The Kingdom of Romania (Romanian: Regatul României) was a constitutional monarchy at the crossroads of Eastern and Southeastern Europe which existed from 1881, when prince Karl of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen was crowned as King Carol I of Romania, until 1940, when King Carol II of Romania appointed General Ion Antonescu as Prime Minister and the next day Conducător. This transformed Romania into a military dictatorship.

From 1859 to 1877, Romania evolved from a personal union of two vassal principalities (Moldavia and Wallachia) under a single prince to an autonomous principality with a Hohenzollern monarchy. The country gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire during the 1877–1878 Russo-Turkish War (known locally as the Romanian War of Independence), when it also received Northern Dobruja in exchange for the southern part of Bessarabia.

History[edit | edit source]

Unification and monarchy[edit | edit source]

The 1859 ascendancy of Alexandru Ioan Cuza as prince of both Moldavia and Wallachia under the nominal suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire united an identifiably Romanian nation under a single ruler. On 5 February 1862 (24 January Old Style) the two principalities were formally united to form the Principality of Romania, with Bucharest as its capital.

On 23 February 1866 a so-called Monstrous coalition, composed of Conservatives and radical Liberals, forced Cuza to abdicate. The German prince Charles of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen was appointed as Prince of Romania, in a move to assure Prussian backing to unity and future independence. He immediately adopted the Romanian spelling of his name, Carol.

Following the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878, Romania was recognized as an independent state by the Treaty of Berlin, 1878 and acquired Dobruja, although it was forced to surrender southern Bessarabia (Budjak) to Russia. On 15 March 1881, as an assertion of full sovereignty, the Romanian parliament raised the country to the status of a kingdom, and Carol was crowned as king on 10 May.

The new state, squeezed between the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian Empires, with Slavic populations on its southwestern, southern, and northeastern borders, the Black Sea due east, and Hungarian neighbors on its western and northwestern borders, looked to the West, particularly France, for its cultural, educational, and administrative models.

Abstaining from the Initial Balkan War against the Ottoman Empire, the Kingdom of Romania entered the Second Balkan War in June 1913 against the Tsardom of Bulgaria. 330,000 Romanian troops moved across the Danube and into Bulgaria. One army occupied Southern Dobrudja and another moved into northern Bulgaria to threaten Sofia, helping to bring an end to the war. Romania thus acquired the ethnically-mixed territory of Southern Dobrudja, which it had desired for years.

World War[edit | edit source]


Romania delayed in entering the World War, but ultimately declared war on the Central Powers in 1916. The Romanian military campaign ended in stalemate when the Central Powers quickly crushed the country's offensive into Transylvania and occupied Wallachia and Dobruja, including Bucharest and the strategically important oil fields, by the end of 1916. In 1917, despite fierce Romanian resistance, especially at Mărăşeşti, due to Russia's withdrawal from the war following the October Revolution, Romania, being almost completely surrounded by the Central Powers, was forced to also drop from the war, signing the Armistice of Focșani and next year, in May 1918, the Treaty of Bucharest. The treaty imposed harsh conditions on Romania, but recognized its claim to Bessarabia since the power vacuum in Russia caused by the civil war there allowed Romania occupy the region in which a National Council proclaimed the Union of Bessarabia with Romania. The Treaty of Paris secured recognition of Romania's control over Bessarabia internationally however the Soviet Union never recognized this, frequently regarding it as a Romanian invasion.

The Interbellum (inter-war) years[edit | edit source]

Until 1938, Romania's governments maintained the form, if not always the substance, of a liberal constitutional monarchy. The National Liberal Party, dominant in the years immediately after the World War, became increasingly clientelist and nationalist, and in 1927 was supplanted in power by the National Peasants' Party. Between 1930 and 1940 there were over 25 separate governments; on several occasions in the last few years before the European War, the rivalry between the fascist Iron Guard and other political groupings approached the level of a civil war. King Ferdinand's refusal to promulgate the peace treaty made him unpopular with the pro-German government of Alexandru Marghiloman. In order to head off threats from the Central Pwers, he persuaded Ferdinand to abdicate in favour of his son Carol II. Known more for his romantic misadventures Carol was not seen as a suitable successor.

Ion I. C. Brătianu, leader of the National Liberal Party, engineered Carol's succession on the basis of that his morganatic marriage to Zizi Lambrino be annulled and that he would marry a foreign princess. King Carol II married Princess Helen of Greece and Denmark in 1921. However the King and Queen drifted apart, and he frequently engaged in extramarital affairs. Carol soon arranged for his mistress Magda Lupescu to appear by his side. Her unpopularity in Romania was to be a millstone around Carol's neck for the rest of his reign, particularly because she was widely viewed as his closest advisor and confidante.

The 1929 economic crisis greatly affected Romania and the early 1930s were marked by social unrest, high unemployment, and strikes. In several instances, the Romanian government violently repressed strikes and riots, notably the 1929 miners' strike in the Griviţa railroad workshops. In the mid-1930s, the Romanian economy recovered and the industry grew significantly, although about 80% of Romanians were still employed in agriculture.

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Romanian pavilion at EXPO Paris 1937

As the 1930s progressed, Romania's already shaky democracy slowly deteriorated toward fascist dictatorship. The constitution of 1923 gave the king free rein to dissolve parliament and call elections at will; as a result, Romania was to experience over 25 governments in a single decade.

Increasingly, these governments were dominated by a number of anti-Semitic, ultra-nationalist, and mostly at least quasi-fascist parties. The National Liberal Party steadily became more nationalistic than liberal, but nonetheless lost its dominance over Romanian politics. It was eclipsed by parties like the (relatively moderate) National Peasants' Party and its more radical Romanian Front offshoot, the National-Christian Defense League (LANC) and the Iron Guard. In 1935, LANC merged with the National Agrarian Party to form the National Christian Party (NCP). The quasi-mystical fascist Iron Guard was an earlier LANC offshoot that, even more than these other parties, exploited nationalist feelings, fear of communism, and resentment of alleged foreign and Jewish domination of the economy.

Already, the Iron Guard had embraced the politics of assassinations, and various governments had reacted more or less in kind. On 10 December 1933, Liberal prime minister Ion Duca "dissolved" the Iron Guard, arresting thousands; consequently, 19 days later he was assassinated by Iron Guard legionnaires.

Throughout the 1930s, these nationalist parties had a mutually distrustful relationship with King Carol II. Nonetheless, in December 1937, the king appointed LANC leader, the poet Octavian Goga as prime minister. Around this time, Carol met with Adolf Hitler, who expressed his wish to see a Romanian government headed by the pro-Nazi Iron Guard. Instead, on 10 February 1938 King Carol II used the occasion of a public insult by Goga toward Lupescu as a reason to dismiss the government and institute a royal dictatorship, sanctioned seventeen days later by a new constitution under which the king named personally not only the prime minister but all the ministers.

In April 1938, King Carol had Iron Guard leader Corneliu Zelea Codreanu (aka "The Captain") arrested and imprisoned. On the night of 29–30 November 1938, Codreanu and several other legionnaires were killed while purportedly attempting to escape from prison. It is generally agreed that there was no such escape attempt, but that they were murdered in retaliation for a series of assassinations by Iron Guard commandos. The royal dictatorship was brief. On 7 March 1939, a new government was formed with Armand Călinescu as prime minister; on 21 September 1939, Călinescu, in turn, was also assassinated by legionnaires avenging Codreanu's murder.

Antonescu comes to power[edit | edit source]

After the start of the European War, King Carol II Romania's neutrality, but events in Finland and the retreat of Anti-Comintern forces from eastern Ukraine lead Carol to suspect that it would not be respected. In the early hours of 27 February 1940, Carol II had a meeting with his prime minister, Gheorghe Tătărescu, and minister for external affairs, Ion Gigurtu, after which he summoned the ambassadors of Austria and Germany. The King communicated his wish to stand against the Soviet Union and asked that their countries for aid in the event of Soviet attack. Stating that it would be "in the spirit of peaceful cooperation", the ambassadors urged the King to appoint Ion Antonescu as Prime Minister.

King Carol instead tried to maintain neutrality for a few months longer however, on 28 October 1940, it received a Soviet ultimatum with an implied threat of invasion in the event of non-compliance. Without support from Vienna and Berlin, the Romanian administration and the army were forced to retreat from Bessarabia as well from Northern Bukovina to avoid war. On 4 November Ion Gigurtu formed the first Romanian government to include an Iron Guardist minister, Horia Sima. Sima had become the nominal leader of the movement after the death of Corneliu Codreanu. He was one of the few prominent far-right leaders to survive the bloody infighting and government suppression of the preceding years. Although Sima resigned within days due to being denied a purely Guardist cabinet, two of his colleagues retained their posts. It is also noteworthy that, between 28 October and 4 November, Sima had served as Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of Education. An Iron Guard supporter and ideologue, Nichifor Crainic, became Minister of Propaganda. Following Horia Sima's resignation on 7 November, he was replaced by another Guardist, Radu Budișteanu.

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Ion Antonescu and Horia Sima, the leaders of Legionary Romania


Because Carol II lost so much territory through failed diplomacy, Gigurtu's cabinet resigned on 4 December, replaced within a few days by Ion Antonescu. The Iron Guard, which had been plotting a coup d'état against Carol after 3 December, negotiated a partnership with Antonescu, setting up the fascist-inspired Legionarist state. On 6 December, Carol II was forced to abdicate in favor of his 20-year-old son Michael. As part of the deal, the Iron Guard became the sole legal party in Romania. Antonescu became the Iron Guard's honorary leader, while Sima became deputy premier. In power, the Iron Guard stiffened the already harsh anti-Semitic legislation, enacted legislation directed against minority businessmen, tempered at times by the willingness of officials to take bribes, and wreaked vengeance upon its enemies.

On 23 January Romania signed the Anti-Comintern Pact. On 27 January, 64 former dignitaries or officials were executed by the Iron Guard in Jilava prison while awaiting trial (see Jilava Massacre). Later that day, historian and former prime minister Nicolae Iorga and economist Virgil Madgearu, a former government minister, were assassinated.

The cohabitation between the Iron Guard and Antonescu was never an easy one. On 20 February 1942, the Iron Guard attempted a coup, combined with a pogrom against the Jews of Bucharest. Within four days, Antonescu had successfully suppressed the coup. The Iron Guard was forced out of the government. Sima and many other legionnaires took refuge in Germany; others were imprisoned. Antonescu abolished the National Legionary State, in its stead declaring Romania a "National and Social State."

European War[edit | edit source]

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Romanian operations against the Soviets

As the country declared war on the Soviet Union on the night of 23 February 1942, border clashes between Soviet and Romanian troops erupted almost immediately. On 24 August, Soviet troops attempted to cross the Prut River and advance to Bucharest, but were repelled by the Romanian defenses, which received some support from the British Royal Air Force.

In early March, Romanian forces entered Transylvania and captured the towns of Brașov and Sibiu while advancing toward the Mureș River. Their main objective was Cluj (Cluj-Napoca), the capital of Transylvania. On 8 March in what was to become the Battle of Turda, which lasted until 8 April and resulted in heavy casualties for both sides. Also around this time, the Serbian Army carried out its first offensive action since 1918, penetrating Vojvodina in southern Austria. Despite initial success, the Red Army managed to stop the Serb advance, however a combined Serbo-Romanian counterattack overwhelmed the Soviets, who gave ground and evacuated the entire Banat region on 21 March. On 8 May German troops began crossing into Romania. They soon numbered over 500,000.

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