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  • Ilinca Stroe

Queen Mother Elena: Righteous for Her Nation, Righteous among the Nations


Romanians don’t know much about her. Unlike her mother-in-law, Queen Marie, she wasn’t considered a beauty, she didn’t have a sparkling, magnetic personality that conquered hearts and souls in a flash. She died nontragically in exile while Romania was agonising in its communist nightmare, and was buried modestly in the Boix-de-Vaud cemetery in Lausanne, Switzerland. And yet without her, Romania’s King, her son, in times of turmoil and bitter suffering, would have probably failed to serve his country with the wisdom, balance and caution needed in those merciless pre- and post-war years. She was the invisible, behind-the-scenes pillar of the country.


Born in 1896 into the royal family of Greece, her father was King Constantine I, her mother – Princess Sophia of Prussia (whom astute Queen Marie portrayed as “intellectually rather limited” [1]). Her Royal Highness the Princess of Greece and Denmark, as her official title went, got married to Romania’s Crown Prince Carol in 1920. He, an heir who vacillated rather irresponsibly between Romania’s throne and his amorous urgings time and again, loved her at first (their son, Michael, was born one year after they’d married, and Queen Marie referred to his parents as a lovely couple together), and then he didn’t: in 1925, he went abroad with his mistress (an otherwise fascinating historical figure), and left his wife and son in the country. They divorced in 1928. The previous year Elena had been proclaimed “Queen Mother”, as her 6-year-old son became King under a three-person regency headed by his uncle Prince Nicholas.


She had been raised in a traditional way and in a spirit of discipline: to be modest, proper and decent, to be a good wife and a good mother. She turned out to be a lot more than that: during the rule of Marshal Ion Antonescu, Romania’s right-wing Prime Minister close to Hitler during the WWII years, she acted as Romania’s Oskar Schindler: she used all of her influence to prevent the deportation of Romanian Jews to Nazi camps, thus saving thousands of Jewish lives. Of all of Europe’s Queens, she was the only one to be awarded, post mortem, in 1993, the honorific title of Righteous Among the Nations by the State of Israel.


But it’s often the little things that we do as persons, as family members, that stick to one’s heart: as a grandma, Queen Elena was, according to the memories of her graddaughter, Princess Margareta, currently Custodian of the Crown of Romania, “my spiritual guide, my mentor, my guiding star.” She showed her right from wrong, beautiful from ugly, safe from dangerous, but she also let her learn by herself, from her own mistakes, drawing her own conclusions. Queen Elena was, apparently, a great believer who drew on her Christian faith to spread wisdom and moral power. But she also had remarkable common sense, a great sense of humour which saw her through the bleakest moments of her politically inclement life, and friends among the actors, novelists, sculptors, poets, musicians, jewellers, architects and floral designers of her time. “Suffering did not spare her, but she never let bitterness overcome her.” [2]


In October 2019, after many years of lifetime and posthumous exile, the great wish of Queen Elena’s son finally came true: her remnants were transferred from Switzerland home to Romania, and she was buried at the Royal Episcopal Cathedral in Curtea de Argeş, next to her son and parents-in-law. Complying with Princess Margareta’s wish, the Romanians attending the ceremony brought flowers of one colour only: white. [3]


International House Bucharest, through its Romanian Language Department, runs online Romanian courses and cultural integration workshops for foreigners living in Romania or interested in the country’s culture, language or history. For more information, click here. To enrol, contact romanian@ih.ro. And to follow our video series “Your Romanian Class”, subscribe to our YouTube channel.


Notes & Sources

[1] <www.rfi.ro/emisiunile-rfi-ro-115189-regina-elena-romaniei-singura-regina-din-europa-care-primit-titlul-drept>

[2] <www.mediafax.ro/stirile-zilei/regina-mama-elena-pentru-principesa-margareta-ne-a-ajutat-sa-intelegem-frumusetea-lumii-18471716>

[3] <www.rfi.ro/politica-114839-pagina-de-istorie-regina-mama-elena-intoarce-acasa>


Picture credit

<https://ro.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regina_mam%C4%83_Elena>

<www.digi24.ro/special/campanii-digi24/coroana-de-otel/dramele-care-au-marcat-viata-reginei-mama-elena-umilita-despartita-de-fiu-si-fortata-sa-plece-in-exil-la-florenta-1201346>