BEFORE he died, Dušan had made his generals
swear allegiance to his only son, Uroš V., at that
time a lad of nineteen. But they did not keep their
word for long. Weak in character and pacific by
disposition, the young Czar was not the man to keep
in order the turbulent grandees whom the strong arm
of his father had subordinated to the throne. The
system of dividing the Empire into provinces, each
under a chief of its own, which Dušan had adopted,
lessened the authority of his successor. Domestic
quarrels, as usual, were the bane of the Servian Court,
and the worst foes of young Uroš were his mother
and his uncle. The recent conquests of Dušan had
not been thoroughly welded together with the older
Servian lands, and were naturally the first to go.
Thessaly declared itself independent; the warlike
Albanians, who had recognised Dušan as their Prince,
broke away from the Serb Empire after his death;
the vassal state of Bulgaria recovered its former posi
THE DECLINE AND FALL OF SERVIA.
tion; Belgrade, the future capital of Servia, was recaptured by the King of Hungary; Bosnia, under the vigorous sway of Stephen Tvartko, the ablest of all her rulers, severed her connection with the Serbs, and Tvartko assumed the rank and style of royalty. A little later, in 1376, we even find him proclaiming himself "King of Servia, Bosnia, and the sea-coast," and avowing his intention of reviving the glories of Dušan.
Meanwhile, to the foes within there were added the foes without. The Turks had occupied Adrianople in 1360, and to mark the permanent character of their occupation, had transformed the seat of government to that city. They thus became near neighbours of the Serbs, who formed an alliance with their old enemy, Paleologus, against the common danger. The combined Greek and Servian army was defeated under the walls of Adrianople, and the battlefield retains to this day the name of the "Servian rout." This ignominious reverse increased the insubordination of the chieftains. Recognising that their Czar could not protect them, they resolved to protect them-selves and each set up for himself in his own province, heedless of the central authority. One of their number, bolder than his fellows and forgetful of the benefits which Dušan had showered upon him, determined to depose his benefactor's son. Voukačin—for such was the usurper's name—wormed his way into the young Czar's confidence, and obtained from him the government of Dalmatia as a reward for his counsels. Uroš refused to believe that a relative and a friend could foster designs against his life and
THE TURKS APPROACH.
throne, and turned a deaf ear to the warnings of his
courtiers. The arrival of Voukačin before his palace
at Pristina at the head of an army found him unprepared to resist. The son of Dušan fled almost alone
from his capital towards the mountains of Bosnia,
but perished on the way by the hand, or at any rate
the command, of his rival, in 1367. Such was the
inglorious end of the great Serb conqueror's son and
heir. Within little more than ten years after Dušan's
death his Empire was dismembered and his child
The usurper did not long enjoy the fruits of his
crime. The Turks, under the able leadership of
Amurath I., one of the greatest generals of his time,
continued their career of conquest. Their advance
in the direction of Servia aroused Voukačin's fears
for the safety of his throne. Summoning the chieftains together, he implored them to forget their dissensions and join him in a campaign against the
Turkish conqueror. An army nearly as large as that
which had followed Dušan on his last expedition was
collected, and Voukačin believed himself to be the
leader of a new crusade. At first his efforts were
successful, and Amurath received a severe check on
the spot, where a few years earlier the Serbs had been
routed with such loss. But in the dead of night
Amurath surprised the Servian camp and completely
destroyed the army of the Christians. The flower of
the Serb nobility perished either by the scimitars
of the Turks or in the waters of the river Marica.
Voukačin, after fighting with desperate courage, fled
with a handful of retainers, one of whom murdered
THE DECLINE AND FALL OF SERVIA.
him for the sake of the gold chain which he wore. The news of the Servian defeat excited the greatest alarm all over Christendom. The Pope lamented loudly that nothing could withstand the onward march of the Turks. The Servians thought that the sole chance of their safety lay in the election of Lazar, a connection by marriage of Dušan's dynasty, in whose wars he had served with great distinction. Lazar, the last of the Servian Czars, ascended the throne in 1371 under gloomy circumstances. He did not deem it prudent to attack the victorious Turks until he had had time to recruit his scattered forces, and so quietly looked on while Macedonia gradually fell into their hands. But the warlike King of Hungary, instead of assisting his brother of Servia against the Ottoman armies, seized the opportunity of Servia's weakness to attack him. For the second time the Serbs repulsed his attempt; but there was little glory or satisfaction to be won from such a triumph at a time when all the Christian Powers of the East should have been banded together against the Crescent. When in 1386 the Turks invaded Servia and captured Nisch, the key of the whole country, Lazar found himself without allies, and, imitating the craven example of the Greek Emperor, purchased a disgraceful peace by promising to pay an annual tribute and to provide a thousand mercenaries for the Turkish armies. It was, indeed, a change since the days of Dušan.
But at last the Christian states of the Balkans, when too late, discovered that they must unite against the Ottoman power, Tvartko, King of
BATTLE OF KOSSOVO.
Bosnia, sent a detachment of soldiers to aid the
Serbs; the Bulgarians created a diversion in favour
of their neighbours; the Prince of the Zeta joined
with the Servian monarch. In the fastnesses of the
Black Mountain, where the Turks were in the coming
centuries to receive so many fatal reverses, a body
of Albanians and Serbs utterly routed the Ottoman
force. Amurath I., who was celebrating his marriage
in Asia Minor when the news reached him, vowed
vengeance. Hurrying back to Europe, he collected
an enormous army and marched against the Serbs.
The battle, which was to decide for five centuries the
fate of the Balkan Peninsula, was fought on the plain
of Kossovo, the "field of blackbirds," as it is called in
Serb, from the flocks of those creatures which frequent it. Kossovo is at the present day a part of the
Turkish Empire, and gives its name to an Ottoman
vilayet or province. Shut in by a chain of mountains,
and of vast extent, the plain seemed intended by
nature for an Armageddon of nations. Around this
spot, the Waterloo of Balkan freedom, clusters a
whole literature of patriotic ballads, from which it is
no easy task to discern the true story of that fatal
day. "Amurath," says One of the national bards,
"had so many men that a horseman could not ride
from one wing of his army to the other in a fortnight; the plain of Kossovo was one mass of steel;
horse stood against horse, man against man; the
spears form a thick forest; the banners obscure the
sun, there was no space for a drop of water to fall
between them." On the other side Serbs, Bosniaks,
and Albanians were banded together in the common
THE DECLINE AND FALL OF SERVIA.
cause under Lazar's leadership. On the morning of June 15, 1389, the battle began. Amurath had hesitated at the last moment to attack the allied host, but a dream, in which the angel of victory had appeared to his most trusted counsellor and bade him "conquer the infidels," confirmed his wavering mind. The struggle was furious on both sides, and Lazar held his own against the Ottoman chivalry. But there was treachery in the Servian camp. Vouk Branković, to whom one wing of the Servian army had been entrusted, had long been jealous of his sovereign. It was said that he had already arranged with Amurath to betray his master, and had been promised the crown of Servia as a reward. The Turkish victory was the result of this "great betrayal." At a critical moment, when the future of the clay was still undecided, the traitor turned his horse's head and rode off the field, followed by his detachment of 12,000 men. Lazar in vain attempted to sustain the contest against fearful odds. Slowly but surely the Turkish numbers told, and all was confusion in the Servian ranks. Lazar's horse stumbled and fell, and his rider expired beneath the blows of the Turkish soldiers. With him his nine brothers-in-law and the flower of the Servian aristocracy perished. The victory of the Turks would have been complete but for the death of their own sovereign in the hour of his triumph.
Amurath, it is said, was walking over the battlefield after the fight was over, when a wounded Serb, seeing the Sultan approach, crawled to his feet and pretended to make obeisance to him. Suddenly
springing up, the man drew a dagger from under his garments and plunged it into the conqueror's breast. The Sultan had received his death wound, and his assassin, Milosh Obilić, after a desperate struggle, was slain by Amurath's guards. Another version of the Sultan's death is given by the Servian bards. According to them, Milosh, taunted with cowardice by the traitor Vouk on the eve of battle, had vowed to prove his loyalty by his conduct next day. Early in the morning he visited the Turkish camp, and prayed to be admitted as a deserter to the Sultan's tent. His request was granted, whereupon he smote the Turkish commander to the heart. To this day his name is held in honour by the national poets, while that of Vouk Branković has been banded clown to perpetual infamy. But the assassination of Amurath I. had little practical result; for his son Bajazet I. was proclaimed his successor on the field of battle, and showed by the murder of his brother that there would be no division in the Turkish ranks. As for the traitor Vouk, he was poisoned a few years later by the Sultan's orders.
The battle of Kossovo has never been forgotten in the lands of the Southern Slavs. The most mournful songs of the Servian muse are inspired by the sad memories of that day. Whenever they have risen against the Turk, the cry of "revenge for Kossovo" has been emblazoned on their banners, and the Serbs of Montenegro still wear mourning on their caps for that fatal defeat. The Servian Empire had fallen for ever, though the Turks permitted riders, or "despots," of Servia to exercise nominal power for seventy years
THE DECLINE AND FALL OF SERVIA.
longer. Many noble families fled to the fastnesses of
Montenegro, and maintained their faith and freedom
from the Ottoman conquerors amid the impenetrable
recesses of the Black Mountain. Others migrated
to Hungary, and formed those Serb colonies on the
banks of the river Theiss from which, much later,
succour came to Servia in her struggle for independence. A third body of emigrants found a home in
Bosnia, whose rulers had not yet fallen beneath the
sway of the all-conquering Turks.
The Sultan Bajazet did not pursue his conquests
farther after the battle of Kossovo. His own army
had suffered severely, and he permitted Stephen
Lazarevic, son of the dead Czar, to reign over Servia
on condition that he became his vassal. Stephen
promised to pay an annual tribute from the Servian
silver mines, to relinquish the whole of Macedonia,
to put at the service of his suzerain a body of Servian
troops under the command of his younger brother
Vouk, and to give to Bajazet the hand of his sister
Mileva. The vanquished nation had no option but
to accept these terms, and Stephen faithfully kept his
promise as long as he lived. We find him fighting
by the side of the Turks at the great battle of Angora
in 1402, where Bajazet became the prisoner of Timour
the Tartar. His intervention in favour of his Turkish
brother-in-law at a critical moment at the great battle
of Nicopolis in 1396 riveted the chains of the Bulgarians; his subjects joined the Turks in their attack
upon Miretschea the Old of Wallachia. Thus,
such strength as. Servia still had was used on the
side of her foes. Even more fatal was the marriage
of Stephen's sister to Bajazet, for it provided the
Turks with a claim, which they afterwards put forward, to the Servian throne. It was a humiliating
position for Stephen and his people; but thus only
could they retain even a shadow of independence.
The dissensions which broke out between the sons of Bajazet after his death, gave a further respite to Servia and Bosnia. Stephen availed himself of this opportunity to improve the internal condition of his country. Attempts have been matte to depict him as the founder of constitutional government in Servia, and he is said to have created two legislative chambers, one composed of chiefs or nobles, the other representative of the people. This is an obvious anachronism; but it is clear that he divided his servants into three classes. The first class formed a sort of cabinet, which conferred with him in an inner room, and discussed the affairs of the realm; the second, in an adjoining department, acted as secretaries, and issued the orders of their superiors to the third class, whose duty it was to carry out those orders at once. It is upon this fact that the theory of a Servian constitution in the early years of the fifteenth century has been based. He secured the restoration of Belgrade by the Hungarians and made it his residence, strengthening it with fortifications and adorning it with fine buildings. Like most rulers of his house, he was a friend of the clergy, and his benevolence and simple life excited the admiration of monastic chroniclers.
But the mutual quarrels of Bajazet's heirs soon
tempted the Serbs to intervene. Stephen's younger
THE DECLINE AND FALL OF SERVIA.
brother Vouk believed that, by making himself useful
to one of the Turkish factions, he could obtain the
Servian throne as a reward for himself. But he committed the mistake of choosing the losing side. The
victorious faction visited his misdeeds upon his innocent brother, no less than on himself A new Turkish
invasion of Servia under Moussa in 1413 led to the
defeat of the Serbs in the plain of Verbica and
the loss of more territory on the upper waters of
the Morava. But Moussa's rival, Mohammed I., enlisted the Servian "despot" on his side, and the
latter assisted him to subdue all the Turkish factions
and make himself Sultan. Mindful of the benefits
which he had received from Stephen, he restored to
the Serbs the territory which Moussa had so recently
taken away, and confirmed Stephen in his government. But the tribute continued, and too late the
Serbs discovered that by their action in helping
Mohammed they had restored unity and strength to
the Turkish Empire. In their desire to obtain a
temporary advantage, they had permanently injured
their own prospects of independence.
This became evident when Amurath II. became
Sultan on Mohammed's death. Stephen Lazarević
had died in 1427 without heirs, and had named George
Brankovic, son of the traitor of Kossovo, as his successor. But Amurath II. at once claimed a prior
right to the Servian throne as the grandson of the
Servian princess Mileva, whose marriage with the
Sultan Bajazet had been one of the conditions of
peace fifty years earlier. The Serbs refused to
acknowledged his pretensions, and he replied by
invading their country. His success was not, however,
so complete as he had expected, and he accordingly
offered his protection to Servia and demanded the
hand of George Branković's daughter in marriage.
But this sacrifice did not secure peace for long.
Anxious to conquer the rich kingdom of Hungary,
Amurath saw that he must occupy Servia first, more
especially as Brankovic had lately made an alliance
with the King of Hungary and had built a strong
fortress at Semendria on the Danube for the use of
himself and his new ally. Amurath requested that
this stronghold should be given up to him; and, when
Branković refused, overran the country and placed
garrisons in the principal towns. A Turkish mosque
was built in Krusevac, the famous residence of many
a Servian monarch; Branković, unable to obtain aid
from Hungary, which was at that moment distracted
by internal dissensions and a terrible epidemic, fled to
Ragusa, where an inscription on one of the gates tells
to this day how he "came in with all his treasures."
Servia in 1440 was entirely in the Turkish power, and
Amurath appointed one of his followers to govern it
as Pasha in his absence. Yet just at that moment
the heroic efforts of a foreign soldier procured a further
brief respite for the unhappy Serbs. This was John
Hunyad, the celebrated "white knight of Wallachia,"
whom the Christians of the East looked upon as a
deliverer, while the hosts of Islam believed that he
was none other than the evil spirit. At the head of
a combined Servian and Hungarian army, Hunyad
drove Amurath from the Danube and raised the siege
of Belgrade, at that time a Hungarian fortress, which
THE DECLINE AND FALL OF SERVIA.
the Turks had besieged for six weary months. The
King of Hungary joined in the campaign, and one
success after another attended the march of the allies.
It was well nigh the last triumph that Servian arms
ever won over the Turks till the clay of awakening
came in our own century. The severe winter, most
valuable of all allies in a Balkan campaign, alone prevented the utter annihilation of the Turkish army.
Amurath begged for peace, and it was signed at
Szegedin in the middle of 1444. Hostilities were
to cease for ten years, Servia was evacuated by the
Turks and once more governed by its native prince.
Never since the defeat of Kossovo had the Serbs
enjoyed so much independence.
But it was not for long. In spite of the warnings
and entreaties of the Servian ruler, the impetuous
King of Hungary tore up the treaty almost as soon
as it had been signed, and attacked the Turks. In
this brief campaign, which was ended by the overwhelming victory of the Turks at Varna in November,
1444, George Branković took no part; for he foresaw
from the first the folly, and deplored the treachery, of
this wanton breach of the newly signed peace. But
he ultimately suffered even more than the Hungarian
people by this defeat, which they had provoked. For
Varna speedily completed what Kossovo had begun.
The Turks made no difference between Magyars and
Serbs when the battle was over. Hunyad once more
came to the assistance of the latter, and kept Amurath
in check for a time, and Amurath II.'s successor,
Mohammed II., made a temporary peace with Servia
until he had captured Constantinople. The fall of
the Imperial city in 1453 paved the way for the final
annexation of the Servian territory to the Turkish
dominions. Semendria, the residence of George
Branković, was the first object of Mohammed's attack.
The Ottoman artillery soon left nothing but a heap
of ruins to mark the spot, and the Servian prince was
once more a fugitive. Again the heroic Hunyad
came forward as the champion of Christendom.
Again he saved Belgrade, the "City of the Holy
War," as the Turks called it. Serbs and Magyars
fought side by side in its defence with the courage of
despair, and a brave Franciscan monk, crucifix in
hand, urged them to protect the outpost of Christianity. A battle on the Danube gained Hunyad
access to the citadel; a successful sally from the walls
completed the rout of the Turks. Mohammed II. was
wounded, while thousands of Ottoman corpses covered
the outskirts of Belgrade. Leaving his baggage and
artillery in the hands of the gallant garrison, the
Sultan retreated to Adrianople, glad to escape with
his life, which he owed to the devotion of his bodyguard. George Branković re-entered into possession
of his country, and died shortly afterwards in 1457
at the great age of ninety-one. Servian independence
survived him little more than a year, for in 1459 the
Turks formally annexed the land, for which a long
line of warrior princes had striven so well.
The final blow to Servian freedom was dealt by
one of Servia's princes. The old story of domestic
dissension repeated itself on the death of George
Branković. His widow and three sons, to whom
he had conjointly entrusted the government, soon
THE DECLINE AND FALL OF SERVIA.
quarrelled. Lazar, the youngest of the three, poisoned
his mother and expelled his brothers, in order to
reign alone, while he promised to pay an annual
tribute of twenty thousand gold pieces to the Sultan.
But Mohammed II. was not long content with this
partial sovereignty. When Lazar died in 1458, he
resolved to incorporate Servia with the Turkish
Empire. There was no longer any obstacle to the
accomplishment of his plan. Hunyad, who might
have prevented it, was now dead; the Serbs had lost
all heart, and were ready to purchase peace at any
price after the constant struggles of the last seventy
years; they had no leader and no enthusiasm. Lazar's
widow, Helena, tried to preserve the political independence of her country by offering it as a fief to the
Papacy. But the Serbs declared that they would
rather be Turkish than Roman Catholic. The same
effect was produced in Bosnia by the king's proposal
to place his throne under the protection of the Pope,
and to form, by a matrimonial alliance with Servia,
one united Catholic monarchy out of the two Serb
states. There too the people, mindful of the terrible
persecutions which they had suffered at the hands
of the Popes, welcomed the Turks as deliverers. Thus
theological bitterness, alike in Servia and in Bosnia,
contributed to the subjugation of both lands beneath
the rule of the Sultan. The Serb nobles invited a
Turkish magnate, brother of the Grand Vizier, to be
their lord, and when Helena put him in prison, threw
themselves into the Sultan's arms. Semendria opened
its gates to him; city after city followed its example;
Helena was allowed to Ieave the country, and in 1459
FALL OF SERVIA.
Servia had ceased to exist as a separate state. Four years later the last King of Bosnia lost his life and throne, and his dominions, too, became a Turkish province. In Montenegro alone a handful of mountaineers preserved the vestiges of Servian freedom. The people of the old Servian kingdom had either bowed their necks to the conqueror or migrated across the Danube to join the colonies founded in Hungary after the battle of Kossovo, where they maintained in a foreign land their language and customs under a chief of their own.
Thus fell the once mighty Servian state. Lack of unity, alike in politics and religion, was the chief cause of its fall. The feudal system, which allowed the great nobles almost royal power in their own dominions, weakened the central authority and rendered it liable to defeat at the hands of a Turkish autocrat, who took care to remove every rival out of his path. It was only when a strong man, like Dušan, was on the throne, or when, as happened after the death of Bajazet, a civil war broke out among the Turks, that Servia was secure. The mutual jealousies of the Christian rulers of Servia and Hungary hindered, except on rare occasions, a really effective alliance for the common cause. The Serbs, firmly attached to the Greek Church, suspected the Magyars, who came to assist them, of desiring to introduce the Roman Catholic faith. Throughout the history of the Balkans this distinction of creeds proved a real obstacle to a political union. It was so in Servia, it was so in Bosnia, and we shall see it to be the same in Montenegro and Albania. Well organised, strongly united
THE DECLINE AND FALL OF SERVIA.
in their devotion to their leader and their religion, the
Turks had little difficulty in overthrowing the brave
Servian nation, which at one moment had seemed
likely to combine all the Balkan lands under a Czar
of its own, with Constantinople as its capital.