Helen of Greece and Denmark

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Helen of Greece and Denmark
Queen Mother of Romania
Born (1896-05-02)2 May 1896
Athens, Greece
Died 28 November 1982(1982-11-28) (aged 86)
Lausanne, Switzerland
Burial Municipal Cemetery, Montpellier[1]
Spouse Prince Carol of Romania
(m. 1921; div. 1928)
Issue Michael I of Romania
House Glücksburg
Father Constantine I of Greece
Mother Sophia of Prussia
Styles of
Helen, Queen Mother of Romania
Kingdom of Romania - Big CoA.svg
Reference style Her Majesty
Spoken style Your Majesty
Alternative style Ma'am

Princess Helen of Greece and Denmark (Greek: Ελένη; 2 May/3 May 1896 – 28 November 1982) was married to King Carol II of Romania prior to his accession, and was the mother of King Michael. She is noted for her humanitarian efforts to save the Romanian Jews during the Second World War, which led to her being awarded the honorary title of Righteous Among the Nations

Princess of Greece and Denmark[edit]

Helen was born in Athens, the third child of the future King Constantine I of Greece and Sophia of Prussia. Helen had three brothers, each of whom reigned as kings of Greece - George II, Alexander, and Paul - and two sisters, Irene and Katherine.

In 1910 Helen went into exile with her parents and siblings as a result of a military plot to put her father on the Greek throne in place of her grandfather King George I of Greece.[2] The family spent the summer at Schloss Friedrichshof, the home of Helen's maternal aunt Margaret, Landgravine of Hesse. They spent the winter at a hotel in Frankfurt before returning to Athens.

In 1917 Helen and her family went into exile a second time as a result of her father not supporting the Allies in World War I.[3] After a brief stay at St. Moritz, the family moved to a villa near Zurich. Their movements were severely restricted by the Allies; they had to reside in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, their French and English staff had to be dismissed, and they were not permitted contact with other French and English people.

Crown Princess of Romania[edit]

In Lucerne in December 1919, Helen met Crown Prince Carol of Romania, who was her second cousin. Their mothers were first cousins, being both granddaughters of Queen Victoria: Sophia through her mother, the Empress Frederick of Germany, Marie through her father Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh. Carol was returning from a world tour after his forced divorce from his first wife, Zizi Lambrino.[4] Helen accompanied Carol to Romania to celebrate the formal engagement of her brother George to Carol's sister Elisabeth. In November 1920 Carol visited Zurich and asked Constantine for Helen's hand in marriage. The match was not an arranged one; indeed, Helen's mother was against it.[5]

In December 1920 King Constantine I was restored to his throne in Greece and Helen returned to Athens. On 10 March 1921 Helen married Crown Prince Carol of Romania in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens. She was the first princess of Greece to marry in Athens.[6] The bride wore the Romanian 'Greek Key' tiara, a gift from her mother-in-law. The couple honeymooned at Tatoi before sailing for Bucharest at the beginning of May.[7]

Helen and Carol had an apartment in the Cotroceni Palace in Bucharest, but they spent most of their time at the Foishor, a Swiss chalet in the grounds of the Peleş Castle in Sinaia.[8] The marriage was at first happy, but soon soured.[9]

Helen with her husband Crown Prince Carol

On 25 October 1921, Helen and Carol's first and only child Michael was born at the Foishor. "There were complications and for a while neither mother nor child were expected to pull through".[10] The baby was rumored to have been born premature (he was born only seven and a half months after his parents' wedding), but weighed nine pounds at birth.

In December 1921 the family moved to a house in the Chaussée Kyselef in Bucharest.[11] Helen tried to establish a nursing school to improve standards in Romania. She was also appointed honorary colonel of the 9th Cavalry Regiment, the Roshiori.[12]

In 1925 Carol began an affair with Elena "Magda" Lupescu. In December 1925, he renounced his rights to the throne and left Romania. On 4 January 1926, the Romanian Parliament ratified the acceptance of Carol's renunciation and passed a bill giving Helen the title Princess of Romania.[13] Helen remained in Romania with her son Michael who was now heir to the throne. The following summer she went to Italy to try to arrange a meeting with Carol but failed.[14]


The Standard of the Queen mother of Romania (1941–1947)

In July 1927 Helen's five-year-old son Michael succeeded as king of Romania. Other than her rank as a princess of Romania, Helen held no official position; she was not a member of the regency council. In December 1927 Carol asked Helen for a divorce.[15] At first she refused, but eventually she gave in to government advice. On 21 June 1928, the marriage was dissolved by the Romanian Supreme Court on the grounds of incompatibility.[16]

House of Oldenburg
(Glücksburg branch)
Royal Coat of Arms of Greece (1863-1936).svg
Constantine I
George II
Helen, Queen Mother of Romania
Princess Irene, Duchess of Aosta
Princess Katherine, Lady Brandram

On 6 June 1930, Carol returned to Romania. Prime minister Iuliu Maniu resigned in order not to break his oath to King Michael, and Parliament annulled the 4 January bill, proclaiming Carol king on 8 June 1930. Helen continued to live in her own home in the Chaussée Kyselef in Bucharest with her son Michael. There ensued several months of discussion about annulling the divorce. The government and public opinion were most desirous of Carol and Helen restoring their marital relationship. A joint coronation ceremony was planned for mid-September.[17] Helen was even told by the Prime Minister Iuliu Maniu that as a result of the abrogation of the act of 4 January 1926, Carol had legitimately succeeded as king in July 1927, from which point she had automatically ranked as queen.[18]

The government presented a decree to Carol for his signature officially confirming Helen as Her Majesty The Queen of Romania. Carol, however, crossed this out and declared Helen to be Her Majesty Helen (i.e. with the style Majesty, but not the title Queen). Helen refused to allow anyone to use this style in her presence.[19]

Eventually it became clear that Carol himself did not want the divorce annulled and that his lover Madame Lupescu was living with him at the Foishor.[20] Because Helen would not oppose the government's plans to annul the divorce, Carol took measures against her: guards were place around her residence, those who visited her were persecuted, and she was deprived of her office as honorary colonel of the Roshiori regiment.[21]

Faced with this treatment, Helen decided to go into exile. After a brief visit to London, she went to her mother's villa near Florence.[22] There was ongoing conflict with Carol about how frequently and under what circumstances she should be able to see their son Michael. In October 1932 she returned to Bucharest. Carol initiated a campaign in the press against her, claiming that she had tried to commit suicide twice.[23] The government issued a statement confirming Helen's civil list payment, and officially allowing her to reside in Romania six months each year, and to take her son Michael abroad one month each year.[24]

In spite of the official permission to reside in Romania, Helen was expected to stay in exile and returned to Florence.[25] With her financial situation now stable, she was able to purchase her own villa at the nearby town of San Domenico. In spring 1934 Helen moved into Villa Sparta with her brother Paul and her two sisters.[26] She lived here for the next ten years, seeing her son Michael for roughly two months each year.

Queen Mother of Romania[edit]

Villa Sparta, in Fiesole, where the Queen lived more than 30 years

In September 1940 Michael was restored to the throne, although dictator Ion Antonescu exercised most royal and governmental prerogatives. Antonescu recalled Helen to Romania. She received the title Queen Mother of Romania (Regina-mamă Elena) and the style Her Majesty. During World War II she devoted herself to the care of the wounded. In the fall of 1942, Helen played a major role in stopping Antonescu from his plans to deport all of the Jews of the Regat to the German death camp of Bełżec in Poland. According to SS Hauptsturmführer Gustav Richter, the counselor for Jewish Affairs at the German legation in Bucharest in a report sent to Berlin on 30 October 1942:

"The Queen Mother told the King that what was happening . . . was a disgrace and that she could not bear it any longer, all the more so because [their names] would be permanently associated . . . with the crimes committed against the Jews, while she would be known as the mother of "Michael the Wicked". She is said to have warned the King that, if the deportations were not immediately halted, she would leave the country. As a result the King . . . telephoned Prime Minister Ion Antonescu and . . . a meeting of the Council of Ministers took place."[27]

For her efforts to rescue Romanian Jews from the Nazi Germans, she was awarded the status of Righteous Among the Nations.[28]

As a first cousin of the bridegroom, on her father's side, she was a guest at the 1947 wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.[29]

In December 1947 Michael was forced to abdicate. Helen returned to San Domenico, at Villa Sparta. Later she resided in Lausanne.

Helen died at the age of 86 in Lausanne in 1982.


National dynastic honours
National state honours
Foreign Honours



  1. ^ "Queen Helen Of Romania (1896 - 1982) - Find A Grave Memorial". findagrave.com. Retrieved 2015-10-10. 
  2. ^ Arthur Gould Lee, Helen, Queen Mother of Rumania, Princess of Greece and Denmark: An Authorized Biography (London: Faber and Faber, 1956), 25.
  3. ^ Gould, 63-64.
  4. ^ Gould, 72.
  5. ^ Gould, 74.
  6. ^ Gould, 83.
  7. ^ Gould, 84.
  8. ^ Gould, 88.
  9. ^ Gould, 89.
  10. ^ Gould, 91.
  11. ^ Gould, 92.
  12. ^ Gould, 99.
  13. ^ "Prince Charles's Renunciation", The Times (5 January 1926): 11.
  14. ^ Gould, 116.
  15. ^ Gould, 119-120.
  16. ^ Gould, 121; "Prince Carol, Divorce Proceedings in Rumania", The Times (9 June 1928): 14.
  17. ^ Gould, 139.
  18. ^ Gould, 140.
  19. ^ Gould, 141.
  20. ^ Gould, 147.
  21. ^ Gould, 149.
  22. ^ Gould, 155.
  23. ^ Gould, 164-165.
  24. ^ "Princess Helen of Rumania, Settlement Signed", The Times (2 November 1932): 11.
  25. ^ Gould, 166-167.
  26. ^ Gould, 169.
  27. ^ Deletant, Denis Review of The History of the Holocaust in Romania by Jean Ancel pages 502-506 from Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Volume 27, Issue 3, August 2013 page 505.
  28. ^ Martin Gilbert, The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust (Owl Books, 2003), 240. ISBN 0-8050-6261-0.
  29. ^ Royal Collection: Seating plan for the Ball Supper Room http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/microsites/royalwedding1947/object.asp?grouping=&exhibs=NONE&object=9000366&row=82&detail=magnify
  30. ^ "Wedding of King Michael of Romania and Anne of Bourbon-Parma | Royalty ~ Romania | Pinterest". pinterest.com. Retrieved 2015-10-10. 
  31. ^ "Image: 663579troops1928.jpg, (518 × 480 px)". img10.hostingpics.net. Retrieved 2015-10-10. 
  32. ^ "Image: queen-marie-king-michael-of-romania-helen-1929.jpg, (393 × 450 px)". noblesseetroyautes.com. 2008-10-25. Retrieved 2015-10-10. 
  33. ^ "Image: elenauniform.jpg, (416 × 639 px)". i73.photobucket.com. 2006-05-02. Retrieved 2015-10-10. 


  • Gould Lee, Arthur Stanley (1956), Helen, Queen Mother of Rumania, Princess of Greece and Denmark: An Authorized Biography, London: Faber and Faber 
  • "Queen Helen of Rumania", The Times (30 November 1982): 12.
  • Porter, Ivor (2005), Michael of Romania. The King and the Country, Phoenix Mill: Sutton Publishing 

External links[edit]