Zizi Lambrino was born on 3 October 1898 as the daughter of Constantin Lambrino and Euphrosine Alcaz. She was sent to a convent school in France where she lived until 1910 when she returned to Bucharest. There, she became part of the aristocratic society and learned English, playing the piano, painting and singing. Zizi moved with her mother to Jassy, where they had lived in a one-bedroom apartment. Zizi then captured the eye of Crown Prince Carol (later King Carol II of Romania).
Their relationship had begun earlier during the First World War, and Carol often picked her up from home for drives in his Rolls-Royce and games of bridge with his friends. Zizi later joined a group of women sewing and knitting for Carol’s mother, hoping to see more of him. She usually worked until 7 P.M. and then waited in the garden to meet with Carol. Zizi later wrote, “The loves of princes are like those of the most humble.”
Carol had been given the command of a mountain cavalry regiment in the Carpathian Mountains, but even that would not deter him from seeing Zizi. She simply moved in with friends to be near him. One day he simply abandoned his post, rented a car and took Zizi across the German lines to Odessa (under German occupation at the time) in Ukraine. Although they passed the Romanian side of the border without a problem, he was recognised at the other end and told to go only as far as Odessa. A German officer was sent along with them to keep him under surveillance. However, the Germans did not care about stopping any marriage – putting the Crown Prince of Romania in an awkward position would only be beneficial to them.
In Odessa, he found an Orthodox priest willing to perform a marriage, and they finally married on 14 September 1918. Zizi had fallen ill the night before with food poisoning, but the wedding went ahead, even though she had a fever. She wore a homemade gown of white crepe de chine, and she later wrote, “a poor honest dress of a marriage of love where it scarcely mattered that the man I married was called to rule.” The Romanian consul wired the news to Carol’s father Ferdinand I of Romania and his mother, Marie. Carol then informed his parents that he would renounce his right to the throne for Zizi. The Romanian constitution specially forbade the heir to the throne to marry anyone but a foreign-born Princess of equivalent rank. His parents were devastated by the news. Marie travelled to see her son, and he begged her for her sympathy. She asked him to give up Zizi temporarily, at least until the war was over. She promised him that he would be free to go with Zizi but “not at a moment when his flight was a desertion.” She wanted nothing more than to save him.
Carol was convicted for desertion by his own father and imprisoned in a monastery for two and a half months. Zizi was brought back to Jassy by one of Marie’s ladies-in-waiting where she searched the newspapers for any announcement of their marriage – but she found none. Marie visited her son several times during his imprisonment and wrote after one visit, “He simply howls for her.” Carol eventually agreed to a temporary annulment, and his mother wrote, “His heart is breaking over it, but he agrees to the inevitable, but I do not know how he will stand it.” Although she had won, it was “a cruel and sickening victory.”
In November 1918, Carol returned to Jassy to lead his regiment to victory, and he saw Zizi standing there with the police behind her. He had been ordered not to have any contact with her, and he had already appealed to Marie in frantic letters. He was finally only allowed to say goodbye to her after he signed the papers for a permanent annulment. He met her at the house of one his mother’s ladies-in-waiting. Reports back to his mother stated that the meeting was “long and painful” and “somewhat stormy” on Zizi’s side. The following day, Carol returned to his regiment.1