Royals Who Left Their Countries To Move To America

Americans, in theory, despise the idea of monarchy. After all, the country fought a war to free itself from the rule of the world's most prominent royal family in Great Britain. But despite its republican (small "r") leanings, the United States has always held an allure for royals fleeing their political opponents, taking sojourns, or simply looking for a good time. In fact, Edward VIII of England had fallen in love with American culture and freedom on various visits starting in 1919 — long before meeting Wallis Simpson

Edward was by no means the first European royal to look for love across the pond either. Several French royals did the same thing as early as 1796. For other royals, life in America has come as a result of exile or in many cases, simply pursuing the American dream. More than one former European royal has found economic success in the United States. Then of course, there are those who are in conflict with their families and are looking to "get away" so to speak. Here are some royals who decided (or were forced) to ditch their old lives to try and make it in the Land of the Free.

Jerome Bonaparte

Jerome Bonaparte played second fiddle to his more famous brother Napoleon, who even dictated his personal life. But initially, Jerome made his own fate, leaving France at 20 to marry wealthy 18-year-old Baltimore socialite Elizabeth Patterson in 1803, per the Jane Austen Center. The couple seemed over the moon and Elizabeth quickly became pregnant with their son. Napoleon, however, wasn't having any of it. He ordered his brother to return to France and annul his marriage, even barring Elizabeth from French-controlled Europe. Despite Jerome's pleas, he relented after Napoleon threatened to take away his titles. There was just one problem – the pope refused to grant an annulment.

Napoleon in the end declared the marriage null by his own authority and married Jerome off to German princess Catharina von Wurttemburg. But Jerome still loved Elizabeth, who had given birth to their U.S. citizen son Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte in 1805. So what was the hard-partying but ultimately unhappy elder Jerome to do? He offered Elizabeth land and titles in Westphalia, giving her the chance to be the "other" woman. She, however, would not accept anything less than being his wife and queen of Westphalia. That could not materialize, so she returned to Baltimore.

Together, Elizabeth and Jerome end up siring the little-known American Bonapartes. Jerome Napoleon, according to the Maryland Historical Museum, attended West Point and served with distinction in the French army before settling in Washington, D.C. Jerome Napoleon's son went to Harvard and served as Teddy Roosevelt's attorney general, ensuring that American Bonapartes did not disappear into obscurity. Not bad for spurned royalty.

Andrew Romanov

The grandnephew of Tsar Nicholas II, Andrew Romanov's parents were members of the Russian imperial family who survived the bloody 1917 Bolshevik Revolution by fleeing to Britain, per Andrew's obituary. His great-uncle the tsar and his family were not so lucky, being gunned down and bayoneted by Bolshevik murderers in Yekaterinburg. Andrew was born in 1923 in exile and never appears to have set foot in his ancestral homeland. After an insular childhood near Windsor Castle, military service in the British Navy, and work as a farmhand, Andrew decided to try his luck in the United States. He left Britain in 1949, settling in San Francisco and becoming a naturalized citizen in 1956 – renouncing his title in the process as required by immigration law.

In America, Andrew completely eschewed royal life in favor of the hip. He was in the middle of the counterculture in the 1960s and '70s in San Francisco and later Marin County, where he worked as a jeweler and carpenter. His neighbors all loved him for his modesty and simple living – something unexpected for a member of an illustrious house such as the Romanov family. Yet, they noted that he still maintained a certain poise and dignity befitting of his station that made him seem regal.

Andrew Romanov died in November 2021 and was given a Russian Orthodox funeral, dying as an ordinary, American citizen who had kept his ancestral culture, language, and family in the private sphere in return for the American Dream.

[Featured image by Ruslan0098 via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | CC BY-SA 4.0]

Yoel Makonnen of Ethiopia

In 1974, the Soviet-backed communist Derg overthrew the last Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, ending the dynasty that had ruled the country since 1274 and traced its ancestry back to the biblical King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. However, Selassie's relatives survived, fleeing the communists for exile in Europe and eventually, the United States. Today, the heir to the Ethiopian throne is Joel Makonnen, who told Business Insider his own story of how he came to the United States. Makonnen was born in exile in Rome and is the great-grandson of Haile Selassie. However, unlike the Windsors, who generally have flaunted their royal lineage, Makonnen said he rarely, if ever, discussed it. So when he met his wife, the American Ariana Austin (pictured with Makonnen) at a D.C. nightclub, she was in for a shock.

Austin found out about her then-boyfriend's lineage when a mutual friend spilled Makonnen's secret. It didn't prove to be much of an impediment, however, since the two eventually married in a lavish Ethiopian Orthodox wedding, according to Vogue – albeit one that was modified to ensure the bride's father could walk her down the aisle. Within the United States (a republic), however, they do not use their royal titles.

Today, the couple runs a media company called Old World/New World, which seeks to tell the stories of Africa and its diaspora through television and film. Among their pet projects is the eventual creation of an Ethiopian version of "The Crown," which would focus on the Ethiopian monarchy's epic 800+ year history.

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and family

The last shah of Iran left his homeland after the 1979 Islamic Revolution toppled the pro-American monarch in favor of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's Islamic Republic of Iran. The shah and his family became wanderers, eventually settling in the United States.

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi never quite found a home outside his native Iran. The United States had offered him asylum in Florida, per the University of North Carolina, with Khomeini's blessing. The shah seemed willing to accept the offer, but, for a while, he remained in Egypt and Morocco hoping that the situation in Iran would calm down and give him a way to return. While the shah had been in Morocco, the situation in Iran worsened with the Iranian hostage crisis. Admitting the shah to the U.S. was now potentially dangerous to the lives of American citizens. Nevertheless, thanks to lobbying by Carter administration heavyweights David Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger, President Jimmy Carter eventually let the shah in for medical treatment in late 1979.

The shah eventually moved on and died in Egypt in 1981. His son Crown Prince Reza, however, remains in the United States to this day. The pretender to the Peacock Throne is an activist for a secular, democratic Iran, per the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Reza has not rejected the possibility of retaking his father's throne, perhaps as a constitutional monarch. He has, however, made it absolutely clear that he will only do so if the Iranian people want him and his family back. Otherwise, he is happy to be a focal point for resistance against the Islamic Republic, whose overthrow he advocates.

Dimitri Karadjordjevic of Yugoslavia

Boasting a handful of illustrious ancestors from around Europe, Prince Dimitri is the son of Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia and Italian princess Maria Pia di Savoia, per his own website. Growing up surrounded by the jewelry of numerous European royal families, including the famous Romanov treasure, the prince developed a love of precious stones that led him to leave his native France for New York City to pursue his dream. The prince initially moved to New York in 1983 to work on Wall Street with the firm EF Hutton, per The New York Times. He soon left that world to pursue his passion for gems, working at various auction houses and jewelers before launching his own eponymous business in 1999.

The prince, however, is not a fan of vulgar, tasteless jewelry. Instead, his pieces are informed by another of his great loves – history. In his NYT interview, he noted that he chooses his materials and designs straight out of the history books. So the Savoy knot, considered historically a symbol of true, enduring love, adorns many of his pieces that are no doubt given to women by their lovers as gifts. Another of his favorite materials is Damascus steel. Why? Because it was the Latin crusaders' favored material for making their weapons.

Today, the prince's company produces jewelry lines catering to people from the uber-rich to the upper-middle class. And given that his pieces have been modeled in the biggest fashion houses, it is safe to say that his American gamble paid off in style.

Louis Philippe D'Orleans

Louis Philippe D'Orleans was a member of the House of Orleans, a cadet branch of the Bourbon dynasty, who would eventually become king of France. Long before that, he was a proponent of the French Revolution, although he turned against the uprising after it came for his cousin King Louis XVI and then his own father.

The duke left France and sailed across the ocean to the young republic of the United States of America, according to American Heritage. After an unsuccessful courtship of Philadelphia socialite Abby Willing, he and his two brothers decided to take a trip south, first to Baltimore and then to Washington, D.C. (at the time little more than a swamp). Then, they made an impromptu stop unannounced at Mount Vernon, home to none other than George Washington. The former president entertained the duke, who announced that he wanted to explore the natural beauty of the United States. The ever-generous Washington responded by tracing an itinerary in red ink on the duke's map – a souvenir that the duke would later show off. Not everyone could brag about having a personal note from the first president.

The journey took them from Mount Vernon through Tennessee, Pennsylvania, New York State, and finally to Boston. Along the way, the brothers experienced American egalitarianism at its finest after they were thrown out of an inn because one of the duke's brothers did not want to eat with the crowd. After four years in the United States, they returned to Europe. Louis-Philippe would have to wait 30 more years, but he eventually got his throne.

Ana Maria Huarte of Mexico

Emperor Agustin Iturbide was Mexico's first monarch, reigning over a vast empire that stretched from Oregon to Panama for one year from 1822-23. However, he was forced to abdicate and eventually executed by republican forces led by a name that Americans might be more familiar with: Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana.

Iturbide's wife, Ana Maria Huarte, was a problem for the new Mexican government, which did not know what to do with her. Fearing that she or her children might try to retake Iturbide's throne, per the Autonomous University of Sinaloa, she was exiled abroad to the United States. In June of 1825, the former Mexican empress and her family arrived in Baltimore. Part of the condition of her exile was that the Mexican government would provide her a pension, which initially allowed the former empress to live comfortably at 226 Spruce Street in Philadelphia. But the rest of her life would be spent fighting for the payments and avoiding insolvency, especially once Mexico stopped paying due to the Mexican-American War of 1846-48.

As the war was ending, the former empress sought none other than President James Polk's help to get her money. He wrote that through an interpreter, the empress asked him to make Mexico pay for her pension as part of the treaty with money that U.S. troops had taken from Mexico to support their occupation. It is unclear what the result of the meeting was, but it does not appear to have mattered. The empress died in 1861, apparently in a poor financial state. She was buried in the cemetery of her parish, St. John's Catholic Church in Philadelphia.

Bayezid Osmanoglu

The Ottoman Empire officially ended in 1922 after its defeat and partition by the Entente Powers in World War I. But the extended imperial family was not exiled. Many stayed in Istanbul's Dolambahce Palace (above) until 1924, when a new regime forced them out. In 1923, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk consolidated power and transformed Turkey into a republic. The following year, according to TRT World, among Ataturk's first actions was to expel the remaining Ottoman imperial family from Istanbul to France on a mere 24 hours' notice. Prince Bayezid Osmanoglu was inside his mother's womb at the time.

Bayezid was the first Ottoman royal to enter the world in exile. And there would be no charity to support the previous luxurious lifestyle many of them had been accustomed to. Thus, Bayezid made his own way in the world as his relatives took working-class jobs, from chauffeuring to pressing clothes. Things improved for Bayezit when his divorced mother married American millionaire William Daus. After World War II broke out, the family moved to New York City, where Bayezid's future as an American was sealed. He first served in the U.S. Army and then worked for the city's famous Public Library, where his fluency in six languages made him the perfect candidate for taking care of the foreign books section.

Bayezit died in 2017, aged 92, a humble librarian who had worked for virtually everything he had. With his death, the last speaker of the high palace dialect of Ottoman Turkish passed and an era drew to a close.

Prince Joachim of Denmark

Prince Joachim of Denmark (pictured center) was in the Danish news after his mother Queen Margarethe stripped his children of all their royal titles in 2022, allegedly on a mere five days' notice according to Vanity Fair. The official reason, per The Guardian, was to allow Joachim and his children to live more normal lives, although the real reason more likely has to do with reducing the size of the royal family and therefore its expenditures.

Despite the friction with his mother, Joachim will continue to serve the Danish state in a military capacity – a path that brings him and his family to the United States in September 2023. As a defense attache at the Danish embassy in Washington, D.C., the prince's job is a sort of liaison between the Danish government and military on one hand and the U.S. military and defense industry on the other. While royals are often given cushy sinecures, this posting has national security implications. The prince told Canada's CTV News that his job will be increasing transatlantic military cooperation between the United States, Canada, Denmark, and the rest of Europe.

Although the prince did not provide any more specifics about the position, it comes at a time when the governments of Europe and North America have moved toward closer cooperation due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Denmark has been a NATO member since 1949, and the timing and purpose of the prince's move to the United State suggest that Russia may be a major driving force.

Faustin Wirkus

This story is a bit different, in that it involves a bizarre incident during the American occupation of Haiti between 1917 and 1930. Faustin Wirkus was a 17-year-old Polish-born marine who got shipped out to Haiti in 1917, according to a 1931 article in Time. In 1922, he seems to have saved a woman who styled herself "Queen Timemenne of La Gonave" from a vicious beating at the hands of a tax collector.

Eventually, he was stationed at Timemenne's home on La Gonave, where he received a royal welcome. "Queen" Timemenne declared him King Faustin Wirkus of La Gonave and her co-ruler. He lived in a concrete house and worked as a doctor, midwife, and ruler for eight years, becoming a much-loved figure among the islanders.

In 1930, Wirkus was ordered back to Port-au-Prince, bringing his eight-year "reign" to an end. The following year, he completed his service and received a discharge. According to Wirkus' own book, "The White King of La Gonave," Timemenne told him to go do his duty to his superiors and country, but to never forget his "children" on La Gonave and to return if he ever had the chance. She gave him a "great motherly hug" and he went on his way, eventually returning to the United States in 1931 to write his memoirs.

Prince Harry

The relationship between Britain's Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and his family, the Windsors, have been strained thanks to the fallout around his marriage to American socialite Meghan Markle.

In an interview with James Corden, the prince, who simply went by his first name and paid his bus fare for one of LA's double-deckers, mentioned having settled in Santa Barbara. During the interview, Harry noted that the problems between him and his relatives were made considerably worse by the media printing stories that he said were either not true or grossly exaggerated. He added that when Queen Elizabeth II was alive, she still sent her grandchildren presents and ensured that they were taken care of as family members — a very different angle from the stories alleging that there had been a fallout over Meghan's race, which came up in an interview with Oprah Winfrey.

Now, the couple owns a $15 million mansion in Montecito, California. They have retained the title of Duke and Duchess of Sussex. It remains to be see if Prince Harry has attempted to mend fences with his family somewhat, and he announced he would attend his father King Charles III's coronation. So in that regard, he doesn't seem likely to become the next Edward VIII. Not that he would either way since he is too far back in the line of succession.