Romanian royal family has lived for more than thirty years. "My husband works on cars. It frees his mind. It lets him think. We say he is 'relaxing.'" There are so many stories about Michael's talents as a garagiste and his conspicuous partiality for the company of nuts and bolts that, were it not for his unique role in Romanian history and the not unthinkable possibility of his rehabilitation in Bucharest, he might go down in textbooks as the Tinkering King. He has no explanation for his facility with a wrench: his father collected stamps.

"It just happened when I was a child," Michael says -- "just like that. It came and I don't know from where.” It helps that Queen Anne, too, has an automotive bent. "Not as pronounced as mine,” the king explains. “But she can tear a jeep apart and put it back together again quite expertly.” His entourage gets tired of stories that depict him as "a grease monkey,” but it's his own description, and when I met him for the first time in Versoix he was standing, six-foot-three, in grubby green overalls, his massive, working-man's hands streaked with oil and dirt and with a look of friendly bewilderment on his face. There was a gauze bandage taped to his forehead. He had cut himself recently while parking the car -- he had smacked into the back of the queen's Subaru. If I hadn’t known who he was, I might have mistaken him for a distracted, off-duty chauffeur.

We had interrupted the king -- that is, the queen and I had - in his backyard workshop. The queen calls it “the inner sanctum" and does not enter it unless she means business. This is where Michael is most at home, where he spends every day when he isn't traveling, and where he keeps his jeeps, cars, bikes and anything else that might need a buff or a crank. If the jeeps, in particular, should be in museums now, it’s due entirely to Michael's obsessive care. Not a speck of dust is allowed to settle on their freshly painted hoods; the seats are hand-upholstered; the doors are mounted on creakless joints. But “tinkering,” for Michael, isn’t just a hobby. It’s a passion and, one feels, compensation for a life spent largely in shoes that don't fit.

Michael was “the Baby King" in an era of Balkan boy-rulers, the victim of a famous royal divorce and parental tug-of-war that kept the tabloids entertained for nearly two decades. Born in 1921, the only child of Carol II and Helen, Princess of Greece and Denmark, Michael was king at five, deposed at eight, restored at nineteen and driven into exile at the age of twenty-six. Today, nearly seventy, he is the last surviving head of state from World War II and the only monarch ever to have reigned behind the Iron Curtain. His daughter Margareta calls him "an amputated soul," and, indeed, there is a sadness about him that never lifts, some kind of apartness and silent mystery.

For a long time after his exile King Michael was written up in the “Where-Are-They-Now?” newspaper features as a “Geneva businessman," the appellation deriving from his loose association with the Wall Street firm of Droulia and Co. It was his favorite uncle, the late King Paul of Greece, who got him hooked up with Droulia -- one of those ultra-discreet, “totally private,” make-'em-feel-good brokerage concerns about which Michael confesses that he still knows nothing. He was meant to serve Droulia as a kind of a rainmaker, a dynastic plum whose international connections might bring riches to the firm.

"It's funny about people like that,” he confides, speaking about his forays into business. "They'll talk about anything: their love lives, their sex lives, anything. But as soon as you try to talk with them about money" -- here the king raises a finger to his lips and mimics the action of zipping them shut. Before joining Droulia in the 1960s, he had already worked briefly in England as a “market gardener” and later as a test pilot and sales representative for Lear and Lockheed jets. But stocks and bonds "aren't exactly" in his Michael's line, he says; Wall Street isn't his beat.

"It's not their money anyhow," Michael protests, as if this were news the world ought to have. "Arid when it is, they're even quieter about it!” He is exasperated, incredulous, when he shares his vision of late-capitalist finance: "Hanging on the phone all day and all night, lunches, dinners -- intolerable. I told them from the start that my first obligation was to my country. Also that I was not going to sit around bars all night with call girls and so on.” Executives at Droulia were quick to assure him that nothing more monstrous than a brokerage license was required for his work, but Michael was still uncomfortable, and, sure enough, once on board he "never heard another word" from anybody. You get the impression that he still isn't sure whether he works for Droulia or not.

He was on a roll while he talked about Droulia, his voice unusually energetic, his blue eyes lighted with mischief and relaxed good humor. In the far-flung circles of European royalty, among clusters of Windsors and Hohenzollerns, Habsburgs, Wittelsbachs, Romanovs, Savoys, Bourbons, Braganzas and the Danish Schleswig-Holsteins, Michael of Romania is known uniquely for his taciturnity, his "moroseness," his "almost pathological" shyness and his reluctance, in any social sense, to put himself forward. "He is such a strange, introverted character," says a cousin in America. His Aunt Olga of Yugoslavia, herself a princess of wide acquaintance and style, complains that "you practically have to pinch him to get him to say anything," and that when he does, you can’t hear him. He speaks so softly, in accents so monotonous, that you think he must be mumbling or slurring his words. He isn't. His voice is simply thick with breeding, fuzzy under the influence of five or six languages, conscious that it has no need to compete. It's a voice that actually demands you listen to it carefully, and in that respect, as in others, Michael knows a lot about statecraft.

He is a tall, broad, sturdy and earnestly good-looking man, with prominent ears and thick, wavy brown hair that was well described (until recently, when he began to let it go gray) as "Reaganesque.” The French, who know their movie stars, think that Michael resembles the late Robert Ryan, and they're right: he is “craggily handsome” in that platoon-commander way. But his smile is charming by the grace of God, not cameras, and his unexpectedly winning, boyish glance owes nothing to public relations.

It's rare enough in the first place for Michael to smile. During the whole time I was with him, in Switzerland and France, in every situation, I noticed that the expression on his face barely changed. He is attentive and considerate, but impassive by nature. He is inscrutable, inviolable, remote. He is also hard of hearing, and a certain vagueness in his manner might be put down to deafness. Even so, as a child, he was famous for his “Chinese smile,” and he told his grandmother, the fabulous Queen Marie of Romania, that "I have learned not to say what I feel, and to smile at those I most hate.” Michael's wife, Queen Anne, explains that her husband is first and foremost "an acrobat.” It's a joke in the family, she says: the king must be ready for anything.

"We have always lived what we call a double life," the queen insists, taking deep drags on a string of Marlboro cigarettes. "A life of family and simplicity and quiet, and a life of mourning. Mourning for Romania.” When Michael first proposed to Anne in 1947, just weeks before he lost his throne, he told her to get ready for a fight. "I live for my country," he declared. What was true for the king in power is doubly so for the man in exile; the queen does not conceal her admiration.

"It wasn't easy," she says. "it isn't easy. To be trained to do one thing and one thing only, and then to find oneself surrounded by the sharks of a different world....” Her voice trails off … the royal family is used to being misunderstood. In December 1989, at the time of the Romanian revolution, rumors flew that Michael, from his exile in Geneva, had sent an appeal to Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow, asking for the intervention of Soviet troops to help the Romanian people in their struggle against the dictatorship of Nicolae and Elena Ceauçescu. The king was indignant when he heard about it.

"This is what is commonly called disinformation," he complained, never doubting that the story had its origins in Bucharest, and specifically with the leaders of the National Salvation Front, that badly named assortment of Party bureaucrats, apparatchiks, dissidents and opportunists who wrested power "spontaneously” from the Ceausescu government and subsequently emerged -- much to the surprise of Romanian exiles - as an autonomous and unified political body. Few people, at the beginning, were as suspicious of the Front as everyone later became. But the king was one of the first.

"I don't know any of the Front leaders," he warned, "but I know where they come from. They have come through the Communist ranks.... They were supposed to be a transition government preparing [for] future elections. Now they say they're taking part in the elections as candidates.... The structure of the country has not changed one bit. It's the same people.” On December 18, a week before the murder of the Ceauçescus, the King issued a call to his people -- the army, the diplomatic corps, "all generals and all elements" -- to throw off the yoke of communism and form a new government through free elections. He called on NATO and the Warsaw Pact nations (not Gorbachev, and not foreign soldiers) to support Romania in her hour of decision. He had to go to France in order to do it, since one of the conditions of his exile in Switzerland is that he will never engage in "political activity.” Several years ago, when he addressed a meeting in Frankfurt of the World Union of Free Romanians, the largest and most influential society of Romanian exiles in the West, he was described in press releases as the Union's "spiritual leader.” He objects to the term.

"I am the King of all Romanians," Michael says, "regardless of their political affiliation.... I am not the spiritual leader of the Union of Free Romanians. I am above organizations.” The king has a scholar's knowledge of Romanian history and a clear understanding of his role as a constitutional monarch. There are those who wish that he would take a more active role in émigré affairs, and ever since the December revolution he has been overwhelmed with leaflets and pamphlets and wild manifestos recommending that he "invade the country," "bomb Romania," “parachute in," and so forth. ("His ancestors didn't get the goddamn throne by sitting around in Switzerland," one royalist affirms.) But Michael has no interest in politics per se, or even in monarchism as a generic idea. By all appearances, he is devoid of personal ambition, and when he talks about being a king, he is talking about Romania.

"Too many things have been written about me which are not correct," he complained several years ago in a letter to a friend. "This is a thing that never stops amazing me. The amount of things that people think they know about me, or even what I think. A great deal of this is pure fantasy.” Events in the East, the fall of the Ceauçescus, his own re-emergence as "a political wild card in a resurrected, wide-open Europe” -- these are things that Michael prefers to consider in silence. It's the queen who waves her hands in the air and tries to describe the effect in Geneva of the annus mirabilis, 1989.

“Zing zing!” she says. "Pop pop!” Everything has changed in the last eight months, except for the central fact of her husband's existence. Life at the Villa Serena is still about waiting.


I had no idea, before I met the king, that an office now exists in Geneva to look after his affairs and, more specifically, to deal with the incursions of the press. The House of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, from which King Michael descends, has long been known for its informality, its hands-on and even eccentric approach to the business of royalty. In 1924, Queen Marie of Romania appeared on the cover of Time with the information that she was "a regular, regular, regular, regular royal queen.”

Little has changed. In Versoix, Michael's wife does her shopping on a motor scooter. When I called and asked her about “a good time” to meet the family, she laughed.

"Don't ask me," she said, in that unmistakable royal English which, while perfect, is lightly and indefinably accented. “You have to look in the appointment book. There is always something going on. It's impossible to keep track.” She gave me the number of the office downtown ("Tell them you called home," she said), and when a cheerful assistant answered the phone - "Secretariat de Roumanie, Bonjour!” -- I was passed along to Princess Margareta, Michael and Anne's eldest daughter and director of the Princess Margareta Foundation, a registered charity dedicated to the political, social, moral, cultural and economic rehabilitation of the Romanian people.

Until recently -- up through the summer of 1989 - Princess Margareta was an officer of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations in Rome. She is trained as a sociologist, and, by her own account, she would have been happy to remain one. But the overthrow of the Ceauçescus and the ostensible re-awakening of democracy in Bucharest put the royal family automatically in the spotlight; Margareta, at 41, moved back home with her parents. Under the old constitution, promulgated in 1923, women do not inherit the Romanian throne, and the French royalty magazines are technically mistaken when they refer to the king's daughter as "princesse héritière.” Margareta herself does not use the title -- neither, despite reports in the checkout-counter press, has she been busy "dusting off her crown.” She is committed to discretion, and she agrees with her father when he says "it is up to the people to decide" whether or not Romania will go back to the monarchy.

"If the present regime should one day collapse," Michael told the Associated Press as early as 1956, "I don't believe we should impose a monarchy on the people without consulting the people themselves. Romanians have had enough suffering imposed on them to have a right to be consulted on their future.” This view of "the people" is deeply embedded in the consciousness of the royal family. In January 1990, following the dramatic events of the revolution in Bucharest, Michael repeated his pledge -- he would not "propose" himself -- and insisted that it wasn’t his job to “interfere” in the first free elections Romania was set to enjoy in more than fifty years.

"I am ready to serve the people and the country any time to guarantee as soon as possible a democratic constitution," the king told reporters. "If the people want me to come back, of course, I will come back.” But the first order of business should be "a moral regeneration.” Michael dismissed reports from Bucharest, based on a public opinion survey conducted for Paris-Match, that 78% of all Romanians opposed a return to the monarchy.

“Bucharest is not the country," he said. "And it seems to me this poll was done rather in haste.” Something like 80 independent political parties, all but two of them formed in the brief weeks since the fall of the Ceauçescus, had been announced as contenders in the national elections; none of them was expected to defeat or even to make a dent in the mandate of the ruling Salvation Front. It’s a matter of "education," Michael says: there hadn't been any. Young Romanians, in particular, "don't exactly know what a constitutional monarchy is, they don't know what democracy is, they don't know what a parliamentary life is. So it might take a little while for them to get into this.”

Danielle Maillefer, the general secretary at the Princess Margareta Foundation and the woman who doubles as King Michael's "press advisor" (formerly Mme. Maillefer was Chief Information Officer for the city of Geneva) adds that technically, for the record, there is no such thing as an “ex-king.” Michael of Romania might be described as a former monarch, Mme. Maillefer insists, or a past sovereign, but "a king is a king for life."

The distinction is not without force. At the beginning of April, Mme. Maillefer announced that the king had plans to visit Romania "privately" at Easter, and the Salvation Front, flush with democratic purpose, rushed to grant him a visa. Michael was "a Romanian citizen like any other," said a government spokesman -- although Ion Iliescu, the leader of the Front who has since become president of the country, felt obliged to point out that the king’s return to Bucharest in no way implied an endorsement of his claim to the throne.

"The king's visit has nothing to do with Romania becoming a monarchy," said Iliescu, in a statement that appeared oxymoronic only on the surface. "The monarch is not a monarch any more.” But the royal family had been getting good reviews. In London, the Daily Telegraph rated Michael's chances for a restoration at an astonishing 25 to 1. He was the only candidate in a veritable soup of pre-Communist royalty, greatly savored by the Western press, to generate anything like such favorable odds. (By contrast, Grand Duke Vladimir of Russia, claimant to the Romanov throne, came in last on the Telegraph's list with a ranking of 100,000 to 1.)

In March, the king had lunch in Geneva with Laszlo Tokes, the Protestant pastor and ethnic Hungarian activist whose opposition to the Ceauçescus in Timisoara had sparked the Romanian revolution; later, Michael was invited to address an all-Party group of British MPs at the House of Commons and was photographed in Versoix in friendly conversation with Alexander Paléologue, the Romanian chargé d'affaires in Paris. Reports reached England of graffiti on Bucharest walls: "Vrem Malai Si Pe Regele Mihai -- We Want Bread and King Michael.”

Three of Michael's daughters, meanwhile, including Margareta, made widely publicized and apparently triumphant appearances in the capital. Princess Helen, 39, and Princess Sophie, 32, each headed convoys from their homes in Switzerland and England and swept through Romania in a kind of progress of royal relief, bearing food, toys, diapers, candy, syringes, clothes and condoms to the stricken survivors of the Ceauçescus regime (HIV infection, among other disasters, is an immediate problem in Romania).

"The restoration of the monarchy is not an issue at the moment," Princess Helen told reporters. "We are just here to do what we can in a humanitarian sense, and to let Romania meet us.” An old woman who remembered their father brought the princesses a commemorative plate with a portrait of Michael on it. A note was left at the door of their room: "I love you, I adore you, I bless you, my King, I wait for you in Romania.” Wherever they went Michael's daughters were hailed, if not as future rulers, at least as honored guests, and when the Salvation Front, under Iliescu and his Prime Minister, Petre Roman, suddenly yanked the king's visa away, the action made headlines around the world. It was a sensational bit of publicity -- “worth a billion dollars," said a friend of the king -- for a man whom the Front had hoped to characterize as "a relic of history."

“Is it a political decision to go to a country to see the graves of your grandparents?” Michael wondered. “Is it a political decision to go to a country of which I was -- am -- a citizen? ... It isn't my fault that Easter falls in the middle of their election campaign.” There were demonstrations against the Front in downtown Bucharest. Helen and Sophie were called to "show themselves" at the window of their hotel, and when a Romanian television crew turned up in Switzerland not long after, on a purely unrelated matter, two or three of its members broke away without authorization to film an interview with the king. The program was slipped on Romanian television just before the elections, late at night, and in spite of the government's warnings about closet monarchists at Romania's one and only television network. "Obviously, there's a cabal,” says Princess Margareta, who points out further, gleefully, that many people who were indifferent to the monarchy before Easter are committed "Michaelists" now.

"I’ll tell you what might interest you,” she remarks on the phone, in a voice as mysteriously "European" as her mother's, though rather more clipped. There is an echo of Sloane Street in Margareta's speech, which isn't surprising, since she lived for years in the United Kingdom and has been a guest of the queen of England more times than she needs to mention to a reporter. Her parents first met at Elizabeth II’s wedding to Michael's cousin, Prince Philip of Greece -- a London newspaper recently affirmed that, of all Europe’s royal and ex-royal families, Michael's has the most "royal blood.” It's not the kind of thing Margareta blares around. Through her father, she descends from the kings of Greece, the tsars of Russia, and twice from Queen Victoria. Through her mother, she is a grandniece of Zita, the last Habsburg empress, and a cousin of the French Orléanist pretender, the Comte de Paris.

"There's a sort of a ceremony tomorrow morning," she continues, "at Church, in honor of May 10th. My father won't be able to come, but the three of us will be there.” May 10th, Margareta explains, was "a former national day in Romania," a holiday still marked by royalists in exile to commemorate the founding of the monarchy. And “the three of us” are Margareta, her mother, and Princess Sophie ("fourth down," says Margareta), who also left her job last year in order to help at home when "all this broke loose.” The queen calls it “the Big Bang," and means not just the demise of the Ceauçescus but the collapse of communism all over Europe.

"We never thought we would live to see it," Queen Anne confides when we meet on Sunday morning. We are pacing up and down the rue de Lausanne in front of Margareta's office, waiting for the princesses to appear; the girls are late, but according to their mother, "they often are.” At 66, Queen Anne is still a beautiful woman, brisk, groomed, and "natural" in a tweed-skirt, weekend-in-the-country way. A friend from childhood explains that "Nan is all of a piece.” She talks nonstop, scattershot, with lively curiosity and a consoling frankness. ("The only way I could ever stop smoking," she says, "is if they hypnotized me into thinking I had never had a cigarette in my life.") At one point, abruptly, she stops a woman on the street, a Geneva matron who is walking her Chihuahua, to say that she, too, has Chihuahuas at home. There are coos and clucks and sighs of delight, and the Chihuahua, at least, is none the wiser about Anne's identity. The queen has an air of modest affability, hers by nature, combined with a gift for total concentration, hers by royal training. Family members observe that she has "bloomed" in recent years, and that Michael's stoniness is offset -- indeed, well served -- by his wife's garrulity.

She fussed over her daughters when they finally arrived – more exactly, when they poured from a taxi and ran up the red-carpeted stairs to Margareta's office. The Princess Margareta Foundation is housed in a stucco-sided building with unexpected turrets and oval windows that look as if Rapunzel might be hiding behind them. "It's a sort of a tiny castle,” Margareta remarks, giggling. It isn't, in fact, very tiny, unless in comparison with the royal palace in Bucharest, which Life magazine once called “a hippopotamus among chickens.” Margareta herself is taller and more commanding than her voice on the phone led me to expect. Bright and vivacious, she looks like her father, with a certain resemblance to photographs of his grandmother, Queen Marie. Sophie, by contrast, is short, blonde, cute, with something of the pertness of a Disney mouse. She is anxious to be taken seriously. I had heard that she was a painter, like her mother, and that she has even exhibited in the United States, but when I mention it to her she shakes her head.

"I'm a graphic designer," Sophie declared. "Painting only allowed me to develop my creative side. Graphic design employs my intellect.” She looked down at her shoes -- pumps - while her sister changed her clothes.

"They're scruffy," she complained.

"Haven't you polished them?” asked the queen.

"It doesn't help," said Sophie. I suggested she might need one of those hotel-hallway Schuhputz machines, where I had rather frantically buffed my own loafers earlier that morning.

"I need new shoes," Sophie replied. The stories are well known of her family's financial distress. In 1940, when Sophie's grandfather, King Carol of Romania, abdicated the throne and fled Bucharest in advance of the fascist Iron Guard, he is supposed to have taken with him, along with his mistress, Elena Lupescu, a train full of treasures -- nine carloads, to be exact, $40,000,000 worth of art and gold and family jewels, which, in the years since, have vanished without trace. Carol died in 1953; Madame Lupescu (whom he had married in the meantime) in 1977. Tales are still current (although denied by the royal family) of Michael's efforts to recover his father's loot: he is said to present himself every six months "at a certain bank in Zurich," where he asks for Carol's account and is told that without the proper password he can, with all respect, forget it.

More believable are family reports of hand-me-down clothes, hard-earned scholarships, and "a tiny, tiny little suitcase, only two feet square," into which the king's youngest daughter, Marie, was once observed to be bundling her meager belongings in preparation for a summer holiday.

“It was pathetic,” says an American relative. "She was so adorable, and she had nothing -- really nothing!” Thus far, only two of Michael's daughters have married: Helen, Mrs. Robin Medforth-Mills, lives in England, where her husband is a Fellow of the Centre of Overseas Research and Development at Durham University; and Irina, Mrs. John Krueger, raises horses and cattle on a ranch in Oregon, an occupation not suggestive of embarrassed circumstances. All the same, no one has forgotten a visit of Princess Sophie to Bar Harbor, when she was living in the United States as a “graphic art” student and where she joined one night in the standard American parlor game of "Who Had the Most Miserable Childhood.”

“I did," said Sophie, although it was difficult for her hosts to believe her, and she is known in the family, lovingly, as "a bit of a rebel, a terror, a tomboy -- almost a black sheep," says Margareta.

They get along well enough, or so it seemed when I saw them in action at the ultra contemporary, plate-glass-and-steel-beam Church of the Holy Virgin in the Montbrillant section of Geneva. The princesses walked demurely behind their mother, mounted the steps, kissed the Bible, took their bouquets and were swallowed up in a crowd of about fifty people: businessmen in sunglasses, girls in white lawn, photographers, priests, and an assortment of aged Romanian ladies who looked to me like Second Avenue shopkeepers from another era. These women were radiant in floral prints, rouged to the gills, wearing masses of jewelry, lacquered wigs and, in one case, a leopard-skin pants suit that gave a screwball flavor to repeated cries of "Vive le Roi!” The Romanians treat their royal family with a casualness and a bonhomie that would not go over, say, at Windsor Castle. Generally, one of the first rules in dealing with royalty is that you don't touch them, you don't jostle them, you don't clap them on the back. But there was an almost medieval flavor to the grouping in Geneva -- something atavistic, I thought, some memory of a time when the sovereign and his family ate and slept and conducted their business out in the hall with everyone else.

After the service, word arrived that "an honored guest” was waiting outdoors, a Romanian teenager shot and paralyzed during the revolution against Ceauçescu, who had come to Switzerland for treatment. I was impressed to see how quickly the queen took command, how she rose at once, left the church, sat down with the boy in the car outside and warmly kissed him. His eyes were half-excited and half-bewildered, I felt sure, to be greeted by a queen and two king's daughters who can't speak Romanian. And it's true: they're learning, but they don't yet know the language. Margareta calls it "the price of exile," and thinks "the people will understand;" Anne, however, is troubled, and blunt.

"Maybe we made a mistake," she says. “But who knew? Who could tell?” It was a joke in Bucharest in the old days that the royal family delivered their speeches only in the evening, because it gave them a whole day to “brush up their Romanian.” English was the preferred language in the family, as it is in most of Europe's royal families; French was the language of society and the Court. And none of the three Hohenzollern kings, with the exception of Michael himself, had ever been educated as a Romanian. At the time of their marriage, Anne refused even to convert to Orthodoxy. She was Catholic, a princess of Bourbon-Parma, and there were rumors that she came close to a nervous breakdown when, after announcing her engagement to Michael, she ran into opposition from the Vatican. The Pope was prepared to sanction the marriage if Michael and Anne would agree to raise their children as Catholics -- an impossible demand on the king. Michael was head of the Orthodox Church in Romania arid, in exile, aware that legitimacy and historic continuity were his only weapons. Anne and Michael eventually married in a traditional Orthodox service in Athens, with the king and queen of Greece attending. The Pope made it known that Anne was in "grave sin,” and any peace she may have found at the spiritual level is a matter of strict privacy.


A story is told about England’s Queen Mary in December 1936, when she learned that her son, King Edward VIII, had threatened to abdicate if he were not allowed to marry Wallis Simpson, "the woman I love.” The queen summoned Stanley Baldwin, the Tory Prime Minister, to discuss the situation.

"Really!” she began. "This might be Romania!” Anyone who had followed the fortunes of her cousins in Bucharest would know what she meant. The dynasty was actually imported to Romania from Germany in 1866, after the collapse of the Ottoman empire and a brief experiment with a chieftain‑king, Alexander Cuza (who signed the act of his abdication, we are told, on the naked back of his mistress). Romanian history was and is a story of shifting borders and warring tribes, “Great Power” decrees and fractious masses in search of independence. A foreign king, it was thought, with a foreign bride, might prove more balanced on the throne, more reliable and more lustrous than any local ruler.

But the House of Hohenzollern had worries of its own. The first King Carol proved stable enough, but his wife made up for them both. Queen Elisabeth of Romania was the daughter of a notorious German table‑rapper and a celebrity in her own right as the fluttery, emotive poet "Carmen Sylva.” Her only child had died at the age of four; thereafter, to the end of her life, the queen dressed in white mourning, in veils, tiaras and diaphanous gowns that gave a ghostly aspect to her otherwise solidly pleasant face. Her social faux pas were legendary: she was nearsighted, and was once seen waving her handkerchief at a herd of cows whom she mistook for loyal subjects by the side of the road.

King Ferdinand, the next to come, a nephew of King Carol I, also married a princess with a flair for drama and a related taste for turbans and caftans. Queen Marie of Romania was the Elizabeth Taylor of her day, famous for her beauty and her charity, her liberalism, her “modern views” and her unflappable talents in a crisis. A granddaughter of Queen Victoria, Marie snubbed her nose at royal relations and did exactly as she pleased. In 1919, at the end of World War I, and with half of her relations shot down from other thrones, she turned up uninvited as Romania's delegate to the Versailles peace conference, with a wardrobe of 67 gowns, 31 coats, 22 furs, 29 hats and what might have been the original model for a whole line of future despots' wives: 83 pairs of shoes by official count. Later, Marie published her autobiography ‑‑ a first for modern royalty ‑‑ and won the admiration of Virginia Woolf, who observed that "no royal person has ever been able to write before" and that "the consequences may well be extremely serious."

It was Queen Marie who endeavored to take charge of the young Prince Michael in 1928, when her husband, King Ferdinand, died of pneumonia and her son and heir, Prince Carol, "Bad Boy of the Balkans," was living “abroad” with Elena Lupescu, the "Cleopatra of the Near East.” Carol Jr.’s taste normally ran to a rougher cut of woman than was found in the courts of Europe. A youthful elopement with a Bucharest society girl, Zizi Lambrino, had been swiftly and mercilessly annulled. A second, more suitable union with Princess Helen of Greece, Michael’s mother, began nicely ‑‑ Helen had "considerable understanding for my battered heart," Carol remarked ‑‑ but shortly after Michael's birth, for reasons that have never been clear, the marriage weakened, then died, and then began to rot, before ending in divorce. (A reconciliation with Helen would be "downright immoral," Carol declared ‑‑ "we hate each other too completely.") There was talk of "strangeness” on Carol's part -- this in a court well known for its tolerance of eccentric sexuality. Marie of Romania hardly bothered to conceal her serial lovers, and more than one of the Hohenzollern princesses, Carol's sisters, had what a niece discreetly calls "des cuisses un peu légères” (hard to translate, but it has to do with what a different culture would call “nymphomania”).

Still, no one in the family was prepared for it when Carol, as Crown Prince, gave up his rights to the throne and eloped to Paris with Madame Lupescu, telling his mother in a letter that "one should find a way of declaring that I've been killed in a motor accident.... Say drowned in Lago Maggiore.... I'll know how to disappear without leaving a trace." If he had meant it, the course of Romanian history might have been different. The story is told of young Michael's bewilderment when he first heard himself called "Your Majesty" by the court in mourning for his grandfather, King Ferdinand.

"It's just another nickname, darling," said Helen, his mother. Michael was not yet six. The press took note of his charming dimples, his chubby face, his frightened smile, while the jubilant shouts of the crowds outside the palace scared him more than anything else.

"Why do they all scream so loud?” Michael asked.

"For you, Michael, to show you their love."

"Mummy," he answered, "tell them never to shout so loud for me again.”

His name is "Mihai” in Romanian, and he holds it in honor of Mihai Viteazul, "Michael the Brave," the first prince to unite the territories of Wallachia and Moldavia in the 17th century. Michael's first two years on the throne were marked by incompetence on the part of a three‑man regency (which included his Uncle Nicholas, another prince with an eye for fast women and a penchant for fistfights) and by bitter squabbling at home, where Michael's mother, the long‑suffering Helen, did what she could to protect her son from the predations of his Romanian heritage. Helen was a daughter of the exiled King of Greece -- she was used to trouble around thrones. But she hoped to raise the boy‑king quietly, with dignity and a clear understanding of his duty, and she did everything in her power to isolate him from his father's family in Bucharest. She was successful enough to irritate her mother‑in‑law, Queen Marie, who called Helen "the Hausfrau” and worried that Michael was "fat" and "overeducated."

"I itch to take that boy of hers out for a whole day with me into the country," Marie wrote, "and let him get dirty and wet, let him play with the gardener's child and risk his days climbing over the roof.” No doubt about it, Michael's childhood was lonely. "When I needed a father I had a mother," he said, "and when I had a father I needed a mother.” He was adored, certainly, by his country. Women carried his picture in their handbags and prayed that their own children would be born as handsome as “the Little King." He appeared in Time, Life, Newsweek and the Weekly Reader, as well as on a series of colorful postage stamps and commemorative medals that were collected by children all over the world.

Knowledge of his parents' marital problems did a lot to rouse sympathy for Michael. In 1930, his father made a sudden and dramatic return to Bucharest and took the crown for himself. He separated Princess Helen from the rest of the royal family and from every member of the court; he removed Michael from his mother’s care and allowed her to see him only at night, at bedtime; he filled Helen’s house with spies and finally ordered her into exile. Helen responded with an attack on Carol in the London Daily Mail ‑‑ another first for Victoria's descendants – and, in future, until tempers cooled a bit, neither parent allowed the other's name to be spoken in Michael's presence. Carol went further, even forbidding Michael to speak English. He fired Michael’s much‑loved governess, Miss St. John, clapped him in uniform and set up a special school in the Cotroceni Palace. Now demoted to the rank of Crown Prince, Michael spent the next ten years with twenty‑five boys his own age, “from every comer of Romania, all classes and all walks of life.” It was a unique education, and it accounts for the fact that Michael, when he reached maturity, knew his own language, and his country, in a way no other Romanian king had done.

To this day, Michael doesn’t talk much about his father ‑‑ he is reluctant to talk about anything "personal.” I asked him who had exercised the greatest influence on his character and he seemed bewildered. He "really didn't know.” Last winter he told a reporter in London that Carol's selfishness still hurt him deeply: "I had the indignity of sharing my life with that awful woman [Elena Lupescu]. It was forced on me. People knew much more about our private lives than we thought. My mother having to leave, this woman coming to replace her. They had a very special feeling for me and I think that made my father very jealous of me, to put it in a nutshell.”

In 1940, Michael was reunited with his mother -- who would now enjoy the title Queen Helen of Romania -- after Carol, under pressure from the Nazis, the Soviets and the Romanian Iron Guard, was forced to abdicate and left the country. Michael never saw him again. From then until his own abdication, seven years later, he did his best to serve Romania in impossible circumstances. The story of the young king's reign in Bucharest is one of quiet resistance to a series of dictatorships ‑‑ fascist and communist, foreign and local. It’s the story of a puppet king, who every now and then yanked the strings for himself.

Michael's most celebrated act ‑‑ his day of glory ‑‑ came in 1943, on August 23, when he took the lead in a coup against Marshal Ion Antonescu, the strong‑man prime minister who had governed Romania since Carol's departure and who tied the country’s fortunes to Germany in World War II. Michael's bravery brought the country into the Allied camp, and he still says that his purpose in ousting Antonescu was to save Romania from the Soviet Union. He has been much criticized in exile for "delivering" Romania to the communists, but he blames the United States and England, not himself or his advisors, for their failure to stand up to Stalin. He is still bitter about it: Romania was "double‑crossed' and "let down by all sides.”

After the war, Michael was decorated by Harry S Truman with the Legion of Merit, and by Stalin (perversely) with the Soviet Union's Order of Victory. He has also been credited, along with his mother, as the silent power behind the survival of thousands of Romanian Jews during World War II. At this writing, the Queen Mother of Romania, who died in 1982, is about to be designated a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem. I asked the King to comment on this, but as usual he was monosyllabic.

"We did what we could," he says. An effort is underway in Bucharest to rehabilitate the memory of Marshal Antonescu and ‑‑ in line with the government's fear of the king ‑‑ to downplay Michael's role in the rescue of the Jews. But it was Michael who threatened to abdicate in 1942, when orders came from Germany to begin the deportation of Romania's Jews to Poland. Michael observes that the only deportations of Jews in Romania took place in those territories that were under direct Nazi control; the yellow star, he says, was seen on the streets of Bucharest only for several weeks.

He is unpretentious in discussing his opposition to Romanian communism and the abdication it finally required. In 1947, an article for Life described Michael as a "young man on a hot seat," but his policy of royal dawdling and princely obfuscation seems to have briefly hampered Moscow's plans for Romania. "Stalin likes you," Michael was told by the Soviet‑backed government, "and wants us to respect the Crown. He gave us the order not to push you too much.” Michael’s plan to marry Anne of Bourbon‑Parma, which generated a lot of press, is thought to have been the immediate spur to his removal: a royal wedding in Bucharest would have strengthened his popularity, while the possibility of their having children raised the specter of long‑term Soviet commitment to a foreign monarchy. Western papers predicted that Michael would “sacrifice” Romania for the woman he loved ‑ ­"teddy bear tall King Michael,” said Time magazine, and "wistful, willowy Princess Anne” -- but Michael denied that anything, even Anne, could have persuaded him to give up the throne voluntarily. His aunt Ileana remembers her servants running wildly through the snow in that winter of Michael's abdication, shouting, "Domnitza! Domnitza! We have no more king! We are lost! No king!", while The New York Times’ Herbert Matthews confirmed that "many Romanians wept in their homes."

"This act was imposed upon me by force by a government installed and maintained in power by a foreign country," said Michael at a press conference in London, "a government utterly unrepresentative of the will of the Romanian people.” He has never spoken of the abdication without observing that it was accompanied by the threat of genocide: the palace had been surrounded by armed detachments, and the communists promised "reprisals" against the population if Michael did not go. He does not regard the deed as constitutionally binding, and he never has.

"With unshaken faith in our future," he told reporters, "and animated by the same devotion and will to work, I will continue to serve the Romanian people, with whom my destiny is inexorably bound.” Asked how he planned to do this, however, or if he could ever return to Bucharest, Michael answered ‑‑ smiling ‑‑ "I wouldn't know."


The King's study at the Villa Serena is crammed with books, stacks of mail, photographs, bric-a-brac, and a couple of inspirational messages framed and mounted on the wall. I noted a copy of Kipling's "If," along with the famous "Footsteps" and something I could only dimly make out in the light of early evening but which was positively headlined: “Don't Quit.” Arriving at the house, I saw a flashy decal at the main entry, a bit of comic relief: "Never Mind the Dog ‑‑ Beware of Owner!"

Queen Anne turned up at the door when I knocked, looked at me sharply, grabbed me by the hand (like Alice, I thought, with the Red Queen) and propelled me into the study. "We are listening to Petre Roman!” she informed.

Petre Roman was ‑‑ is ‑‑ the Romanian Prime Minister of the Salvation Front. A week before the national elections, he was giving an interview to discuss the return of democracy to Bucharest; the purported dismantling of the Communist system; the economic disaster; the poverty in the countryside; the " Ceauçescu orphans" and the AIDS epidemic. It was a fascinating hour, not so much for what Roman was saying but because it gave me an opportunity to watch monarchs in action ‑‑ better put, in reaction, which was even more interesting.

"Oh, it makes me so mad, this!” the queen kept saying, smoking and sipping wine: "They don't answer the questions! 'Plans!' 'Programs!' They are always taking about 'programs.' But we never see anything!” There was ceaseless grimacing from her comer, rolling eyes, snorts, and some harder gestures for which she never failed to apologize.

The king was munching crackers, staring straight out, limiting his commentary to a critique of Communism ‑‑ “I've seen it before, I know it well” ‑‑ and an occasional "Hmmm.”

"Politics, politics," said Michael at one point, when I had imagined (to be honest) that he’d fallen asleep: "One gets the impression that they don't care a damn about the Romanian people. They are interested only in keeping their power.” He snapped to full attention only once, when Roman, in Bucharest, became angry at the questions put to him.

Roman soon made the mistake of comparing "the new Romania" to Spain in the years after Franco. There was talk of "reconciliation," "unity," "transition," “forgiveness" (more snorts from the Queen), and of Roman's personal admiration for Felipe Gonzalez, the Spanish socialist prime minister who helped usher Spain to a democratic era.

"They missed the point there," said Michael quietly. "In Spain, Gonzalez is the Minister of the king. They should have said that."

Not long after, they did. The Prime Minister's voice rose as he protested, in a complete reversal, that the situation in Romania was "totally different" from the situation in Spain; that it was “not the Spanish people” who put a king on the throne in Madrid, but Franco himself, who had picked “Juanito” personally and by­passed the direct succession to groom him for the job. Juan Carlos was "a new King,” said Roman emphatically, "untainted" and unspoiled: there was "nothing comparable" in Romania.

“He thinks it's a rotten idea, darling," said the queen as she switched off the radio. Later that evening, at a party in St. Cergue, she took me aside and pointed to her husband across the terrace.

"Look," she said, "you can see: he's upset.” He looked to me the same as always ‑‑ calm, kingly, with his Mona Lisa smile. But Anne knows her husband. They both know that the success of Juan Carlos in Spain is the most obvious and compelling argument in favor of monarchy in our time. The knee-jerk contention that kings are "anachronistic," that "you can't go back" and so on, carries no weight in this milieu.

“You can't go forward, either," Michael insists, “without an authentic history, an honest past.” He has no patience with the assertion, also much repeated, that ordinary Romanians have "no idea” who he is. It isn't true. My 30‑year‑old driver in Bucharest not only knew who Michael was, he even knew the name of Princess Margareta, and he supplied it without my asking. Talk about Michael in Bucharest and they might tell you (again) that "you can't go back;" they might say that "he doesn't know Romania;" they might confuse him with his father and worry that he fled the country with "a train full of gold.” But they know that Romania once had a history, and a tradition, and an idea of national sovereignty that was intimately tied to the monarchy.

I spent the Sunday of the elections at the mountain resort of Sinaia, where the royal family had its summer palaces. When I approached a table of young men and women to talk about the king ‑‑ they were sitting in the cafe of the hotel that used to be reserved for the Party elite ‑- ­they asked for "time to think" before answering.

"They may be afraid," said my driver, who was acting as interpreter.

"Afraid of the king?” I asked.

"No, afraid of answering questions about the King. They want to know what party you belong to.” The Salvation Front does not hesitate to exploit such antagonism as still exists among classes. In January 1990, when the first protests erupted in Bucharest against the new government, Iliescu's helpers imported truckloads of "workers" and "miners" from the countryside and sent them into the streets ‑‑ not for the last time ‑‑ to strut their stuff.

"Down With the Parties!” the demonstrators cried. "Down With the Intellectuals! We Work ‑­ We Don't Think! No King!”

"And this was very interesting," says Andrei Pippidi, the historian and member of the Group for Social Dialogue, one of the few intellectual bodies in Bucharest that still exists and has any influence on public opinion. (The Group for Social Dialogue is officially non‑political, but its members are known to be pro‑Western and anxious to see an honest democracy established in Romania.) "Obviously the demonstrators had been prepared by agents of the government," says Pippidi. "Because at that time nobody had even mentioned the possibility of the king's return.” That came later, after the Easter fiasco and the 11th‑hour withdrawal of Michael's visa. Pippidi adheres to "the psychological explanation" when he talks about the situation in Romania. He believes the country has been traumatized by government terror, devastated by years of "anti‑education," halted in its tracks by the refusal of most Romanians, still, to take responsibility for the crimes of the old regime.

“Romanians are not prepared to be judged," says Pippidi with a certain anguish. "They are suspicious of anyone who would restore the right of free criticism and wants to look all the way down into the heart of society to find out who the guilty are.” It has been estimated that 1 in 4 Romanians, under Ceauçescu, was a spy for the government. There were more than three million active members of the Communist Party in 1989 ‑‑ one‑seventh of the total population. "There's a moral crisis to be overcome.”

It might be the king himself talking. I met no one in Bucharest who failed to ascribe the popularity of the Salvation Front to ignorance, trepidation, torpor, and fear; I met no one who did not expect Iliescu’ s government, in the end, to be anything but a sorrow for Romania. The king had expected a solid Front victory in the elections ‑‑ "But 89 per cent?” he exclaimed when the tally was in. "You don't get figures like that even in a true democracy. It's absurdly ridiculous.” In Geneva, Princess Margareta speaks of "the mass of humanity beneath the political crust" of the country and declares its people are "severely distraught.” Romania has no Havel, the Princess observes, no Lech Walesa, no Gorbachev, no Pope: "The people are looking for a moral alternative. They are looking for a spiritual answer which my father can provide.” It is the advantage of constitutional monarchy that the sovereign functions as a stabilizing and a nurturing influence in society ‑‑ beyond politics, above the fray. It’s the specific advantage of Michael himself that he’s a known entity, tested during some of the hardest years of Romania's history. Off the record, Princess Margareta gave Iliescu "about three months" from the date of his election victory before he will either revert to a more or less open dictatorship or be obliged, like it or not, to accommodate his opponents in the interest of public order. Either way, she thinks, the prestige of the king is bound to increase. "He will flow through the country like water," Margareta has said, “because it is a thirsty country.”

Three days before the elections in Romania Michael was invited to address an open meeting of MEPs at the European Parliament in Strasbourg and was hailed from the floor of the assembly by the Italian Radical Marco Panetta, who lauded him ‑‑ "Michael of Hohenzollern" ‑- as "one of the few Romanians to deserve the respect of those who care about democracy and freedom.” It was a completely unexpected accolade, a really stunning moment, and a sign of the mounting diversity of support for Michael. In the United States, from his home in Baltimore, Rabbi Juda Glasner, who before World War 11 was Chief Rabbi of Transylvania, has become a kind of one‑man Michaelist lobby among Jewish groups. Rabbi Glasner is anxious in part to acknowledge Michael's wartime heroism on behalf of the Jews, but he is also, for all practical purposes, a constitutional monarchist. So is Doina Cornea, the Romanian dissident, one of the few women to have made a mark ‑- and survived ‑‑ as an opponent of the. The Ceauçescus Group for Social Dialogue is understood to sympathize with the principles that Michael represents: Andrei Pippidi believes that as the Salvation Front continues to show its colors, more and more intellectuals in Bucharest will rally to the idea of the monarchy. Arid in Paris Eugene Ionesco, the Romanian exile who, in different times, made a name for himself as the father of the Theater of the Absurd, recently emerged as one of the most eloquent voices in Michael's support.

Let's just say that I don't see how the king could be a danger," Ionesco wrote in Le Figaro. "The danger comes from others.” It would be an easy thing, Ionescu thinks, "with a little money" and a few "good men," to make the king known again in the country. Everyone agrees, no matter what their politics, that next to the memory of Nicolae Ceauçescu and his bloodthirsty relations Michael and his family have assumed the hue of angels. On May 19 my Romanian driver and I toured the Ceauçescus ' villa, along with the indescribably offensive, socialist‑fantasist wedding‑cake monstrosity that Ceauçescu erected in the center of Bucharest and celebrated, grotesquely, as the House of the Republic. I had thought that my driver (who that morning had waited in line for five hours to buy a can of motor oil) would be most disturbed by Elena Ceauçescu’s solid gold bathroom fixtures, her nightmare chintzes, her gaudy taste in stolen art. (Picture a town house decorated by Miss Piggy and you get an idea of the epic vulgarity of this place.) But no: he was bothered mainly by the thermostats he saw in every room ‑‑ "They could turn up the heat!” he groaned ‑‑ and by the size, wastefulness and plain audacity of the Communist enterprise.

"What were they going to do in here," he wondered, peering through the cavern of a darkened hall in the People's Palace ‑ "play baseball?” He shrugged his shoulders and grinned in my direction. "We've already had our king," he said. "Yours is bound to cost less."


Marlene Eilers is a royal genealogist in Washington, the author of Queen Victoria's Descendants and the publisher, in her spare time, of "Royal Book News," a periodic guide to monarchist literature that is unsurpassed both in the range of its listings and the forthrightness of its criticism. There is no one in America who knows more than Ms. Eilers does about births, deaths and trouble in the royal ranks. She has opinions ‑‑ strong ones ‑‑ about every king in history from Herod on down. Michael is one of her favorites.

"He's a person I just ward to give a big hug to," she says (and it isn't the kind of remark that comes often from her mouth). "He's a classic study of a family tug‑of‑war ‑ he's the classic tug‑of‑love baby. By the time he was twenty‑six he'd had to deal with more things than most people do in their lifetimes. And he's turned out all right! He's lived with purpose and with dignity. He's made a love marriage. His children adore him. They aren't on drugs ‑‑ they aren't on “Dynasty”! He can be proud.” When Danielle Maillefer was in New York recently to drum up interest in the Princess Margareta Foundation ‑‑ Yehudi Menuhin has joined the board ‑‑ she met quite a few people who felt the same as Ms. Eilers. They advised her to start thinking in terms of "media."

"Picture it,” says one of Mme. Maillefer’ s New York connections: "Here's this guy who's lived all his life in the shadow of the shame of his father. He's got blue blood, no money, no country, no home. He's an ex‑king ‑‑ he's got every incentive to be a parasite. And what does he turn out to be? A rock. He's a walking symbol of stability and orthodoxy. He's the White Knight!"

Mme. Maillefer was handing out copies of the king's latest speech, which was broadcast to Romania at the end of June. Four weeks after the Front's overwhelming victory in the popular vote (not three months, as Princess Margareta predicted) President Iliescu, in a move to curb dissent, caged in the miners again and set them loose on the population. Hundreds of people were beaten and wounded in the attack; dozens are supposed to have been killed; more have disappeared. "It is unprecedented," said Michael in his radio broadcast, "that a government which claims to be democratic [should] ask part of the population to take the law into its own hands and encourage three days of indescribable and terrible violence.... In a few hours, the democratic legitimacy which the present holders of power sought to obtain by the 20th May elections has now been seriously put in doubt. Quite rightly, everyone wonders if our country is not returning to the time of the Ceauçescu dictatorship."

I was with him on May 17, in Strasbourg, when he warned the members of the European Parliament that democracy hadn’t arrived in Romania and that elections should be postponed until it did. It was a well‑considered speech, but it earned only a paragraph in Western papers and was no sooner delivered than forgotten by the hundreds of reporters who turned up in Bucharest for the elections. We all read the certifications of the international observers that the voting was "fair” (even if there were “irregularities" in the Front's campaign); we also heard the pleas of the demonstrators in University Square, who had set up a funky, colorful, night‑and day protest against Iliescu and who warned us repeatedly that as soon as we decamped ‑‑ as soon as the eyes of the world were turned away ‑‑ the crackdown would come. They were right. So was the king.

He sat in Strasbourg quietly, for the most part, impassive, staring ahead. He was curious to know the background and training of the simultaneous translators in Parliament. At one point, he told me a joke about an American he had met, a good old boy who smirked and asked him, "Where's your crown? If you're a king, where's your crown?” There was a moment when Michael paused to greet Otto von Habsburg, his wife's cousin and formerly the heir to the Austro‑Hungarian empire, who long ago gave up his title and who has made a significant career since then as a politician and spokesman for a united Europe. I noticed that Dr. von Habsburg bowed and kissed the hand of Princess Margareta and that Michael seemed pleased. His speech followed a debate on the desecration of Jewish graves at Carpentras, an anti‑Semitic horror that had more of Europe in more of an uproar than anything going on in Bucharest.

“It is with regret that I often hear Romania described as being different from the rest of Europe," Michael affirmed. "Lack of experience and democratic tradition, a docile church, fractious intellectuals, resignation born of long dictatorship ‑‑ these things are undoubtedly real, but they only serve to conceal the wide gap that exists between the aspirations of the people and the activities of a narrow circle of their former rulers. To want to be treated with dignity; the desire to practice one's faith and to follow one's convictions; to lead a productive life ‑ these things do not require an education or any great tradition. They are the natural and fundamental demands of every human being."

We walked in the hallway when the speech was over, looking at a documentary exhibition that chronicled the history of the European Parliament. The king stopped for a moment before a photograph of Ernest Bevan, and said, "Bevan was the only one who was honest with me. All of the others beat around the bush.” He smiled, shook his head and nodded, "Socialist" ‑‑ as if to say, "Wouldn't you know it?' For years after his abdication he tried to rouse concern for Romania among the leaders of the Free World. He had no success. He was obliged to keep quiet even when his cousin, Elizabeth II, bestowed an honorary knighthood on Nicolae Ceauçescu as a reward for his independence from Moscow. Now things have changed, Michael observes: "Now we are supposed to keep quiet so as not to annoy Moscow.” He has written George Bush about the situation in Bucharest, and James Baker, and Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher, but he gets no satisfaction. His warnings are "not opportune."

"I understand that the main concern in the United States is not to derange Gorbachev," Michael says. "I know I sound like the odd man out, but after all, it is my country these things are happening to."

He looked out the window at the swans on the Rhine and said nothing more. He and his daughters were due back in Geneva. "Be careful you don't get knocked over the head," were the last words he spoke to me, when he heard that I was on my way to Bucharest. At the last minute, there was some confusion about drivers and bodyguards (the royal family isn’t used to having them, but there have been threats), and the wife of the mayor of Strasbourg was pressed into service to find Michael a taxi. She ran through the hall in a flurry of Gallic efficiency, all keen gestures and sharp words, and finally, smiling, the king drove off. It occurred to me that I was seeing him for the first time as one is used to seeing kings: through glass, as they speed by on their way to some engagement. The mayor's wife is slim and pretty, and her republican sang‑froid was blown to bits by the sight in front of her.

"Well," she exclaimed when Michael was gone, "that was something.” And when I looked at her she never bothered to hide her emotion. "C'est un roi," she said. "C'est un roi, finalement."

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