Peter I of Serbia

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Peter I
PetarI-Karadjordjevic.jpg
King of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes
Reign 1 Dec 1918 – 16 Aug 1921
Successor Alexander I
King of Serbia
Reign 15 Jun 1903 – 1 Dec 1918
Coronation 21 September 1904
Predecessor Alexander I
Spouse Princess Zorka
Issue Princess Helen
George, Crown Prince of Serbia
Alexander I
House House of Karađorđević
Father Alexander Karađorđević
Mother Persida Nenadović
Born (1844-06-29)29 June 1844
Belgrade, Serbia
Died 16 August 1921(1921-08-16) (aged 77)
Belgrade, Yugoslavia
Burial St. George′s Church
Religion Serbian Orthodox
Monarchical styles of
Peter I of Yugoslavia
Royal Monogram of King Peter I of Yugoslavia.svg
Reference style His Majesty
Spoken style Your Majesty
Alternative style Sir

Peter I (Serbian: Петар I Карађорђевић, Petar I Karađorđević) (29 June 1844 – 16 August 1921), was the last King of Serbia, and a member of the European House of Karađorđević.

Exile[edit]

Prince Peter was born in Belgrade to Prince Alexander of Serbia and his consort, Princess Persida Nenadović. Prince Alexander abdicated in 1858, and the 14 year old Prince Peter went into exile with the rest of his family, initially staying in Wallachia, present-day Romania.

Known to his friends as "Pierre Kara," as a young man Prince Peter spent much of his exile in Geneva and France, where he attended school, including the well-known military academy École spéciale militaire de Saint-Cyr in Paris (1862). In 1871-1872, Prince Peter actively participated as a volunteer in the final stages of the Franco-Prussian War. Under the name of Pierre Kara he was commissioned as a sous-lieutenant in the 5th battalion of the French Foreign Legion, forming part the Army of the Loire. On 11 October he was wounded in battle near Orleans and taken prisoner by the Prussians. He subsequently escaped by swimming across the Loire River.[citation needed]

During the Great Eastern Crisis (1875–78), set off by a Serb uprising against the Ottoman Empire in 1875 in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Herzegovina Uprising (1875–77)), Prince Peter adopted the nom de guerre of hajduk Petar Mrkonjić, and joined the Bosnian Serb insurgents as a leader of a guerilla unit.[1] He soon had to leave the region at the insistence of Prince Milan Obrenović, the ruler of Serbia, who saw Prince Peter Karadjodjević as a rival to the throne of Serbia and feared his popularity among the Serbian people .[citation needed]

In 1883, Prince Peter married Princess Zorka of Montenegro, the oldest daughter of King Nicholas I. They had five children:

Following his marriage, Prince Peter remained in Montenegro for about ten years. After the death of his wife, he and his surviving children moved to Paris, and eventually settled in Switzerland. His two sons, George and Alexander were admitted to the Page Corps in Saint Petersburg.

Prince Peter finally returned to Serbia in 1903, after King Alexander I Obrenović and his family were killed in a a military coup d'état. Peter Karadjordjević, already proclaimed as the new King by army conspirators, was elected as the King of Serbia by the Serbian Parliament and Senate. He was crowned King of Serbia on 21 September 1904 in St. Michael's Cathedral and anointed on 9 October 1904. After 45 years in exile, the Karadjordjević dynasty had regained the leadership of Serbia from the rival House of Obrenović.

Reign (1903–1921)[edit]

Royal Standard of the King of Serbia

The Western-educated King attempted to liberalize Serbia with the goal of creating a Western-style constitutional monarchy. King Petar I became gradually very popular for his commitment to parliamentary democracy that, in spite of certain influence of military cliques in political life, functioned properly. The 1903 Constitution was a revised version of 1888 Constitution, based on the Belgian Constitution of 1831, considered as one of the most liberal in Europe.The governments were chosen from the parliamentary majority, mostly from People's Radical Party (Narodna radikalna stranka) led by Nikola P. Pašić and Independent Radical Party (Samostalna radikalna stranka), led by Ljubomir Stojanović. King Peter himself was in favor of a broader coalition government that would boost Serbian democracy and help pursue an independent course in foreign policy. In contrast to Austrophile Obrenović dynasty, King Peter I was relying on Russia and France, which provoked rising hostility from expansionist-minded Austria-Hungary. King Peter I of Serbia paid two solemn visits to Saint-Petersbourg and Paris in 1910 and 1911 respectively, greeted as a hero of both democracy and national independence in the troublesome Balkans.

The reign of King Peter I Karadjordjević from 1903 to 1914, is remembered as the "Golden Age of Serbia" or the "Era of Pericles in Serbia", due to the unrestricted political freedoms, free press, and cultural ascendancy among South Slavs who finally saw in democratic Serbia a Piedmont of South Slavs. King Peter I was supportive to the movement of Yugoslav unification, hosting in Belgrade various cultural gatherings. Grand School of Belgrade was upgraded into Belgrade University in 1905, with scholars of international renown such as Jovan Cvijić, Mihailo Petrović, Slobodan Jovanović, Jovan M. Žujović, Bogdan Popović, Jovan Skerlić, Sima Lozanić, Branislav Petronijević and several others.

King Peter I gained enormous popularity following the Balkan Wars in 1912 and 1913, which, from a Serb and South Slav perspective, were a great success, heralded by the spectacular military victories over the Ottomans, followed by the liberation of Old Serbia (Vilayet of Kosovo) and mostly Slavic-inhabited Macedonia (Vilayet of Monastir). The territory of Serbia was doubled and her prestige among South Slavs (Croats and Slovenes in particular, as well as among the Serbs in Austria-Hungary, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Vojvodina, Military Frontier, Dalmatia, Slavonia, etc.) grew significantly, with Peter I as the main symbol of this both political and cultural success. After the conflict between military and civilian representatives in the spring of 1914, King Peter chose to "retire" due to ill health, reassigning on 11/24 June 1914 his royal prerogatives to his second son Heir apparent Crown Prince Alexander.

King Peter I after his coronation, in Knez Mihailova Street, 21 September 1904.

The King, spending most of his time in various Serbian spas, remained relatively inactive during the First World War, although occasionally, when the military situation became critical, he visited trenches on the front-line to check up on morale of his troops. His visit to the firing line prior to the Battle of Kolubara in late 1914 boosted morale of the retreating Serbian forces and announced a counter-offensive and sparkling victory against numerically superior Austro-Hungarian forces. Another memorable visit in 1915 involved King Peter, by then 71, picking up a rifle and shooting at enemy soldiers. Following the invasion of Serbia by the joint forces of Germany, Austro-Hungary and Bulgaria in October 1915, King Peter I led the army and tens of thousands of civilian refugees through the high mountains of Albania to the Adriatic sea on a 'Calvary known to few peoples'. (R. Wolfson "Years of Change. European History 1890-1945").

After the dramatic retreat in harsh winter through hostile environment of Albanian highlands from Prizren to the Albanian littoral, that took more than 100,000 lives, the King and his army, exhausted by cold and famine, were eventually transported by the Allies, mostly French ships to Corfu in early 1916. The rest of the Great war King Peter I, already of very poor health, spent in Greece, at the island Corfu, which became a seat of Serbian government in exile until December 1918.

On 1 December 1918, King Peter I was proclaimed King of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. King Peter stayed abroad until July 1919 and returned to Belgrade where he died in 1921 at the age of 77. He was solemnly buried in his endowment in Oplenac, the Church of Saint George in the vicinity of Topola in Central Serbia, where his grandfather Karageorge, the founder of the dynasty, launched a large-scale insurrection against the Ottomans in 1804.

Legacy[edit]

Tomb of King Peter I
Monument to Peter I of Yugoslavia in Zrenjanin

King Peter I is remembered for his modesty, moderation, ardent patriotism and attachment to Serbian democracy. His preference for the military as a backbone of dynasty support in Serbia was attributed to his military background. He was popular throughout his reign and remains one of the Western Balkans's respected leaders. He is considered to be the founding father of Yugoslavia (this name, colloquial, but very widely used even in European maps during his day, became official in 1929).

His children were influential in European affairs as adults. His son, King Alexander, joined Yugoslavia with the West but forcibly pushed the nascent Yugoslav national identity on his subjects. His daughter, Princess Helen, married Prince Ioann Konstantinovich of Russia who was killed in the Revolution.

There is a modest monument dedicated to King Petar I of Serbia in Orléans, France, when he fought as a volunteer in the French army. A large monument to King Peter and his son Alexander I of Yugoslavia was unveiled in 1936, at the Porte de la Muette in Paris.

In Paris, an avenue off the Champs-Élysées is named after him, Avenue Pierre Ier de Serbie.[2]

Three cities in interwar Yugoslavia were named after King Peter I: Mrkonjić grad in Bosnia-Herzegovina (former Varcar Vakuf), Petrovgrad in Vojvodina (Veliki Bečkerek, now Zrenjanin) and Petrovac na Moru (former Kaštel Lastva) in Montenegro. Dozens of monuments erected in his honor throughout Yugoslavia were destroyed after the communist takeover in 1945. Only one monument, in Zrenjanin (former Petrovgrad) was recently restored, as well as several smaller monuments in Belgrade and the rest of Serbia. The other monuments in honor to King Peter I were restored or erected in Republika Srpska, in Bosnia-Herzegovina where his cult status as a national hero is as strong as in Serbia.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  • Dragoljub R. Živojinović, Kralj Petar I Karađorđević (King Peter I Karađorđević), vol. I-III, Belgrade, BIGZ 1988-1992.
  • Dušan T. Bataković, Yougoslavie. Nations, religions, idéologies, Lausanne, L'Age d'Homme; 1994.
  • Dušan T. Bataković (dir.), Histoire du peuple serbe, Lausanne, L'Age d'Homme 2005.
Peter I of Serbia
Born: 29 June 1844 Died: 16 August 1921
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Alexander I of Serbia
King of Serbia
11 June 1903 – 1 December 1918
Expansion of state
proclaimed King of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes
New title King of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes
1 December 1918 – 16 August 1921
Succeeded by
Alexander I of Yugoslavia