21.IX.1864 – 17.II.1947
Elena Văcărescu was a late 19th early 20th century Romanian-French aristocratic writer, who was twice a laureate of the Académie Française.
From her father, Ioan Văcărescu, she was descended from the famous Văcărescu family, a long line of Phanariote boyars from Wallachia, including Ienăchiţă Văcărescu, the poet who wrote the first Romanian grammar. Elena was also a granddaughter of Romanian poet, Iancu Văcărescu.
Elena’s maternal ancestry was just as highly lauded. Through her mother, Eufrosina Fălcoianu, she was descended from the Fălcoianu family, a prominent group in the times of Prince Mihail the Brave. Prince Mihai Bravu was the Prince of Wallachia (1593–1601), of Transylvania (1599–1600), and of Moldavia (1600), who united all three of the Romanian principalities for a short time at the beginning of the 17th century.
As was typical with her class, she spent most of her youth on the Văcărescu estate near Târgovişte. It was there, under the tutelage of her English governess, Miss Allan, that Elena first became acquainted with English literature. True to her ancestors, Elena found a passion for literature and languages, to which she also studied French literature in Paris, where she met Victor Hugo, whom she later mentioned in her memoirs. Additionally, her curriculum included courses on philosophy, aesthetics and history, and also a period devoted to the study of poetry under the guidance of Sully Prudhomme, French poet and essayist, winner of the first Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1901.
Born and raised during a very tumultuous time on the European continent, another influence on her early life was the Russo-Turkish War, from 1877 to 1878. Elena's father fought in the war, an experience which influenced her first book, later published in 1886.
It was indeed a very dramatic turn of events for her native country of Romania, which declared independence from the Ottoman Empire, and joined Imperial Russia's camp.
Queen Elisabeth Of Romania
Perhaps in light of the gypsy past of her country, the fates aligned at a meeting that changed her life forever. This meeting was with none other than Queen Elisabeth of Romania, former Princess zu Wied, and wife of King Carol I. The Poetess Queen invited her to the palace in 1888. At first the queen was interested in Elena Văcărescu's literary achievements, however, before too long she became much more interested in the person behind the poetry. Queen Elisabeth transferred all her maternal love on Elena, having never recovered from the death of her only child and daughter, Princess Marie in 1874,
In 1889, due to the lack of heirs to the Romanian throne, the King had adopted his nephew Prince Ferdinand zu Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen who, due to his loneliness in a strange country, grew close to Elena, fell in love with her, and eventually expressed the desire to marry her. Queen Elisabeth, who viewed Elena almost as a daughter, encouraged the romance, although she was perfectly aware of the fact that a marriage between the two was forbidden by the Romanian constitution. According to the 1866 Constitution of Romania, the heir to the throne was not allowed to marry a Romanian. The result of this love match was the exile of both Elisabeth, to Neuwied and Elena to Paris, as well as a trip by Ferdinand through Europe in search of a suitable bride, whom he eventually found in Queen Victoria's granddaughter, Princess Marie of Edinburgh. Not surprisingly, the affair between Elena and Ferdinand helped reinforce Elisabeth's image as a dreamer and eccentric.
Crown Prince Ferdinand Of Romania
Separated from her family, friends and country, Elena pursued a life dedicated to literature. Ever resourceful, she focused on her craft of penning poetry, plays and books throughout the early to mid 20th century, and still found time to support her country from abroad.
Elena Văcărescu was the Substitute Delegate to the League of Nations from 1922 to 1924, eventually serving as the permanent delegate from 1925 to 1926. Feeling it important to support the Romanian cause, but endeavoring to continue her work in the field of literary arts, she was again a Substitute Delegate to the League of Nations from 1926 to 1938. Interestingly, Elena was the only woman to serve with the rank of ambassador, permanent delegate, in the history of the League of Nations.
In 1925, in recognition of her written work, her countrymen welcomed her as a member of the Romanian Academy. Always a stalwart advocate of the literary achievements of her country, she translated into French, works of Romanian poets such as Mihai Eminescu, Lucian Blaga, Octavian Goga, George Topîrceanu, Ion Minulescu and Ion Vinea.
Just before her death, Elena was a member of the Gheorghe Tătărescu-headed Romanian delegation to the Paris Peace Conference at the end of World War II. She is interred in the Văcărescu family crypt in the Bellu cemetery in Bucharest.
Chants d'Aurore (1886)
L'âme sereine (1896)
Lueurs et Flammes (1903)
Le Jardin passioné (1908)
La Dormeuse éveillée (1914)
Folklore Themes Interpreted
Le Rhapsode de la Dâmboviţa (1889)
Nuits d'Orient (1907)
Dans l'or du soir (1927)
Amor vincit (1908)
Le Sortilege (1911)
Memorial sur le mode mineur (1945)
Le Roman de ma vie
Pe urma dragostei
An Unforgettable Character Of Bucharest
Special attention should be given to Elena Văcărescu, whose outstanding personality and whose life contributed greatly to the revival of the Romanian spirit, inherited from her forerunners.
Until not long ago, mention was often made of the four Văcărescu poets and the famous slogan: “to you, my Văcăreşti heirs, I bequeath—”, regardless of the individual value of each one of them. The Văcărescu poets were always lumped together. I never quite understood why, in the last several decades, a fifth name has not been added – that of their descendant, Elena Văcărescu, a poet in the truest sense of the word, rising to great heights and matching the two Ioans while, undoubtedly, surpassing both Alexandru and Nicolae.
If any Văcărescu descendant heeded Ienăchiţă Văcărescu’s injunction, especially regarding love of one’s country, it certainly is Elena Văcărescu, a worthy bearer of her forerunners’ name.
She was fated to be born a woman and also fated never to become a wife. This may have happened so that she, the last in the family line, should carry on the glory of the Văcărescu name, so famous for the poetic beginnings of the country and well known abroad, too.
Elena Văcărescu was born on September 14, 1864 into an old Romanian indigenous family, whose history could be traced a long way back. She was the daughter of Ion Văcărescu (also known as Enăchiţă), officer in the war of 1877, adjutant of the court, politician and diplomat, son of Iancu Văcărescu, the greatest of the Văcărescu poets, descendant of Stanciu, marshal of the Court at Văcăreşti, owning land under this name since the 16th century. Elena’s mother was Eufrosina Fălcoianu, descendant of the 16th century Petru Logofăt, also known as Fălcoi.
Before going into further details about the life of Elena Văcărescu, it may not be altogether superfluous to mention several facts about the Văcărescu poets, although too much has already been written about them. What I have to say will support the theory of inherited family traits and vulnerabilities, which, in the words of the French doctor Cullerre, is “the great power that rules the world.” In the case of the Văcărescus, this axiom, if I may call it so, proves abundantly true.
Love of the country manifested itself with each generation of this family, which was deeply rooted in the Romanian soil. Well-rounded people of great culture and great wit, possessing both diplomatic sense and strength of opinion even to the point of life sacrifice, pleasure seeking, sentimental and, as legend would have it, sometimes involved in murky financial deals – all these good and bad traits merged together and passed on from generation to generation.
A certain coincidence of life events brings us to the poetic link between Elena Văcărescu and her forerunners and I will show that this descendant did not, for one single moment, move away, either while in the country or when abroad, from the Romanian spirit that so much inspired her forerunners, although she was forced to leave the country by very painful circumstances.
Elena Văcărescu was not a beauty. Ever since she was a young woman she had had a tendency to put on weight and her nearsightedness did not help her appearance, either. On the contrary, as de Saint Aulaire notices, it gave her eyes a certain sharpness, which increased with age. Her complexion was as white as a lily, which is quite unusual with Romanian women.
Yet her youth, her keen intelligence, her culture and, to a certain extent, the charm of her spirited spoken and written word, which she possessed in abundance, handsomely compensated for the passing appearance of a beautiful face, which, once faded, loses all fairness.
In early 1890, when Ferdinand, the prince and heir, came to the country, he found Elena Văcărescu at the Royal Palace, where she had been a maid of honor ever since 1888. He was a young man of twenty-five, a bachelor only one year younger than Elena Văcărescu, and he would come into daily contact with her, under the benevolent eyes of the dreamy, rather exalted Queen Elizabeth, whose poetic soul likened the birth and budding of such an idyll to a sunny spring day. It was thus only natural that Elena Văcărescu, urged on by her youth, should ardently desire that the Queen‘s wish for their union may come true.
Her parents were in Rome in 1890, where Enăchiţă, her father, was Romanian Minister in Italy, recently settled there after occupying the same post in the Hague.
From Rome the family moved to Venice, which they were forced to leave for Paris. They remained in Paristill 1894, when they returned to the country. As they did not own a home in Bucharest, they rented two apartments on Calea Victoriei, across the street from the Ştirbei residence, in a building that belonged to Moisescu, the rich owner of the Luvru department store.
It is in one of these apartments that Elena Văcărescu opened a literary salon, where besides her relatives, people from a wide range of fields, men of letters, artists, scientists, diplomats and other liberal professions, would come together. I was young in those days, yet I was one of the regular guests there. I even remember that Elena Văcărescu was going to write something on faithful animals, dogs I think it was, and she asked me to do the illustrations for the book. I used to be quite good at drawing at the time. The project never got under way so I would never know whether I would have met her expectations.
By the time she returned from Paris her reputation as writer and poet was already quite solid. Even before she went to the Palace, as early as 1886, she had published her first poetic work, “Chants d’Amour” in Paris. Then, during her exile abroad, she published “La Rhapsodie de la Dambovitza” and translations into French from Carmen Sylva, which, I seem to recollect, received a prize from the French Academy.
Elena Văcărescu wrote in French but felt in Romanian. Based on the songs and legends of the fiddler she wrote a libretto for an opera, which was put on in Paris, with the tenor Muratore playing the main part of the fiddler and with all the characters wearing the beautiful Romanian garb. And then, in quick succession, she wrote novels and poetry. Some of her poetry was chosen, over the work of other well known French poets, for inclusion in an anthology of contemporary French poets.
While the family was in Romania – they were in the country for a number of years – in 1897, after intense preparations and finally persuaded by his relative, Teodor Văcărescu, then Marshal of the Palace (certainly acting upon the secret orders of King Carol), Enăchiţă Văcărescu requested an audience with the Sovereign. As it was to be expected, the latter received him with great honors and on this occasion Văcărescu handed the King all the correspondence between Ferdinand and Elena, a pile of letters carefully folded and tied with a colored ribbon. He also returned the engagement ring Elena had received from Ferdinand. To show his gratitude, King Carol offered Văcărescu the post of Romanian Minister to the Danubian Commission. In a very dignified way, the latter declined the offer.
Many years passed, time flew by and so many outstanding events came to pass and then receded in the distance. Chronos brings about forgetting and quenches the fire of passion. Here is an example: in 1926, when King Ferdinand and Queen Maria went to Paris, the king sent word to Elena Văcărescu, through his personal assistant, my brother-in-law, Marine Commander Koslinski, that the Queen and he would very much like to see her asked if she could set a time for them to visit with her.
As it was to be expected, Elena Văcărescu said she was happy to be honored this way but added that she would be the one to pay the visit to their majesties. The next day she was received in the quarters occupied by the Sovereign at the Ritz Hotel. The royal couple spent quite a great deal of time conversing with her. After some time the Queen excused herself for having to leave the two of them by themselves for a while, as she had some shopping to do, but, she added with a friendly smile, she knew they had a lot to talk about. Upon the Queen‘s return, Elena Văcărescu said good-bye to them and departed. This encounter, after 30 years of separation, was the first and the last of the former lovers. A year later, in 1927, King Ferdinand died. What went on during that encounter, what was shared, what memories were recalled, only the two departed ones could have told us. The Queen, an artist and writer herself, thought very highly of Elena Văcărescu’s works, which, whether on purpose or not, were lying on her writing desk.
Years later, in 1937, in a speech delivered at the Romanian Academy, Elena Văcărescu, in beautiful Romanian, reminisced about her life and spoke about what it meant to her to be in the service of her country, while far away from it. I feel I have to quote some excerpts from her speech. “Though I was fated to live far from my country, I have never ceased to feel Romanian, through and through, one with the mind and the heart of my country and intimately connected to it. Spellbound since birth by this earth, I grew up enchanted with the old tales of our land, always found my soul in this rustic poetry and stayed in intimate communion with the patriarchal charm and our treasure chest of feelings. Nowhere else did I hear the rippling sound of our rivers just as no other sky in the world, North and South, can match the color of this sky. The Romanian soul, of which I have always been so proud, is a plenitude of feeling, breathing in the wise glory of nature and life. I also love my country for its uniqueness and originality, which is the source of my own originality. I was, however, destined to be ‘uprooted’, fated to feel tremendous longing for my life-giving native land and forced to sing of it in a foreign tongue. And yet the word ‘uprooted’ does not seem to apply to me. For if I was not in the country, the country was with me and in me, carrying her in my heart and in my soul. My home in Paris was a piece of the Romanian land, a shrine to the Romanian spirit, a place of genuinely Romanian atmosphere, dedicated to the Romanian soul in the capital of France. I can say that in my life I have paid service to one idea, the Romanian idea, and I believe that I have truly followed the legacy of my forerunners, contributing to the growth of the Romanian language and the glory of the country.”
And the rest of the speech is delivered in the same spirit. Towards the end, she makes a beautiful but rather gratuitous gesture, born of her strong sense of solidarity with things Romanian – she makes the apology of Anne de Noailles, a panegyric which attributed to the latter a Romanian sensibility. She concludes thus: “I tried to reclaim for the Romanian patrimony part of the poetic prestige of Anne de Noailles.” Like others, Elena Văcărescu disregards Anne de Noailles’ origin and talks about her descent from the Brâncoveanus.
Now in her eighties, after long years of fruitful endeavor in the realms of literature and politics, after fighting to defend vital interests of her country, Elena Văcărescu begins to contemplate the end of her life.
In September 1945 she draws up her will, in which her country is mentioned from first to last, a kind of ode to the country. She states that although unfortunate circumstances in her life have compelled her to live far from Romania, her heart never ceased to beat for it.
“I die in the Orthodox religion of my parents and my wish is to be buried next to their graves, next to the grave of the Father of the Romanian poetry, next to Iancu Văcărescu’s grave, near our great Ienăchiţă, whose unworthy descendant I am.”
Disregarding her blood relatives, she bequeaths, for cultural purposes, to the Romanian Academy the Văcăreşti estate and the farmhouse, so touchingly sung by Iancu Văcărescu, in hopes that the Văcărescu legacy will be carried on. In her will, she does not forget the Romanian chapel in Paris and the Văcăreşti church, to which she leaves money and icons.
In 1946 she is appointed member of the Romanian delegation to the Paris Peace Conference but in February 1947, she breathes her last, far from the country she so much loved but with her soul at peace.
On September 5, 1959, the same month in which she was born and wrote her will – quite a strange coincidence – her earthly remains were buried next to her parents’, next to Ienăchiţă (himself brought here when St. John the Great Monastery was demolished to make room for the Savings Bank), next to Iancu Văcărescu. Finally her arduous wish came true – she was laid to rest for eternity in the earth of her native land, which she so much loved and glorified.
After her death, her cousin Fălcoianu attempted to continue the gatherings at the Rue de Chaillot salon, but in the absence of its sustaining spirit, it is no wonder that the endeavor failed.
If Ienăchiţă Văcărescu, the pioneer of this Romanian poetic cycle, left, as he would say, to his heirs a legacy of honoring the language of the land and loving its soil, Elena Văcărescu, the last offspring of this family and their worthy descendant, closes up the poetic family cycle which endured for almost two centuries with the last words of her will. These words bear the imprint of a mystic spirituality that guided her whole life into glorifying her country. “I ask God‘s help for my country and when I am in Heaven I will pray for Romania.”
The Vacarescu family is a classic example of conflicting claims about origins. The family tradition explains the name as coming from that of the Transylvanian town of Fagaras and thus claims descendance from a Hungarian noble family. On the other hand, the name 'Vacarescu' ( Vacar-escu ) would logically imply descendance from a cowherd.
The first important member of this family is Ianache Vacarescu, High Treasurer under Constantin Brancoveanu, Lord of Wallachia ( 1688-1714 ). Together with his Lord and the latter's sons he was taken to Constantinople and beheaded in 1714 ( after refusing to convert to Islam, as some sources would have it ); all six of them were canonized by the Romanian Orthodox Church in 1992. He and his wife Stanca built ( or perhaps rebuilt ) Razvan Church in Bucharest. They had four sons. Another mystery concerning the family is their relationship to the Vacaresti Convent. This very important monastery was founded by Nicolae Mavrocordat, Lord of Wallachia ( 1716; 1719-1730 ), presumably on land purchased from the family, probably from one of Ianache's sons. These sons were Constantin, Barbu, Stefan and Radu. High Treasurer Constantin Vacarescu was close to Lord Nicolae Mavrocordat and wrote a genealogy of this prince; at his death he was in charge of leading several high boyars on an unsuccessful mission to Jassy to offer Wallachia's crown to Grigore II Ghica of Moldavia. Barbu Vacarescu was exiled to Cyprus by the Sultan in 1756 for opposing Constantin Racovita, Lord of Wallachia at the time; he died there. He had one daughter, Maria, who married Great Ban Dimitrie ( Dumitrache ) Ghica ( second wife ), one of the senior boyars of his age, nephew of Grigore II Ghica, brother of Grigore III Ghica and founder of the Wallachian branch of the Ghicas. Her dowry included an estate just outside Bucharest, nowadays Tei neighbourhood; on this estate her son, Grigore IV Dimitrie Ghica ( Lord of Wallachia, 1822-1828 ), built his Ghica-Tei Palace; the road which used to be the Western boundary of the estate is now Barbu Vacarescu Street, an important street in Bucharest. Stefan and Radu, Barbu's brothers, were ancestors of the two branches of the family.
***I. Stefan Vacarescu, Great Ban of Craiova, married Ecaterina Donca. They were owners of the Baneasa estate outside Bucharest, named after the widowed Ecaterina, where they had St Nicholas-at-Baneasa Church ( 'Sf. Nicolae-Baneasa' ) built, which is still extant. Stefan was exiled to Cyprus together with his brother Barbu; he died allegedly poisoned by the same Constantin Racovita during another of his Wallachian reigns. His son was Ianache ( Ienachita ) Vacarescu ( ca. 1740 - 1797 ), a pioneer of Romanian culture. He wrote History of the most mighty Ottoman Emperors and a grammar, but he is most widely remembered for his poems, typical examples of the Phanariote age, written in a very sweet and diminutive style, based on Greek models; they are usually love poems ( In a garden and Sad turtledove are the most renowned ), but also his patriotic Testament. Ienachita Vacarescu owned a house on Victory Road ( on land inherited from his father and grandfather ) which not long after his death became property of the Bellu family ( Stefan Bellu I think ); the house is still extant, in a much modified form of course. He also built a new residence for himself at Baneasa, supposedly lavish. He held different noble offices ( High Treasurer, Steward, Grand Palatine ). Ienachita Vacarescu was close to Lord Alexandru Ipsilanti, who in 1781 sent him to Sibiu as head of a delegation with the task of bringing back the Lord's fugitive sons. Other Lords didn't trust him: Nicolae Mavrogheni exiled him to Nikopol. His sympathies were anti-Russian and rather pro-Ottoman. He married three times: with Elena Rizu, with Elena Caragea ( sister of Lord Ioan Caragea ) and with Princess Ecaterina Caragea ( third cousin of the previous and daughter of Lord Nicolae Caragea ). From his first marriage he had Alexandru ( Alecu ), from his third he had Nicolae.
***Grand Palatine Nicolae Vacarescu is less appreciated than his father as a poet. He wrote in the same overly sentimental style; but he also wrote an outlawry ballad in popular style ( Durda ) and a number of published letters to his nephew Iancu. He was also involved in politics, being sent by the boyars to Oltenia in February 1821 to negotiate with Vladimirescu at the beginning of his uprising. He married Alexandrina Baleanu, daughter of Great Ban Grigore Baleanu and sister of politicians Emanoil sr. and Nicolae Baleanu. Their daughter was Maria ( 'Maritica' ), married first to Steward Constantin ( Costache ) Ghica, youngest of Great Ban Dumitrache's sons ( from his third marriage ); among their children, two daughters married Rusponi-Murat. Gheorghe Bibescu, Lord of Wallachia ( 1842-1848 ), began an affair with her at the beginning of his reign; he was married, but his wife had lost her mental health; he managed to force a divorce in 1844, he bribed Ghica into his own divorce and he married Maritica in 1845. This was all very controversial at the time, especially since Metropolitan Neophytus actively and openly opposed the divorce of this Romanian Henry VIII; it was finally granted by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, passing over the Metropolitan. Maritica inherited Baneasa from her father ( who had inherited from Ienachita ) and Bibescu began building there a big palace which was left unfinished; the estate was inherited by one of their two daughters, Countess Marie de Montesquiou-Fezensac and then by her French Montesquiou descendants.
***Alecu Vacarescu, Ienachita's first son, was also a poet and - like Nicolae - less appreciated than his father; he used the same Phanariote style. He was accused of murdering his aunt Venetiana Vacarescu and arrested in 1799 at Lord Alexandru Moruzi's orders; he was never seen again, one rumor was that he died in prison in Tulcea, another that he was strangled on the way and the body thrown in the Danube. He married a Dudescu; among their children:
******- Maria, married to sometime minister Constantin Balaceanu ( they were Iancu Balaceanu's parents );
******- Ioan ( Iancu ) Vacarescu ( 1792-1863 ), poet of the first Modern period of Romanian poetry, is considered more original than the others in his family. He wrote on love ( Love's spring ) and also patriotic themes ( The people's voice under tyranny ), being a supporter of Vladimirescu's 1821 uprising. His house in Bucharest ( on the aptly named Ienachita Vacarescu Street, formerly Poet's Street, under Metropolitanate Hill ), is still extant, housing the National Institute of Historical Monuments. He married Ecaterina Cantacuzino-Pascanu. Their children were:
*********- Ecaterina ( Mita ), married to Grigore Lahovary ( see below, point 2 );
*********- Maria, married to Scarlat Falcoianu, Foreign Minister ( 1859 ), Minister for Religious Faiths ( 1861 ) and Justice Minister ( 1861-1862 ) of Wallachia;
*********- Alexandrina ( Didina ) Darvari, whose son Alexandru Darvari married Princess Marie-Nicole Bibescu.
*********- Constantin Vacarescu;
*********- Mihai ( Misu ) Vacarescu, better known as 'Claymoor', the name he used for his high-life chronicles, published in L'independence roumaine. These dealt with parties, receptions, balls etc. and were heavily focused on women's fashion; at some point, his articles were the most widely read pieces of journalism in Romania and the chief concern of more than a few ladies was how Claymoor did or didn't describe them;
*********- Ioan ( Ienachita ) Vacarescu was diplomat, being ambassador to Serbia ( 1888-1889 ), Belgium ( 1889-1891 ) and Italy ( like his cousin Iancu Balaceanu; 1891 ). He built a manor on his estate Vacaresti ( Dambovita county ). He married Eufrosina Falcoianu and had two daughters:
************- Zoe married Mihail Caribol;
************- Elena Vacarescu ( 1864-1947 ), famous for her love affair with Prince ( future King ) Ferdinand in 1891. She was a maid of honor of Queen Elisabeta, it's said that She saw in her the soul of Her late daughter, Princess Maria, deceased at a tender age, and Ferdinand met her in the Queen's entourage, who in her romantic fancy encouraged the affair. This was passionate, despite Elena's legendary ugliness and despite the fact that his desire to marry her was completely unacceptable from a political point of view ( Unebenbuertigkeit ). The King and President of the Council Lascar Catargiu intervened and the two were separated. Elena Vacarescu was never again permitted to permanently reside in Romania, Ienachita Vacarescu's diplomatic career was cut short and the Queen was sent to Her family at Neuwied for an unofficial two-year exile. Elena lived afterwards mostly in Paris, where she published different kinds of literature ( in French ), especially poetry, more or less appreciated. She was an arduous supporter of Romania in the political circles of Paris, particularly during the Peace Conferences of 1918-1920 and 1946-1947, at the last one she was also member of the Romanian official delegation, before her death; she was also Romanian delegate to the League of Nations, the only woman delegate for most of the '20s and '30s; according to a legend, the Charter of the League of Nations was actually drafted in her house, seeing that she had many influential friends, Raymond Poincare for example. She was an active member of the Romanian expats' society in Paris, sharing in all the petty rivalries, especially with Princess Martha Bibescu; in fact, for all her passionate supporters and admirers there have always been violent detractors. She never remarried and it is said that she never forgot King Ferdinand. Buried in Paris, her remains were repatriated to Romania with military honors and reburied in the Bellu Cemetery in 1959, something which in Communist Romania for an aristocrat was surprising and a huge favor on the part of the regime.
A History Of The Phanariots
& Elena’s Ancestors
For all their cosmopolitanism and often western, sometimes Roman Catholic education, the Phanariots were aware of their Hellenism; according to Nicholas Mavrocordatos' Philotheou Parerga: “We are a race completely Hellenic!”
Phanariots emerged as a class of moneyed ethnically Greek merchants, they commonly claimed noble Byzantine descent, in the latter half of the 16th century and went on to exercise great influence in the administration in the Ottoman Empire's Balkan domains in the 18th century. They tended to build their houses in the Phanar quarter in order to be close to the court of the Patriarch, who under the Ottoman millet system was recognized as both the spiritual and secular head (millet-bashi) of all the Orthodox subjects (the Rum Millet, or the “Roman nation”) of the Empire, except those Orthodox under the spiritual care of the Patriarchs of Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria, often acting as archontes of the Ecumenical See; thus they came to dominate the administration of the Patriarchate frequently intervening in the selection of hierarchs, including the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.
Constantine Ypsilantis' Coat of Arms
Some members of these families, which had acquired great wealth and influence during the 17th century, occupied high political and administrative posts in the Ottoman Empire. From 1669 until the Greek War of Independence in 1821 Phanariotes formed the majority of the dragomans to the Ottoman government (the Porte) and to foreign embassies due to the higher level of education of Greeks compared to the general Ottoman population. Along with the church dignitaries, the local notables from the provinces and the large Greek merchant class, Phanariotes represented the better educated members of Greek society during Ottoman rule and until the start of the Greek War of Independence. During the latter, Phanariotes played a crucial role and influenced the decisions of the Greek National Assembly, the representative body of the Greek revolutionaries, which met on six occasions between 1821 and 1829.
Between the years 1711–1716 and 1821, a number of them were appointed Hospodars (Voivodes or Princes) in the Danubian Principalities (Moldavia and Wallachia), usually as a promotion from dragoman offices; that period is usually termed the Phanariote epoch in Romanian history.
Caradja Family Coat Of Arms
The roots of Greek ascendancy can be traced to the need of the Ottomans for skilled and educated negotiators as the power of their empire declined and they were compelled to rely on treaties more than the force of arms. From the 17th century onwards the Ottomans began meeting problems in the conduct of their foreign relations, and were having difficulties in dictating terms to their neighbors; the Porte was faced for the first time with the need of participating in diplomatic negotiations.
Given the Ottoman tradition of generally ignoring Western European languages and cultures, officials found themselves unable to handle such affairs. The Porte subsequently assigned those tasks to the Greeks who had a long mercantile and educational tradition and could provide the necessary skills. As a result, the so−called Phanariotes, Greek and Hellenized families mostly native to Constantinople, came to occupy high posts of secretaries and interpreters to Ottoman officials and officers.
As a result of Phanariote and ecclesiastic administration, Greeks expanded their influence in the Empire in the 18th century while retaining their Greek Orthodox faith and Hellenism. This had not always been the case in the Ottoman realm, as in the 16th century it was the South Slavs and Bulgars who were the most prominent in Imperial affairs. Unlike the Greeks, they were willing to convert to Islam in order to enjoy full rights of Ottoman citizenship, especially in Bosnia, while Serbs also tended to acquire high military positions.
In time, a Slavic presence in the administration gradually became a hazard for the Ottoman rulers, as it was prone to offer full support to Habsburg armies in the context of the Great Turkish War. By the 17th century, the Greek Patriarch of Constantinople became the absolute religious and administrative ruler of all Christian Orthodox subjects within the Empire, regardless of their ethnic background. All formerly independent Orthodox patriarchates, including the Serbian Patriarchate renewed in 1557, came under the authority of the Greek Orthodox Church. Most of the Greek Patriarchs were drawn from among the Phanariotes.
Two Greek social groups therefore emerged and challenged the leadership of the Greek Church. These were the Phanariotes in Constantinople and the local notables in the Helladic provinces (kocabaşıs, gerontes, dimogerontes, prokritoi). According to Constantine Paparrigopoulοs, one of the major Greek historians, Phanariotes initially sought the most important secular offices of the Patriarchical Court and, thus, they could frequently intervene in the election of bishops, as well as influence crucial decisions of the Patriarch. Greek merchants and clergy of Byzantine aristocratic origin, who acquired great economic prosperity and political influence, and were later known as Phanariotes, settled in the extreme northwestern district of Constantinople, which had become central to Greek interests after the establishment of the Patriarch's headquarters in 1461, shortly after Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque.
Emblem Of The Ecumenical Patriarchate.
After the 1453 Fall of Constantinople, when the Sultan virtually replaced de facto and de jure the Byzantine Emperor among subjugated Christians, the Ecumenical Patriarch was recognized by the Sultan as the religious and national leader (ethnarch) of Greeks and the other ethnicities that were included in the Greek Orthodox Millet. The Patriarchate earned a primary importance and occupied this key role among the Christians of the Empire because the Ottomans did not legally distinguish between nationality and religion, and thus regarded all the Orthodox Christians of the Empire as a single entity.
The position of the Patriarchate in the Ottoman state encouraged projects of Greek renaissance, centered on the resurrection and revitalization of the Byzantine Empire. The Patriarch and those church dignitaries around him constituted the first centre of power for the Greeks inside the Ottoman state, one which succeeded in infiltrating the structures of the Ottoman Empire, while attracting the former Byzantine nobility.
It was the wealth of the extensive Greek merchant class that provided the material basis for the intellectual revival that was the prominent feature of Greek life in the half century and more leading to 1821.
The first Greek millionaire in the Ottoman era was Michael Cantacuzenos, who earned 60.000 ducats a year from his control of the fur trade from Muscovy; he was eventually executed on the Sultan's order.
Impelled by the brand of local patriotism that has always been of feature of the Greek world, the Greek merchants endowed libraries and schools. It was not by chance that on the eve of the Greek War of Independence the three most important centers of Greek learning, schools-cum-universities, were situated in Chios, Smyrna and Aivali, all three major centers of Greek commerce.
During the 18th century, Phanariotes appeared as a hereditary clerical−aristocratic grouping, managing the affairs of the Patriarchate, and becoming the dominant political power of the Greek community in Ottoman lands. In time, they grew to become a very significant political factor in the Ottoman Empire, and, as diplomatic agents, played a considerable role in the affairs of the Kingdom of Great Britain, France, and the Russian Empire.
Phanariotes soon competed for some of the most important administrative offices in the Ottoman administration: several of these involved collecting Imperial taxes, holding monopolies on commerce, working under contract in various enterprises, being purveyors to the court, and even rulers over one of the two Danubian Principalities (Moldavia and Wallachia). At the same time, they engaged in private trade dealings, and acquired great control over the crucial wheat trade on the Black Sea. Phanariotes managed to expand their commercial activities first into the Kingdom of Hungary, and then to all other Central European states. Such activities intensified their contacts with Western nations, and as a consequence they became familiar with Western languages and cultures.
Just before the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence, Phanariotes were firmly established as the political elite of Hellenism. According to Greek historian Constantine Paparrigopoulos, this was a natural evolution, given the Phanariotes' education and their experience in supervising vast regions of the Empire. In addition, Svoronos argued that they subordinated their national identity to their class identity, since they merely endeavored to achieve peaceful co−existence between the conqueror and the conquered; Svoronos believes that, in this way, Phanariotes failed to enrich the Greek national identity, and lost ground to the groups that grew through their confrontation with the Ottoman Empire, first the klephts and then the Armatoloi.
The period is not to be understood as marking the introduction of a Greek presence into the Principalities, which had already established itself in both provinces and had even resulted in the appointment of Greek Princes before the 18th century. After the end of the Phanariote epoch, various families of Phanariote ancestry in both Wallachia and Moldavia identified themselves as Romanian, and remained present in Romanian society, among them, the Rosetti family, whose member C. A. Rosetti represented the radical and nationalist cause during and after the 1848 Wallachian revolution. Also notable were the Ghicas who, despite direct Phanariote lineage, held the throne in Wallachia with Grigore IV and Alexandru II as the first "non−Phanariote" rulers after 1821. Finally the Vacarescu family, of Greek Phanariote origin, provided some of the first poets to Romanian literature.
The attention of Phanariotes was concentrated on occupying the most favorable offices the Empire could offer to non-Muslims, but also to the Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, which were still relatively rich, and more importantly, autonomous, despite having to pay tribute as vassal states. Many Greeks had found favorable conditions there for commercial activities, by far more advantageous when compared with the difficulties inside the Ottoman Empire, and also an opportunity to gain political power. Many had entered the ranks of Wallachian and Moldavian boyar nobility by marriage.
Although rarely occurring, reigns of local Princes were not excluded on principle. This situation had even determined two arguably Hellenized Romanian noble families, the Callimachis (originally Călmaşul) and Racoviţăs, to penetrate into the Phanar nucleus, in order to facilitate and increase their chances to occupy the thrones, and later to successfully maintain their positions.
While most sources would agree to 1711 being the moment where the gradual erosion of the traditional institutions had reached its ultimate stage, characteristics usually ascribed to the Phanariote era had made themselves felt long before it. The Ottomans had been enforcing their choice for Hospodars throughout previous centuries as far back as the 15th, and foreign — usually Greek or Levantine — boyars had been competing with the local ones since the late 16th century. Rulers since Dumitraşcu Cantacuzino in Moldavia and George Ducas, a Prince of Greek origin, in Wallachia (both in 1673) had been forced to surrender all of their family members, and not just selected ones, as hostages in Constantinople. At the same time, the traditional elective system in the Principalities had accounted for long periods of political disorder, and was in fact dominated by a small number of ambitious families, whether local or foreign, who had entered violent competition for the two thrones and monopolized land ownership — a notable example is the conflict opposing the Craioveşti and the Cantacuzinos in the period before 1711.
The clear change in policy was determined by the fact that Wallachia and Moldavia, although autonomous, had entered a period of continuous skirmishes with the Ottomans, due to insubordination of the local princes, one especially associated with the rise of Imperial Russia's power under Peter the Great and the firm presence of the Habsburg Empire on the Carpathian border with the Principalities. Dissidence within the two countries became more dangerous for the Turks, who were now confronted with the attraction exercised on the population by the protection offered to them by a fellow Eastern Orthodox state. This became obvious with Mihai Racoviţă's second rule in Moldavia, when the Prince plotted with Peter to have Ottoman rule overthrown. Incidentally, his replacement, Nicholas Mavrocordatos, was also the first official Phanariote in his second reign in Moldavia, he was also to replace Ştefan Cantacuzino in Wallachia, as the first Phanariote ruler in that country.
A crucial moment in the policy change was the Russo−Turkish War of 1710−1713, when Dimitrie Cantemir sided with Russia and agreed to a Russian tutelage over his country. After Russia suffered a major defeat and Cantemir went into exile, the Ottomans took charge of the succession to the throne of Moldavia, soon followed by similar measures in Wallachia. In this case, prompted by Ştefan Cantacuzino's alliance with the Habsburg commander Prince Eugene of Savoy in the closing stages of the Great Turkish War.
An Image Of The Phanariotes In Wallachia
Caption reads: "Flight of prince Mavrogheni From Bucharest"
The person raised to the office of Prince was usually the chief Dragoman of the Porte, and was consequently well versed in contemporary politics and the statecraft of the Ottoman government.
The new Prince, who obtained his office in exchange for a heavy bribe, not a new requirement in itself, proceeded to the country which he was selected to govern, and whose language he usually did not know. Once the new Princes were appointed, they were escorted to Iaşi or Bucharest by retinues composed of their families, favorites, and their creditors, from whom they had borrowed the bribe funds. The Prince and his appointees counted on recouping these in as short a time as possible and in collecting an amount sufficient to live on after the termination of their brief time in office.
Taking the two principalities together, 31 princes from 11 different families ruled during the Phanariote epoch. Many times they were exiled or even executed: of these 31 princes, seven suffered a violent death, and a few were executed at their own courts of Bucharest or Iaşi.
When, owing to cases of disloyalty towards the Porte by the Princes, the choice became limited to a few families, it became frequent that rulers would be shifted from one principality to the other: the Prince of Wallachia, the richer of the two Principalities, would pay certain sums in order to avert his transfer to Iaşi, while the Prince of Moldavia would bribe supporters in Constantinople in exchange for his appointment to Wallachia. For example, Constantine Mavrocordatos ruled a total of ten different times in Moldavia and Wallachia. The debt was, however, owed to various creditors, and not to the Sultan himself: in fact, the central institutions of the Ottoman Empire generally seemed determined to maintain their rule over the Principalities, and not exploit them irrationally. In one early example, Ahmed III even paid part of Nicholas Mavrocordatos' sum.
Welcoming The British Ambassador In Curtea Nouă
The Phanariote epoch was initially characterized by excessive fiscal policies, driven by both Ottoman needs and by the ambitions of some of the Hospodars, who, mindful of their fragile status, sought to pay back their creditors and increase their wealth while they still were in a position of power. In order to make the reigns lucrative while raising funds that would satisfy the needs of the Porte increased during the Stagnation of the Ottoman Empire, Princes channeled their energies into spoliation, and the inhabitants, liable to increasing and diversified taxation, were in many instances reduced to destitution. However, the most odious taxes, mistakenly identified with the Phanariotes in modern Romanian historiography, were of much older provenance, such as the văcărit, first imposed by Iancu Sasul in the 1580s.
The mismanagement of many Phanariote rules stands in contrast with the achievements and projects of others, such as Constantine Mavrocordatos', who abolished serfdom in 1746 in Wallachia, and in 1749 in Moldavia and Alexander Ypsilantis'. They were inspired by Hapsburg serf policy. Ypsilantis tried to reform the legislation and impose salaries for administrative offices — in an effort to halt the depletion of funds through the sums the administrators, local and Greek alike, were using for their own maintenance, it had by then become more profitable to hold office than to own land. His Pravilniceasca condică, a rather modern legal code, met stiff boyar resistance.
In fact, the focus of such rules was many times the improvement of state structures against conservative wishes. Documents for the time show that, despite the change in leadership and boyar complaints, around 80% of those seated in the Divan an institution roughly equivalent to the Estates of the realm were members of traditionally local families. This tended to render endemic the social and economical issues of previous periods, as the inner circle of boyars not only managed to block initiatives such as Alexander Ypsilantis', but also pressured for tax exemptions — which they obtained, extended, and successfully preserved.
The Phanariotes copied Russian institutions as well as Hapsburg. In the mid eighteenth century they made Noble rank dependent on state service just as Peter I of Russia did. After the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji (1774) allowed Russia to intervene on the side of Ottoman Eastern Orthodox subjects, most of the Porte's political tools of political pressure became ineffective. The Porte had to further offer concessions, with the imperative of maintaining hold over the countries as economical and strategic assets: the treaty made any increase in the tribute impossible, and, between 1774 and the 1820s, it plummeted from around 50,000 to 20,000 gold coins, equivalent to Austrian gold currency in Wallachia, and just 3,100 in Moldavia.
In the immediately following period, Russia made use of its new prerogative forcefully: the deposition of Constantine Ypsilantis, in Wallachia and Alexander Mourousis in Moldavia by Selim III, called on by the French Empire's ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Horace Sébastiani (whose fears of pro−Russian conspiracies in Bucharest were partly confirmed), constituted the casus belli for the conflict of 1806–1812. The Russian general Mikhail Andreyevich Miloradovich swiftly reinstated Ypsilantis during his military expedition to Wallachia.
Such gestures inaugurated a period of effective Russian supervision, which culminated with the Organic Statute administration of the 1830s; the Danubian Principalities grew in strategic importance with the Napoleonic Wars and the Decline of the Ottoman Empire, as European states became interested in halting Russian southwards expansion of which a noted development was the annexation of Bessarabia in 1812. In turn, the new consulates opened in the two countries' capitals, as a means to ensure observation of developments in Russian−Ottoman relations, had an indirect impact over the local economy, as rival diplomats began awarding their protection and sudit status to merchants competing with the local guilds. Curiously, it was Nicholas I of Russia who pressurized Wallachia and Moldavia into granting constitutions, 1831 and 1832 respectively. This was to weaken any native rulers.
In parallel, the boyars started a petitioning campaign against the Princes in power: although sometimes addressed to the Porte and even the Habsburg Monarchy, they mostly demanded Russian supervision. While making reference to cases of corruption and misrule, the petitions show their signers' conservative intentions. The boyars tend to refer to specific, but nonetheless fictitious, Capitulations that either of the Principalities would have signed with the Ottomans — demanding that the rights guaranteed through them be restored. They also viewed with suspicion reform attempts on the side of Princes, claiming these were not legitimate — in alternative proposals (usually taking the form of constitutional projects), the boyars express a wish for the establishment of an aristocratic republic.
The active part taken by the Greek Princes in revolts after 1820, together with the disorder provoked by the Philikí Etaireía, of which the Ghica, Vacarescu (of Phanariote Greek origin) and Golescu families were active members, following its uprising against the Ottoman Empire in Moldavia and Tudor Vladimirescu's Wallachian uprising, led to the disappearance of promotions from within the Phanar community as the Greeks were no longer trusted by the Porte. Relevant for the tense relations between boyars and princes, Vladimirescu's revolt was, for most of its duration, the result of compromise between Oltenian pandurs and the regency of boyars attempting to block the ascension of Scarlat Callimachi, the last Phanariote ruler in Bucharest.
Ioan Sturdza's rule in Moldavia and Grigore IV Ghica's in Wallachia are considered the first of the new period: as such, the new regime was to have its own abrupt ending with the Russian occupation during another Russo−Turkish War, and the subsequent period of Russian influence.
Most Phanariotes acted as patrons of Greek culture, education, and printing. They founded academies which attracted teachers and educated pupils from throughout the Orthodox commonwealth, and there was some contact with intellectual trends in Habsburg central Europe. Further many of the Phanariote princes were capable and farsighted rulers: As prince of Walachia in 1746 and of Moldavia in 1749, Constantin Mavrocordat abolished serfdom, and Alexandru Ipsilanti of Walachia, reigned 1774–1782, initiated extensive administrative and legal reforms. Alexandru's enlightened reign, moreover, coincided with subtle shifts in economic and social life and with the emergence of new spiritual and intellectual aspirations that pointed to the West and to reform.
Nonetheless, condemnation of the Phanariotes is a particular focus of Romanian nationalism, usually integrated with the resentment of foreigners as a whole. The tendency unifies pro− and anti−modernizing attitudes: Phanariote Greeks are painted as reactionary elements, as well as agents of brutal and opportunistic change.
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