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Alexander II
King of Serbia
Reign 12 December 1941 – 24 February 1974
Predecessor Pavle I Karađorđević
Successor Peter II Karađorđević
Spouse Maria of Romania
Issue
Peter II
Prince Tomislav
Prince Andrew
House House of Karađorđević
Father Peter I of Serbia
Mother Zorka of Montenegro
Born 16 December 1888
Cetinje, Montenegro Flag of the Principality of Montenegro.svg
Died 24 February 1974 (aged 85)
Belgrade, Serbia State Flag of Serbia (1882-1918).svg
Burial Oplenac
Religion Serbian Orthodox

Alexander II, also known as Alexander II Karađorđević (Serbian: Aleksandar II Karađorđević/Александар II Карађорђевић; 16 December 1888 – 24 February 1974) served as a prince regent of the Serbia from 1914 to 1918 and later became King of Serbia from 1941 to 1974.

Early life

Alexander Karađorđević was born on 16 December 1888 in the Principality of Montenegro as the fourth child (second son) of Peter 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 Obrenovićs, 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 Karađorđevićs were suspected of taking part in), the Obrenovićs resorted to making constitutional changes, specifically proclaiming the Karađorđevićs 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 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, Russia. The British historian R. W. Seton-Watson described Alexander as becoming a Russophile during his time in St. Petersburg, feeling much gratitude for the willingness of the Emperor Nicholas II to give him a refuge, where he was treated with much honor and respect. As a page, Alexander was described as hard-working and determined while also being a "loner" who kept to himself and rarely showed his feelings. Being a Karađorđević led to Alexander being invited by Nicholas II to dinner at the Winter Palace, where he was the guest of honor at meals hosted by the Russian imperial family, which was a great honor for a prince from Serbia's deposed royal family. During his time in St. Petersburg, Alexander visited the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, where the abbot gave Alexander an icon of Prince Alexander Nevsky and guided him to the grave of Marshal Alexander Suvorov. After his visit to the monastery, Alexander expressed the wish to be a great general like Marshal Suvorov or Prince Alexander Nevsky, saying he wanted to be command either a great army or a great armada when he was a man.

In 1903, while young George and Alexander were in school, their father and a slew of conspirators pulled off a bloody coup d'état in the Kingdom of Serbia known as the May Overthrow in which King Alexander and Queen Draga were murdered and dismembered. The House of Karađorđević thus retook the Serbian throne after forty-five years and Alexander's 58-year-old father became King of Serbia, prompting George's and Alexander's return to Serbia to continue their studies. After Alexander's 15th birthday, King Peter had Alexander enlisted into the Royal Serbian Army as a private with instructions to his officers to only promote his son if he proved worthy. On 25 March 1909, Alexander was suddenly recalled to Belgrade by his father with no explanation offered other then he had an important announcement for his son.

Becoming crown prince

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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 killed his servant Kolaković by kicking him in the stomach, which 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. In the run-up to the First Balkan War, Alexander played the role of a diplomat, visiting Sofia to meet Tsar Ferdinand of Bulgaria for secret talks for a Balkan League, which was intended to drive the Ottomans out of the Balkans. Both Bulgaria and Serbia had rival claims to the Ottoman region of Macedonia, and the talks with Ferdinand, known as "Foxy Ferdinand" due to his cunning, were difficult. Together with Ferdinand's son, Crown Prince Boris (the future Tsar Boris III), Alexander traveled to St. Petersburg to see Nicholas II to ask for Russian mediation on certain points that were dividing the Serbs and Bulgarians. In March 1912, Serbia and Bulgaria signed an alliance that was later joined by Greece.

Balkan Wars and World War

File:Serbian Crown Prince Alexander (HS85-10-34006).jpg

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. One of Alexander's most cherished moments came when he drove the Ottomans out of Kosovo and on 28 October 1912 led the Serb Army on a review on the Field of Blackbirds. The Field of Blackbirds was where the Serbs under Prince Lazar had been defeated in a legendary battle by the Ottoman Sultan Murad I on 28 June 1389 and is regarded by the Serbs as holy ground. It was a great honor for him to pay his respects to the Serbs who had fallen on the Field of Blackbirds in 1389. Later in 1913, during the Second Balkan War, Alexander commanded the Serb Army at the Battle of Bregalnica.

After the Turks' withdrawal from Skopje (most of whom had left after the Albanian Revolt of 1912), Prince Alexander was met with flowers by the local people. He stopped and asked a seven-year-old girl, Vaska Zoicheva, "What are you?" (Pa shta si ti?) When she replied "Bulgarian!" (Bugarka!), the prince slapped her. This news of the event spread quickly around Bulgaria. In 1920 and 1921, Serbian authorities searched for the girl's father, Danail Zoichev, and offered him money to renounce the event as fictional, but he refused.

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 Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijević "Apis" and in the wake of this Alexander's father, King Peter, agreed to hand over royal powers to his son. Though Colonel Dimitrijević was the mastermind of the 1903 coup that had restored the House of Karađorđević to the Serbian throne, Alexander distrusted him, regarding his attempts to set himself up as a "kingmaker" and to have the Serbian Army be a "state within the state" existing outside of civilian control as a major threat. Additionally, Alexander saw Dimitrijević as an irresponsible intriguer who having betrayed one king might always betray another. In January 1914, the Serbian prime minister Nikola Pašić sent a letter to the Emperor Nicholas II in which King Peter expressed a desire for his son to marry one of the daughters of Nicholas. Nicholas in his reply stated that his daughters would not be forced into arranged marriages, but noted Alexander on his most recent trips to St. Petersburg had during dinners at the Winter Palace kept giving loving looks at the Grand Duchess Tatiana, leading him to guess that it was Tatiana whom Alexander wanted to marry. On 24 June 1914, Alexander became Regent of Serbia.

File:154 4 Alexandre dur les terres serbes reconquises.jpg

Prince Regent Alexander I on the Macedonian Front in 1916.

At the outbreak of the World War he was the nominal supreme commander of the Serbian army; true command was in the hands of the Chief of Staff of Supreme Headquarters, a 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. However, the Serbian Army suffered major shortages of equipment with a third of the men called up in August 1914 having no rifles or ammunition and new recruits being advised to bring their own boots and clothing as there were no uniforms for them. Alexander ordered the Serbian police to conduct searches of houses all over Serbia to see if there were any rifles and ammunition to be seized for the army.

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Regent Alexander and Raymond Poincaré on 1916.

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. On 7 October 1915 an Austro-German army group under the command of Field Marshal August von Mackensen invaded Serbia and after encountering fierce resistance took Belgrade on 9 October. On 14 October 1915 Bulgaria invaded Serbia and on 16 October the Bulgarians took Niš, severing the railroad that linked Serbia to Salonika in Greece. Being attacked from the north by the Austrians and the Germans and from the south by the Bulgarians, the Serbs by 25 November 1915 had been forced into the Kosovo region. The massacres committed by the Austrians in 1914 when they invaded Serbia twice caused enormous panic and hundreds of thousands of Serbs fled their homes to escape the Austrians, which greatly delayed the movement of the Serb Army. Field Marshal Radomir Putnik persuaded Crown Prince Alexander and King Peter that it was better to keep the Serb Army intact to one day liberate Serbia rather to stand and fight in Kosovo as many Serb officers wanted.

File:Prince Aleksandar with officers.jpg

Regent Alexander with high officers watching military positions during battle of Kaymakchalan in 1916.

File:186 12Alexandre et médecin chef devant un amputé russe.jpg

Regent Alexander I visits wounded on the Macedonian Front in 1917.

The Serbian Army withdrew through the gorges of Montenegro and northern Albania to the Greek island of Corfu, where it was reorganized. The march across the Prokletije ("accursed") mountains was a harrowing one as the Serb Army together with a mass of refugees had to cross mountains that rose to 3, 000 feet high in the middle of winter with the average daily temperature being -20° with the armies of Austria, Germany and Bulgaria in pursuit. Many Serbs died along the way as one Serb soldier wrote in his diary how the refugees rested by the side of the road were: "Immobilized by the snow their heads rest to their breasts. The white snowflakes dance around them while the alpine winds whistle their songs of death. The heads of horses and oxen which have fallen protrude from the snow". As the Serbs braved the icy winds and snowdrifts, the only consolation for Alexander was that the winter weather was also delaying the German, Austrian and Bulgarian armies under the command of Field Marshal von Mackensen that were pursuing his army. Upon reaching the sea, the surviving Serbs who numbered about 140,000 were rescued by British and French ships, which took them to Corfu. In September 1915, the Royal Serbian Army was estimated to have the strength of about 420,000 men, of whom 94, 000 had been killed or wounded while another 174,000 had been captured or were missing during the fall campaign in 1915 and the subsequent retreat to the sea. The losses taken by Serb civilians during the autumn campaign in 1915 together with the retreat to the sea have never been calculated, but are estimated to be massive. Serb losses as a percentage of the population were the greatest of any belligerent in the war.

In the fall of 1916, Alexander's long-standing dispute with the Black Hand group came to a head, when Colonel Dimitrijević began to criticize his leadership. Alexander promptly had officers who were members of the Black Hand arrested in December 1916 and tried for insubordination; after their convictions, Dimitrijević and several other Black Hand leaders were executed by firing squad on 23 June 1917. After the army was regrouped and reinforced, it achieved a decisive victory on the Macedonian Front, at Kajmakcalan. The Serbian army was preparing a major offensive on the Macedonian Front when news came of the armistice in the late summer of 1918.

Deposition and exile

File:1920 Alexander I of Yugoslavia.png

Regent Alexander I for the first time visit Sarajevo in 1920.

During the peace conference, Crown Prince Alexander remained on the Macedonian Front with the Royal Serbian army. On 1 December 1918, Alexander came into conflict with the prime minister Nikola Pašić, who asked him to relinquished power, and Pašić was dismissed when Alexander refused. Alexander appointed Stojan Protić as prime minister. As the conference continued Alexander was viewed as an obsticle to Serbian independence. Even after the armistice, Alexander's hope of launching the planned offensive was revealed as unrealistic when, Vojvoda Živojin Mišić, had informed him that the officers and men of the army would not be able to fight without Entente support.

On 25 February 1919 Alexander accepted that he would have to give up the regency, but only on the condition that he retain his status as Crown Prince, and power was transfered to his uncle Prince Arsen.

Titles, styles, honours and arms

Titles and styles

  • 16 December 1888 – 15 Jun 1903: Prince Alexander Karađorđević
  • 15 Jun 1903 – 27 March 1909: His Royal Highness Prince Alexander of Serbia
  • 27 March 1909 – 29 August 1921: His Royal Highness The Crown Prince of Serbia
  • 30 August 1921 – 12 December 1941: His Royal Highness Prince Alexander of Serbia
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