The story of how a British princess brought tea to Romania begins in 1874 when Queen Victoria’s son Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, married the daughter of Russia’s Tsar Alexander. The duke and duchess’ eldest daughter, Marie, was born a year later. A bright, free-spirited girl, Marie was blessed with exceptional beauty and was gifted with talents for writing and art.
Admired as the most beautiful princess in Europe, Marie had many suitors. Her mother was determined to see her eldest daughter on a European throne, and so Marie was married off at age seventeen to Prince Ferdinand, nephew and heir to King Carol of the far-away country of Romania.
The transition to a new country, language, husband, and family was difficult and lonely at first for the young princess. She found solace in solitary tea times in a private corner of the palace.
By the early 1900s Princess Marie had entered the royal social scene, hosting English-style afternoon teas at the royal palaces. Knowing her fondness for both the beverage and the ceremony, Marie’s wide circle of friends and admirers would often arrange teas in her honour, and afternoon tea became popular amongst Romania’s upper classes.
Marie’s children grew up with tea just as their mother had done, with a blending of English and Russian tea customs. Each day Marie would set aside time for tea with one or more of the young princes and princesses, with either the teapot or the samovar.
Ferdinand and Marie became King and Queen when Carol died in 1914 on the eve of The Great War (WWI). During the war Marie distinguished herself as a nurse, establishing a hospital and visiting the most seriously wounded and gravely ill soldiers of the Romanian army. She taught her youngest daughter Ileana the English custom of bringing tea to the troops.
When the war ended, Marie was sent to help represent Romania’s interests at the Versailles peace conference in 1919. From Paris, Marie went to London to plead Romania’s case directly with her cousin, King George.
Marie had another reason for visiting London. “I was especially very much in need of tea!” she wrote in her memoirs. “Romania had quite run out of tea since there was no more communication with Russia, whence it was formerly imported.” Marie met with Mr. Twining, “the best man for tea,” and explained to him that she wanted a tea that tasted “neither of smoke, scent, nor hay.” To this Mr. Twining replied, “It is Darjeeling tea Your Majesty wants.” After tasting several samples, Marie agreed that “I found the mixture of which I dreamed!”
Of the many Romanian royal palaces, Marie’s favourite was Bran. This imposing medieval fortress sits atop a hillside overlooking a pastoral village surrounded by a sprawling park. (Bran is passed off to tourists as Dracula’s Castle.) In an area nearest the castle she built a teahouse where she regularly had tea with family or visitors, gazing out on the park’s gardens and small pond.
Marie, Queen of Romania, died in 1938. In many ways she was the Princess Diana of her day. Even today, Romanians hold a place in their hearts for the memory of this extraordinary queen for her beauty, talent, and tireless service to those in need in her adopted country.
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