Carol I of Hohenzollern – Sigmaringen, the first King of Romania, was born in Germany, in the Sigmaringen castle, on 23 April 1839, as the second son of Prince Karl – Anton of Hohenzollern – Sigmaringen and of Josephine of Baden, daughter of Grand Duke of Baden. On 20 april 1866, the Romanian politicians elected him as Rulling Prince of the United Principalities.
After finishing his elementary studies, Carol entered the Cadet School in Münster. In 1857, he attended the courses of the Artillery School in Berlin and took art history classes at Berlin University under the guidance of the aesthetician Anton Springer. Up to 1866, when he accepted the crown of Romania, he was a Prussian officer and took part in the Second Schleswig War, including the assault of the Fredericia citadel, an experience which would be very useful to him, later, in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877/78.
On 10 May 1866, Carol entered Bucharest, the capital of United Principalities. As he was crowned, Carol 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 yet speak Romanian. However, he endeared himself to his adopted country by adopting the Romanian spelling of his name, Carol. He learned to speak Romanian not long after that, taking classes with the Romanian historian August Treboniu Laurian.
On the 1st of July, two months after his arrival, the Romanian Parliament adopted the 1866 Constitution of Romania, one of the most modern constitutions of that time. Inspired by the Belgian Constitution, it guaranteed private propriety, freedom of speech, total freedom of the press, it abolished the death penalty during peace time, and established separation of powers.
In 1869, Carol married the German princess Elisabeth of Wied. Their only daughter, princess Marioara, died at four years old. In order to ensure the succession, prince Ferdinand of Hohenzollern – Sigmaringen, Carol’s nephew, was named Prince of Romania and heir to the throne.
On 10 May 1877, the Principality of Romania, which was under formal Turkish rule, declared its independence. The declaration was put forward and voted on by the Parliament, being then promulgated by Prince Carol.
Romania participated at the Russo-Turkish War and Carol was named Commander in charge the of the combined Russian and Romanian forces that were surrounding the town of Pleven which surrendered on 28 November 1877.
After the war, on 13 July 1878, the Treaty of Berlin recognized Romania as an independent state.
On 15 March 1881, the constitution was amended to proclaim Romania a kingdom. Carol became the first King of the Romanians. On 10 May, he was crowned as king. The crown that was used in the coronation of Carol was forged from the steel of one of the Ottoman cannons captured by the Romanian Army at the Pleven.
On October 1883, King Carol signed a secret political-military Treaty with the Austro – Hungarian Empire whereat Germany and Italy adhered to afterward. The Treaty was, at that moment, the only solution to counter an eventual Russian offensive against Romania. The Romanian policy at the end of the 19 century and the beginning of the 20th, promoted by King Carol I, pursued the consolidation of the independence and the defence of territorial integrity. Romania’s purpose was to remain, as much as possible, outwards an European conflict, Carol’s objective being the country’s neutrality.
However, on 3 August 1914, the Crown Council held at the Peles Castle, decided the neutrality of the country for the first two years of the World War I.
King Carol I died on September 1914.
His reign is characterized by a remarkable political stability, prosperity and progress; he is seen as the founder of modern Romania and one of the most revered personality in the country’s history.