Ascending to royalty isn't total fantasy — after all, Grace Kelly married a prince and became a real-life Princess of Monaco, and Princess Diana's bittersweet rise to royalty fascinates to this day. Hallmark's latest movie Royal Hearts plays out the dream, when rancher Hank discovers he's the last living heir to the entire kingdom of Merania. But while Monaco and England are actual monarchies that've been around for centuries, is Royal Hearts' Merania a real country?
It's a fantasy so common that Disney's built an empire on it — the romance of royalty, the glory of an ancient kingdom, the honor and responsibility of nobility. But most Disney heroines are trying to buck these convention and go their own way, which makes it even more charming that Royal Hearts puts Hollywood legend James Brolin in the Disney princess role.
In the film, on Hallark Feb. 24, Brolin plays Hank, a Montana rancher whose college professor daughter Kelly learns he's the last living heir to the Meranian throne. Hank would rather keep ranching, but Kelly is a hopeless romantic who can't resist the idea of being real-life royalty. The two head out to Merania, where Kelly falls in love with the kingdom, and cowboy Hank sticks out like a sore thumb amid the fairy-tale trappings. Without a king, the kingdom of Merania will dissolve, so it's up to Kelly to convince Hank this is where he belongs.
While it may seem like complete fantasy, especially coming from a channel known for its extremely convenient coincidences leading to heartwarming endings, the kingdom of Merania has deep roots in reality. Royal Hearts was shot in Romania, in the capital of Bucharest, and historically notorious Transylvania. That puts them pretty close to where scholars pinpoint the ancient Duchy of Merania, a territory of the medieval Holy Roman Empire existing until 1248 AD. While scholars aren't exactly sure of the kingdom's location or boundaries, current theories peg it to the Kvarner Gulf area of Croatia and surrounding lands. That would fit with the theory of Merania's name, possibly Slavic for "sea-land", as it would be right on the water.
While daughter Kelly hopes to live out her princess fantasies in Merania, the kingdom had a real-life queen whose un-ladylike ways likely got her murdered. Queen Gertrude of Merania (1185 - 1213 AD) had a strong influence over husband King Andrew's decisions, and ruled the kingdom while he was frequently away. She was said to "rule like a man", according to the site History of Royal Women, which at the time was probably a high compliment. Unfortunately a group of Hungarian nobles didn't take kindly to her ideas and governing, and had her assassinated during a royal hunt in 1213 AD. Real life is a lot harsher than fairy tales.
Above: the IRL Meranian Royal Family vs. Hallmark's.
While a lot of Royal Hearts was shot at Romania's Castel Film Studios, there's plenty of King Hank's kingdom you can actually visit. Some interiors were shot at Bucharest's beautiful Cantacuzino Palace, open to the public as part of the larger George Enescu National Museum (named for Romania's most important musician). Additional interiors and the Kingdom of Merenia's castle are actually Corvin Castle, in Transylvania. Despite the area's spooky reputation, Transylvania is filled with ornate, gothic architecture and beautiful valleys, and Corvin Castle (also known as Hunyadi Castle) is one of the most famous examples. True, the most famous castle is Bran Castle, supposed home of Vlad Dracula, but that's an entirely different real/fictional kingdom story.
So while you won't be hearing about any Montana ranchers ascending to the throne in real life, you can actually walk around Hank's fictional kingdom, and marvel at the centuries of history it actually held. How cool is that?