Romania’s former King Michael, who played a part in ousting a Nazi-backed leader during World War Two but was subsequently forced into exile by a Communist takeover, has died in Switzerland aged 96, the Royal House said.
Born in 1921 in the Carpathian Mountains, Michael was one of Europe’s last-surviving wartime heads of state. He later spent decades in exile during the Cold War, withdrawing from public life in 2016 because of severe illness.
A descendant of the German Hohenzollern dynasty and, like Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, a great-great-grandchild of Queen Victoria, Michael had undergone surgery for leukaemia and cancer and died on Tuesday at his residence in Aubonne on Lake Geneva, though his entourage did not give a cause of death.
Michael’s body will lie in state in his Carpathian Mountains’ Peles castle and later in Bucharest before his burial in the city of Curtea de Arges.
The king, while only in his early 20s, played a major part in switching Romania away from a wartime alliance with the Nazis, participating in a 1944 coup that overthrew the fascist leader Marshal Ion Antonescu. Romania then broke with Nazi Germany and switched to the Allied side.
But he was forced to abdicate in 1947 after the Communist takeover. He was stripped of his citizenship and forced to live in exile, spending time in Italy, Switzerland and Britain, before settling in 1956 in Versoix, overlooking Lake Geneva, where they would live for decades.
After communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was overthrown and executed in 1989, politicians, fearing a surge of support for Michael in the country, blocked his first few attempted visits.
In the early 1990s, with the Cold War over, the government sent tanks to stop him from touring Romania.
Relations improved and he finally returned to Romania in 1992 and regained citizenship in 1997 after then reformist President Emil Constantinescu took over from the Moscow-educated former communist Ion Iliescu.
But while Michael enjoyed some popularity, a solid movement to restore the monarchy in Romania never took off.
President Klaus Iohannis announced on Tuesday that a day of mourning would be called, telling reporters: “King Michael marked Romania’s history in big letters.”
Michael's wife, Anne of Romania, died in a Swiss hospital last August. She was 92.
swissinfo.ch and agencies/ts