Peter I
Peter I.jpg
King of Serbia
Reign 15 June 1903 – 1 December 1919
Coronation 21 September 1904
Predecessor Alexander I
Successor Alexander II
Spouse Princess Zorka
Issue Princess Helen
George, Crown Prince of Serbia
Alexander II
House House of Karadjordjević
Father Alexander Karađorđević
Mother Persida Nenadović
Born 29 June 1844(1844-06-29)
Belgrade, Serbia Civil Flag of Serbia
Died 16 August 1921(1921-08-16) (aged 77)
Corfu, Greece Hellenic Kingdom Flag 1935
Burial St. George′s Church
Religion Serbian Orthodox

Peter I (Serbian: Петар I Карађорђевић, Petar I Karadjordjević) (June 29, 1844 – August 16, 1921), was the King of Serbia from 1903 until his abdication in 1918. Peter Karadjordjević was a grandson of Karageorge, the founder of modern Serbia and a leader of the First Serbian Insurrection (1804-1813). Prince Peter was a third son of prince Aleksandar Karadjordjević, who ruled Serbia from 1842 to 1858, during the period of "Constitutionalist" After the death of his older brother, Peter became the head of the House of Karadjordjević.

Early life and exile (1844–1903)

File:Petar Karadjordjevic 1865.jpg

Prince Peter was born in Belgrade to Prince Alexander of Serbia and his consort, Princess Persida Nenadović. Prince Alexander, ruler of Serbia since 1842 abdicated in 1858 and took his son with him into exile in Wallachia, present-day Romania.

The young prince spent much of his exile in France, where he studied at the military academy École spéciale militaire de Saint-Cyr in Paris, promotion "Puebla" (1864). Prince Peter, known to his friends as "Pierre Kara" actively participated in the Franco-Prussian War of 1871 as a volunteer of the Foreign Legion Command, better known as the Legion étrangère. He was wounded in the battle near Orleans. Afterwards he managed to escape the Prussians by swimming across the Loire River.

During the Eastern Crisis (1875-1878) which started with the Serb uprising against the Ottoman Empire in 1875 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, he took on the name of a seventeenth-century Serbian hajduk Petar Mrkonjić of Ragusa, and joined as a leader of the guerrilla unit the Bosnian Serb insurgents. He had to leave the region at the insistence of then-prince Milan Obrenović, the ruler of Serbia, who saw Prince Peter Karadjodjević as a main rival to the throne of Serbia and feared his popularity among the Serbian people. Prince Peter married Princess Zorka of Montenegro, the oldest daughter of King Nicholas I, in 1883. They had five children: Helen in 1884, Milena in 1886, George in 1887, Alexander in 1888 and Andrew in 1890. Princess Milena died at the age of one in 1887, and Prince Andrew, the last child, died at birth along with his mother Princess Zorka. The Prince Peter spent ten years in Montenegro, and after the death of his wife moved to Paris and eventually settled in Switzerland. His two sons, George and Alexander were admitted to the corps of pages in Saint-Petersburg.

After long years in exile in Geneva, Switzerland, Prince Peter returned to Serbia in 1903, after King Alexander I Obrenović and his family were killed in a a military coup d'état. Alexander I had increasingly become unpopular by his pro-Austrian foreign policy and by his marriage. After 45 years in exile, the Karadjordjević dynasty regained the leadership of Serbia from the rival House of Obrenović: Prince Peter Karadjordjević, already proclaimed as a new king by the army conspirators, was elected as the King of Serbia by the Serbian Parliament and Senate two weeks later. He was crowned King of Serbia on September 21, 1904 in St. Michael's Cathedral and anointed on October 9, 1904.

Reign (1903–1918)

File:King Peter I after coronation, 21 September 1904.jpg

The Western-educated King attempted to liberalize Serbia with the goal of creating a Western-style constitutional monarchy. King Petar I became gradually very popular for his commitment to parliamentary democracy that, in spite of certain influence of military cliques in political life, functioned properly. The 1903 Constitution was a revised version of 1888 Constitution, based on the Belgian Constitution of 1831, considered as one of the most liberal in Europe.The governments were chosen from the parliamentary majority, mostly from People's Radical Party (Narodna radikalna stranka) led by Nikola P. Pašić and Independent Radical Party (Samostalna radikalna stranka), led by Ljubomir Stojanović. King Peter himself was in favor of a broader coalition government that would boost Serbian democracy and help pursue an independent course in foreign policy. In contrast to Austrophile Obrenović dynasty, King Peter I was relying on Russia and France, which provoked rising hostility from expansionist-minded Austria-Hungary. King Peter I of Serbia payed two solemn visits to Saint-Petersbourg and Paris in 1910 and 1911 respectively, greeted as a hero of both democracy and national independence in the troublesome Balkans.

The reign of King Peter I Karadjordjević from 1903 to 1914, is remembered as the "Golden Age of Serbia" or the "Era of Pericles in Serbia", due to the unrestricted political freedoms, free press, cultural ascendancy among South Slavs who finally saw in democratic Serbia a Piedmont of South Slavs. King Peter I was supportive to the movement of Yugoslav unification, hosting in Belgrade various cultural gatherings. Grand School of Belgrade was upgraded into Belgrade University in 1905.

King Peter I gained enormous popularity following the Balkan Wars in 1912 and 1913, which, from a Serb and South Slav perspective, were a great success, heralded by the spectacular military victories over the Ottomans, followed by the liberation of Old Serbia (Vilayet of Kosovo) and mostly Slavic-inhabited Macedonia (Vilayet of Monastir). The territory of Serbia was doubled and her prestige among South Slavs (Croats and Slovenes in particular, as well as among the Serbs in Austria-Hungary, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Vojvodina, Military Frontier, Dalmatia, Slavonia, etc.) grew significantly, with Peter I as the main symbol of this both political and cultural success. After the conflict between military and civilian representatives in the spring of 1914, King Peter chose to "retire" due to ill health, reassigning on 11/24 June 1914 his royal prerogatives to his second son Heir apparent Crown Prince Alexander.

The King, spending most of his time in various Serbian spas, remained relatively inactive during the First World War, although occasionally, when the military situation became critical, he visited trenches on the front-line to check up on morale of his troops. His visit to the firing line prior to the Battle of Kolubara in late 1914 boosted morale of the retreating Serbian forces and announced a counter-offensive and sparkling victory against numerically superior Austro-Hungarian forces. Another memorable visit in 1915 involved King Peter, by then 71, picking up a rifle and shooting at enemy soldiers. Following the invasion of Serbia by the joint forces of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria in October 1915, King Peter I led the army and tens of thousands of civilian refugees through the high mountains of Albania to the Adriatic sea on a 'Cavalry known to few peoples'. (R. Wolfson "Years of Change. European History 1890-1945").

After the dramatic retreat in harsh winter through hostile environment of Albanian highlands from Prizren to the Albanian littoral, that took more than 100,000 lives, the King and his army, exhausted by cold and famine, were eventually transported by the Allies, mostly French ships to Corfu in early 1916. The rest of the Great war King Peter I, already of very poor health, spent in Greece, at the island Corfu, which became a seat of Serbian government in exile until December 1918.

On December 1, 1919 King Peter I abdicated as part of the peace settlement with the Central Powers. King Peter remained in Greece where he died in 1921 at the age of 77. His body was returned to Belgrade and solemnly buried in his endowment in Oplenac, the Church of Saint George in the vicinity of Topola in Central Serbia, where his grandfather Karageorge, the founder of the dynasty, launched a large-scale insurrection against the Ottomans in 1804.


King Peter I is remembered for his modesty, moderation, ardent patriotism and attachment to Serbian democracy. His preference for the military as a backbone of dynasty support in Serbia was attributed to his military background. He was immensely popular throughout his reign and remains one of the Western Balkans's most popular leaders.

There is a modest monument dedicated to King Peter I of Serbia in Orléans, France, when he fought as a volunteer in the French army. A grand monument to King Peter, the Great Liberator, and his son Alexander II was solemnly inaugurated in 1936, at Porte de la Muette in Paris.

In Paris, an avenue off the Champs-Élysées is named after him, Avenue Pierre Ier de Serbie.

Titles, styles, and arms

Monarchical styles of
Peter I of Serbia
Coat of arms of Serbia
Reference style His Majesty
Spoken style Your Majesty
Alternative style Sir
  • June 29, 1844June 15, 1903: His Royal Highness Prince Peter Karađorđević of Serbia
  • June 15, 1903December 1, 1919: His Majesty The King of Serbia
  • December 1, 1919August 16, 1921: His Majesty King Peter Karađorđević

Peter I of Serbia
Born: June 29, 1844 Died: August 16, 1921
Regnal titles
Preceded by:
Alexander I of Serbia
King of Serbia
June 11, 1903 – December 1, 1919
Succeeded by:
Alexander II of Serbia

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