Day in History: Assassination of Alexander I of Yugoslavia

  October 11, 2012 at 6:19 pm by

King Alexander and Queen Maria

On October 9, 1934 His Majesty King Alexander I of Yugoslavia was assassinated in Marseille during a state visit to France, along with the French Foreign Minister Louis Barthou. Alexander I was the first King of Yugoslavia, and the last King of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. His assassination was one of the first assassinations captured on film: the shooting occurred right in front of the cameraman.

Alexander was born on 16 December 1888. His father was King Peter I of Serbia and his mother – Princess Zorka of Montenegro (eldest daughter of King Nicholas of Montenegro). In 1922, Alexander married Princess Maria of Romania, daughter of King Ferdinand of Romania. Together, the couple had three sons: Crown Prince Peter (future Peter II of Yugoslavia), Prince Tomislav and Prince Andrej.

By the end of World War I, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia hadn’t yet come into existence. However, on 1 December 1918, Alexander received a delegation of the People’s Council of the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs. After an address was read by one of the delegation, Alexander made an address in acceptance. The historic date is considered to have been the birth of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.

King Alexander and Prince Tomislav

Three years later, in 1921, Alexander’s father died and he inherited the Throne. Although from then on the Kingdom was known as “Yugoslavia” all over the world, it de facto came into existence only 8 years later, when the King officially changed the name of the country from the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes to Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

In 1931, Alexander I decreed the 1931 Yugoslav Constitution, which gave the Monarch extensive powers, including the power to appoint half of the members of the Upper House of the Parliament, power of veto of any legislation, and a provision whereby a legislation passed by one of the houses could only become law if it were also approved by the Monarch. The King believed that the measures (called undemocratic and totalitarian by some) were necessary for his country to prosper.

Alexander I was also paid a great deal of attention to international affairs, and it was during a state visit abroad when he was assassinated. On 9 October 1934, he paid a visit to France, to strengthen the two countries’ alliance in the Little Entente. The alliance was important for both nations: the French viewed Yugoslavia as an important power in the region that could potentially counter the growing threat of Germany, while Yugoslavia needed allies to successfully protect its sovereignty.

The King and Louis Barthou

The King was bestowed every state honour available to the Third French Republic and given rapturous welcome by the public. He was greeted by the French Foreign Minister of the time, Louis Barthou. It was while the two were being driven in a car through the streets of Marseille when a gunman, Vlado Chernozemski, stepped from the crowds and fired over ten shots. Alexander and the chauffeur of the car died instantly; the King slumped backwards in the car seat, eyes open – a moment that was immortalised in film. Barthou was wounded in the arm and initially his condition was not considered life-threatening; unfortunately, he died later because of inadequate medical treatment.

At least 15 people were killed or wounded before Chernozemski – a Bulgarian member of the IMRO (Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization) – was stopped. The assassin was cut down by the sword of a French policeman, before the crowd took matters into its hands: Chernozemski was beaten by the enraged people and by the time the police managed to remove him from the scene, he was already dead.

The funeral of Alexander I in Belgrade

Alexander I was buried in the Memorial Church of St. George, which had been built by his father, with hundreds of thousands of people lining the streets along the funeral route to pay their respects. Because his son and heir, Peter II, was still a minor, Alexander’s cousin, Prince Paul of Yugoslavia, became Regent of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia until Peter came of age.

Alexander I was a much-loved Monarch. He led the Balkan War and World War I, and was instrumental in the unification of Southern Slavs into the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. In recognition of his efforts, the National Parliament named him Knight-King Alexander the Unifier.

The current claimant to the Throne of Serbia, Crown Prince Alexander II, is a grandson of Alexander I. Every year, the Serbian Royal Family pay their respect to the late King by attending a memorial service dedicated to him. This year was no exception: Crown Prince Alexander, Crown Princess Katherine, Hereditary Prince Peter and Prince Philip visited the tomb of Alexander I in Oplenac and and lit candles for their grandfather and great grandfather.

The film record of the King’s assassination remains one of the most important historical pieces of newsreel in existence, along with the funeral of Queen Victoria, coronation of Nicholas II and the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Assassination of Alexander I of Yugoslavia

Filed under Historical Royals, Serbia/Yugoslavia
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