Peter I of Serbia

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Peter I
Peter I of Serbia (Rotary Photo 7119 A).jpg
King Peter I in in uniform of Field Marshal (Royal Serbian Army) full dress, 1914
King of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes
Reign 1 December 1918 – 16 August 1921
Successor Alexander I Karađorđević
Regent Crown Prince Alexander
King of Serbia
Reign 15 June 1903 – 1 December 1918
Coronation 21 September 1904
Predecessor Alexander I Obrenović
Regent Crown Prince Alexander (1914–1918)
Born 11 July [O.S. 29 June] 1844
Belgrade, Principality of Serbia
Died 16 August 1921(1921-08-16) (aged 77)
Belgrade, Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes
Burial St. George′s Church
Spouse Princess Zorka
Issue Princess Helen
Princess Milena
George, Crown Prince of Serbia
Alexander I
Prince Andrew
House Karađorđević
Father Alexander Karađorđević
Mother Persida Nenadović
Religion Serbian Orthodox
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 of Serbia (Serbian: Petar I Karađorđević; Cyrillic: Петар I Карађорђевић; 11 July [O.S. 29 June] 1844 – 16 August 1921) reigned as the last King of Serbia (1903–1918) and as the first King of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (1918–1921).

Peter was Karađorđe's grandson and third son of Persida Nenadović and Prince Alexander Karađorđević, who was forced to abdicate. Peter lived with his family in exile. He fought with the French Foreign Legion in the Franco-Prussian War. He joined as volunteer under the alias Peter Mrkonjić in Herzegovina Uprising (1875–77) against Ottoman Empire.

He married Princess Zorka of Montenegro, daughter of King Nicholas I, in 1883. She gave birth to his five children, including Prince Alexander. After death of his father in 1885, Peter became head of Karađorđević dynasty. After a military coup d'état and murder of King Alexander I Obrenović in 1903, Peter became King of Serbia. As a king he advocated for constitutional setup of the country and was famous for his libertarian politics.

King Peter was a supreme commander of the Serbian army in Balkan wars. Because of his age on 24 June 1914, he proclaimed his son, Alexander, heir to the throne, as regent. In First World War he and his army retreated across Albania. Since he was a king of Serbia during a period of great Serbian military success, he was remembered by Serbian people as King Peter the Liberator (Kralj Petar oslobodilac).

Early life[edit]

Peter was born in Belgrade on 11 July [O.S. 29 June] 1844, the fifth child of Prince Alexander Karađorđević and his consort Persida Nenadović.[1] He was the grandson of Karađorđe, the leader of the First Serbian Uprising (1804–1813) and the founder of the Karađorđević dynasty.[2] Peter was not born in the Royal Court, which was undergoing renovations at the time, but at the home of the merchant Miša Anastasijević. His birth was not met with much celebration because he was his parents' third son and his brother Svetozar was the heir to the throne. Peter did not become heir until 1847, following his brother's untimely death. Besides Belgrade, Peter spent much of his childhood in the town of Topola, from where the Karađorđevićes' originated. He finished elementary school and high school in Belgrade, and was later educated in Geneva.[1]


Prince Alexander was forced to abdicate in 1858, coinciding with the 14-year-old Peter's departure for Geneva, where he was to attend high school. His family's rivals, the Obrenović dynasty, had returned to power and an Obrenović prince had taken Alexander's place. In 1861, Peter left for Paris and enrolled in the Collège Sainte-Barbe, which had been founded in 1430 and was located in the heart of the city's Latin Quarter. The following year, Peter enrolled in the Saint-Cyr, France's most prestigious military academy. He studied at the Saint-Cyr until his graduation in 1864, and continued living in Paris for some time after. During this time he pursued artistic interests such as photography and painting, while educating himself in military and politics. For him it opened ideas about political liberalism, parliamentarism and democracy. In 1866, he entered the Higher Military School in Metz, which he attended until the following year.[3]

Peter and his relative Nikola Nikolajević joined the French Foreign Legion at the outbreak of the 1870–71 Franco-Prussian War under the pseudonym Petar Kara. He was given the rank of lieutenant.[3] He served in the 5th Legion Battalion of the 1st Foreign Regiment under Commandant Victor-Joseph Arago.[4] Peter fought at the Second Battle of Orléans on 3–4 December 1870 and the Battle of Villersexel on 9 January 1871.[3]

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.[5] 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.

During his time in exile, Peter remained in contact with people in Serbia, especially with Nikola Pašić, the leader of Radical Party.

In 1897, Peter went to Russia, where he was greeted by Emperor Nicholas II. Three years later he tried to come to an agreement with King Alexander I Obrenović to recognise his title and return of property, but failed. By returning to Serbia Peter increased his political activity even more. In 1901 he engaged in closer relationship with Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Prince Peter returned to Serbia in 1903, after King Alexander I Obrenović and his family were killed in 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 (1904–1921)[edit]

Coronation 1904[edit]

King Peter was crowned on 21 September 1904 as King of Serbia. He was crowned in St. Michael's Cathedral in Belgrade. The coronation was captured on film by Frank Storm, an English cameraman who was brought to Serbia by the Serbian honorary consul from Shefield, Arnold Mur Wilson, who was invited to the coronation.

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

The film was part of documentary about King Peter. The film was first shown in United Kingdom, and then in 1905 premiered in Serbia, in the Royal National Theatre, in the presence of King Peter, royal family and other important figures in Serbia. The film came down in history of world cinematography.

A crown was made for King Peter I. It was made of bronze, gold and precious stones. Its cost was estimated to be around 19 000 francs, and was made and sent from Paris. It is the only surviving crown of any Serbian monarch. The crown passed on to his son Alexander I, and then to his grandson Peter II. Today it is kept in Historical Museum of Serbia.

While the coronation was elaborate, no royal families, beside the Montenegrin one, came to the coronation, as response to previous military coup d'état.

Foreign affairs[edit]

During his reign Kingdom of Serbia expanded to south including Sandžak and Kosovo and Metohija. Serbia temporarily controlled northern parts of Albania, but had give away those parts to newly created Albania. In November 1918, shortly before creating Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, Serbia was joined by some new territories like Srem, Banat, Bačka and Montenegro and as such was later included in new kingdom.

Most prominent minister of foreign affairs during his reign was Nikola Pašić. At the beginning of Peter's reign he opposed the new king, calling his ascension to the throne unlawful. However, he quickly changed his mind after seeing that Serbian people accepted King Peter. As it turns out, only conflict he had with Peter during his 18-year reign was the king's salary.

First Balkan War[edit]

The war began on October 1912 and ended in May 1913. It comprised actions of the Balkan League (Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro) against the Ottoman Empire. The combined armies of the Balkan states overcame the numerically inferior and strategically disadvantaged Ottoman armies and achieved rapid success. As a result of the war, the allies captured and partitioned almost all remaining European territories of the Ottoman Empire.

In May 1912, the Albanian Hamidian revolutionaries, who wanted to reinstall Sultan Abdulhamit II to power, drove the Young Turkish forces out of Skopje and pressed south towards Manastir (present day Bitola), forcing the Young Turks to grant effective autonomy over large regions in June 1912. Serbia, which had helped arm the Albanian Catholic and Hamidian rebels and sent secret agents to some of the prominent leaders, took the revolt as a pretext for war. Serbia, Montenegro, Greece, and Bulgaria had all been in talks about possible offensives against the Ottoman Empire before the Albanian revolt of 1912 broke out; a formal agreement between Serbia and Montenegro had been signed on 7 March.

On 18 October 1912, Peter I of Serbia issued a declaration, 'To the Serbian People', which appeared to support Albanians as well as Serbs:

"The Turkish governments showed no interest in their duties towards their citizens and turned a deaf ear to all complaints and suggestions. Things got so far out of hand that no one was satisfied with the situation in Turkey in Europe. It became unbearable for the Serbs, the Greeks and for the Albanians, too. By the grace of God, I have therefore ordered my brave army to join in the Holy War to free our brethren and to ensure a better future. In Old Serbia, my army will meet not only upon Christian Serbs, but also upon Muslim Serbs, who are equally dear to us, and in addition to them, upon Christian and Muslim Albanians with whom our people have shared joy and sorrow for thirteen centuries now. To all of them we bring freedom, brotherhood and equality."

In a search for allies, Serbia was ready to negotiate a contract with Bulgaria.[15] The agreement provided that, in the event of victory against the Ottomans, Bulgaria would receive all of Macedonia south of the Kriva Palanka-Ohrid line. Serbia's expansion was accepted by Bulgaria as being to the north of the Shar Mountains (i.e., Kosovo). The intervening area was agreed to be "disputed"; it would be arbitrated by the Tsar of Russia in the event of a successful war against the Ottoman Empire.[16] During the course of the war, it became apparent that the Albanians did not consider Serbia as a liberator, as suggested by King Peter I, nor did the Serbian forces observe his declaration of amity toward Albanians.

The Serbian army was led by Peter I alongside marshals like Radomir Putnik, Stepan Stepanović, Božidar Janković and Petar Bojović. Serbia sent 230,000 soldiers (out of the population of just 2,912,000 people) with about 228 guns, grouped in 10 infantry divisions.

Second Balkan War and afthermath[edit]

As Bulgaria was dissatisfied with its share of the spoils of the First Balkan War, it attacked its former allies, Serbia and Greece, and started the Second Balkan War on 16 (O.S.)/29 June 1913. Serbian and Greek armies repulsed the Bulgarian offensive and counter-attacked, entering Bulgaria. With Bulgaria also having engaged in territorial disputes with Romania, this war provoked Romanian intervention against Bulgaria. The Ottoman Empire took advantage of the situation to regain some lost territories from the previous war. When Romanian troops approached the capital Sofia, Bulgaria asked for an armistice, resulting in the Treaty of Bucharest, in which Bulgaria had to cede portions of its First Balkan War gains to Serbia, Greece and Romania. The Second Balkan War left Serbia as the most militarily powerful state south of the Danube. Years of military investment financed by French loans had borne fruit. Central Vardar and the eastern half of the Sanjak of Novi Pazar were acquired. Its territory grew in extent from 18,650 to 33,891 square miles and its population grew by more than one and a half million.

Because of his constant and heavy efforts in the Balkan Wars, Peter's health worsened. At the same time, The Black Hand represented a core of military opposition to the civil assembly. Acting from within the government and the military, members of The Black Hand forced Peter to disband the government of Nikola Pašić, even though the Radical Party held most of the seats in the National Assembly. Only just after Russian intervention and with the help of the French capital, the crisis was solved in Pašić's favor. King Peter had to withdraw, allegedly because of his failing health, and, on 24 June 1914, he passed his royal powers to his heir, Alexander I Karađorđević.

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 Peter 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 the 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 led by Nikola Pašić and Independent Radical Party 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 the 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-Petersburg and Paris in 1910 and 1911 respectively, greeted as a hero of both democracy and national independence in the troublesome Balkans.

The reign of Peter I, from 1903 to 1914, is remembered as the "Golden Age of 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.[6] 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" (Kosovo Vilayet) and mostly Slavic-inhabited Macedonia (Manastir Vilayet). The territory of Serbia was doubled and her prestige among South Slavs (Croats and Slovenes in particular, and 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.

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'.[7]

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. For the rest of World War I King Peter I, already of very poor health, remained on the Greek isle of Corfu, which became the seat of the 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.


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

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.

In Paris, an avenue off the Champs-Élysées is named after him, Avenue Pierre Ier de Serbie.[8] 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.

Titles, styles, honours and arms[edit]

Titles and styles[edit]

  • 29 June 1844 – 23 December 1858: His Royal Highness Crown Prince Peter of Serbia
  • 23 December 1858 – 15 Jun 1903: Prince Peter Karađorđević
  • 15 Jun 1903 – 1 December 1918: His Majesty King Peter I of Serbia
  • 1 December 1918 – 16 August 1921: His Majesty King Peter I of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes


Serbian decorations and medals
Order of Saint Prince Lazarus, Collar (Royal Order only)
Order of the Karađorđe's Star, Grand Master
Order of the White Eagle, Grand Master
Order of the White Eagle with swords, Grand Master
Order of the Karađorđe's Star with Swords, Grand Master
Order of St. Sava, Grand Master
Serbian Service Medals
Medal of the Serbian Red Cross
Medal for Military Merit
Commemorative Medal of the Albanian Campaign
Commemorative Medal of the first Balkan War, 1912
Commemorative Medal of the second Balkan War, 1913
International and Foreign Awards
Order of Saint Peter of Cetinje, Knight (Montenegro)
Order of St. Andrew, Collar (Russia)
Order of the Most Holy Annunciation, Collar (Italy)
Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus, Knight Grand Cross (Italy)
Order of the Crown of Italy, Knight Grand Cross (Italy)
Order of the Medjidie, III class (Ottoman Empire)
Legion of Honour, Grand Cross (France)
War Commemorative Medal of 1870/71 (France)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Bjelajac 1997, p. 95.
  2. ^ Judah 2000, p. 83.
  3. ^ a b c Bjelajac 1997, p. 96.
  4. ^ Lepage 2008, p. 57.
  5. ^ Franjo Jež (1931). Zbornik Jugoslavije: njenih banovina, gradova, srezova i opština. Matica živih i mrtvih s.h.s. p. 43. 
  6. ^ Norris 2008, p. 87.
  7. ^ R. Wolfson "Years of Change. European History 1890–1945"
  8. ^ Avenue Pierre 1er de Serbie (see centre of map)

External links[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Živojinović, Dragoljub R. (1988–1992). Kralj Petar I Karađorđević [King Peter I Karađorđević] (in Serbian). 1–3. Belgrade, Yugoslavia: BIGZ. ISBN 978-8-61300-324-3. 
Peter I of Serbia
Born: 29 June 1844 Died: 16 August 1921
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Alexander I of Serbia
King of Serbia
15 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