MICHAEL OBRENOVIĆ III., who on the death of
his father once again mounted the throne of Servia,
inaugurated a new era in the history of his country.
If Milosh had contended that "the sovereign's will is
the highest law," his son took as his motto the much
more modern sentiment that "the law is the highest
authority." He had travelled much since his brief
and boyish reign eighteen years earlier. His residence in Western capitals had filled him with progressive ideas, and he represented the new spirit
which had manifested itself in Servia during his long
exile. Michael is the best ruler whom his country
has yet had, and his second reign short as it was,
has left a permanent mark upon the national life.
For he was a moderate reformer, who recognised the
great truth that institutions may be excellent in
themselves, and yet be quite unsuited to a people
which is not sufficiently advanced to appreciate them.
He openly avowed his preference for the British con
stitution, but expressed his conviction that Servia had much to learn before she could understand it. In every department of the State his influence was for good. He began by reforming the Senate of Seventeen, which ever since its creation had been nothing but a Venetian oligarchy, making and unmaking princes at its will, and forming a perpetual hotbed of intrigues. Relying on the assumption that the consent of the Sultan was necessary for their removal, the senators had always set the sovereign at defiance, while they had entirely monopolised legislative power. Michael now adopted a compromise. He left the senators their legislative functions, but made them amenable to the decisions of the law courts, which, without consulting the Sultan, had the right to remove them for misconduct. Having thus curtailed the privileges of the Senate, he proceeded to regulate the authority of the National Assembly, or Skupschtina. During the reign of Karageorgević this body had been only twice summoned, the second occasion being the deposition of that prince. The "Assembly of St. Andrew," as it was popularly called from its custom of meeting on the festival of that national saint, had taken that opportunity to assert itself, and, under the influence of a few men of the professional class who had studied abroad, aimed at copying the British House of Commons. But the peasants, with their natural suspicion of those who had acquired more culture than themselves, were not prepared for so democratic a step, and Michael accordingly summoned the Assembly every third year tor the discussion of such measures as were laid
THE FINAL EMANCIPATION OF SERVIA.
before it by the ministers. Its duties were to express the wishes of the people on these proposals. It had no power of originating legislation, and it could not touch the budget, which was reserved for the Senate. But as the nation acquired more political education, Michael intended to extend its political rights and even grant it a free press. Another and much more democratic measure he attempted without success. A graduated income-tax is unknown in countries far more advanced than was Servia thirty years ago. But Prince, Michael, conscious of the grievous injustice of the existing poll-tax, which had hitherto been levied on rich and poor alike, endeavoured to introduce the principle of payment in proportion to income. The result showed the futility of such a scheme in the then state of public morality, for the returns sent in were constantly falsified. Michael abandoned the scheme, and substituted for it the method of taxing each district at a certain sum, to be collected by the local authorities from those who were best able to pay it. The introduction of the decimal system and the issue for the first time of a distinctive Servian coinage completed his political and economic reforms.
It was to Michael, too, that Servia owed the first attempt at military organisation. Hitherto the Servian armies had been mere conglomerations of individuals, admirably adapted for a guerilla warfare among the mountains, but without discipline, and badly armed. The Prince knew the valour of his subjects, and saw that they only required to be properly drilled and equipped to become efficient
MICHAEL'S FOREIGN POLICY.
soldiers. He accordingly purchased two hundred
thousand rifles of the latest pattern, which, in spite of
Turkish protests, he smuggled into the country and
sold at a very low rate to his people. Conscription
at once followed; every Serb above the age of
twenty was liable to serve, and a force of cavalry
and artillery was raised from the different towns.
The effect of this reform was at once felt in the
national policy. The Prince found his new army the
strongest argument when he spoke in the name of
his country and demanded further liberties from the
For Michael's foreign policy was as successful as
his internal reforms. At the death of his father,
Turkish garrisons in the frontier fortresses and an
annual tribute still reminded the people of the days
of Ottoman domination. Michael resolved to
secure the retirement of the last Turkish soldier
from his country, and, above all, from the splendid
castle which commanded his capital. At the outset
he refused to go, as his predecessors had done, to the
field before the fortress of Belgrade to hear the
Turkish berat read, which confirmed his election, but
proudly bade its bearer come to his palace. A
collision between the garrison and the people in
1862 gave him the opportunity which he sought.
The Turkish commandant bombarded the city; the
consular body supported the Prince in his protest at
Constantinople. The people urged him to join with
Montenegro, then at war with the Turks, and he at
once resigned his own civil list and offered to devote
all his personal property to military purposes. But
THE FINAL EMANCIPATION OF SERVIA.
the Powers suggested a Conference, and the Prince
laid before it a demand for the immediate evacuation
of every Servian fortress by the Turks. The Conference proposed as an alternative the withdrawal of
the Mussulman population from the towns on payment of an indemnity for the property which they
left behind, and this the Prince accepted as an instalment. Confident of the support of England, where
his wife, Princess Julia, had awakened much sympathy for the Servian cause, he felt that he could
afford to wait. It was at this time that Lord
Palmerston made his famous pun to the Princess at
one of his receptions. As she entered the room her
dress caught in the door. "Princesse," said the witty
Premier, hastening to release her, "la Porte est sur
votre chemin, pour vous empêcher d'avancer." The
Porte did not block her country's progress much
longer. Encouraged by the tremendous enthusiasm
which in 1865 hailed the jubilee of his father's rising
against the Turks, and relying on the organised army
which he now had at his back, the Prince petitioned
the Sultan in 1867 for the evacuation or demolition of
the fortresses still occupied by Turkish troops. The
tactful manner in which the request was made pleased
the formalists at the Porte, and the Cretan insurrection made it highly impolitic to offend the Serbs.
Austria and England supported the claim, and the
Sultan at last withdrew his garrisons with a good grace,
merely stipulating that the forts should be kept up by
the Serbs, and that on high days and holidays the
Crescent should be displayed from one of the battlements. For the first time for centuries Belgrade was
BELGRADE ENTIRELY FREE.
entirely free, and the grand old castle, which had
braved a hundred sieges, was in the hands of a
national garrison. As the last Turkish soldier
quitted Servian soil Michael's policy was triumphantly vindicated, for the tribute now alone remained as a relic of the old Turkish days. It was
even thought that the Prince would be supported by
France and Austria if he added Bosnia to his
dominions. Fortune was indeed smiling on the
But the hand of the assassin had marked Prince
Michael as a victim. From the beginning of his
reign there had been a strong opposition against him.
His virtues made him unpopular with some, for he
rigidly refused to proscribe the adherents of the
Karageorgević faction and hand their posts to his
adherents. They could not understand the Prince's
maxim, that "Servia was so small a country, and had
so great a mission, that he could not look at the
colour of the men whom he employed in the State
service." The Karageorgević party was not in the
least appeased by his generosity. The ex-Prince
Alexander assumed the part of a Pretender, and his
agents represented the fiscal and military reforms of
Michael as injurious to the nation. In 1864 the discontented elements in the country united in a conspiracy against the Prince, some desiring the recall of
Alexander, others wishing to proclaim a Republic.
The plot failed, but the scandal caused by the
acquittal of the conspirators, and the subsequent
impeachment of the judges who had acquittal them,
did no good to the Government. On his way back
THE FINAL EMANCIPATION OF SERVIA.
from the Paris Exhibition the Prince was nearly
murdered. But he refused to take precautions, and
his carelessness at last cost him his life.
Every visitor to Belgrade is taken to see the beautiful park of Topiderč, which is situated between
two low oak-covered hills about two miles and a half
away. In this park was the summer residence of the
Prince, and it was his usual custom on hot afternoons
to walk with his family along a shady path which he
had had cut through the woods. All Belgrade knew
his favourite walk, and the conspirators had no difficulty in laying their plans accordingly. On the
afternoon of the 10th of June, 1868, the Prince set
out for the park with his aunt, her daughter and
granddaughter, his only retinue consisting of a single
aid-de-camp and a groom. As the little party was
walking along the narrow path under the trees four
men suddenly came round the corner, and, with a
respectful salute, stood aside to allow the Prince to
pass. Scarcely had he done so than four pistol-shots
were heard from behind, and the Prince fell. A few
moments after he expired, and his cousin, who was
also mortally wounded, died two hours later; her
daughter received a severe injury, the aid-de-camp
fainted, and the Prince's aunt and his groom alone
escaped unhurt. In order to make certain of their
victim's death, the assassins drew their knives and
plunged them repeatedly into his prostrate body; no
fewer than forty wounds were afterwards counted on
his corpse. It was owing to this delay and the
breakdown of their carriage on the way back to
Belgrade that the murderers were baulked of the
MURDER OF MICHAEL.
results which they had confidently anticipated from
their horrible deed. Their intention had been to
send one of their number at once to the city to proclaim Peter Karageorgević, son of the ex-Prince
Alexander, and issue a new constitution in his name.
This document was all ready, a list of new ministers
had been drawn up, and as soon as the news of
Michael's murder arrived those officials who showed
any resistance were to be shot. But when their
carriage at last reached Belgrade, the tidings had
preceded them. The garrison was under arms, the
energetic Minister of War, Petrović Blačnavac, the
most intimate of the murdered Prince's advisers, was
master of the situation, and the chief conspirators
were speedily arrested. The four assassins were two
brothers Radovanović, one of whom had been convicted of forgery, a wife-murderer named Mark, and
a desperado called Rogić. The plot proved to be
widespread, and many friends and connections of the
Karageorgević family were implicated. Two of the
ringleaders were the ex-Prince Alexander's brothers-in-law, another was his lawyer, and Prince Peter
himself, at that time an exile in Vienna, was openly
accused of being an accomplice. Party feeling ran
high. The Conservatives declared the conspiracy to
be the work of the Omladina, a literary and political
society of advanced views, which existed wherever
Serbs were found and numbered Prince Peter among
its most recent recruits. The National Assembly,
which was summoned under these exciting circumstances, unanimously decreed the exclusion of the
Karageorgević family from the Servian throne for
THE FINAL EMANCIPATION OF SERVIA.
ever, and to this day the descendants of Black George are exiles. Blood had been requited by blood, and the murder of the Servian Liberator by Milosh Obrenović had been avenged in the next generation by the murder of Milosh's son. The Assembly then proclaimed Michael's nearest relative, his cousin Milan, as hereditary Prince of Servia, under the title of Milan Obrenović IV. As the young Prince was at that time barely fourteen, a Regency of three persons, of whom Petrović Blačnavac was the chief, was appointed to carry on the government till he came of age.
The murder of Michael was indeed a blow for Servia. On his tomb in the cathedral of Belgrade his widow has engraved the words, "Thy memory shall not perish." No epitaph could better have expressed the feelings of the nation towards the best and ablest of all its modern rulers.
The three Regents began their task by securing from the Porte a final recognition of the hereditary rights of the Obrenović family. They then proceeded to draw up a somewhat more liberal constitution than that which had, with some modifications, existed for the last thirty years. Prince Michael in his reforms had only amended the old system of government; the Regents now took the bolder step of abolishing it altogether. The new constitution of 1869 entrusted all power to the Prince and the National Assembly, which was to meet every year and was re-elected every three. This body consisted for ordinary purposes of 120 members, of whom 90 were elected by the people and 30 nominated
ACCESSION OF MILAN.
by the Prince. In order to pacify the jealousy which the Serb peasantry and small farmers felt of the professional class, it was provided that while members of the latter could be nominated by the Prince, no lawyer or official was eligible by the people. On extraordinary occasions a "Great Assembly" of 480 persons, all chosen by the people, replaced the ordinary legislature. The elections were open, and therefore easily manipulated by the Government, and it was found that the Assembly became the tool of the Ministers. This is the constitution which was restored by the coup d'élat of 1894, when the much more Radical Reform Act of 1888 was abolished by a stroke of the boy King Alexander's pen, and remains in force to the present day.
Prince Milan came of age in 1872, and soon showed his determination to govern in his own way. Educated in Paris, the new ruler had acquired decidedly Parisian tastes, but his abilities proved considerably better than his character. He had a strong will, but his love of pleasure, his reckless extravagance, and his devotion to the gaming-table ruined what might otherwise have been a successful career. A man of fashion rather than a soldier, he found himself compelled to support the agitation of the Serb race against the Turks, and the insurrection which broke out in the Herzegovina in 1875 dragged him, however unwillingly, into war.
During the Regency the idea of a "Great Servia," which should include all the scattered branches of the Serb stock under one ruler, had been sedulously cultivated. M. Ristić, the second Regent and a
THE FINAL EMANCIPATION OF SERVIA.
statesman of marked ability, had been the soul of this policy, which was bound to offend the susceptibilities not only of Turkey, but of Austria-Hungary. It was not clear who was to be the head of this "great Servian kingdom"—Prince Milan of Servia, or Prince Nicholas of Montenegro, a born leader of men, greatly superior in character to the Prince of Servia. Prince Milan was therefore less anxious than Prince Nicholas for a war with Turkey, especially as the latter had declined to acknowledge him as leader of the Servian movement, although he had expressed his willingness to serve under Michael. But the voice of the Servian people prevailed over the hesitation of the ruler, and insisted upon a crusade against the hereditary enemy. Milan yielded, and on the 30th of June, 1876, proclaimed his intention of joining his arms to those of the Bosniaks and Herzegovinians. Montenegro declared war the day after Servia, and a campaign began between the two branches of the Serb race and the descendants of those who had destroyed the old Servian Empire nearly five centuries before.
The Servian army was under the directions of the Russian General Tchernaieff, and consisted, all told, of some 148,000 men. But it soon became clear that the soldiers were not only inferior to the Montenegrins, but were no match for the Turks. At first the superior generalship of their Russian commander enabled them to carry the war into the enemy's country near Ak-palanka. But the Turks soon penetrated into Servia and drove them back. A battle beneath the walls of Alexinac resulted in the
THE WAR WITH TURKEY.
complete defeat of Prince Milan's army, and the
Porte refused to grant peace except on the most
onerous terms. The negotiations begun by England
were hindered by the proclamation of the Prince as
King of Servia at Deligrad on the 16th of September
at the suggestion of General Tchernaieff, and the war
went on as before. The capture of Alexinac and
Deligrad by the Turks left the road to Belgrade at
their mercy, and the Servian troops, with the exception of the artillerymen, became utterly disorganised.
An armistice was arranged by the intervention of
the Powers, and while Montenegro continued the
struggle, Servia made peace with Turkey on the 1st of
March, 1877. The war, so far as Prince Milan was
concerned, had produced no material result, for the
position before it had commenced was maintained.
Russia had saved Servia by a timely ultimatum from
the consequences of her defeats, and, thanks to the
Powers, no loss of territory and no war indemnity
were inflicted upon her.
When, in Prince Milan's words, "the defence of
the holy cause had passed into stronger hands" and
Russia declared war against the Sultan, Servia, from
fear of Austria, refrained for some months from
taking part in the struggle. She looked on while
the Roumanians invested Plevna, and it was not till
December that the Prince resumed hostilities. Invoking the names of "the old heroes of Takovo," he
crossed the frontier on this second campaign. The
result was much more favourable to Servia than that
of the first. In spite of severe losses from the ice
and snow one detachment won a decisive victory at
THE FINAL EMANCIPATION OF SERVIA.
Pirot, while another, commanded by the Prince in person, captured the ancient Servian town of Nisch,
which since the fatal day of Kossovo, five centuries
THE TREATY OF BERLIN.
before, had been part of the Turkish Empire. Great
was the enthusiasm of his people when Prince Milan
entered the gates as a conqueror. Nine days later
the victory of General Bela Marković (afterwards
one of the Regents) at Vranja completed the trio of
Servian successes. The armistice and the Treaty of
San Stefano cut short the further progress of the
By that treaty Servia obtained the recognition of
her independence, and ceased to be tributary to the
Sultan. She was to receive a considerable accession
of territory, including the town of Nisch. Still more
important, in view of a future union of the Serb
race, the south-western frontier of Servia, as drawn
at San Stefano, would have gone close by Novibazar, and have thus come very close to that of
Montenegro. But the Berlin Treaty of 1878, which
replaced the abortive arrangements of San Stefano,
provided that Servia should have territorial compensation on the side of Bulgaria rather than in the
direction of Montenegro. A wedge was allowed to
remain, in the shape of the Sandjak of Novibazar,
between the two Serb states, and the right of
garrisoning certain places in that region, which was
conceded to Austria, has checked the aspirations of
the Serbs for reunion quite as effectually as the
Austrian "occupation" of Bosnia and the Herzegovina. On the south-east, however, Servia received
the Bulgarian-speaking district of Pirot and was
allowed to retain Vranja and Nisch, so that the area
of the principality was increased by more than one-fourth. She undertook to pay a proportion of the
THE FINAL EMANCIPATION OF SERVIA.
Ottoman Debt for her new territories, and took over the engagements of the Porte with regard to the railways. Finally her independence, already recognised by the Sultan at San Stefano, was affirmed by the Powers. Thus she was at last free in theory as well as in fact. The practical independence which she had gained when the Turkish garrisons were withdrawn in 1867 was formally completed by the solemn act of Europe in 1878. Four years later, on the 6th of March, 1882, the Prince was proclaimed king under the title of Milan I., and Servia once more ranked as a kingdom.