After the abdication of Alexandru Ioan Cuza, the ruler of Romanian United Principalities (Valachia and Moldavia), by a palace coup d´état, and based on Napoleon III´s suggestion (strong sustainer of the Romanian national union and emblematic for the Romanian politicians of those time, considering that Romania was strongly influenced by French culture), Prince Karl of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen was chosen as his succesor. The second son of Prince Karl Anton of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen and Princess Josephine of Baden, he was described as a perfect soldier, healthy and disciplined, and also a very good politician with liberal ideas.
Travelling to Romania was a huge challenge for him. Because of the political conflict between Prussia and the Austrian Empire, Karl came to Romania incognito, from Düsseldorf to Baziaș, through Switzerland. He received there a Swiss passport on the fake name Carl Hettingen and these features: “26 years old, shoes size 5, slim stature, black hair and eyebrows, gray eyes, pointed nose, normal size mouth, round chin, brown beard, oblong face and wears glasses“.
In Romania, he was accompanied to Bucharest by Brătianu, a significant Romanian political figure. Reaching Bucharest, the prince was welcomed by a huge crowd (more curious about to the new ruler, then enthusiastic) and received the keys to the capital city (May 10/22, 1866). It was a rainy day after a long period of drought, apparently a very favorable sign (first proof for the prince that he entered into a world full of superstitions and omens). In this enviroment, Karl swore this oath: “I swear to guard the laws of Romania, to maintain the rights of its People and the integrity of its territory.” – he spoke in French, as he did not speak Romanian. However, he endeared himself to his adopted country by endorsing the Romanian spelling of his name, Carol.
In the collective memory King Carol I is remembered as a cold and austere person, but always fair. He was permanently concerned with the prestige of the dynasty he had founded. His wife, Elizabeth – widely known by her literary name of Carmen Sylva, said he “wore the crown in his sleep“, too. He was very meticulous, never late and he tried to impose his style upon his entourage.
He was the initiator of the first Constitution, adopted by Romanian Parliament on June 29, 1866 – one of the most advanced constitutions for that time – inspired by Belgian pattern, which allowed the development and evolution of the Romanian state, by choosing to ignore the nominal suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire, which led to the real independence in 1877.
In 48 years of reign — the longest in Romanian history, he helped the country gaining its independence, raising its prestige, developping the economy and building a strong dynasty. In the Carpathian Mountains, he built Peleș Castle, still one of Romania’s most visited touristic attractions. This was design in German style, as a reminder of the king’s origin.
Most of the documents relating to the Romanian Royal Family (personal and official correspondence, daily journals, photographs) are preserved by National Archives of Romania, in Bucharest: fond Royal House , collection Photographical Documents of the National Archives , collection Stamps and more.