DOCUMENTARY: 150 years since the birth of King Ferdinand I the Unifier (1914-1927)

DOCUMENTARY: 150 years since the birth of King Ferdinand I the Unifier (1914-1927)

Ferdinand Victor Albert Meinrad of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, the second son of Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern with Princess Antonia de Braganza, and nephew of King Carol I of Romania, Romania’s future king under the regnal name of Ferdinand I (1914-1927) was born on August 12, 1865, in Sigmaringen, Germany. He completed his high-school education in Dusseldorf, going on to graduate the University of Tubingen and Leipzig. He completed his military training in the Military School of Kassel, becoming, in 1886 a second lieutenant in the Prussian Guard in Potsdam.

Prince Ferdinand first visited Romania in 1881, on the occasion of the coronation of King Carol I. In 1889, Ferdinand was officially named the heir to the throne of Romania, in which capacity he led the Romanian Army during the Second Balkan War (1913). Based on the family pact of 1881, Ferdinand was named successor to Carol I of Romania, Prince Leopold renouncing his prerogatives as successor to the throne of Romania in 1880.

Overseen by King Carol I, Ferdinand took lessons of Romanian language, history, geography and military training. He was, successively, Lieutenant (1889), Major (1892), Lieutenant-Colonel (1895), Colonel (1895), Brigadier General (1898), Division General (1904) and Army Corps General (1911).

The marriage of Prince Ferdinand to the Princess Maria-Alexandra-Victoria of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, which was attended by King Carol I, was officiated on December 29, 1892, in the Sigmaringen Castle. The heirs to the throne of Romania arrived in Bucharest, on January 23, 1893. The marriage spawned six children: Carol (1893-1953), Elisabeta (1894-1956), Maria (1899-1961), Nicolae (1903-1978), Ileana (1908-1991) and Mircea (1912-1916), all baptized in the Orthodox faith.

On September 27, 1914, King Carol I (1881-1914; previously ruling Prince of Romania — 1866—1881), Romania’s first King, passed away at Peles Castle, after the Crown Council had decided to maintain Romania’s neutrality in the context of the beginning of World War I, decision that came against the wishes of the King. The next day, Crown Prince Ferdinand took the oath as King in front of the Chambers of Parliament, the ruling family and the Metropolitan of the Romanian Orthodox Church.

King Ferdinand came to the throne in a troubled period, marked by the issue of Romania’s joining World War I. On August 4, 1916, in Bucharest, a political convention was signed between Romania, on one side, and France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Russia, on the other. Romania was to join the war within ten days, in exchange for recognition by the Entente of its rights over the territories inhabited by Romanians of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, namely Bucovina, Banat, Maramures, Crisana and all Transylvania. As such, King Ferdinand accepted, in the Crown Council of August 14, 1916, Romania’s entry into the First World War on the side of the Entente, against Germany and Austro-Hungary, making thus the first step towards the ideal of a Greater Romania.

In November 1916, Bucharest was occupied by German troops, King Ferdinand and the entire Romanian Government being forced to seek refuge in Iasi. Between January and May of 1917, French General Henri Mathias Berthelot, one of the most important leaders of the French military leadership (in the first part of the war), was sent to Romania to lead a military mission, as head of the Allied Command of the Danube. He was the one who took, in Iasi, most decisions to restore the Romanian Army, mobilized new recruits and arranged for the delivery of modern equipment from France. He personally oversaw the installation of telephone lines between command points and front-line units, a communications network that was lacking at the time of Romania’s joining the war. Given the breath of fresh air, in the summer of 1917, when German troops started the offensive on the Romanian front, the Romanian Army stopped the advance of Field Marshal Mackensen through a series of resounding victories in the battles of Marasti, Marasesti and Oituz, the motto of the Romanian Army during the battles being “You shall not pass!” (Pe aici nu se trece!)

Faced with the prospects of being isolated militarily due to the October Revolution in Russia, Romania had little choice but to conclude an unpleasant armistice in Focsani in December. The fears came true with the Peace of Brest-Litovsk that saw Russia’s exit from the war, the Romanians being forced to negotiate in Buftea (March 5, 1918) and then conclude a separate peace in Bucharest (May 7, 1918) that saw Romania being undermined economically, diplomatically and militarily, as well as remaining a rump state until the conclusion of a general peace.

In October 1918, King Ferdinand refused to ratify the Bucharest Peace Treaty and prevented the vast majority of provisions from ever applying. Within this context, the Government led by General Constantin Coanda immediately called a general mobilisation of troops and on October 28, Romania re-entered the war.

In November 1918, with the invading troops retreating from Bucharest, King Ferdinand returned to the Capital, together with the Romanian Army. During that same period, the National Assembly of Romanians of Transylvania and Hungary elected 600 deputies through universal suffrage and 628 representatives of cultural organisations and societies, representatives of Romanians in Transylvania, Banat, Crisana and Maramures. The 1,228 deputies convened a sitting in Alba-Iulia and unanimously decided upon the union of Transylvania, Banat, Crisana and Maramures with the Old Kingdom (Kingdom of Romania, made up of former principalities Wallachia and Moldova). Electing first a Grand Romanian National Council that then set up a provisional Government, the Romanians of Transylvania, through future Patriarch of the Romanian Church Miron Cristea, handed their declaration on December 1 (now Romania’s National Day), in Alba Iulia, to King Ferdinand I who ratified it on December 11, together with the decisions on the Union of Bucovina and Basarabia to the Old Kingdom.

The Union did not sit pleasantly with the Hungarian Communist Government led by Bela Kun since March 21, 1919, who planned to wage war with Romania in order to minimize the territorial losses of Hungary. In this context, the Romanian Army was once again mobilized and placed under the command of General Gheorghe Mardarescu. On April 15, the Hungarian Army launched a pre-emptive strike at the Romanian Army, prompting a counter-attack that saw the freeing of Carei on April 19, Oradea and Salonta on April 20, reaching the demarcation line set by the Allies at the end of World War I. The Romanian Army then continued on to the Tisza River, in order to more easily defend the territories it freed. Following a breakdown in talks that occurred concomitantly in order to settle the border dispute between the two countries, the Hungarian Army launched in late July an attack to reclaim the Hungarian territories beyond the Tisza River, prompting the Romanian Army to counterattack and cross the Tisza River and then continue towards Budapest, which it occupied on August 4, 1919, toppling the Bela Kun Government in the process. The Peace Treaty of Trianon put an end to World War I and settled the borders of Greater Romania definitively. More…