Who's Who - King Alexander I

Photograph of King Alexander I King Alexander I of Yugoslavia (1888-1934) lived a turbulent life as Crown Prince, Regent, Commander in Chief and finally King of Serbia and, latterly, Yugoslavia.

Born on 16 December 1888 in Cetinje, Montenegro, Alexander Karadjordjevic was the second son of King Peter I, who came to power as constitutional monarch of Serbia in the violent coup of 1903 that saw the downfall of the Obrenovic dynasty.

After spending his formative years in exile in Geneva with his father, Alexander entered the Russian imperial corps in 1904, at St. Petersburg.  With his older brother George's decision in 1909 to renounce his position as heir to the Serbian throne, Alexander became Crown Prince and returned to Serbia where his father was by now King.

Having served with distinction in the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, Alexander found himself appointed Regent on 24 June 1914, a position variously accredited to his father's ill-health and to compunction forced upon King Peter by the Serbian military high command.

At this time there was some question of Alexander's name being linked to the Serbian Black Hand secret society (a member of whom, Gavrilo Princip, was responsible for the assassination of Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28 June 1914).

The First World War broke out shortly afterwards and Alexander took up a role as Serbia's nominal Commander in Chief, although the vastly more experienced Field Marshal Putnik retained effective control of the army.

Serbia's spirited and successful defence in 1914 against the manifestly stronger and better-equipped Austro-Hungarians, led by Oskar Potiorek, took on an epic quality.  However, the Austro-Hungarians' second planned invasion, launched in October/November 1915 with the combined forces of Austria-Hungary, Germany and Bulgaria, led by August von Mackensen, saw the Serbian army of 90,000 swept out across the wintry Albanian mountains and into exile at Corfu.

Once in Corfu Alexander, who had effectively been subservient to his Prime Minister, Pasic, and to Putnik (who, gravely ill, was relieved of command at Corfu), re-asserted his leadership of the Serbian people.  Alexander oversaw reform of the army which, redeployed to Salonika, played an important role in the victorious Allied offensive in October/November 1918.

In the intervening years between his arrival at Corfu and success at the close of the war, Alexander continuously lobbied the Allied governments to encourage the creation of a 'Greater Serbia' after the war, to include Croatia and Slovenia.

On 1 December 1918 a Greater Serbia was indeed proclaimed, as King Peter was declared head of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (click here to read the text of an address by Alexander to the Yugoslav Committee on the subject).  With his succession to the throne on 16 August 1921 the Crown Prince became King Alexander I; and on 3 October 1929 he changed the name of the country to Yugoslavia.

Dissension and violent turmoil marked the years of the 1920s, as Croat nationalists (among others) protested against Serbian dominance of the newly created state.  On 6 January 1929 Alexander abolished parliament and the constitution and established a dictatorship, unable to appoint a cohesive government from among the numerous squabbling political factions.  However he continued in his attempts to unify the various elements of his country, outlawing ethnic, religious or regional based political groups.

In September 1931 Alexander legalised Yugoslavia's military state.  In 1933 he improved relations with Bulgaria and brought Yugoslavia into the Little Entente with Czechoslovakia and Romania, and into the Balkan Entente with Greece, Turkey and Romania, in 1934.

Public demand for a return to democratic government grew during 1932 with a downturn in the country's economic position.  Alexander was considering restoring a form of parliamentary government when, on 9 October 1934, while on a state visit to France, he was assassinated in Marseilles by a Macedonian activist (allegedly acting with Croat separatists).  He was survived by his wife Marie, a daughter of Romania's Ferdinand I, whom he married on 8 June 1922.

"Plugstreet" was British slang to describe the Belgian village of Ploegsteert.

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