Carmen Sylva, the Poetess Queen

I’m doing a short series of ‘Badass Women’ posts (see last week’s post on warrior queen Yaa Asantewaa), and I’ve decided to combine this with the series I did a few weeks ago on Queen Victoria’s granddaughters. Previous posts include: Isabella Bird, Mary Fields, Mother Jones, Mary Kingsley, Belle Starr, Belle Boyd, Si Mahoud, Mrs. Cheng, and others.

When we talked about Princess Missy, the eventual Queen of Romania, I touched briefly on the subject of her husband’s aunt, the Queen Consort Elisabeth of Romania, who was also a poetess under the pseudonym Carmen Sylva.

All quotations come from Julia Gelardi’s Born to Rule: Granddaughters of Victoria, Queens of Europe (2004).

Carmen Sylva, as I’ll refer to her for the purposes of this post, was dramatic and romantic and embarrassing and loved stirring shit up, and did not give a single fuck. To briefly summarize details about her from my post on Princess Missy, who took over as Queen Consort after Carmen Sylva’s husband, King Carol, died, here’s some of the shit she did:

1.) She and her husband made a super awkward couple (which also made for a really uncomfortable royal court). He was very cold and formal, while she was extremely theatrical and sensitive. It was like every bad ’90s and ’00s romcom where a manic pixie dream girl changes the life of an uptight dude, except in this situation it was a royal marriage and nobody changed and nobody fell in love, they just got married.

2.) She encouraged her nephew Nando, the future king, to have a love affair with an unsuitable commoner, which caused an international scandal. His uncle, King Carol, told Nando he would either have to choose love or the throne, because he could never take the crown if he married such a lowly woman. Nando chose the throne, and quickly sought out a princess to marry. He found Missy and married her very quickly before she could hear news of his love affair.

Carmen Sylva, for the role she played in encouraging and facilitating the love affair, was banished by King Carol from the court for two years.

3.) As soon as Nando and Missy married, Carmen Sylva instantly ditched her encouragement of Nando and the commoner woman, and became very, ‘NANDO AND MISSY 4EVA’, because she was fickle and romantic like that. To put it in internet parlance, she just desperately wanted someone or something to ship.

4.) “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).

5.) When Missy had children shortly after her marriage, Carmen Sylva, whose only child died at three years of age, did everything in her power to take the children from Missy and raise them as her own. Missy and Nando had a really unhappy marriage, so Carmen Sylva exploited Missy’s many, many love affairs to encourage servants, Nando, and the King to join in her effort to separate Missy from the children.

6.) When Nando grew dangerously ill with typhoid fever, “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 [Missy] 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‘ (82).

7.) Despite being a queen, Carmen Sylva was of a highly Republican sensibility and believed that monarchy should be abolished in favor of a more democratic form of government. She complained about this in her diary pretty much every week, saying in one instance:

‘I must sympathize with the Social Democrats, especially in view of the inaction and corruption of the nobles. These “little people”, after all, want only what nature confers: equality. The Republican form of government is the only rational one. I can never understand the foolish people, the fact that they continue to tolerate us‘.

8.) Carmen Sylva was known for her obsession with spiritualism and the occult. She spent a great deal of her childhood conducting seances and visiting lunatic asylums.

When King Carol died, “Queen Elisabeth [Carmen Sylva] moved to the bishop’s residence at Curtea de Arges in order to be near the burial site of Carol I. It was a logical move for a woman who believed in communicating with the dead. Though she continued to exasperate Queen Marie [Missy] because of her staunch German sympathies and her peculiar rants about frequent talks with the Archangel Raphael, Marie treated the widowed Carmen Sylva with kindness and understanding. In a gesture of peace and magnanimity, she sought oheal the wounds that had set the two women at loggerheads with each other – wounds that were largely of Carmen Sylva’s making. Queen Elisabeth’s peaceful widowhood was short-lived. She died in early March 1916 from pneumonia caught while taking in the freezing cold air, a habit of the old queen because she feared being suffocated. She was buried next to Carol I” (224), presumably to annoy him for all eternity.

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