Tuesday, August 16, 2011

King Peter of Serbia is dead

August 16, 1921

The Associated Press is reporting the death of King Peter of Serbia.   He had been ill for some months, and in June, he was reported to be suffering from pleurisy, and was said to be in "serious condition."

Several days ago, a dispatch was issued in Belgrade, stating that the "aged king" was "seriously ill with congestion of the lungs" He "sank into unconsciousness," and his condition worsened and "failed until the end."

Peter Karageorgevich came to the throne "comparatively late in life" as King Peter I of Serbia, following the assassination of King Alexander I, of the rival Obrenovitch line.    His reign was marked by the "shaking off" of Austrian influence on Serbia, and the "constant triumphs in the wars of 1912 and 1913, followed by the attack on Austria, "which led to the general European war."

King Peter was born in Belgrade on June 29, 1844, the son of Prince Alexander, whose father Kara George, was the then ruler in Serbia.  He was educated in Geneva at the French military academy at St. Cyr.  He also served in the French Foreign Legion. 

Under an assumed name, Peter led the revolt of the Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The rebellion was thwarted by the Turks.  The following year, Serbia declared war on Turkey.  Peter offered his services to King Milan Obrenovitch "with the promised that he would undertake no anti-dynastic action."

King Milan declined the offer.  Peter played no role in Serbia's unsuccessful war against Turkey, and he spent the next thirty years in exile in Montenegro, Switzerland, and Paris.   In 1883, he married Princess Zorka, the eldest daughter of King Nikola in Montenegro.  They lived in Paris until Zorka died in 1890.

Following the murders of King Alexander Obrenovich and Queen Draga in 1903, the Serbian throne was vacant.  Alexander had been unpopular largely because many thought he "was too strongly under Austrian influence."   Although Peter denied emphatically that he had no foreknowledge of the murders, "opinion generally seized upon the fact" that he was the "one who profited by crime -- for he accepted the offered throne four days later -- and held him responsible."  This idea was largely fomented by Austrian propaganda, as Peter was sympathetic to Russia.  His sons were educated in Russia, and not Austria.

After he accepted the throne, Great Britain broke off diplomatic relations with Serbia, and "refused to send a minister" for some years.  Europe's sovereign's treated Peter as a pariah.

In Serbia, Peter was seen in a more positive light as his "rule was beneficent to Serbia."  He "respected the constitution, fostered the national spirit" but continued to maintain "great caution" when Austria annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908, thus avoiding a "suicidal war."

He was a "constitutional ruler," and because of his age, "he played no great personal part in the two Balkan wars."  Nor did he have a major role in the "diplomatic negotiations by which the Balkan allies were cheated of part of their conquests.

Austro-Serbian relations deteriorated further following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914.  The elderly Peter named his son, Crown Prince Alexander, as Regent only three days before the assassination.  Although Alexander now fulfilled the functions of the Crown, Peter, following the evacuation of Belgrade, visited the front trenches at Valjavo. 

A year later, Serbia "was crushed by the combined German-Austro-Hungarian-Bulgarian onslaught."  Peter "shared the incredible hardships of his army's retreat in Albania."  He spent time in exile in Italy with his brother-in-law, King Vittorio Emanuele.  For a time, he was also a guest of the Greek government.

It was only after Bulgaria's defeat by the Allies, King Peter returned to Belgrade, where he remained, as his health continued to fail.

King Peter is succeeded by his son, King Alexander I.

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