Playboy King, Femme Fatale Head Home

He was a playboy king, she was the femme fatale who cast a spell upon him that ultimately cost him his throne. More than 60 years after they were exiled, their remains are being returned to the land they were forced to flee.

No, it's not the story of Britain's Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. It's the story of King Carol II of Romania and the voluptuous redhead who eventually became his third wife, Elena Lupescu.

Their story may not be familiar today, but back in the 1920s, the Romanian royal's liaison with a very common commoner was the talk of Europe.

"Carol and Lupescu were one of the big relationships of the interwar period, perhaps not as popular as Edward VIII and Wally Simpson, but one of the big romances of that day and age," says Paul Quinlan, a history professor at Providence College in Rhode Island and author of The Playboy King: Carol II of Romania.

Carol was chased off the throne in 1940 and the Romanian monarchy was abolished in December 1947, when his son, King Michael, was forced to abdicate. The return of Carol's remains in a way symbolizes the government's desire for a reconciliation with its past.

"I think they see this as a way of affirming that Romania's part of Europe," says Paul Michelson, a professor of history at Huntington College in Indiana and co-author of A History of Romania. "I think they [the government] are moving toward, in effect, normalizing relations with [Michael]."

The bodies of King Carol and Lupescu were being flown to Romania today from Portugal, where the couple lived in exile. They will reburied in a ceremony Friday at the monastery at Curtea de Arges, the final resting place of many other members of the Romanian royal family.

The plan to bring the remains home was initiated by Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, who became interested in the matter on a visit to Portugal in 2001. After consulting with former King Michael last November, Nastase's government began making the arrangements.

But the return doesn't mean Romanians are trying to rewrite history. Carol's reputation as a rotten ruler has not changed, and Lupescu, says Michelson, "was even more disliked than Elena Ceausescu" — the wife of brutal dictator Nicolae Ceausescu who was executed along with her husband on Christmas Day in 1989.

"You could say if bringing Carol back is a gesture toward Michael," says Michelson, "bringing Elena back is a reminder why Romania might be a republic."

Gave Up a Crown for Love …

Carol was the first Romanian king to be born on Romanian soil. His father's family were German princes who had been invited to take the throne in the mid-19th century. His mother was a British princess and a granddaughter of Queen Victoria.

With such a pedigree, Carol might have been expected to develop into a model monarch. But Carol, to the horror of the rest of the royal family, turned out to have a penchant for unsuitable women.

"The problem with Carol was that he gave up his throne for love — twice," says Quinlan. "He might be the only person in history to do it twice."

As a young man in World War I, Carol fell head over heels in love with a woman called Zizi Lambrino. She wasn't considered queen material, but that didn't stop Carol. He knew that he was jeopardizing his position as heir to the throne by contemplating marriage with a commoner, but he nevertheless deserted from the army and eloped with Zizi to Russia. Their marriage was declared invalid, and their son was considered illegitimate.

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