by Linda Sipprelle (*)
To reach Bran Castle (the mythical home of Dracula), we hiked straight up one kilometer on a cobble stone road, unable to see the Castle until we were suddenly upon this fairytale, and favorite, home of the remarkable Queen Marie of Romania. The castle gardens, which surround the castle, are filled with beautiful and extravagant plants. After Transylvania became part of Romania, the citizens of Brasov gave the castle to Queen Marie.
During the time she lived in the castle, beginning in 1920, Marie made many changes. She converted arrow-slits into windows and furnaces into fire-places, She also installed telephone lines, an elevator, a dungeon, and a “secret” passageway. The views from the castle, as you wind from one spiral staircase to the next, are spectacular. The small, relatively homely rooms, are a surprise, although the many paintings, photographs and furniture that belonged to Marie, make visitors feel that her personality is still present in the castle.
Marie (10/29/1875-7/18/1938) was described as lovely, with sparkling blue eyes and silky fair hair. She was born into the British royal family. Her parents were Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia. Her grandparents were British Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. After refusing a marriage proposal from her cousin, the future King George V, she was chosen as the wife of Crown Prince Ferdinand of Romania, the heir apparent of King Carol I.
During World War I, Marie, and her three daughters acted as nurses in military hospitals. In 1919, she attended the Paris Peace Conference where she campaigned for international recognition of Romania. In 1922, she and Ferdinand were crowned Queen and King of a unified Romania.
As Queen, Marie was very popular both in Romania and abroad. In 1926, she and two of her children visited the United States where they were enthusiastically received. Following Romania’s transition to a “Socialist” Republic after World War II, the monarchy was excoriated by communist officials, but after the Romanian Revolution of 1989, Marie’s popularity recovered and she was portrayed as a model of patriotism. Although she is primarily remembered for her work as a nurse, she published 34 books and short stories, both in Romanian and English, including her critically acclaimed autobiography “The Story of my Life.” In Romania, Marie is known as “Mother of the Wounded.”
In 1927 Dorothy Parker wrote:
Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong:
And I am Marie of Roumania.
On Easter Sunday, 1935, my Mother, Francesca Mills, in a letter to her parents, wrote upon seeing Queen Marie in the Anglican Church in Bucharest:
“The Queen, who is about my height (5’5″) is truly beautiful. She wore a simple though striking ensemble of pansy-blue crepe trimmed with gray with a straw hat to match. Her cape hung gracefully from her shoulders. After the service, she came out and bowed to several people with the air of one who really feels pleasure in knowing people and not as one peering down from lofty heights of her royal pedestal. She has a most charming manner and it is not hard to understand the tremendous influence she might have on those with whom she is in contact.”
(*) Linda Sipprelle is a volunteer tutor of Friends of Davis International Center of Princeton University