Magda Lupescu, later known as Princess Elena can be compared to Wallis Simpson in the way that their stories panned out. Unlike Wallis however, the woman behind the Romanian throne has been mostly forgotten by popular culture today, and details of her life are often hard to piece together.
Magda was born as Elena to Elise and Nicolae Lupescu in Bucharest, Romania in 1895. Her parents were both Jews who converted to Christianity. Before his conversion, her father had a different surname, but historians cannot agree on what this was, Wolff is just one of the supposed surnames. Over time Elena became known as Magda but the origin of this nickname is unknown, one theory is that it was because ‘Magda’ meant reformed prostitute whereas another theory is simply that a journalist wrote the wrong name for her and it stuck.
For the sake of consistency, I shall continue to use the name Magda. Magda was educated to a high standard at an excellent all girls school. Her family later moved so that her father could open an apothecary business. In 1919 Magda was married, but the marriage only lasted a year. Her husband was Ion Tâmpeanu, an army officer but Magda could not deal with the life of an army wife and reportedly had a string of affairs before the pair divorced.
It is believed that Magda first met Crown Prince Carol of Romania (later Carol II) at a car race in 1923 and two years later they were an item. She was seen to be either crude or sexy depending on who wrote the source, but all agreed that she was nothing like Carol’s wife, the Crown Princess Helen. Rather than continuing the affair quietly, Carol flaunted his lover which resulted in scandal. Magda became a scapegoat for political unrest within Romanian politics causing friction between Carol and the prime minister Ion I.C. Brătianu. Despite previously being accepted as a Catholic, at this point Magda became the victim of anti-semitism. At first, only the elite and the press were aware of the scandal as censorship laws were strict at in Romania and the public knew little of what was going on.
By 1925 however, the affair was common knowledge after Italian press photographed them together in Milan. By this point, there was no going back for Carol, and he decided to renounce his rights to the throne and remove himself from the royal family. He had tried to do this once before when he entered into a morganatic marriage with a woman named Zizi Lambrino in 1919, but the marriage was annulled by the Supreme Court. This time, however, Carol was determined; his decision was ratified by parliament, he was divorced from his wife Helen, and by 1927 his son Michael had succeeded to the Romanian throne at the age of just six years old. Carol was by this point a mere citizen for the first time and free to be with his beloved Madga. The pair left Romania and travelled, followed everywhere by the press.
This bliss did not last for long as after a period of political chaos under King Michael’s regency, the Romanian government had a sudden change of heart and pleaded with Carol to return and claim the throne for himself. From 1929 to 1937, Magda grew more and more powerful, she was seen as the power behind the throne, being compared to the sun while King Carol was just a satellite. Magda was still widely unpopular despite her partner now being king. The leader of the National Peasant Party said she was responsible for “almost every evil” in Romania. Magda lived in fear of being assassinated, especially by the Iron guard (the far-right political party). Magda used her power and money to find an extreme way of keeping herself safe. She reportedly hired twelve body doubles to trick any would-be assassin. It is even suggested that these lookalikes had plastic surgery to look more like Magda and had to gain or lose weight whenever she did, apparently, this worked well, but once Magda deemed herself out of danger these girls were left unemployed and looking like her for no reason. How much of this is true is hard to know but it is interesting either way!
In 1938 Magda was finally formally recognised as Carol’s partner and took part more in public life. However, this only happened because Carol II proclaimed himself dictator. By 1940, Europe was in the midst of World War Two, and Romania lost significant amounts of land to Bulgaria, Hungary and the USSR. These losses combined with a lack of allies left Romania in turmoil. It is not clear whether Carol II dealt with this worse than the previous government would have, but he was left with no other option but to abdicate and return his son to the throne. Carol and Madga fled Romania days later with bullets being fired at them as they left by train.
After moving around for a while, the exiles settled in Mexico where Carol tried to set up a Romanian exile government. This failed, and he watched from afar as Romania joined with Hitler. Magda did not do well in Mexico city as she found the altitude difficult to bear. The couple relocated to Rio de Janeiro to try to improve Magda’s health, but there she was diagnosed with pernicious anaemia after some sources say she was told she was going to die from leukaemia. It was in Rio that after twenty-two years together, Carol and Magda finally married, perhaps prompted by Magda’s serious health scares. The couple married in a simple ceremony in a hotel room in 1947. Carol bestowed the title Princess Elena of Romania upon his bride after the wedding.
Carol and Magda then moved again to Portugal where they spent six happy years before Carol died suddenly of a heart attack. Magda stayed in Portugal where she died in 1977 at the age of 81; she had lived a quiet life since the death of her husband. Their remains were returned to Romania in 2003.