I’ve been reading Julia Gelardi’s Born to Rule: Granddaughters of Victoria, Queens of Europe (2004) and am going to do a series of posts on Queen Victoria’s five granddaughters, all of whom went on to be European queens themselves. All quotations are from that book.
Today we will talk about Princess Marie of Edinburgh (nicknamed Missy), who was the daughter of Queen Victoria’s second son, Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh.
Buckle up, nuggets, because Missy led a SCANDALOUS life, and I love her.
Missy was born in 1875 and joined the major cohort of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters who all became eligible brides right around the same time. Missy’s father was often away for his work in the navy, so she was largely raised by her distant mother, the Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna of Russia, Duchess of Edinburgh.
While there were plenty of eligible princes and dukes abroad (as we’ve seen from some of her cousins’ marriages), there were plenty of British princes available: Queen Victoria had a lot of children, and they had a lot of children.
Missy and her cousin George fell in love, but her mother didn’t think it was the best match. George, after all, was only a second son (even if his father was to be the future Edward VII). Why marry off you daughter to a second son, when you could marry her to a first son and see her become a queen one day?
But the joke was ultimately on Missy’s mother, because after George’s older brother’s untimely death, this ‘unsuitable’ young man would go on to be King of England, the future George V) .
“As George’s love letters arrived, the Duchess of Edinburgh watched her daughter like a hawk. Her fierce opposition to the match doomed any plans for marriage between the two infatuated cousins. Like the Princess of Wales, who refused to countenance any of her daughters marrying Germans, Marie prevented her daughters from marrying British princes. Thus did the duchess destroy all chance of her daughter becoming the wife of the future King George V.
“Unhappy with the sentimental letters her nephew was penning to Missy, Marie convinced the dutiful Missy to tell George that a marriage between them was impossible. As instructed, Missy then wrote to tell George that instead of becoming her husband, he must remain her ‘beloved chum’. It was a bitter blow to Prince George, who had waited patiently for years for his Missy to grow up. His reward was within reach when it was cruelly snatched from his arms.
Though their relationship did not end in engagement and marriage, Missy and George remained on very good terms. Well into the 1920s Missy still kept a crystal ball given to her by George from his courting days. And whenever she handled it, an enigmatic smile lit up her face.
This episode galvanised the Duchess of Edinburgh into action.With a beautiful daughter on the brink of womanhood, Marie knew that she had to act quickly in order to avert another unsuitable romance. Ever the ambitious mother, Marie had her sights set on a glittering future for her eldest daughter. Though the British throne was not to Marie’s liking, the Romanian throne was another matter. Fortunately for the ambitious mother, King Carol I of Romania was also on the prowl for an ideal wife for his nephew and heir, Crown Prince Ferdinand of Romania, who was nursing a broken heart after an unsuitable romance. Before Missy realised it, and before Ferdinand embroiled himself in another objectional romance, the machinations of King Carol and the Duchess of Edinburgh would work to unite the destinies of these two young people” (33).
“Queen Victoria was active in the ensuing negotiations over the marriage contract between Missy and Nando. The fact that Missy was marrying a Roman Catholic meant she was automatically forfeiting her place in the line of succession to the English throne. Nevertheless, the queen gave her views on the matter to her prime minister, Lord Rosebery, who duly passed them on [to] the British Foreign Office: ‘Her Majesty considers that there should be a treaty of marriage, as the union is one between a British Princess and the heir to a foreign crown . . . she thinks that the Princess’s renunciation of her British right should appear as an article in the treaty, though it is in fact involuntary . . . . The Queen thinks . . . it could be more graceful if Princess Marie were voluntarily to renounce the Crown of Great Britain and Ireland instead of being ruled out of it.'” (36).
Before Missy particularly knew what was happening, she found herself married to the Romanian Crown Prince, Ferdinand or “Nando”, and was shipped hundreds of miles off to a strange country.
The Romanian monarchy was . . . considerably different than the Victorian royal court society Missy had been raised in. King Carol of Romania, Nando’s uncle, was a cold man more concerned with his own dignity than in listening to the voices of his people. Carol’s queen hyperbolically claimed that he ‘wore his crown in his sleep’. As he and his wife only had a daughter, and the crown couldn’t pass to her, his nephew Nando would inherit.
On the whole, this may not seem too different from the sometimes rather severe court of Queen Victoria. However, there was a bit of whiplash going on: Carol’s wife and queen was a DRAMATIC BOHEMIAN ARTISTE and wanted everyone to know it. Her name was Elisabeth, but everyone called her ‘Carmen Sylva‘, her pen name. She was an embarrassingly flamboyant poet and I’ll do a full post on her in a couple of weeks, because how could I not?
“Queen Elisabeth’s acceptance of Missy was surprising, considering the part she played in inflaming passions between Ferdinand and an unsuitable commoner. Ever the romantic, Carol’s wife Elisabeth – or Carmen Sylva, as the poetess Queen of Romania was known -had been instrumental in promoting Nando’s romance with one of the ladies of the Romanian court, a certain Helen Vacarescu. But the Romanian elite and the king, for that matter, disapproved of the match. To them, for any member of the royal family to marry a Romanian was simply out of the question for political reasons. King Carol ordered Ferdinand to choose between the throne or his love.
“Ever obedient, the crown prince chose duty. Enraged by his wife’s part in encouraging the couple, King Carol I banished his queen from Romania for two years: Elisabeth was sent packing to her mother Germany. Not surprisingly, Missy’s knowledge of the Vacarescu affair was nonexistent at the time of her engagement. Missy and her sisters had been sheltered all their lives . . . . Stories about the affair spread beyond Bucharest. This, combined with the news of Missy’s betrothal, was too much for one member of the British royal family, the Duke of Cambridge, and his confidante, Lady Geraldine Somerset, who wrote, ‘disgusted to see the announcement of the marriage of poor pretty nice P. Marie of Edinburgh to the Prince of Roumania!!! It does seem too cruel a shame to cart that nice pretty girl off to semi-barbaric Roumania and a man to the knowledge of all Europe desperately in love with another woman'” (35).
“Missy’s honeymoon lasted only a few days, but the experience left the young woman in a daze. Completely unprepared for what was in store for her, Missy became suddenly bewildered with married life. The almost brusque fashion in which Nando exercised his conjugal rights left the more mystical and unworldly bride in shock. ‘He was’, recalled Missy, ‘terribly, almost cruelly in love. In my immature way I tried to respond to his passion, but I hungered and thirsted for something more.’ Despite the romantic setting of her honeymoon cottage and the obvious pleasure Nando was deriving from their time alone together, the young bride felt disappointed if not deceived by her experiences” (38).
-“Even more depressing than her gloomy surroundings was the fact that she and her new husband were expected to live under the same roof as King Carol. From the start, Carol I made no concessions to the new arrival. As a member of the Romanian royal family, Missy was expected to fit in – seamlessly. All of the king’s demands were to be assumed without question . . . . In time Carol I was to find to his exasperation that he had to reckon with a spitfire. But in the early days, the new crown princess had little energy to fight back. Shocked at her new role as a wife, depressed at living in a new country, disappointed that her husband was completely subservient to the king, Missy’s first year in Bucharest became an absolute nightmare. She chafed at the restrictions – not even the carefully screened Madame Grecianu, her lady-in-waiting, was allowed to be chummy with her.
“The choice of Missy’s lady-in-waiting had been made with the utmost care by King Carol. Thanks to Queen Victoria’s strict dictums, the king had to tread carefully here. The queen . . . wanted her granddaughter’s lady-in-waiting to be beyond reproach” (49-50).
“To make matters worse, Missy found that her normally healthy constitution was failing her. She was at a loss as to the reason for her lethargy and queasiness. But it was soon apparent what was behind these unnerving changes. Within a few months of her arrival, Missy learned that she was pregnant. It was a bewildering jolt to the innocent young bride. She was still trying to cope with the demands of being Nando’s wife while at the same time battling her deepening homesickness and increasing unhappiness with her living arrangements, and the news of impending motherhood hit her like a bolt of lightning.
“It was the motherly Lady Monson, an Englishwoman who had been of some help to Missy in her early days in Bucharest, who broke the news to the seventeen-year-old princess. Just before leaving for England, Lady Monson found a pale, sullen Missy languishing in her ‘disastrous rococo room’. Usually energetic and eager for exercise, the newlywed was bewildered by her sudden attacks of queasiness. ‘I feel giddy,’ confessed Missy, ‘food disgusts me . . . Everything makes me sick; smells, noises, faces, even colours. I’m altogether changed, I don’t recognise my own self!’ Lady Monson knew exactly what was the matter. She told Missy that everyone would be delighted. But when Missy showed signs of confusion and seemed about to burst out crying, Lady Monson asked her, ‘You don’t mean to say no one ever told you?‘ Nearly panicking, Missy replied frantically, ‘Told me what?‘ It was at that moment that the new crown princess was told about the birds and the bees. It also then dawned on Missy that her primary role was to provide heirs to the throne – and she took the news badly” (50-51).
So poor Missy had to deal with homesickness, her new husband’s overly vigorous sexual appetites, impending motherhood with little to no notion of the birds and the bees, the king’s severity, and the queen’s extreme dramatics. That’s a hell of a lot for a teenage girl:
“If Missy shrank from Carmen Sylva’s outlandish theatricality at these salons, the same could be said when Elisabeth set her sights on dispensing charity. For she excelled at presenting herself here too in the most absurd light. It was not out of character to find the queen sitting dramatically on a palace windowsill in plain view of the public below her, ready to mete out help to those who approached their benevolent sovereign. Crown Princess Marie often cringed at the spectacle, sensing that many of Elisabeth’s audience laughed behind her back. Carried away by her own monologues, the poetess queen would ‘speak of her soul, of her most sacred and intimate belief . . . of the real and imaginary slights . . . of the non-comprehension . . . of her husband’. It was pointedly obvious that thanks to Carmen Sylva’s outrageous theatricality, the court of King Carol and Queen Elisabeth took on a decidedly bizarre atmosphere” (64).
Missy gave birth to a son, Prince Carol, almost exactly nine months after her marriage. Quite the scandal. She and Nando had a daughter soon thereafter, and Carmen Sylva did her best to take the children away and raise them as her own.
“Owing to their differing temperaments, Missy and Nando’s marriage continued to remain rocky. In 1897, Nando was struck by typhoid fever. for a while, the prince’s life hung in the balance. Double pneumonia set in, leaving Missy very anxious. To make matters worse, the drama held strange appeal for Carmen Sylva‘s disordered personality. She almost gloated at every detail of Nando’s declining condition. Understandably, the crown princess was horrified to find the queen standing by the palace windows, ‘with tragic face and finger on lip, pantomime the news to those waiting below‘. So close to death was Nando that Missy was summoned to his bedside, where she held his perspiring hands as she knelt to say her last good-bye. Fortunately, however, Nando rallied. But his convalescence was long and slow. Missy stayed close to her husband so that a degree of intimacy, lacking for some time, now entered their marriage.
“This brief interlude was soon broken, for Missy began to chafe. With boredom at her heels, she embarked on a liaison with a Romanian officer, Lieutenant Zizi Cantacuzene, a member of her own Hussar regiment. This scandal played nicely into the hands of Queen Elisabeth. It did not take much for Elisabeth to convince King Carol to impose her latest plan for Missy’s household – one that would ensure that the crown princess had even less control over her son and daughter.
“The ongoing campaign she fought with Queen Elisabeth over the issue of raising the children was truly shaping into a battle royal, and one that continually exasperated Missy, for there was no let-up in the queen’s hold over [Prince] Carol and [Princess] Elisabetta. Much to Missy’s consternation, the childless queen tightened her hold over both children’s minds with the connivance of her own set of servants, who sympathised completely with the queen’s agenda” (82).
“Though the Duchess . . . had raised Missy to be ignorant of marital life, once married, Missy managed to share her marital woes with her mother. ‘All intimate life with a man is difficult for me,’ she once confessed. ‘My husband sees me cry . . . he is awfully sorry, he just wants to console me, he has every intention to do so, his heart is full of love, he begins to kiss me then he forgets that, and tries to console me by giving way to just that, that I dread most on earth. When she wanted Nando to read to her, Missy complained, ‘he hurries it over only to get to bed for other amusements which he does not perhaps think is a one-sided amusement” (91).
Based on Missy’s own randiness with her lover, Zizi, it clearly wasn’t true that all intimate life with a man was difficult for her–it just sounds like Nando was an insensitive jerk.
“Later, the duchess [Missy’s mother] vented her rage at King Carol when the scandal over Lieutenant [Zizi] Cantacuzene swirled . . . . The scandal became widely known and was ended by King Carol. While Missy’s mother admitted that there was no excuse for Missy’s lapse of judgment, the duchess nevertheless took a swipe at her son-in-law. The ‘worst of all’ of Nando’s faults was ‘his sensual passion for Missy [which] finished by . . . repulsing her . . . Nando will himself avow’, fumed Marie, ‘that he treated his wife like a mistress, caring little for her emotional well-being in order to constantly assuage his physical passions.’ And to top it off, Missy had to contend with Nando’s own extramarital escapades which were, according to the duchess, ‘a positive fact.’
“When, in the fall of 1897, Missy found herself pregnant, it was to her mother that she fled for refuge. As this was at the height of her affair with [Zizi] Cantacuzene, the uproar caused by the pregnancy prompted Missy to leave Romania. Nothing was ever known of the child born at Coburg. One historian, has suggested that it may have either been sent to an orphanage or was stillborn at birth. Whatever happened, the story of this mysterious child of Marie of Romania was one secret ‘she apparently took to the grave‘.
Missy then took another lover, Grand Duke Boris Vladomirovich of Russia, because FUCK YOU, NANDO.
“A precedent had been set when Missy fled to Coburg and to the protection of her mother in 1897. That was why, when Missy found herself pregnant again late in 1899, the duchess did not hesitate. Her instructions were set out with precision: ‘My plan is to take you immediately to Coburg, where we can wait until you give birth . . . I will take care of the rest.’ True to her word, the duchess, like the Romanov that she was, fired off a warning to King Carol, telling him ‘she would not allow Missy to have a miscarriage at Cotroceni [Palace in Bucharest].
“When King Carol held his ground and still refused to allow the crown princess to leave for Coburg, Missy pleaded with him to let her go. Already exhibiting dynamism that was to distinguish her from her other royal cousins, Missy defiantly confronted King Carol and told the king ‘right to his face’ that ‘she wanted a divorce, and that the child was carrying was Boris’s’. The romance that had been kindled in May 1896 while Missy and Nando were in Moscow had continued on and off its erratic course. Missy’s threat worked. The king was aghast. For once, this grizzled veteran of Balkan political intrigue and bizarre behaviour was thrown off course – and by a sprightly young woman who was clearly his subordinate
“Missy gave birth in the more tranquil surroundings of Coburg to her second daughter in January 1900 – named Marie, though all her life she would known as Mignon . . . . [I]n the weeks before the birth, Missy’s attitude toward her husband and her need to follow her duties as a wife and princess had undergone a transformation. Just as Missy was willing to make a go of her marriage, Crown Prince Ferdinand was also overcome by a desire to make amends. Well aware that he had not been an imaginative or understanding husband to his young wife, and conscious of the need to deflect any more scandal on his royal house, Nando swallowed his pride. Where Mignon was concerned, ‘in the end, Ferdinand reluctantly agreed to accept the child as his own.’ (92-93).
True to form, however, she and Nando never really connected and her name was linked romantically to several other prominent men, including Waldorf Astor, with whom she had developed a good friendship during a time of hardship of Missy.
“A sad pall hung over Missy’s life when in 1899 her brother, Alfred, died in tragic circumstances after a botched suicide attempt. Then, in July 1900, Marie’s father died of cancer. By the autumn of 1900, there was little doubt that Queen Victoria was declining rapidly, and in mid-January 1901, it became obvious that the end was at hand” (93).
“Those watching Waldorf and Missy closely during this time could have easily concluded that the crown princess was falling for the rich Astor and putting her marriage in peril. But however distant Ferdinand and Marie had become, the fact was that separation was not an option for the couple. Such a move would have been far too damaging to the Hohenzollern dynasty in Romania. Carmen Sylva was convinced that Missy herself did not want to leave Nando. She wrote to a friend about the crown prince and princess that ‘They are no going to divorce and [she] wants to be a Queen! She feels young and strong and daring!‘
“Being unhappy in her marriage had certainly left Missy vulnerable. But if Carmen Sylva is to be believed, it would appear that by the time she met Waldorf, she had already determined to stay with Nando and work alongside him for Romania.
“Waldorf and Missy opened their hearts to each other during many an intimate ride through the pine-clad forests of Sinaia, the summer resort at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains. But despite their shared love of horses and riding, this was not the only thing Missy found attractive about Waldorf . . . . Marriage being out of the question, Waldorf inevitably looked elsewhere fro someone to marry. He found a flame-haired American divorcee, Nancy Shaw, whose vitriolic and mercurial temper would cause her to run afoul of friend and foe alike. As one of the five celebrated Longhorne sisters of Virginia, Nancy was to make a name for herself as the first female member of the British House of Commons. As Nancy Astor, she was also to become famous for her acerbic tongue.
“Missy, though overcome with a sense of sadness at the thought that she and Waldorf could never be as close as when he was single, nevertheless graciously accepted the woman Waldorf chose to be his wife. In fact, she gave Nancy a nudge in Waldorf’s direction when the former Langhorne belle could not make up her mind whom to marry, as Waldorf was not the only one interested in becoming Nancy’s second husband” (110).
“After Waldorf Astor married his Nancy, Missy gravitated to the next male admirer to come her way. Never in want of attention from the opposite sex, the crown princess had easily conquered the heart of the new man in her life, the popular and desirable Prince Barbo” (162).
“Prince Barbo Stirbey and Crown Princess Marie of Romania soon developed into ‘a formidable team’. This friendship, which blossomed into love and took on the added dimension of mentoring, was officially cemented when Prince Stirbey was appointed by King Carol in 1913 to become Superintendent of the Crown Estates. Fortuitously for Missy and Barbo, the post provided them with a cover for their relationship. His new position meant that he and Marie were thrown together every day. But more important, in giving his imprimatur to the affair, King Carol I had shown keen foresight. Realising the potential, as yet untapped, in the future queen, and the significant role the ‘tactful and efficiently influential’ Stirbey was playing where Missy was concerned, King Carol decided to foster the couple’s devotion. He understood full well that the intelligent but indecisive Crown Prince Ferdinand would need strong support once he ascended the throne. Who better to buttress and guide him than Missy [and Barbo]? Carol I’s instincts would prove correct. His hopes were to bear great fruit in the years ahead” (163).
King Carol died the following year and Missy and Nando ascended the throne. Despite both of their very public infidelities and Nando’s general weakness, they were extremely popular both in Romania and abroad. Everything went to the dogs, though, when Nando died in 1926. Their son, Prince Carol, had waived his right to the throne and passed it on to his five year old son, Michael.
Missy was therefore the dowager Queen to her child-king grandson. Prince Carol, the young King Michael’s father, had a change of heart and deposed his son–stealing the throne he had willingly given up and becoming King Carol II. Knowing that Missy supported his son instead of him, King Carol II had her banished from court, and she lived the rest of her life in exile before dying in 1937.
King Carol II was a REAL dickbag–he was an anti-Semite and politically realigned with Nazi Germany, eventually developing his role into a dictatorship. He carried on numerous affairs and his debauched lifestyle was pretty legendary. He was pretty well loathed and was forced to abdicate in favor of his son (from whom he had stolen the throne a mere ten years earlier). He lived the rest of his life in exile.