Birthday: December 16, 1888
Died At Age: 45
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Also Known As: Aleksandar I or Alexander the Unifier
Born Country: Montenegro
Born in: Cetinje, Montenegro
Famous as: King
Emperors & Kings
Spouse/Ex-: Maria of Yugoslavia
father: Peter I of Serbia
mother: Zorka of Montenegro
siblings: Andrija Karađorđević, George; Crown Prince of Serbia
children: Peter II of Yugoslavia, Prince Andrew of Yugoslavia, Prince Tomislav of Yugoslavia
Died on: October 9, 1934
Cause of Death: Assassination
Who was Alexander I of Yugoslavia?
Alexander I of Yugoslavia or Aleksandar I or Alexander the Unifier was a king belonging to the Royal House of Karađorđević. He became a prince regent of the Kingdom of Serbia in 1914 and the King of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (it became Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929) in 1921, and spent the entirety of his life in the efforts of unifying his politically and ethnically divided collection of nations. The fourth child and the second son of Peter Karadjordjević, Alexander predominantly grew up in Montenegro and later in Geneva while his family was in political exile from Serbia. He received his education at the imperial Page Corps in St Petersburg, Russian Empire. In 1903, during what came to be known as the May Overthrow, Peter Karadjordjević deposed the rival House of Obrenović and regained the throne of Serbia. In 1909, after his older brother stepped aside, Alexander was named the crown prince. He distinguished himself as a military commander during the Balkan Wars and World War I. Alexander’s attempts to create a united state out of the disputing nations under his reign ended up establishing a police state. The first attempt on his life was made on the day he took an oath to honor the Serbian Constitution in June 1921. Alexander I was ultimately assassinated in October 1934.
Childhood & Early Life
Born on December 16, 1888, in Cetinje, Principality of Montenegro, Alexander was the son of Peter I of Serbia and Zorka of Montenegro. He had four siblings, Helen, Princess of Russia; Princess Milena; George, Crown Prince of Serbia; and Prince Andrew. Milena and Andrew did not survive childhood.
His grandfather, Prince Alexander of Serbia, was removed from power in 1858 by the members of the House of Obrenović. Since then, Alexander’s family had been living in exile.
He spent his childhood in Montenegro. His mother passed away in 1890. In 1894, Peter Karadjordjević relocated to Geneva with his surviving three children. It is there that Alexander received his elementary education. He then attended the imperial Page Corps in St Petersburg, Russian Empire. During this period, he developed a great relationship with the Russian throne.
In 1903, during the bloody coup d'état that came to be known as the May Overthrow, Peter and his followers deposed the rival House of Obrenović. King Alexander and Queen Draga were killed, and their bodies were dismembered. Thus, Peter I of Serbia reclaimed the throne for his family, becoming the king at the age of 58. He subsequently called back his two sons to be educated in Serbia.
When he was 15 years old, Alexander was put into the Serbian Army as a private by his father. Peter I told Alexander’s superior officers to only give him promotions when he demonstrated his worth.
In March 1909, Alexander was abruptly called back to Belgrade by his father with no clarification given other than he had a crucial declaration to make to his son.
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On March 27, 1909, Alexander’s older brother George stepped aside in his favor as the crown prince of Serbia. George was generally disliked by several powerful political and military figures. The death of his servant Kolaković after he kicked him in the stomach became the tipping point.
Alexander proved himself to be a capable commander during the Balkan Wars of 1912-13. He registered important victories at Kumanovo and Bitola against the Ottoman Empire in the First Balkan War. He pushed the Ottomans out of Kosovo and helmed the Serbian Army on a review on the historically-important Field of Blackbirds on October 28, 1912.
In the months after the First Balkan War, disputes became prominent among the victors over the sovereignty of Macedonia, and Serbia and Greece joined forces against Bulgaria. This ultimately led to the Second Balkan War. Alexander I of Yugoslavia served as one of the leaders of the victorious Serbian Army at the Battle of Bregalnica against the Bulgarians in mid-1913.
Following the conclusion of the Second Balkan War, Alexander I of Yugoslavia took part in the complex power struggle over the administration of Macedonia and triumphed over the faction led by Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijević "Apis”. Following this turn of events, Alexander’s father, King Peter, transferred all the royal powers to him in 1914, making him the prince regent of the Kingdom of Serbia.
At the advent of World War I, he served as the nominal supreme leader of the Serbian Army, but the real command was held by the chief of staff of Supreme Headquarters. Serbia was facing aggressors from all sides by the alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Bulgaria. On October 9, 1915, Belgrade fell to the invading Austro-German forces.
After being convinced by Field Marshal Radomir Putnik to maintain the strength of the Serbian Army for a future liberation of the homeland and not to squander it away in a fight in Kosovo, Alexander and his father led the retreat of the army through the gorges of Montenegro and northern Albania to the Greek island of Corfu, where it was restructured.
On October 31, 1918, Alexander I of Yugoslavia and his family finally returned to Belgrade in triumph. As prince regent, he declared the establishment of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes on December 1, 1918.
The nations under his control drastically differed from each other in politics and ethnicity, making the kingdom an extremely volatile state. Alexander survived an assassination attempt on June 28, 1921, the day that he took an oath to honor the constitution. Following the death of his father on August 16, 1921, Alexander became the King of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.
During the 1920s, political tensions quickly escalated and led to several reshufflings of the cabinet and resulted in the killings of several Croat deputies by a Montenegrin deputy during a Skupština (parliament) session on June 20, 1928.
The Croat members subsequently pulled out of Skupština. Unable to work out an acceptable agreement for restructuring the body or establish an effective government, Alexander dismissed it, nullified the constitution of 1921, and set up a royal dictatorship on January 6, 1929.
In order to bring his subjects together, Alexander renamed the country Yugoslavia on October 3, 1929. He banned all the political parties representing a particular ethnicity, religion, or region. He rebuilt the state administration and systematized legal systems, school curricula, and national holidays.
Furthermore, he attempted to alleviate financial issues of the peasantry, improve relations with Bulgaria in 1933, and entered his kingdom into the Little Entente with Czechoslovakia and Romania in 1920-21 and the Balkan Entente with Greece, Turkey, and Romania in 1934.
Through these measures, Alexander I of Yugoslavia ended up establishing a police state that needed military support to retain its power. The new constitution was introduced on September 3, 1931. Through it, the dictatorship was legitimized. Initially, Alexander’s actions garnered widespread support, but by 1932, a significant part of the country wanted to go back to democratic governance.
Marriage & Issue
On June 8, 1922, Alexander I of Yugoslavia exchanged wedding vows with Maria of Romania, the daughter of King Ferdinand I of Romania, in Belgrade. The couple had three sons: King Peter II (1923–1970), Prince Tomislav (1928–2000), and Prince Andrej (1929–1990).
Death & Succession
Due to the combined effect of the Great Depression and political discontent, most of Serbia believed that the return to democratic governance would be the best.
Alexander I of Yugoslavia was earnestly contemplating the restoration of the parliamentary form of government when he was killed during a state visit to France on October 9, 1934, in Marseille. He was 45 years old at the time. The assassin was Vlado Chernozemski, an affiliate of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization.
Alexander is interred at Oplenac, Topola, Serbia. After him, his son, Peter II, became the king of Yugoslavia.