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Peter I of Yugoslavia


Peter I of Yugoslavia

Peter I
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
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

Peter I (Serbian: Петар I Карађорђевић, Petar I Karadjordjević) (29 June 1844 – 16 August 1921), was the last King of Serbia from 1903 to 1918, and subsequently the first ruler of the newly created Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (officially renamed Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929) from 1918 until his death 1921. Peter Karadjordjević was a grandson of Karageorge, the founder of modern Serbia and a leader of the First Serbian Insurrection (1804-1813). Prince Peter was a third son of prince Aleksandar Karadjordjević, who ruled Serbia from 1842 to 1858, during the period of "Constitutionalist" After the death of his older brother, Peter became the head of the House of Karadjordjević. As the leader of the victorious Serbian Army in the Balkan Wars and World War I, he received the title of Peter the Great Liberator (Kralj Petar Veliki Oslobodilac) after 1918. As a young pretender to the throne, Prince Peter had translated and published at his own expense the famous essay of John Stuart Mill "On Liberty."

Early life and exile (1844–1903)

Prince Peter was born in Belgrade to Prince Alexander of Serbia and his consort, Princess Persida Nenadović. Prince Alexander, ruler of Serbia since 1842 abdicated in 1858 and took his son with him into exile in Wallachia, present-day Romania.

The young prince spent much of his exile in France, where he studied at the military academy École spéciale militaire de Saint-Cyr in Paris, promotion "Puebla" (1864). Prince Peter, known to his friends as "Pierre Kara" actively participated in the Franco-Prussian War of 1871 as a volunteer of the Foreign Legion Command, better known as the Legion étrangère. He was wounded in the battle near Orleans. Afterwards he managed to escape the Prussians by swimming across the Loire River.

During the Eastern Crisis (1875–1878) which started with the Serb uprising against the Ottoman Empire in 1875 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, he took on the name of a seventeenth-century Serbian hajduk Petar Mrkonjić of Ragusa, and joined as a leader of the guerilla unit the Bosnian Serb insurgents. He had to leave the region at the insistence of then-prince Milan Obrenović, the ruler of Serbia, who saw Prince Peter Karadjodjević as a main rival to the throne of Serbia and feared his popularity among the Serbian people. Prince Peter married Princess Zorka of Montenegro, the oldest daughter of King Nicholas I, in 1883. They had five children: Helen in 1884, Milena in 1886, George in 1887, Alexander in 1888 and Andrew in 1890. Princess Milena died at the age of one in 1887, and Prince Andrew, the last child, died at birth along with his mother Princess Zorka. The Prince Peter spent ten years in Montenegro, and after the death of his wife moved to Paris and eventually settled in Switzerland. His two sons, George and Alexander were admitted to the corps of pages in Saint-Petersbourg.

After long years in exile in Geneva, Switzerland, Prince Peter returned to Serbia in 1903, after King Alexander I Obrenović and his family were killed in a a military coup d'état. Alexander I had increasingly become unpopular by his pro-Austrian foreign policy and by his marriage. After 45 years in exile, the Karadjordjević dynasty regained the leadership of Serbia from the rival House of Obrenović: Prince Peter Karadjordjević, already proclaimed as a new king by the army conspirators, was elected as the King of Serbia by the Serbian Parliament and Senate two weeks later. He was crowned King of Serbia on 21 September 1904 in St. Michael's Cathedral and anointed on 9 October 1904.

Reign (1903–1921)

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, 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.

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.


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 immensely popular throughout his reign and remains one of the Western Balkans's most popular 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 grand monument to King Petar the Great Liberator and his son Alexander I of Yugoslavia the Unifier was solemnly inaugurated in 1936, at Porte de la Muette in Paris.

In Paris, an avenue off the Champs-Élysées is named after him, Avenue Pierre Ier de Serbie.[1]

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

External links

  • The Serbian Royal Family
  • Royal Mausoleum Oplenac
  • Royal Family


  • 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
House of Karađorđević
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
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