As Queen of Romania, Elisabeth devoted much of time to the education of children and charitable works. She and her husband had begun to drift apart, so she also spent much time writing poetry, and some of it was published under the pseudonym E. Wedi. Carmen Sylva remained her principal pseudonym, and several works appeared under that name over the years, such as poems, plays, novels, short stories and essays. She later wrote, “To publish my own writings would never have entered into my head, had they not passed from one to another and been copied endlessly. So I came to the conclusion at last that if they are worth such tedious work as copying, they were worthy of being printed. Whether my writings are praised or criticised in the world is of as little moment to me as if it did not concern myself. But when I read my poems to others, I am pleased if they produced the impression I desire. This is also a very safe criterion as to their truth and clearness. I should be delighted if my poems were sung without any one knowing whose composition they are.”1
Early in 1882, Elisabeth became seriously ill and was thought to be between life and death for several weeks. Her life was eventually saved after an operation, though it is unclear what the illness was. She continued to suffer from fevers, and a change in climate was recommended, leading to frequent travels abroad during the winter months. Elisabeth and Ferdinand spent some time apart after Elisabeth had encouraged their nephew Ferdinand in his relationship with her lady-in-waiting Elena Văcărescu, even though she knew a marriage between them was forbidden. Elisabeth was eventually banished from Romania for two years as a more appropriate match for Ferdinand was found in Marie of Edinburgh – a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Elisabeth was sent to her mother in Germany.2 Marie was sent to Germany to be presented to Elisabeth, and she had dramatically set the stage to present herself as the wronged invalid. Elisabeth was dressed in all white, propped up on white pillows to receive the “one who was usurping the place of the girl she had chosen.”3 Elisabeth clasped Marie to her breast and called “Lieb Kindchen” (dear little child) while running her hands over Marie’s face and hair. She was later wheeled out to lunch in a high chair. It must have been a bewildering experience for Marie.
The new Crown Princess sound found herself stuck between the dreamer Elisabeth and the dutiful Ferdinand, but she performed her duty, an heir was born on 15 October 1893 – the future King Carol II of Romania. Elisabeth now had a second chance to be a mother, and she bullied Marie into handing over Carol, and the second child, a daughter named Elisabeth. Elisabeth had returned to Romania from Germany just in time for Marie’s second confinement. Elisabeth believed that Marie was too young and frivolous to take care of her children. 4 The following scandal involving Marie and a lieutenant gave Elisabeth even more ammunition to keep the children away from Marie. Elisabeth succeeded in removing Marie’s influence over her son but at what cost? Marie later wrote, “The air was always vibrant with tense excitement over some topic, some new hobby, some bit of music, of embroidery, some painting or the marvellous discovery of some new book. Nothing was ever taken calmly, everything had to be rapturous, tragic, excessive… Aunty needed a continual audience, and this audience was trained to hang on her every word, to follow her every mood, they had to laugh or weep, praise or deplore according to the keynote given.”5
As the First World War began to loom, Elisabeth’s husband became sicker and sicker. Their relationship, by now one perhaps one of reluctant acceptance, had never recovered from the death of their only child. On 9 October 1914, he died in his sleep, clasped in Elisabeth’s arms. He was buried in the Curtea de Argeș, and Elisabeth moved into the Bishop’s Residence there to be closer to her husband. Despite her eccentricities, the new Queen Marie treated Elisabeth with kindness and understanding. Marie later wrote, “I was keen to demonstrate that the trouble we had together was not of my making. The moment power passed into my hands, and the ordering about fell to my share, all quite naturally became peace and goodwill; no more intrigues and never a harsh or ungracious word, only kindness and harmony, and pleasant understanding.”6 However, their peace would be short-lived.
Elisabeth died on 2 March 1916 after catching pneumonia after walking during a freezing day – a habit she picked up as she was afraid of suffocating. Marie was with at the very end, and it was to her she spoke her last words, “You are supposed to say beautiful things and you can’t….”7 Her young daughter’s coffin was exhumed and placed on top of her own during the public procession, and they were buried together next to Karl in the Curtea de Argeș.
- The life of Carmen Sylva, Queen of Roumania by Natalie Stackelberg p.250-251
- Born to Rule: Five Reigning Consorts, Granddaughters of Queen Victoria by Julia P. Gelardi p.34
- The last romantic: a biography of Queen Marie of Roumania by Hannah Pakula p.67
- Born to Rule: Five Reigning Consorts, Granddaughters of Queen Victoria by Julia P. Gelardi p.76
- The last romantic: a biography of Queen Marie of Roumania by Hannah Pakula p.104
- The last romantic: a biography of Queen Marie of Roumania by Hannah Pakula p.181
- The last romantic: a biography of Queen Marie of Roumania by Hannah Pakula p.182