New book sheds light on Queen Marie's relationship with Barbu Alexandru Știrbei and the latter's role in Romanian politics.
The Știrbei family was one of the most important boyar families in the principality of Wallachia in the 19th century. Its most prominent members were prince Barbu Dimitrie Știrbei, who ruled Wallachia between 1849 and 1853 and again between 1854 and 1856, and his grandson, Barbu Alexandru Știrbei, a diplomat and politician who enjoyed a successful career at the highest level during the rule of King Ferdinand I.
Prince Știrbei was born in 1872 in Buftea, north-west of Bucharest. He was a rich man, owning, apart from the estate in Buftea, three other large properties in the counties of Olt, Teleorman and Iași. He sat on the boards of many banks and factories, such as Steaua Română, the Reșita factories and Astra. He died in Bucharest in 1946, aged 73.
Brought up and schooled in France, he left a good impression on those who met him. He was presentable, articulate and was always dressed after the English fashion. He became close friends with prince and heir to the throne Ferdinand, and in 1914, when Ferdinand became king, he became his personal advisor. Prince Știrbei also became close to queen Marie, and historical records show they were more than just friends.
Cătălin Strat edited a book entitled I love you, my Marie. Scrisorile lui Barbu Știrbei către Regina Maria ["I love you, my Marie. Barbu Știrbei's letters to Queen Marie"]. He says beyond his love relationship with Marie, Știrbei was a true pillar of the Romanian state:
"I think he was a kind of guardian angel of the dynasty and the Crown. On the one hand, he was accused of embezzlement, on the other he did everything he could to protect the king and the queen. He was a very interesting figure and knew how to cultivate ties that were useful for Romanian politics and Romanian interests. He was the grey eminence who in the first world war masterminded all the big projects of the war and after the union of 1918. He made a good team with Ionel Brătianu, who was his brother-in-law."
A prince by birth, Știrbei was aware of his position and of the times he lived in. During World War One, jointly with Ion I. C. Brătianu, arguably Romania's greatest politician, Stirbey had the intuition of the direction history was taking, that of opening towards political life and to the peasant class. Accordingly, he would mastermind the new agrarian reform he himself would feel the pinch of, a reform King Ferdinand presented to the Romanian soldiers who were in trenches in front of enemy lines.
Catalin Strat once again:
"He was a smart man and knew he could not go against the direction history was taking. Even though he was a conservative politician, and that, not through political commitment, even though he used to be a deputy of the conservatives, but rather as a personal option, he had democratic ideas about agriculture, about industry, about finance. He knew a perpetuation of the outmoded social, political and economic model was not something good for the country. Therefore, he consented to that kind of sacrifice his and those of his class made, that of putting World War One soldiers in possession of land. It was a move everyone praised him for. They say the speech in Racaciuni, given by King Ferdinand but created and written by Barbu Stirbei and Ionel Bratianu gave a fresh impetus to the Romanian troops on the Moldavian front."
The history-made-easy books mentioned Barbu Stirbei mainly to highlight the love affair he had with Queen Marie. Cătălin Strat was keen on touching upon that :
"Princess Marie, at the age of 17, found herself somehow exiled in a country that had barely emerged from a Oriental universe and which was rapidly trying to become European, and modernize itself .Destined to her was a prince who was not necessarily handsome, who was not necessarily strong, personality-wise. She was getting bored and, being very young, she set her eyes on someone else as well. It seems that the affair with Barbu Stirbei was the most important of the affairs she had. The Romanian society tolerated the queen's extra-conjugal affairs, also tolerating the affair she had with Barbu Stirbei. No one had anything against it, actually, mention was never made, save for Argetoianu, that the two had a love affair. There were only innuendos, hints and notes in memoirs and diaries, especially in the diaries of the ladies-in-waiting, who were anything but discreet, or in the notes of the court servants, who, again, were anything but discreet. "
The volume "I love you, my Marie" is much more than the title can encompass. Apparently, it includes part of the correspondence of two lovers, who belonged to the high-ranking power circles in Bucharest. The volume gives a landmark of Romanian politics the place he fully deserves.