Romania’s former king Michael, who died Tuesday aged 96 in Switzerland where he lived, incarnated the tragic fate and political turmoil suffered by his country in the 20th century.
One of the last surviving World War II leaders, the beloved monarch who suffered from leukemia announced last March he was seriously ill, withdrawing from public life and handing his duties to his eldest daughter Margareta, 68.
Born on October 25, 1921 in Sinaia, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of Bucharest, Michael I was a descendant of the German Hohenzollern dynasty.
He ruled twice, from 1927 to 1930 and then from 1940 to 1947, before the communist government ended the monarchy in the Balkan country.
He was just 19 when he began his second reign as the war was raging, and Romania, then led by marshal Ion Antonescu, had become an ally of Germany’s Adolf Hitler.
Despite his inexperience, the young king managed to stage a coup d’etat in 1944, leading to Antonescu’s arrest and Bucharest’s joining the allied forces.
But the end of World War II unleashed the rise of communism and Romania became a satellite of the Soviet Union.
The slim, blue-eyed ruler with an unmistakable aristocratic bearing was forced to abdicate and go into exile on December 30, 1947.
A few months later, he was also stripped of his citizenship.
Michael I opted to settle in Switzerland, where he earned a modest living as an aircraft mechanic and farmer.
He had five daughters with his wife Anne of Bourbon-Parma.
Democracy returned to Romania in 1989 when Nicolae Ceausescu’s dictatorship collapsed.
Dreaming of “serving” his people again, the former king tried to settle back in his home country on several occasions, but Romanian authorities blocked his attempts.
Fate turned in his favor in 1996 with the ousting of president Ion Iliescu, once a high-ranking communist official and a key opponent of the former monarch.
The new government restored Michael’s citizenship the following year and he began to revisit the country.
He also took on some quasi-diplomatic roles for Romania, campaigning for its admission to NATO and the European Union.
After moving back to Bucharest in 2002, he kept a low profile, making only brief appearances in public for major events.
For his 90th birthday in 2011, Michael I gave his first parliamentary speech since being deposed.
In the historic address, he spoke of his “long life, full of happy and unhappy events” and called on Romania to shed “bad habits of the past”.
He spent his remaining years residing in both Romania and Switzerland.
In 2016, he was diagnosed as suffering from skin cancer and a chronic form of leukaemia. It was also the year that his wife died.