Playboy King, Femme Fatale Head Home

Carol may have been romantic, but fidelity wasn't necessarily his strongest suit. He was persuaded to leave Zizi and their baby, and was steered into a suitable marriage with a proper princess, Helen of Greece. Their son, the future King Michael, was born in 1921.

Not long thereafter, Carol met Elena Lupescu, the ex-wife of an army officer, "and from that time on he was under her spell," says Quinlan.

Carol was delighted with his new mistress, but the rest of the royal family didn't see it his way. "They were furious that Carol would run around with her," says Quinlan. "She was highly ambitious with a questionable background. … She was not considered to be a lady."

Her rather grasping nature aside, Lupescu was also disliked simply because she was Jewish. "There was a lot of anti-Semitism in Romania [at that time]," says Quinlan.

Despite the remonstrations of his family, Carol renounced his right to the throne and took off for Paris with Lupescu.

… But Changed His Mind

During the next five years, Carol's father, King Ferdinand, died and Carol's little son by Princess Helen became King Michael. Then, in 1930, Carol returned to Romania and announced that he was claiming the crown.

Carol promised that he would not bring Lupescu back to Bucharest, but it wasn't long before he reneged.

"She was part of the brains behind the throne, part of what was referred to as the camarilla," says Michelson. "This was a group of his cronies and flunkeys who basically robbed the country blind while Carol, of course, conducted a 10-year reign of trying to undermine the democratic system set up by his father after World War I."

Carol proceeded to make life so miserable for his wife that Princess Helen ended up leaving the country. Lupescu proceeded to enjoy the good life. "She lived like the mistress of a king should," says Quinlan.

Carol declared a dictatorship and overturned the constitution. "The new constitution was voted for in a public referendum by 99 percent of the electorate — 1 percent less than Saddam Hussein — and all political parties were suppressed, on the right and on the left," says Michelson.

Load Those Goodies on the Train

When World War II broke out, Carol's strategy was to try to play both sides to his own advantage. It didn't work.

"This kind of scheming zigzagging between the Nazis on the one hand, the Soviets on the other and the Western countries, France and Britain, on the third hand basically left all of them more or less disgusted with him," says Michelson.

Romania lost large pieces of territory to its neighbors, and that proved to be the last straw for the Romanian people. Carol abdicated in favor of his son.

"To save his own neck he agreed to abdicate and in return was allowed to load up a train with various goodies," says Michelson. These "goodies" were said to include several valuable paintings, including a collection of El Grecos, and many other works of art.

Carol and Lupescu eventually settled down in Portugal and were finally married in 1949 (he had been divorced from the long-suffering Princess Helen). Carol declared that his new wife should be known as "Princess Elena," which gave her a certain cachet in café society.

In 1953, Carol died of a massive heart attack. Lupescu lived on for nearly 25 years more, presumably enjoying the remains of the fortune they took out of Romania.

Snubbed in the Afterlife

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