Henry Neville Hutchinson
ALEXANDER, King of Servia, born on August 14 (New Style), 1876, is the son of the late King Milan of Servia (who abdicated in his son’s favour on March 6, 1889, and died on February 11, 1901), and of Queen Nathalie, a daughter of Colonel Keschko of the Russian army. He succeeded under a Regency, and attained his majority on April 13, 1893, being then in his seventeenth year. On August 5, 1900, he married the widowed Madame Draga, born on September 23, 1867, who had been lady-in-waiting to his mother, Queen Nathalie. The population of the country is about 2,500,000, and the King’s Civil List is 1,200,000 dinars, or £ 47,500, reckoning the dinar at 9½d. The army is estimated at 300,000 men.
The founder of the dynasty of Obrenovitch, of which the present King is the fifth, was one Milosh, of humble origin, born in 1780, who took the name of Obrenovitch after his step-father. He was the leader of the Servians in the war of insurrection (1815-1829) against the Turks, who had ruled them ever since 1459. By the terms of the Treaty of 1829 the Turkish Government was compelled to grant virtual independence to Servia, and Milosh T. Obrenovich, a man of great capabilities, was acknowledged Prince of Servia, and by a subsequent Firman of the Sultan the dignity was made hereditary in his family. At his death in 1860, he was succeeded by his son, Prince Michael Obrenovitch, who only lived till 1868, and was followed by the late ruler, King Milan, the great-nephew of the founder of the dynasty. The complete independence of Servia was established by the treaty of Berlin in 1878 and proclaimed by Prince (afterwards King) Milan in the same year.
When Milan married Nathalie Keschko, then only sixteen, she was considered to be one of the most beautiful and fascinating women in Europe, and he was ardently in love with her. However, with her husband's lax morals it was impossible that she should find happiness, and the quarrels of the royal couple were discussed openly not only at Belgrade, where the Court formed two distinct parties, but indeed all over Europe.
Those who have the privilege of knowing King Alexander personally declare him to be a ruler of considerable ability, and keenly desirous of learning all that goes on within his dominions. With this object in view he travels a good deal in his country, sometimes staying at the Government House of the town, or with his subjects at their large country-houses. On these occasions he waives formalities as far as possible, and takes every opportunity of talking with his people, especially with the old men, in order that he may learn the history of the villages thoroughly. In manner the King is very pleasant and courteous, and he is also a good public speaker. The writer has been told by one who knows, that – so great is his knowledge of the Servians – he is personally acquainted with every prominent man in the country, more particularly with the 2000 officers in the Servian army, with which he has been connected from his youth, and the interests of which he has largely at heart, being thoroughly versed in military matters. Quick-firing guns are about to be introduced, and the army already has Mauser rifles with improvements which are the invention of a Servian.
King Alexander’s daily life may be briefly summed up as follows: – He begins his official duties about 9 A.M., and from then till 1 o’clock there is a continual coming and going of officers of the household and of the army, and officers of State. He also gives audiences to those of his subjects who have grievances to lay before him. People who come to see his Majesty are frequently invited to stay to lunch in order that subjects previously discussed may be resumed at the table. Following the afternoon drive in the park of Toptchider, there is another reception of the Ministers, and a Cabinet Council is held twice every week. On Sundays Divine Service is celebrated in the King’s private chapel, but on Palm Sunday, or on his birthday, at the Cathedral. His Majesty, like nearly all his subjects, belongs to the Orthodox Greek Church. In summer he often pays a surprise visit to the troops of the garrison, and inspects them. His chief outdoor recreations are shooting, driving, riding, and cycling. He does not smoke, but plays billiards.
Receptions are held at Nisch on the King’s birthday, and on March 6 (New Style), the anniversary of his accession to the throne; also on Palm Sunday. To these, generals and officers of the army are invited as well as Ministers of State, and certain special guests. A ball is given on New Year’s Eve (Old Style), and there are also smaller entertainments, musical and theatrical, in which Servian singers, musicians, and actors generally take part, though sometimes a foreign artist or actor is summoned. The King also entertains diplomatists to dinner about once every two months.
Hospitals and benevolent societies of all kinds are generously supported out of his Majesty’s Civil List. He also gives many prizes to the Belgrade University and to schools. Old servants of the royal household are well cared for, and have pensions allowed them.
Queen Draga is said to be a clever, capable woman, judicious in the use of power, and desirous of doing her best for the happiness of the Servian people. In contrast to the many rumours and insinuations about the King and Queen of Servia, the following passages from an interview granted to a correspondent of the New York Herald, quoted in the Times of January 31, 1902, may be of interest. His Majesty spoke as follows: –
“You may declare on my behalf that all the rumours concerning my abdication, or that there exists any agitation in my country in reference to the successor to the throne, are absolutely false, and can only come from systematic enemies of my dynasty, or from people whose brains are deranged. Such rumours are totally fantastic, and just as probable as would be a report that I ate human flesh, or that the people in the streets of Belgrade had wings.” When asked a question with regard to the succession, his Majesty referred to his declaration before the Assembly at Nisch in reply to an address presented to him, on which occasion he had declared that he did not consider the question one of urgency. “Is there common sense, I ask you,” said the King, “at my age and that of the Queen, in the suggestion that there will not be a successor? In the circumstances, I cannot admit the question at all.” The interviewer then put a question to his Majesty with regard to certain rumours that the Queen had urged the question of abdication from mercenary motives. To this his Majesty replied, with some indignation as follows: “Neither I nor the Queen have ever discussed such a question. Had I wished to abdicate, I should have done so at the time of my message. My father was then alive, and I could easily have handed over the reins of government to him. The Queen has never thought of abdication. Equally false are the reports of the Queen’s proposing her brother as the heir-presumptive… Any such reports are absolutely false for the reason that the post of Sovereign is not one which can be deserted. Should my throne be menaced I will defend it, sword in hand, at the head of my faithful army, acting in a manner befitting the grandson of the creator of New Servia [Milosh ].”
After Rev. H. N. Hutchinson, The Living Rulers of Mankind, London, George Allen, 156, Charing Cross Road, 1902, volume II, p. 327-330.
Rev. H. N. Hutchinson (1856 – 1927), was a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society, also knew for the books The Living Races of Mankind, Extinct Monsters and Marriage Customs in Many Lands.