On Tour with Queen Marie

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

History

AFTER THE QUEEN'S SPEECH in Denver, relating the absorbing history of her country, I spent many hours reading all that I could lay my hands on concerning the Roumanian nation, and her own lineage. My observations may be as illuminating to my readers as they proved to me.

The great mass of Americans think of Roumania only as the home of Queen Marie, for she has long enjoyed a world-wide reputation through her writings and the press dispatches concerning the whole Roumanian royal family. Queen Marie, in spite of the actual power wielded by her grandmother, Queen Victoria, and by her maternal grandfather, Czar Alexander, remains a figure out of a story book. Her ancestors in English line of descent have ruled European nations for years. Her three sisters, the Grand Duchess Cyril, the Infanta Beatrice of Spain, and the Princess Hohenlohe of Germany, also link her with the great European powers of to-day, and yet in spite of all these ties with grandeur and power, "she has," in the words of a prominent journalist, "managed to break through the barriers of her upbringing, to find the human touch, to realize the feelings and the aspirations of those who lead more humdrum lives." A remark able accomplishment that, for one whose life has been hedged and hampered with tradition and etiquette.

"In addition to her radiant personality, America has reason to find an interest in Queen Marie as the embodiment of the nation she rules together with King Ferdinand, perhaps the most romantic land in Europe. In Queen Marie we pay honor to an actual ruler, to a charming woman, and to a gallant nation."

This gallant nation, which to many is known in only a vague way as "one of the Balkans and one of the Allies of the World War," has a history of astounding interest. Lying in the war-torn center of Europe, its origin is almost lost in the dim reaches of history. Its inhabitants claim an early Roman ancestry as is evidenced in the name of the country, originally spelled Roumania. This name was officially adopted by the little kingdom that comprises the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia. Some historians claim that Roumanians are direct descendants from the legionaries of Trajan. Their language alone, of all the Balkan peoples, is a Romance language, and preserves the traditions of Rome. The population, which now includes Bulgars, Russians, Turks, Magyars, Saxons and about two hundred thousand gypsies, is a composite remnant of the different peoples and races who have at various times overrun the country and left their imprint on its culture and civilization. Roumania is about the size of New Mexico, with a population of seventeen million three hundred ninety-three thousand one hundred and forty-nine, eighty per cent of whom are engaged in agriculture. The country is rich in minerals, oil and lumber. Its leading religion is Russian Orthodoxy. Education is free and compulsory. The government, a constitutional monarchy, controls seven thousand miles of railroad and navigation on the Danube River and the Black Sea. The country is bordered by Bulgaria, Jugoslavia and Hungary, Czecho-Slovakia, Poland and Ukrainia of Russia and the Black Sea.

Roumania entered the War on the side of the Allies although King Ferdinand was a German Prince of the Hohenzollern dynasty, a cousin of the Kaiser, with marked German characteristics, and pure German lineage. But the people themselves elected to go into the War on the Allies' side. No doubt, the influence of the Queen, an English Princess, had much weight in this decision. Before the end of the War Roumania was overrun by the Germans and some eight hundred thousand men fell in this struggle. Roumania had perhaps the largest frontier to defend of any of the warring powers. Along her western front she combated the German forces under Falkenhayn, while on another front she met Von Mackensen with the Germans, Bulgarians and Turks. Finally on December 6, 1916, the enemy took Bucharest and the country was overrun. It was during this serious crisis in the affairs of Roumania that I came to know Queen Marie who at that moment was suffering keenly the effects of these terrible times. She had just buried her infant son, and had fled for refuge to the northern part of Roumania, to Jassy which was then made the capital of the country. Through a wonderful man, Dr. A. C. Harte, a Y. M. C. A. worker in Roumania at this time, I learned of the Queen's distress when he came to Sweden and remained at our house as a guest. He gave me a vivid description of Queen Marie's sufferings and sorrows, of the great poverty and misery in Roumania at that time. He said conditions were so horrible they could hardly be described. He aroused all my pity and compassion, enkindled a burning desire in me to help this forsaken country and this wonderful woman. It was then that my friendship with Her Majesty began. Later she bestowed upon me the Cross of Queen Marie, and I had the delightful experience of being a guest in her home a number of times. During one of these visits she read to me through one whole night the account of the heartrending experiences which she suffered during the War. I remember her vivid description of her flight from Bucharest after having buried her infant son in the little Greek chapel in the courtyard of the palace of Cotroceni. The child was a victim of typhoid fever, and lingered on for many days while the Germans were rapidly approaching Bucharest. They were almost at the gates when the boy died, and at the eleventh hour Her Majesty left the city in haste with a few chosen friends and hurried to Jassy where, for the first time in her life, she arrived with no one to welcome her and no preparations made for her reception. From that time on she applied herself unsparingly to the relief work which she did so nobly and with such entire disregard of self. Since the War she has continued working for the advancement of her country and its culture.

The Roman origin of modern Roumania has been the basis for the culture and the racial unity of this most thoroughly integral of all the Balkan peoples. In a recent book Professor Iorga of the University of Bucharest traces the history of Roumania from the earliest account of the Thracian peasantry on which Trajan and his successors founded the Roman province of Dacia. "The flux of racial war and conquest has ebbed and flowed around these people who have become the Roumanians through centuries of conflict," he says. In his narrative the author brings more than fifty races, peoples and tribal groups across the little land in the course of twenty or more centuries of its life. "From the steppes of Scythia and the plains of Asia, from the Teutonic tribes to the northwest, from the regions across Byzantium, by sea and by land, races flowed into and over Wallachia, Moldavia, Bessarabia, Transylvania, and the component parts of modern Roumania. Yet of their culture there is little to-day of Greek and Turkish influence, and of German traces nothing. There was inborn in the Carpatho-Danube region a resistance to outside influences from the earliest times which has trampled over centuries of political servitude." . . .

"After a few centuries of common defense against the northern hordes, the towns they founded formed into a real nation. The race type has to-day some thing in common with the Slavs. 'Brown, short of stature, with long physiognomy and open countenance,' the Roumanian is still the Thracian peasant, nine-tenths of whose language is of Latin origin, together with his jurisprudence, his social life and the foundation of his culture. Only his derivative words are Slav, and alone among the Balkan peoples he has clung to the Roman script. The vast hordes of barbarians which swept over Roumania when the Romans abandoned the country in 270 always had their destination beyond the country. The Hungarians, Bulgarians and Serbs all settled outside the borders of Roumania. Attila and the Huns rolled onward over Europe while the Tartars sought world conquest. It was the Tartars who conquered the Mohammedan world and later, in the fifteenth century, mastered eastern Europe. The Turks ruled Wallachia and Moldavia down to 1876. In 1878 the independent kingdom of Roumania won its freedom, following the Russo-Turkish War. The Turks, however, played no great part in Roumanians upbuilding, as is proved by the fact that nine-tenths of the Roumanians are adherents of the Greek Church."

The rule of the Boyars and the land-holding traditions of the Middle Ages greatly oppressed the country. During the present generation the renaissance in poetry and art has set in powerfully. The strength of the nation is in its sturdy and self-reliant peasantry; and their folk-traditions and costumes, songs and dances, are a rich heritage endeared to the world by their Queen. The German occupation of Roumania greatly affected her trade, but a thoroughly awakened nation built on a solid racial structure guarantees her an enduring foundation.