Michael I, Last King of Romania, Dies at 96

Updated on

Michael I, who reigned as king of Romania during War World II until he was forced to abdicate and leave for exile by the Communists in 1947, has died. He was 96.

The Royal House of Romania, which now holds a ceremonial role and is mostly involved in charity projects, confirmed his death in an emailed statement on Tuesday. He died at his house in Switzerland after suffering from leukemia and lung cancer, according to the statement. The government plans to declare national days of mourning and will hold a military funeral for Michael I, according to Defense Minister Mihai Fifor.

“King Michael was one of the most important leaders of Romania, and it’s a sad day for the country,” President Klaus Iohannis said. “King Michael wrote Romania’s history with large letters, and we have to thank him.”

Michael I

Photographer: Daniel Mihailescu/AFP via Getty Images

Michael took over the country in 1927 at the age of 5 with a regency council instituted after the death of his grandfather Ferdinand I. Michael’s father Carol II replaced him as king and ruled until he was deposed in 1940. Michael, Romania’s last king, took part in a coup against Ion Antonescu, the military dictator who led the government and aligned the Balkan country with Nazi Germany.

In 1944, Michael appointed Antonescu’s replacement and declared Romania’s affiliation to the Allied forces. A year later, he was forced to put a pro-Soviet government in charge that he tried to boycott. In 1947, he was forced to abdicate and was stripped of his citizenship and property. He settled in Switzerland with his wife and five daughters, where he took on several jobs, including those of farmer, pilot and broker.

The king tried to return to Romania immediately after communism collapsed in 1989, but was arrested and forced to leave. Two years later, he was allowed to visit at Easter. More than 1 million people gathered for his speech in Bucharest, fueling more resistance against him among politicians. Only in 1997, President Emil Constantinescu restored the monarch’s citizenship, allowing him to visit. Eventually some of his property was returned.

No specific funeral announcements were made.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
    LEARN MORE