Serbian Royalty: Individual Rulers

Figure 1.-- Here is Prince Milan on his death bed. He had just replaced his father. The entire Obrenovich fmily is here. Women on the right, men and boys on the left. The women in mourning wear black dresses. The men and boys wear dark suits. I think this reflects Victorian fashion rather than mourning. His father is the brother of the dead prince. [Bill I don't understand this sentence.] Behind Prinnce Milan is his father, former ruling Prince Milosch. The scene was painted by Jovan Isajlovi (1803-85). It is part of the collection of the Belgrade National Museum.

HBC in this section traces the Serbian royal family by each individual ruler. This is the format we have followed througout our HBRC site. The Balkans were part of the Roman Empire and then controlled for a time by the Byzabtines. Gradually independent kingdoms developed in the Balkans. We have little information about medieval Serbian rullers. The kingdom was conquered by the Ottomans ad the Serbs for nearly five centuries languished within the Ottoman Empire, cut off from the rest of Europe during the Renaisance, Reformation, and Enligtenment. We have more information on the two competing royal dynasties of the 19th and 20th centries. The Serbian royal family after World War I became the royal family of the new Yugsolav kingdom.

Byzantian Empire

The Byzantium Empire like the Western Roman Empire faced encursions from Barbarian tribes. The first Slav tribal leader to be noted by name was Antis who lived in steppes north of the mouth of the Danube at the beginning of the 6th century. The Slavs for centuries were vassals to the Byzantine Empire. Serbs were recognized as zupans within the Empire.

Independent Serb Kingdom

The Serbs by the second half of the 9th century had been converted to the Orthodox Christianity. Serb Zupans gradually achieved increasing levels of authorities within the Empire. A descendent, Stefan II, became King of Serbia in 1217 and was ancestor of Stefan Dushan (Urosh IV), who proclaimed himself Emperor of the Greeks and Serbs in 1346 (d 1355), father of the last male of this line, Stefan Urosh V, murdered in 1367. Stefan II also left an illegitimate son, Vuk, Prince of Zeta, whose great-great-granddaughter Milica mairred Lazar Grebelyanovich, who deposed Stefan Urosh V and was killed at the Battle of Kosovo Polje when the Serbs suffered a disatrous defeat at the hands of Turkish Sultan Murat I (1389).

Ottoman Empire

After the Battle of Kossovo Polje, the Ottomans gradually extended their rule over the Balkans and even threatened Vienna. The Ottomas allowed descendents of Lazar some degree of authority in a much diminsed Serb state. Unlike Christian kingdoms, the Ottomans did not supress other religions. Christain kingdoms repressed Islam and even other Christain denmoinatkions. Jews were barely tolerated in some kingdoms, forced to live in gettos, and expelled or forced to convert in othets. The Ottomans on the other hand, allowed Jews and Christians, the people of the Book, considerable fredom to discretely practice their religions. There were of course many advantages for converting to Islam. One Serbian Prince, Stefan Lazarevic, fights as a vassal of Sultan. Most Serbians remain Christian.

Competing Dynasties

The independence of the southern Slavs had been a dream for the centuries of Ottoman rule, despite their profound religious and cultural difference which continue in the countries formed from Yugoslavia today. The final steps toward independence from the Ottoman Empire resulted in the establishment of the Karageorgevitch dynasty which is now two centuries old. Actual Serbs founded the two dynasties. Most of the other Balkan kibgdoms that emerged in the 19th century were to have German monarchs. The Karageorgevitch dynasty was established during the Napoleonic era when the map of Europe was being redrawn. The Ottoman did not honor the terms of the Treaty and instead began to forcefully reimpose their rule, even in internal matters. After the assination of Karadjordje, a new leader arose-- Milosch Obrenovich. He founded the next dynasty of Serbian rulers--the Obrenovich. For 200 years these two families competed for the Serbian crown. This is somewhat of an anomaly in royal history because once a royal line isxreplaced, it tends not to return to power.

Djordje Petrovic--Karageorgevitch (1811-13)

A wealthy Serbian clan chief and merchant, Djordje Petrovic--known to his followers as Karadjordje (Black George, after his dark looks) --led the Serbs in an 1804 uprising against the Ottoman Empire that at the time controlled the Balkans. The revolt was largely caused by atrocities pepetrated by Ottoman Janizaries. Djordje forced defeated the Ottoman's in a series of engagements, eventually taking Belgrade (1807). Karadjordjevic's revolution was successful for a time. He established a government in Belgrade and during 1811 was confirmed as lawful ruler and the right of succession was vested his family. The Ottoman's did not, however, recognize Serbi's independence. Fighting continued for several years. The Russians hard pressed by Napoleon did not intervene or offer adequate support. Interestingly Napoleon whose armies marched all over Rurope, did not enter the Balkans. I am not sure precisely why, but because Russia was a major threat to Napoleon, he presumably did not to weaken this major threat to Russia. Finally the Serbs had to negotiate a treaty with the Ottomans, the Treaty of Bucharest (1812). The Ottomans guaranteed complete amnesty and granted a degree of internal self government. The Serbs had to accept Turkish soverignity. The Ottomans reentered Belgrade (1813). Karadjordje was forced to flee to Austria and was eventually assasinated. Apparently rebel leader Milos/Milosch Obrenovic was responsible. He sent Karadjordje's head to the sultan as a sign of his and Serbia's loyalty.

Prince Milosch--Obrenovich (1817- )

Despite his protestantions of loyalty to the Sultan, Milos Obrenovich led the next revolt against the Ottomans (1815). Serbian nobles meeting at Belgrade proclimed Milos Prince of Serbia (1817). Milos was recognized by he Ottoman Porte (1820). Two treaties were signed with the Ottomans. The Ottomans granted Serbia the right to elect its own princes (subject to the Ottomans) under the Peace of Adrianople (1829). The Ottomans also granted Serbia the right of internal self administration. This amounted to autonomy within the Ottoman Empire. The Serbs did agree to pay an annual tribute to the Porte. The Serbs also obtained religious freedom and the right to elect their bishops under the Treaty of Akerman (1826) and the Peace of Adrianople (1829). The Porte recognized Miloschas Serbia's hereditary prince (1830). The Ottoman's limited their military presence to Belgrade (1834). Milosch in an Europe that had been returned back to monarchy and varying degrees of absolutism by the Congress of Vienna (1815). Milosch himself was strongly influenced by Tsarist Russia with its absolutist regime. He thus ruled Serbia as an absolute monarch. A range of problems plagued the new Serbian principality. Part of the problem was Milos' inadequate administration and coruption. Another problem was the sometimes bloody rivalry between the Karadjordjevic and Obrenovic families. As part of the settlement with the Ottoman's, foreign countries were allowed to establish diplomatic missions in Belgrade. The result was foreign intervention in Serbian politics. There were some achievements under Milos. He stimulated trade, founded the Serbian education system by opening, and persued policies which benefitted the peasanatry. There was, however, no constitution or national assembly under Milos who rule auticratically. He also persued economic policies for his and his family's own personal profit, especially taking control of business monopolies. This gradually eroded the personal popularity he had acquired for his role in fighting the Ottomans. A revolt occurred forcing Milos to grant a constitution (1835). The Constitution among other provisions created a National Assembly showing the influence of the French Revolution. The Ottomans who were still the nominal soverigns objected to many provisions of the Constitution The Turkish Government attempted to replace the Constitution with a new Organic Statue (Ustav) (1838). Under the Ustav the National Assembly was disbanded and replaced with a more mnagfeable Senate. Milosch pledged to accept the Ustav. The Senate had substantial authority under the Ustav, but neither the Serbian people or Milos for different reasons found the Ottomon imposition acceptable. Another national uprising occurred which Milos could not control. He abdicated in favour of his eldest son Milan (1839).

Milan I--Obrenovich (1839)

Milan came to power when his father abdigated after disorders developed when the Sultan replaced the new National Assembly with a Senate they thought would be easier to control. We know vurtually nothing about Milan. And he died only 3 months after becoming hereditary prince. I think the painting here depicts his deat bed (figure 1).

Michael--Obrenovich (1839?-42)

Milan was suceeded by his younger brother Michael (1839?). Michasel had the same absolutist views as his father and proved to be not dictatorial, but largely imcompetent. Popular distisfaction forced him to abdicate (1842). He sought refuge in Austria.

Alexander--Karageorgevitch (1842-58)

The Serbs decided to return to the Karageorgevitch Dynasty. The National Assembly reconvened in Belgrade in defiance of the Ottomans (September 11, 1842). They elected the son of Karageorge, Alexander Karageorgevitch, Prince of Serbia. The Sultan confirmed him, but with a lesser title--Beschbeg (overlord). Alexander persued a pro-Austrian policy. His conservative regime did not prove popular and the pro-Austrian policies alientated the Russians. The Senate pushed for his abdication (1858). He fled to the Ottoman garrison in Belgrade. The National Assembly (Skupshtina) deposed him and labeled him a fugitive.

Milosch--Obrenovich (1858-60)

The National Assembly next returned again to the Obrenovich family. They recalled the elderly Milos who had earlier abdicated. He was 80 years old and died soon after in 1860.

Michael--Obrenovich (1860-68)

Milos was followed by his son Michael who had also been forced to abdicate earlier (1842). Michael proceeded to organize a Serbian Army inndefiance of the Sultan. The Porte's objection were ignored. This was an obvious step toward declaring full independence of the Ottoman Empire. Growing Serbian military potential and Austria pressure finally forced the Ottomans to withdraw their Belgrade military garrioson (1867). Despite this achievement, Michael was assasinated in Topschider Park (1868).

Milan II--Obrenovich (1868-89)

The Skupshtina (National Assembly) selected Milan Obrenovich to replace Michael. He was the sole surviving member of the Obrenovitch family. Milan at the timee was a Paris student and still a minor. He was hardly preared to rule tumultuous Serbia. A regency was established under Ristitch. The Regency implemented a new constitution. Christians in Bosnia and Herzegovina revolted against Ottoman authorities (1874). Milan now reining prince, decided that the time to declare independence had arrived. He declared a Great Serbia consisting of both Serbia itself and Bosnia Herzegovina. This meant war with the Ottomans which began (July 1876). The Serbians did not, however, achieve any success against the Ottoman forces. This changed with the outbreak of war between Russia and the Ottomans. While the Ottomans could contend with poorly equipped Balkan armies, the Russian Army was a very different matter. The Russo-Turkish War (1877-78) resulted in major Ottoman defeats. The Ottomans withdraing from the Balkans suffered several defeats at thehands of both the Bulgarians and Serbs. The Ottomans under the Peace of San Stefano (1878), the Sultan granted Serbia complete independence. Serbia also gained terrirtory in the south which was further expanded by the Congress of Venna organized by Bismarck (1878). Serbia for its part agreed to grant unconditional equality to all religious denominations (including Muslims) and to assume a portion of the Ottoman Empire's national debt. Milan formally proclaimed Serbian independence (August 21, 1878). Milan fomally took the title of king (March 6, 1882). One of his major iniatives was to try to seize land from Bulgaria. He chose a time when Bulgaria was locked in a dispute with the Ottomans. Bulgaria annexed Eastern Rumelia which the Ottomans were preparing to resist. The new Tsar, Alexander III had a personal atipathy toward Komg Alexander (of Battenberg). The Russians refused to support Bulgaria against the Turks. It was at this time that Muilan declared war on Bulgaria (1884). Unexpectedlkly the Bulgarians gained a victory at Slivnitza. Only Austrian interventin prevented a Bulgarian invasion of Serbia. Serbian political life at the time was divided between a pro-Russian and pro-Austrian party. Milan persued close relations with the Austrians especially after Austria intervention had prevented a Bulgarian invasion. Politically this proved o be a disaster when the Austrians occupied Bosnia and Herzegovina. This turned public opinion strongly against Astria. Russian agents incouraged Russophile parties to make difficulties for Milan. Financal difficulties resulting from mismanagement added to Milan's difficulties. If all of this was not bad enough, peronal problems with his wife Natalie surfaced. She was the daughter of a Russian Army officer. The metropolitan dssolved the marriage. These difficuies comminated in major election defeat (1888). The Liberal Party which had been Milan's major suppoters was badly defeated. The victorious Radical Party secured a more democratic constitution. Milan abdicated (March 6, 1889). He recognized his only son Alexander as his successor and left Serbia. As a final act he later renounced his Serbian citizenship (1892). One source suggests that Milan Obrenović had an affair with Jenny Churchill, Winston Churchill's mother. I'm not sure about the accuracy of this report.

Aleksandar--Obrenovich II (1889-1903)

Aleksandar was the son of Milan Obrenović IV. He was born August 14, 1876. He was only about 13 when his father abdicated. After his father's suprise abdication, the young Alexander was proclaimed King and a regency established under his mother, Natalija Obrenovic. Alexand was not eligible to rule until his majority when he reached age 18. As he grew older, he began to take increasing issue with his mother and the ministers she appointed. He decided not to wait until he reached age 18. While only 17 he staged in essence a coup d'état against his nother (1893). He declared his majority, dismissed his mother, and the ministers she had appointed. He seized personal control of the government. He appointed radical ministers. The young King's actions were well received by the Serbian public. But the young king would meet a trrible fate.

Peter I--Karageorgevitch (1903-21)

King Peter ruled during turbulent times. He was King of Serbia when nationalist passions were rising in the balkans--especially the desire for independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This resulted in the assasunation of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand and a Austo-Hungarian invasion to punish Serbia--leading to World War I (1914). Serbia successdfully resisted the Austrians, but were defeated when the Germans intervned. After the German defeat (1918), the Serbs were rewarded in the peace settlement, leading to the formation of Yugoslvia.


Yugoslavia is a short-lived country, an amalgamation of the southern Slavs. It was born in the peace settlement after Worlds War I which had begun with Austria's attempt to punish Serbia for the assasination of Arch Duke Fraz Ferdinand. The royal family of Serbia, the largest constituent of Yugoslavia, begame the royal family of the new Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia desintgigrated at the end of the Cold War, torn apart by nationalist sentiment in the constituent republics. The Yugoslavian monarchy has ended long before after the Communists under Tito seized power in 1945.


Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site royal pages:
[Return to the Main Serbian page]
[Return to the Main royalty page]
[Albania] [Austria] [Belgium] [Bosnia] [Bulgaria] [Croatia] [Denmark] [France] [Germany] [Italy] [Italy] [Luxemburg]
[Montenegro] [Monaco] [Netherlands] [Norway] [Romania] [Russia] [Spain] [Sweden] [United Kingdom] [Yugoslavia]

Created: December 8, 1998
Last updated: 2:35 AM 3/1/2008