King Michael of Romania has died aged 96

A year after his diagnosis with cancer, King Michael of Romania has died, aged 96.

King Michael, who was a Monarch in exile, died in Switzerland near Lake Geneva, as he received treatment for cancer. His family made the announcement earlier today, almost a year after he withdrew from public to fight the illness.

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“His Majesty King Michael I ceased life today at 1pm Romanian time at his private residence in Switzerland,” the Royal House said in a statement.

The King’s body will lie in state in a royal Carpathian mountains residence, also where he was born, before lying in state in Bucharest; the Romanian Monarch will be buried in Curtea de Arges.

A cousin of Elizabeth II, the nonagenarian was Head of State during WWII, during which time King Michael was key in making the nation switch sides, over to the Allies in 1944. The 22-year-old Monarch partook in a coup against the country’s facist leader to forge a new alliance on the British, French, and eventually American, side.

Michael had the cunning and audacity to summon the military leader, Ion Antonescu, to his palace and arrest him, taking control. Historians think that his actions saved thousands of lives and shortened the war by months. The Soviet Union continually took credit for this act, but it was actually King Michael’s idea and execution that led to the outcome.

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His wife, Queen Anne, died last year, but the ruler was unable to attend the funeral in Romania because of his health issues. She had passed away in Switzerland, but the couple met at the a pre-wedding ball of Princess Elizabeth and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in 1947.

The couple married the year after, but Anne was never crowned Queen.

He was born Prince Michael Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen (Mihai in Romanian) on 25th October 1921 at Peles Castle in Sinaia, Romania. His father was Crown Prince Carol, and his mother, Princess Helen, was the daughter of King Constantine of Greece. Romania had been formed through the union of Waldachia and Moldavia in the mid-1800s.

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King Michael ruled Romania twice, from 1927 to 1930 and then again from 1940 to 1947. Aged five, his father renounced his rights to the throne, and upon the death of King Ferdinand of Romania, Michael became King. King Carol II had left Romania a few years earlier, in the midst of an affair scandal; just three years later, however, Carol returned to assume position as Head of State.

In 1940, a coup against Carol from the military government, led by the fascist general – and something of a Nazi pawn – Ion Antonescu, saw him deposed and Michael assume power once more, although he held little real power.

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The communist government brought an end to the Romanian Monarchy in 1947, however, forcing the King to abdicate. They blackmailed Michael – who was descended from Queen Victoria on both sides of his family – threatening mass executions if he refused to leave. He revealed this information in an interview with the BBC in the 1980s.

“If you don’t sign this thing now, we’re going to have to shoot or kill 1,000 people that are already in prison,” King Michael explained.

Exiled, living in Switzerland until the fall of the communist government in the 1990s, King Michael of Romania worked as a normal citizen; he revealed his favourite work had been as a test pilot on private plane in both Europe and the USA.

King Michael’s Romanian citizenship was restored in 1997, and he spent periods of time in Romania, but lived mostly near Geneva.

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He remained popular for the rest of his life, with some rumblings of even reinstating the Romanian Monarchy.

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