Carol I or Charles I was the ruler of Romania from 1866 to 1914. He was elected Ruling Prince (Domnitor) of the Romanian United Principalities on 20 April 1866 after the overthrow of Alexandru Ioan Cuza by a palace coup d'état. In May 1877 he proclaimed Romania an independent and sovereign nation.
Charles I was born in Sigmaringen in southern Germany, April 20,1839. The future monarch of Rumania was a prince of the southern and Catholic branch of the Hohenzollern family. A cousin to the king of Prussia, he was related as well to Emperor Napoleon III.
In 1866, at the age of twenty-seven, Carol was invited to become prince of the Danubian Principalities, Wallachia and Moldavia. With war between Prussia and Austria about to erupt, he was forced to travel down the Danube to his new home in disguise. This inauspicious start notwithstanding, Carol reigned for forty-eight years, one of the most firmly entrenched monarchs in the Balkans. At first a prince under nominal Turkish sovereignty, in 1881 he became king of the fully independent state of Rumania comprising Wallachia, Moldavia, and the newly acquired Dobrudja.
Carol's years on the throne were marked by his acceptance of Rumania's agrarian order with its domination by a few large landowners. His less conciliatory predecessor had been deposed over this very issue. Foreign policy posed more of a problem for Carol. A pro-German monarch in a Francophile country, he nearly fell from power when Prussia and France went to war in 1870. He survived to fight with distinction in the Balkan War of 1877-1878, in which Rumania stood as Russia's ally against Turkey and received its independence. Russian annexation of Bessarabia at the close of the war was widely viewed by Rumanians as a betrayal. It made it possible for Carol, aided by Premier Ion Bratianu the elder, to conclude a treaty of alliance with Germany and Austria in 1883. This secret pact was known only to the king and a small number of political leaders. Nonetheless, it served as the keystone of Rumanian foreign policy through the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913.
Carol's bent toward the Central Powers began to run counter to such public opinion as existed in his country with its majority of poor, illiterate peasants. Austrian support for Bulgarian territorial claims against Rumania antagonized Carol's politically aware subjects in 1913. An even more bitter point of dispute was the mistreatment of the Rumanian population of Transylvania, a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire under Magyar administration.
With the July crisis of 1914, Carol was placed in an untenable position. For the remaining months of his life, he tried to cope with the rising tide of interventionist fervor on the side of the Entente. On July 28 the old king warned Austria that the Transylvanian issue made it impossible for Rumania to stand beside the Central Powers. Personal appeals from the monarchs of Germany and Austria to join the war led Carol to present such a course of action to a crown council at Sinaia on August 3.
The assembled political leaders and elder statesmen rejected the idea out of hand, possibly to Carol's secret relief. With an active policy in favor of the Central Powers ruled out, Carol now had to contend with groups calling for Rumania to join the Entente. Russian military successes over Austria (specifically, the Galician victories of late August and early September) encouraged Rumanian irredentists to call for the invasion of Transylvania. "For rent" signs appeared on the palace walls in Bucharest, as pro-Entente demonstrators directed their hostilities at the king.
Carol's actions in September often smacked of desperation, and he spoke of abdicating.
He informed the Central Powers he might have to sanction a "preventitive occupation" of Transylvanian territory and asked Germany to obtain Austrian promises to cooperate. The Austrians refused. Some of the king's actions came close to treason. For example, he asked the Germans to stir up the Bulgarians to threaten— and thus to restrain—the Rumanian population. Moreover, he requested Berlin to send German troops to guard Transylvania and so forestall a Rumanian invasion.
As Carol's influence waned, that of Premier Ion Bratianu, son of Carol's old ally, increased. Bratianu favored intervention, but only at an opportune time later in the war. During the final crucial weeks of September, the pro-Entente premier and the pro-German monarch threw their combined weight against intervention.
Carol was in the last weeks of his life, and he died on October 10. Torrey speculates that if he had left the scene a few weeks earlier, irredentist circles might have been strong enough to overcome Bratianu and bring Rumania into the war. Conversely, with Carol out of the way, replaced by the more pliable Ferdinand I, Bratianu could dominate events, bringing Rumania into the conflict at a time of his choosing. The crown could be expected to go passively along.