Article and Photographs by the Grand Duchess Marie

Vogue, September 1, 1938

[EDITOR'S NOTE: By a melancholy coincidence, the Grand Duchess Marie, the author of the following article, had begun work on it—in the interests of Vogue—when the Queen died on July 18, 1938, at the royal summer residence at Sinaia, in Roumania. Few people in America knew the late Queen more intimately or had a more sympathetic understanding of her than the Grand Duchess, who, on her recent visit to the Queen, at Bran, already sensed the loneliness, the vague nostalgia and sorrow from which the Queen suffered toward the end of her days.]


HIGH in the mountains of Roumanian Transylvania, a castle stands on a lonely tor guarding two valleys. It pierces the air like a needle, and its grey walls have at last become one with the rock. This is Bran, the castle of Queen Marie of Roumania. Always a romantic figure, at Bran the Queen had the air of a living legend.

Perched on her isolated rock, the height of which muffled the sounds of life below it, Queen Marie was as carefully groomed, as soignée as if an exacting life of social activities had demanded it. Her skin was fresh, her blond hair only slightly greyed. Vital with an ever-deepening charm, she was blessed with wit and a lively sense of humour. And she was, one could see plainly, lonely.

Climbing to the summit of the peak, I remembered the time, twenty years ago, when I escaped from Russia to Roumania to be generously sheltered by its Queen. Now, at the top of a stiff flight of steps, a great nail-studded door opened to admit me. Guards stood on either side, wearing embroidered white shirts, baggy trousers, tall black astrakhan caps, and carrying long wooden staffs. The lady-in-waiting took me to the Queen's apartments, and the door was opened by the Queen herself. She stood framed in the doorway, draped in cool blue, her blue eyes smiling. We had tea.

Still later, we dined alone in her boudoir. A little table was laid beside the couch on which she reclined amid innumerable cushions. Several Russian dishes had been thoughtfully ordered for me, and these were served by the Queen's old French majordomo, who had been with her for many years. (The Queen's mother was a Russian, and it was only natural that she should know about Russian cooking, and order such dishes for me.) The Queen, however, ate a very light meal prepared for her by her Swiss nurse—a diet specialist, who was sent for during her illness. Across her knees there lay a beautiful piece of old brocade, and on her dinner-tray was a single magnificent rose. The room was warm and friendly.

The ceilings were rather low, but heavily vaulted, and there were few pictures on the walls. In place of them, there were numerous niches and recesses, containing, perhaps, a piece of old brass or silver, a carved wooden figure, a fine ancient icon, or a flower-filled earthenware pot. Handsome old pieces of furniture mingled with more livable things, and here and there were a few bibelots and knickknacks. The only photograph was a picture of the late King Ferdinand.

In the Queen's bedroom, the couch on which she slept stood in a recess in the wall beneath a small grated window. Between the two principal windows, a modern wood-carving of a monk, his head bent low in prayer, stood on the capital of an old marble column. As well as I can remember, this carving was the only piece of modern art at Bran. A dark, carved chest, covered with a brilliant piece of embroidery, was pushed against the wall, a tall candlestick or two stood on the floor, and a large armchair was placed at one of the windows, where the Queen could enjoy the best view of the landscape. It was a sweeping vista bounded by the distant hills, with the village just below, and, beyond the village, the green valley. When we had eaten and the tray and table had been removed, we talked on while the Queen crocheted thick, bright woollen caps for the village children. She wore the same blue tea-gown that she had worn in the afternoon, and around her neck were two ropes of large pearls. Her tea-gowns she always designed herself—loose flowing robes held at the waist with a cord or belt, with trailing sleeves and no trimming. Their beauty was a matter of material, as well as of colour, for Queen Marie loved beautiful fabrics—heavy rich silks that fell into graceful pleats. She liked old brocades and embroideries, and never failed to take along her favourite pieces when she travelled. With these and a few vases of flowers she could transform the most commonplace hotel room into something charming and entirely personal.

And she was not afraid of colour. Her tea-gowns were often in vivid shades: blues, reds, and oranges—colours that suited her complexion and hair and that looked gay in her softly-lighted rooms. Although the walls of her boudoir and bedroom were painted a light cream, colour was provided by the bright woven rugs, the brocades, and the flowers. In the Queen's bedroom alone, I counted thirty-seven dishes, pots, and vases—all filled with flowers.

It was on the couch in her boudoir that the Queen usually spent her afternoons and evenings. Propped against her brocade cushions, surrounded by books (of which new supplies arrived regularly), by writing-pads, and the quills she used instead of pens—she passed her time in reading and writing, an occupation which gave her much joy and satisfaction. She had written for many years: fairy-tales for her children when they were small. (King Ferdinand and Queen Marie, who was only seventeen when she married and the first English princess to marry a Roman Catholic in over two hundred years, had five children; Carol, the present King of Roumania; Princess Elizabeth, who became the wife of King George of Greece; Princess Marie, who married King Alexander of Yugoslavia; Prince Nicholas; and Princess Ileana, who married Archduke Anton of Hapsburg.) Queen Marie's later stories were devoted mostly to whimsical legends and allegories in which she gave full rein to her imagination and her feeling for poetry. Her eldest daughter, Elizabeth, cleverly illustrated one or two of her earlier tales with watercolours. At the time of my visit, Queen Marie had resumed work on her fourth and last volume of memoirs.

During the long weeks of her illness, in bed, and forbidden any mental exertion, she became interested in modern photography. From magazines all over the world, she cut out pictures and pasted them into albums. The result: ten or twelve volumes bound in beige linen, one album devoted to pictures of children, another to animals, a third to flowers, a fourth to landscapes. It made a library that might have fired the imagination of any photographer.

When she felt herself growing stronger, she devoted a good deal of time and attention to her garden at the foot of the castle hill, a garden planned and designed by the Queen herself, and very skillfully arranged. It was as though the English love of gardening, inherited from her grandmother, Queen Victoria, were still strong in her. I happened to be there during the dahlia season. There were whole fields of them: huge flowers —pink, orange, and white; flecked and spotted ones like candy or the plumage of some strange bird; purple and crimson ones that were almost black. The Queen knew their various names, and pointed out the different varieties with the cane upon which she was forced to lean. She was particularly proud of a new pinkish-orange dahlia grown by her gardener.


This strong passion of hers for growing things was shared by her son-in-law, the late King Alexander of Yugoslavia. Gardening became a common interest between them, and they often discussed pruning and planting by the hour. In his rare moments of leisure, the King found great relaxation in strolling among the rose-bushes in his own garden at Bled; and, to the end of her days, Queen Marie sent flowers from her garden to decorate his marble tomb in the beautiful church at Openlac, near Belgrade in Yugoslavia.

Across the village road from Bran, there stood a peaceful old chapel covered with worn, grey shingles and surrounded by smooth lawns. And, beyond it, there was a spacious playhouse that the Queen had ordered built for the children of Ileana. It had its own private garden, ablaze with hollyhocks, marigolds, petunias, and asters.

Beside a pond—the willow-walled home of a family of swans—there was a wooden tea-house where lunch was served when the Queen felt strong enough to join the members of her household for a meal. In order that she might reach the tea-house without the fatigue of steps and steep paths, a lift had been built into the shaft of an ancient well. It brought her from the castle, straight down through the rock, to her garden. The day after my arrival at Bran, we had luncheon at the tea-house, and then sat on its little porch, waiting for the end of a shower. Here we were certainly down to earth again, surrounded by trees instead of sky. The rain rustled in the leaves, and homely village noises drifted to our ears across the garden walls.


Bran is not large. Built around a small, circular courtyard, its inside walls drip with vines and climbing plants. There is a flower-bordered well in the courtyard, and a loggia (with a shingled roof) that runs along the ramparts. One evening at Bran, we watched a moving-picture performance from that loggia, the Queen and her guests sitting on one side of the courtyard, while the screen hung on the other. Piercing the profound, summer darkness, the beam of light shot over the assembled heads and across the court, carrying the images to the screen. Many of the new films were brought to Bran, and a performance took place there almost every week.

The rooms of the castle are mostly irregular in shape and lie on different levels. They are connected by steep, rough staircases. Several steps led from my sitting-room up to a small turret room occupied by a carved, gilded bed, with green-and-silver brocade canopy, curtains, and cover. My own bedroom contained a great carved bed of dark wood, and there was a washstand so designed as not to interfere with the character of the decoration. This, I discovered, is a feature of all the bedrooms in the castle. Tilting basins were let into the tops of wooden chests made in the style of the rest of the furniture.


Leading from a small hall adjoining my bedroom, a bathroom had been scooped out of the thickness of the stone walls. The walls of the vaulted dining-room must have been at least fifteen feet in thickness. And in almost every room I found a fireplace or a stove, not one of them conventional in their shape. The fireplaces came, or were copied, from old farmhouses, and most of them were complete with their bread ovens and brass kettles. The stoves, too, came from old dwellings in the district and were partly covered with rich, barbarically coloured tiles.

But the couch in the Queen's boudoir was the centre of life at Bran. Around it, there gathered visiting members of the family and the house guests who were most intimate with the Queen. Family visits, however, were not as frequent, nor as long, as the Queen desired. Two of her children who were closest to her—the young widowed Queen of Yugoslavia, and Ileana lived beyond the Roumanian borders and had their own families, households, and duties in their countries of adoption. Queen Marie was left very much to herself. She missed, one could see, the companionship of her own kin, and, while constantly occupied, she was often quite lonely—lonelier, I am certain, than she was ever willing to admit.