Alexander I of Yugoslavia

Alexander I
King of Yugoslavia
Reign 6 January 1929 – 9 October 1934
Successor Paul (as Prince Regent)
Peter II
King of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes
Reign 16 August 1921 – 6 January 1929
Predecessor Peter I
Prince Regent of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes
Regency 1 December 1918 – 16 August 1921
Monarch Peter I
Prince Regent of Serbia
Regency 24 June 1914 – 1 December 1918
Monarch Peter I
Born (1888-12-16)16 December 1888
Cetinje, Montenegro
Died 9 October 1934(1934-10-09) (aged 45)
Marseille, France
Burial Royal Mausoleum Oplenac
Spouse Maria of Romania
Issue Peter II, King of Yugoslavia
Prince Tomislav
Prince Andrew
House Karađorđević
Father Peter I, King of Yugoslavia
Mother Zorka of Montenegro
Religion Eastern Orthodox
Styles of
Alexander I of Yugoslavia
Reference style His Majesty
Spoken style Your Majesty
Alternative style Sir

Alexander I (Aleksandar I Karađorđević, Serbian Cyrillic: Александар I Карађорђевић, pronounced [aleksǎːndar př̩ʋiː karad͡ʑǒːrd͡ʑeʋit͡ɕ]),[1] also known as Alexander the Unifier[2] (Aleksandar Ujedinitelj, Serbian Cyrillic: Александар Ујединитељ [aleksǎːndar ujedǐniteʎ],[1] 16 December 1888 [O.S. 4 December] 9 October 1934) served as a prince regent of the Kingdom of Serbia from 1914 and later became King of Yugoslavia from 1921 to 1934 (prior to 1929 the Kingdom was known as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes).

He was the last European monarch to be assassinated.

Early life

Alexander Karađorđević was born on 16 December 1888 in the Principality of Montenegro as the fourth child (second son) of Petar Karađorđević (son of Prince Alexander of Serbia who thirty years earlier in 1858 was forced to abdicate and surrender power in Serbia to the rival House of Obrenović) and Princess Zorka of Montenegro (eldest daughter of Prince Nicholas of Montenegro). Despite enjoying support from the Russian Empire, at the time of Alexander's birth and early childhood, the House of Karađorđević was in political exile, with different family members scattered all over Europe, unable to return to Serbia, which had recently been transformed from a principality into a kingdom under the Obrenovićes, who ruled with strong support from Austria-Hungary. The antagonism between the two rival royal houses was such that after the assassination of Prince Mihailo Obrenović in 1868 (an event Karađorđevićes were suspected of taking part in), the Obrenovićes resorted to making constitutional changes, specifically proclaiming the Karađorđevićes banned from entering Serbia and stripping them of their civic rights.

Alexander was two when his mother Princess Zorka died in 1890 from complications while giving birth to his younger brother Andrija, who also died only 23 days later.

Alexander spent his childhood in Montenegro; however, in 1894 his widower father took the four children, including Alexander, to Geneva where the young man completed his elementary education. Alongside his older brother George, he continued his schooling at the imperial Page Corps in St Petersburg, Russian Empire. In 1903 while young George and Alexander were in school, their father Petar along with a slew of conspirators managed to pull off a bloody coup d'état in the Kingdom of Serbia known as the May Overthrow in which King Alexander I Obrenović and his consort Queen Draga were murdered and viciously dismembered. The House of Karađorđević thus retook the Serbian throne after forty five years and Alexander's 58-year-old father became King Peter I of Serbia, prompting George's and Alexander's return to Serbia to continue their studies.

Becoming crown prince

Queen Maria with their children, Tomislav and Andrej

One of the key moments in Prince Alexander's life occurred on 27 March 1909 when his older brother Crown Prince George publicly renounced his claim to the throne after strong pressure from political circles in Serbia. George was long considered unfit to rule by many in Serbia including powerful political and military figures such as prime minister Nikola Pašić, as well as high-ranking officers Dragutin "Apis" Dimitrijević and Petar Živković who didn't appreciate the young man's impulsive nature and unstable, incident-prone personality. George was the perpetrator of the tragic incident in 1909 when he kicked his servant Kolaković in the stomach, causing the unfortunate man to die from the injury several days later. The incident served as the final straw. It grew into a huge scandal in the Serbian public as well as in the Austro-Hungarian press, which reported extensively on it, and 21-year-old Prince George was forced into renouncing his claim to the throne.

In 1910 Prince Alexander nearly died from stomach typhus and was left with stomach problems for the rest of his life.

Balkan Wars and World War I

A wartime postcard of Alexander

In the First Balkan War in 1912, as commander of the First Army, Crown Prince Alexander fought victorious battles in Kumanovo and Bitola, and later in 1913, during the Second Balkan War, the Battle of Bregalnica. After the Turks' withdrawal from Skopje, Prince Alexander was met with flowers by the local people. He stopped and asked 7-year-old girl, Vaska Zoicheva "What are you?" (Pa shta si ti?) When she replied "Bulgarian!" (Bugarka!), the prince slapped her. This event spread quickly around Bulgaria. In 1920 and 1921, Serbian authorities searched for girl's father, Danail Zoichev, and offered him money to announce the event as fictional, but he refused.[3][4][5][6]

In the aftermath of the Second Balkan War Prince Alexander took sides in the complicated power struggle over how Macedonia should be administered. In this Alexander bested Col. Dragutin Dimitrijević or "Apis" and in the wake of this Alexander's father, King Peter, agreed to hand over royal powers to his son. On 24 June 1914, Alexander became Regent of Serbia.

At the outbreak of World War I he was the nominal supreme commander of the Serbian army - true command was in hands of Chief of Staff of Supreme Headquarters - position held by Stepa Stepanović (during the mobilisation), Radomir Putnik (1914–1915), Petar Bojović (1916–1917) and Živojin Mišić (1918). The Serbian army distinguished itself in the battles at Cer and at the Drina (the Battle of Kolubara) in 1914, scoring victories against the invading Austro-Hungarian forces and evicting them from the country.

Alexander I (center right) shaking hands with Alexander of Greece (center left) on the Macedonian Front, 5 May 1918

In 1915, the Serbian army with the aged King Peter and Crown Prince Alexander suffered many losses being attacked from all directions by the alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria. It withdrew through the gorges of Montenegro and northern Albania to the Greek island of Corfu, where it was reorganized. After the army was regrouped and reinforced, it achieved a decisive victory on the Macedonian Front, at Kajmakcalan. The Serbian army carried out a major part in the final Allied breakthrough on the Macedonian Front in the autumn of 1918.

King of Yugoslavia

Royal Standard of the King

On 1 December 1918, in a prearranged set piece, Alexander, as regent, received a delegation of the People's Council of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs, an address was read out by one of the delegation, and Alexander made an address in acceptance. This was considered to be the birth of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.

In 1921, on the death of his father, Alexander inherited the throne of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, which from its inception was colloquially known both in the Kingdom and the rest of Europe alike as Yugoslavia.

On 8 June 1922 he married Princess Maria of Romania, who was a daughter of King Ferdinand of Romania. They had three sons: Crown Prince Peter, and Princes Tomislav and Andrej.

At response to the political crisis triggered by the assassination of Stjepan Radić, King Alexander abolished the Constitution on 6 January 1929, prorogued the Parliament and introduced a personal dictatorship (the so-called "January 6th Dictatorship", Šestojanuarska diktatura). He also changed the name of the country to Kingdom of Yugoslavia and changed the internal divisions from the 33 oblasts to nine new banovinas on 3 October.

In the same month, he tried to banish by decree the use of Serbian Cyrillic to promote the exclusive use of Latin alphabet in Yugoslavia.[7]

In 1931, Alexander decreed a new Constitution which transferred executive power to the King. Elections were to be by universal male suffrage. The provision for a secret ballot was dropped and pressure on public employees to vote for the governing party was to be a feature of all elections held under Alexander's constitution. Furthermore, the King would appoint half the upper house directly, and legislation could become law with the approval of one of the houses alone if it were also approved by the King.


Universal Newsreel's film about the assassination.
After the Ustaše's Velebit uprising in November 1932, Alexander said across an intermediary to the Italian government: If you want to have serious riots in Yugoslavia or cause a regime change, you need to kill me. Shoot at me and be sure you have finished me off, because that's the only way to make changes in Yugoslavia.[8]

As a result of the previous deaths of three family members on a Tuesday, Alexander refused to undertake any public functions on that day of the week. On Tuesday, 9 October 1934, however, he had no choice, as he was arriving in Marseilles to start a state visit to France, to strengthen the two countries' alliance in the Little Entente.[9] While Alexander was being slowly driven in a car through the streets along with French Foreign Minister Louis Barthou, a gunman — the Bulgarian Vlado Černozemski,[10] stepped from the street and shot the King twice and the chauffeur with a Mauser C96 semiautomatic pistol. Alexander died in the car, slumped backwards in the seat, with his eyes open.[11] Barthou was badly wounded in the arm but died later due to inadequate medical treatment.

It was one of the first assassinations captured on film; the shooting occurred straight in front of the cameraman,[12] who was only feet away at the time. While the exact moment of shooting was not captured on film, the events leading to the assassination and the immediate aftermath were. The body of the chauffeur (who had been killed instantly) became jammed against the brakes of the car, allowing the cameraman to continue filming from within inches of the King for a number of minutes afterwards.

The assassin was a member of the pro-Bulgarian Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO or VMRO) and an experienced marksman.[13] Immediately after assassinating King Alexander, Chernozemski was cut down by the sword of a mounted French policeman, and then beaten by the crowd. By the time he was removed from the scene, the King was already dead. The IMRO was a political organization that fought for secession of Vardar Macedonia from Yugoslavia and becoming independent, and the leader of the organization in that time was Ivan Mihailov.[14] IMRO worked in alliance with the Croatian Ustaše group led by Ante Pavelić.[12][15] Chernozemski and three Croatian accomplices had travelled to France from Hungary via Switzerland. After the assassination, Chernozemski's fellows were arrested by French police.[12] Although there is no final evidence that either Italian dictator Benito Mussolini or the Hungarian government were involved in the plot, the public opinion in Yugoslavia was that Italy had been crucial in the planning and directing of the assassination. The incident was later used by Yugoslavia as an argument to counter the Croatian attempts of secession and Italian and Hungarian revisionism.[12]

The film record of Alexander I's assassination remains one of the most notable pieces of newsreel in existence,[16][17] alongside the film of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia's coronation, the funerals of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. A 20th Century Fox newsreel presented by Lowell Thomas was manipulated in order to give the audience the impression that the assassination had been captured on film. Three identical gunshot sounds were added to the film afterwards, when in reality Chernozemski fired his handgun over ten times, killing or wounding a total of 15 people. A straw hat is shown on the ground, as if it belonged to the assassin, while in reality it did not. A Mauser C96 semi-automatic pistol with a 10-round magazine is shown as the assassination weapon, while the actual one had a 20-round magazine. The exact moment of assassination was never filmed.[18] Just hours later, Chernozemski died of the injuries inflicted on him by the crowd in the chaos.

The following day, the body of King Alexander I was transported back to the port of Split in Croatia by the Yugoslav destroyer JRM Dubrovnik. After a huge funeral in Belgrade attended by about 500,000 people and many leading European statesmen, Alexander was interred in the Memorial Church of St. George, which had been built by his father. The Holy See gave special permission to bishops Aloysius Stepinac, Antun Akšamović, Dionisije Njaradi and Gregorij Rožman to attend the funeral in an Orthodox church.[19] As his son Peter II was still a minor, Alexander's first cousin Prince Paul took the regency of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

Unknown to the public, King Alexander I had a large heraldic eagle tattooed over his chest.[20]

A ballistic report on the bullets found in the car was made in 1935, but the results were not made available to the public until 1974. They revealed that Barthou was hit by an 8 mm Modèle 1892 revolver round commonly used in weapons carried by French police.[21]


King Peter II 6 September 1923 3 November 1970 Princess Alexandra of Greece and Denmark Crown Prince Alexander (b. 1945)
Prince Tomislav 19 January 1928 12 July 2000 Princess Margarita of Baden
Divorced 1981
Prince Nikola (b. 1958)
Princess Katarina (b. 1959)
Linda Mary Bonney Prince George (b. 1984)
Prince Michael (b. 1985)
Prince Andrew 28 June 1929 7 May 1990 Princess Christina Margarethe of Hesse
Divorced 1962
Princess Maria Tatiana (b. 1957)
Prince Christopher (1960–1994)
Princess Kira of Leiningen
Divorced 1972
Princess Lavinia Maria (b. 1961) [22]
Prince Karl Vladimir (b. 1964)
Prince Dimitri (b. 1965)
Eva Maria Andjelkovich


In popular culture

The song "Don Juan" by British synth duo Pet Shop Boys (the B-side to their 1988 single "Domino Dancing") contains the phrase "King Zog's back from holiday, Marie Lupescu's grey and King Alexander is dead in Marseilles".(21)

In Upton Sinclair's historical novel, "Wide Is The Gate" (novel 4 in the Lanny Budd series published 1941) the assassination is attributed to the Nazi German government. The novel claims funds and a forged passport were obtained by the Croatian assassin from the head of German foreign policy department.

Titles, styles, honours and arms

Titles and styles


Serbian and Yugoslavian military decorations
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 Crown of Yugoslavia, Grand Master
Order of the Karađorđe's Star with Swords, Grand Master
Order of St. Sava, Grand Master
Serbian Service Medals
Gold Bravery Medal, 1912
Gold Bravery Medal, 1913
Commemorative Medal of the first Balkan War, 1912
Commemorative Medal of the second Balkan War, 1913
Commemorative Medal of the Election of Peter I as King of Serbia
Commemorative Medal of the Albanian Campaign
International and Foreign Awards
Order of Leopold, Grand Cordon (Belgium)
War Cross 1914-1918, (Belgium)
Order of Saints Cyril and Methodius, Collar (Bulgaria)
Order of St. Alexander with swords, Collar (Bulgaria)
Order of the White Lion, Collar (Czechoslovakia)
War Cross 1914-1918, (Czechoslovakia)
Order of the Elephant, Grand Cross (Denmark)
Legion of Honour, Grand Cross (France)
Médaille militaire, (France)
War Cross 1914-1918, (France)
Order of the Redeemer, Grand Cross (Greece)
War Cross 1914-1918, (Greece)
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)
Military Order of Savoy, Knight Grand Cross (Italy)
Order of the Wendish Crown, Grand Cross (Mecklenburg)
Order of Saint Peter of Cetinje, Knight (Montenegro)
Order of Prince Danilo I, Knight Grand Cross (Montenegro)
Order of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, Knight of the Collar (Orthodox Church of Jerusalem)
Order of the White Eagle, Grand Cross (Poland)
Order of Polonia Restituta, Grand Cross (Poland)
Order of Christ, Grand Cross (Portugal)
Order of Michael the Brave, 1st class (Romania)
Knight Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of Carol I[23][24] (Romania)
Order of St. Andrew, Collar (Russia)
Order of St. Alexander Nevsky, (Russia)
Order of the White Eagle, Grand Cross (Russia)
Order of St. George, 3rd class (Russia)
Order of St. George, 4th class (Russia)
Order of St. Anna, 1st class (Russia)
Order of Saint Stanislaus, 1st class (Russia)
Order of the White Elephant, Knight Grand Cordon (Siam)
Order of the Bath, Knight Grand Cross (United Kingdom)
Royal Victorian Order, Knight Grand Cross (United Kingdom)
King George V Coronation Medal (United Kingdom)

References and notes

  1. 1 2 Alternative pronunciations of 'Aleksandar' and 'I' are [alěksaːndar] and [pr̩̂ːʋiː], respectively.
  2. Passmore 2003, p. 104
  3. "Album-almanac Macédoine, ch. IX, p. 50 (p. 828 overall)"
  4. Ethnic Cleansing in the Balkans: Nationalism and the Destruction of Tradition, Cathie Carmichael, Routledge, 2003, ISBN 1134479530, p. 138.
  5. "For freedom and perfection. The Life of Yané Sandansky, Mercia MacDermott, Journeyman, London, 1988, p. 451"
  6. Contested Ethnic Identity: The Case of Macedonian Immigrants in Toronto, 1900-1996, Chris Kostov, Peter Lang, 2010, ISBN 3034301960, p. 77.
  7. Dangerous Decree, Time (magazine), 21 October 1929
  8. Marković 2003, p. 21.
  9. Matthew Graves, 'Memory and Forgetting on the National Periphery: Marseille and the Regicide of 1934' , PORTAL Journal of Multidisciplinary International Studies, Vol. 7, No. 1, January 2010
  10. The assassination was attributed to the Croatian Ustashi organization, mortal enemies of Serbian domination, but it was established that the actual assassin was Bulgarian, the IMRO member Tchernozemski, alias "Vlado the Chauffeur. Crown of Thorns: The Reign of King Boris III of Bulgaria, 1918-1943, Stephane Groueff, Madison Books, 1998, ISBN 1461730538, p. 224.
  11. "ASSASSINATION OF KING ALEXANDER - Vivid pictures from the scene of the tragedy at Marseilles.". British Pathe. Retrieved 8 July 2013.
  12. 1 2 3 4 Moll, Nicolas (2012). "Kampf gegen den Terror" [Fight against the Terror]. Damals (in German). No. 6. pp. 72–77.
  13. "The suicide-assassin from VMRO was Vlado Cernozemski, who on orders from Mihajlov and his ethno-national VMRO, which was defined as Bulgarian, killed the Yugoslav king Alexander I Karadzordzevic and the French Minister of Foreign Affairs Louis Bareau in Marseilles in 1934." New Balkan Politics, Issue 6, 2003, Stefan Troebst, Historical Politics and Historical "Masterpieces" in Macedonia before and after 1991.
  14. "Collective Memory, National Identity, and Ethnic Conflict: Greece, Bulgaria, and the Macedonian Question," Victor Roudometof, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002, ISBN 0275976483, p. 99: In the aftermatch of the WWI the conservative (pro-Bulgarian) fraction of the IMRO was reconstructed under the leadership of Todor Alexandrov... This IMRO developed an agenda for an autonomous Macedonia, as it was a way for an unification with Bulgaria... Ivan Mihailov and Alexander Protogerov, who assumed IMRO's leadership in the wake of Todor Alexandrov's death (1924), retracted their support for an independent Macedonia and moved toward that would be their old position of autonomy. By 1928, Mihailov, who had emerged as the key leader of the group proposed a new plan calling for unification of a pre-1913 Macedonia region into a single state, that would be autonomous from Bulgaria. By 1931, Mihailov, with Italian support, broke his ties with the Bulgarian government and began to operate as a semi-autonomous agent, wishing to create a Macedonian state that would be under his personal control.
  15. "Infamous Assassinations-King Alexander". UKTV History. Retrieved 17 June 2012.
  16. Documentary film The Assassination of the Yugoslavian king Alexander in 1934 on YouTube
  17. Documentary film The Assassination and the Funeral of the Yugoslavian king Alexander in 1934 on YouTube (Bulgarian)
  18. Verschollene Filmschätze 1934 Das Attentat auf König Alexander I. von Jugoslawien on YouTube (German)
  19. "The Dictatorship of King Alexander and the Roman Catholic Church 1929-1934" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-12-29.
  20. Blic, Kralj Aleksandar imao tetovažu velikog orla, 29. 03. 2012
  21. de Launay, Jacques (1974). Les grandes controverses de l'histoire contemporaine 1914-1945. Edito-Service Histoire Secrete de Notre Temps. p. 568.
  22. Born while her father was still married to Princess Christina of Hesse (thus making it necessary for him to adopt her legally on 15 February 1965, after marrying her mother)
  1. ^ "The first central committee of IMRO. Memoirs of d-r Hristo Tatarchev", Materials for the Macedonian liberation movement, book IX (series of the Macedonian scientific institute of IMRO, led by Bulgarian academician prof. Lyubomir Miletich), Sofia, 1928, p. 102, поредица "Материяли за историята на македонското освободително движение" на Македонския научен институт на ВМРО, воден от българския академик проф. Любомир Милетич, книга IX, София, 1928.
  2. Farley, Brigit, "King Aleksandar and the Royal Dictatorship in Yugoslavia," in Bernd J. Fischer (ed), Balkan Strongmen: Dictators and Authoritarian Rulers of Southeastern Europe (West Lafayette, IN, 2007) (Central European Studies), 51-86.

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Alexander I of Yugoslavia.
Alexander I of Yugoslavia
Born: 16 December 1888 Died: 9 October 1934
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Peter I
King of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes
16 August 1921 6 January 1929
Proclaimed King of Yugoslavia
New title King of Yugoslavia
6 January 1929 9 October 1934
Succeeded by
Peter II
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