The Robinson Library
The Robinson Library >> General and Old World History >> Balkan Peninsula >> Yugoslavia >> General History

the first King of Yugoslavia

Prince Alexander was born in Cetinje, Montenegro, on December 16, 1888, the second son of Peter Karadjordjevic, King of Serbia, and Princess Zorka. He received his early education in Geneva, Switzerland, his secondary education in St. Petersburg, Russia, and his military training from the Russian Imperial Corps of Pages.

King Yugoslavia

Crown Prince

Alexander became Crown Prince in 1909, when his older brother George renounced his right to the throne, at which time he rejoined his family in Serbia.

As commander of Serbia’s First Army during the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913, Crown Prince Alexander was victorious in the battles of Kumanovo, Bitola, and Bregalnica.

Named Prince Regent by his father on June 24, 1914, Alexander automatically became Commander-in-Chief of Serbia's armed forces upon outbreak of World War I. The Serbian Army enjoyed victory against the Austro-Hungarian Army in 1914, but was unable to withstand attacks from Austro-Hungary, Germany, and Bulgaria in 1915. To insure its survival and ability to fight another day, the Serbian Army made a strategic withdrawal through Albania to the island of Corfu, where the Serbian Army was refitted and reorganized. Eventually redeployed to Salonika, Serbia played an important role in the victorious Allied offensive in October/November 1918, and Crown Prince Alexander led a victory parade into Belgrade on October 31, 1918.

Crown Prince Alexander’s military success during World War I was followed by his accomplishments as a statesman. On December 1, 1918, after a decree of the National Assembly and the National Council in Zagreb, he proclaimed creation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes.


Crown Prince Alexander became King Alexander I upon the death of his father on August 16, 1921. On June 8, 1922, he married Marie, a daughter of Ferdinand I of Romania, with whom he had three sons -- Crown Prince Peter, Prince Tomislav and Prince Andrej.

The first years of King Alexander's reign were marked by political instability, with the appointment and dismissal of a long string of government ministers. That instability came to a head on June 20, 1928, when several Croat deputies were murdered by a Montenegrin deputy during a Skupstina (Parliament) session, prompting the rest of the Croat delegation to withdraw from the body. Unable to negotiate a satisfactory compromise for restructuring the Skupstina or form an effective government, King Alexander dissolved the body, abolished the constitution, and established a royal dictatorship, on January 6, 1929.

Despite the political crisis, King Alexander still believed that the various ethnic groups within his country should be united, so on October 3, 1929 he changed the country's name to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. He also outlawed all political parties based on ethnic, religious, or regional distinctions; reorganized the state administration by establishing nine “banovinas” (provinces) named after major geographic features such as river valleys; and standardized legal systems, school curricula, and national holidays. His dictatorship was, in effect, given a legal foundation with the promulgation of a new constitution on September 3, 1931. In foreign affairs, King Alexander eased relations with Bulgaria, and engaged Yugoslavia in the Little Entente (with Czechoslovakia and Romania) and the Balkan Entente (with Greece, Turkey, and Romania). Despite the king's efforts, tensions remained high in Yugoslavia, and demands for a return to a democratic government had dramatically intensified by 1932, when a major economic crisis resulting from the worldwide depression added to political dissatisfaction.

On October 9, 1934, King Alexander and French Foreign Minister Monsieur Louis Barthou were riding through the streets of Marseilles, France, when their car was fired upon by Vlado Chernozemski. The king died at the scene, as did the driver; Barthou died several days later. It was subsequently determined that Chernozemski, who was killed by a French policeman at the scene, was an agent of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, which was seeking an independent Croat state. Following a huge public funeral in Belgrade, King Alexander was buried in the Mausoleum of the Church of St. George, which had been built by King Peter. In recognition of his accomplishments, the National Parliament and the Senate of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia subsequently proclaimed him King Alexander I The Unifier. As his eldest son was still a minor, Alexander's first cousin, Prince Paul, assumed the regency of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia until King Peter II assumed full control of the throne on March 27, 1941.

Encyclopędia Britannica
First World War
The Royal Family of Serbia

Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913
World War I
Ferdinand I

Questions or comments about this page?

The Robinson Library >> General and Old World History >> Balkan Peninsula >> Yugoslavia >> General History

This page was last updated on October 04, 2017.