THE HOUSE OF OBRENOVICH.*
Is Servia is not exactly the land of the cypress and myrtle, nor yet of the cedar and vine, it was, still an integral part of the Turkish Empire when Byron wrote the "Bride of Abydos "; in that very summer Black George Petrovich, the Karageorge of tradition, had taken refuge on Russian soil after nine years of desperate fighting for his country's independence. And when in June, 1903, we shuddered over the horrible tragedy of Belgrade there must have been many who recalled the once familiar lines :—
"'Tie the clime of the East, 'tie the land of the Sun: Can he smile on such deeds as his children have done P "
The independent Balkan States have assimilated so rapidly the external characteristics of Western civilisation that we are apt to forget the yoke which has only been cast off within living memory. Ages of Turkish rule cannot be obliterated in a generation, or even in a century, and those who look upon the independence and development of these little kingdoms as one of the main hopes of European stability must possess their souls in patience, as from time to time the elements of primordial savagery come to the top. In Servia there is an especial source of discord which is absent in Bulgaria and Roumania, where German Princes, belonging to the sacred caste of Royalty, have been imported under more or less substantial guarantees. Servia has been left to dree her own weird ; she has sought her rulers in the members of the rival families, both of humble origin, the founders of which were leaders in her war of independence. The strife between the Obreuovichs and the Karageorgevichs has many points of resemblance with the struggle between the houses of Lancaster and York. The dramatic) alternations of fortune, the assassi- nations, the exiles, the proscriptions, which form the landmarks of our history in the fifteenth century, have all been repro- duced on a smaller canvas in Servia. If we add to this dynastic feud the conflicting ambitions of Austria and Russia, we can form some notion of the difficulties of the hapless house of Obrenovich. From Milan and Alexander, set as they were between the anvil and the hammer, the qualities more especially demanded were " self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control," in all of which the former, at any rate, was conspicuously deficient. Up to a certain point Milan played his cards with skill and success, and his eon had flashes of inspiration. But they neither could rise superior to the promptings of their lower nature. In each case infatuation for an unworthy object proved the final strain. It was a tradition in Servia that the only weapon by which an Obrenovich could be destroyed was .a woman.
M. Chedomille Mijatovich, who tells the tragic story in a remarkably interesting book, is well known in this country, where for many years he represented his Sovereign at the Court of St. James. He is a whole-hearted partisan of the house of Obrenovicb, devoted to the memory of King Milan, and a loyal servant of the unfortunate King Alexander. He traces graphically the steps which led to the destruction of his master, beginning with the conclusion of the secret Con- vention with Austria-Hungary in 1882, when Milan, sore and disgusted over the Treaty of Berlin, struck out a new line of policy and sought a fresh ally
"That a Servian ruler should dare tarn his back on Russia, .refuse to follow her guidance, and even make a secret arrange- ment with the supposed enemy of the Slave concerning old Servia and Macedonia, such a diabolical phenomenon could not be for a
• A 'loyal Tragedy: being the Story of the Aalassatotios of Ksng .Atorander and 2uarn byln.of.Sere:64/33v Chedomilla biajatortah. With Portman. London Nash. 1.7 moment tolerated by Pan-slavonio. Russia. The honest but narrow-minded Tsar Alexander III. was indignant, and gave without hesitation his approval to the Pau-alavonio determination to ruin and destroy Milan Obrenovich IV. From that time to his very death, 1882-1902, King Milan was in the eyes of the Pan- slavonio Russia an outlaw, a wild beast whom to destroy was a meritorious Christian deed."
M. Mijatovich not only sees the hand of Russia in the various attempts upon Milan's life, but insists that his Levantine mistress, Arthemise Chtie,ich, who inspired him to divorce his wife and then to abdicate, was a devoted Russian agent, Be this as it may, there can be no doubt that his treatment of Queen Nathalie and his abandonment of the Servian throne to a boy brought the exiled Peter Karageorgevich for the first time into the range of practical politics.
Alexander, fifth and last of the Obrenovioh line, was in his thirteenth year when he was proclaimed King of Servia. The public quarrels of his parents had filled him, young as he was, with shame and bitterness, and had left iu him little affection for either. The calmness, the self-possession, the dignity, with which he received the oath of fealty from his father, left a strange impression upon the dignitaries of State who sur- rounded him. Not a trace of emotion was to be detected, and be seemed made of marble rather than of flesh and blood. The isolation of his position was increased by the banishment of both Milan and Nathalie, who were forbidden by the Skuptachina ever to recross the frontier. The sole control of the young King's person was assumed by the Regents, who carried on the Government, worked the elections, and practised all the arts of political management in his name. The silent, pale, cold-looking boy who rarely spoke, and still more rarely smiled, was apparently content to remain a puppet and a figurehead until his minority expired. A year before that date he suddenly emancipated himself. The chroniclers tell us bow, in the great Easter Council of 1388, Richard, son of Edward the Black Prince, suddenly asked his uncle Gloucester bow old he was. "Your Highness is in your twenty-second year." "Then I am old enough to manage my own affaire," said the King. "I thank you for your past services, my Lords, but I need you no longer." In less ceremonious fashion. and with less provocation, Alexander locked up the Regents and the Cabinet one evening in the Palace dining-room while he .was swearing the Army to fidelity. For the moment the coup d'itat was completely successful. The Regents had made themselves highly un. popular, and the exhibition of initiative and energy from so unexpected a quarter was well received both in Servia and through Europe. But the " Radicals," to whom the King now turned, and whom strength lay in the country districts, were mainly partisans of the Karageorgevich, while the deposed Regents and their Ministers had been loyal supporters of his own house. It was a shock to the dynasty, and Alexander's ill-inspired pilgrimage to the grave of the original Black George revived a cult that had long been waning. His affection for the Radicals cooled rapidly, however, and a second coup d'otat suspended Milan's Constitution of 18:':, and once more brought the Obrenovich "Liberals" to the top.
Alexander's position was at last established ; he was a King in deed as well as in name, and it looked as though he might triumph over disloyalty at home and intrigue abroad. But in 1897 he took a fatal decision, in which, to judge from his subsequent conduct, filial affection could have had only a scanty share. In defiance of the law, he invited his father back to Belgrade, and made him Commander-in-Chief. The recall was by no means unpopular in Servia, for Milan's "brilliant intelligence, kindliness, and generosity "—this description is that of M. Mijatovich, and must in no sense be considered to be endorsed by us—had given him a unique power of fascination ; but it stung all the forces of Pau-Slavism into activity. Cotite-que-coilte, he was to be removed, and a woman was chosen to act as a wedge between father and son and part them for ever.
The woman was ready to hand. The King had recently entered into a liaison with Madame Drags Mashin, the daughter of a famous Servian patriot, and the widow of a mining engineer. As a girl she had been lovely, " with elegant figure, pale, yet peculiarly warm complexion, and wonderfully beautiful, velvety-brown and most expressive eyes." The portraits of her in M. Mijatovich's book amply justify the encomium. Queen Methane had selected her for the post of dame d'honneur, and in 1887 Alexander made her
acquaintance in his mother's villa in Biarritz. From the first their fate was sealed. Drags was the one, the only, the absorbing passion in her lover's short and troubled existence, and she fully returned his attachment. A few months later she was installed in Belgrade as his mistress, and she was accepted by " society " with the same easy tolerance that our great- grandfathers extended to Lady Jersey and Lady Conyngham. InJuly, 1900, the King suddenly married her. She bad worked upon his feelings by a pretext not unusual in such connexions. But Alexander was madly in love, and, as he said pathetically to one of his remonstrating Ministers, Draga was "the only woman who can make me forget the bitterness of my past life, and make me feel happy. She has been my good angel, who gave me strength to bear patiently all that I bad to bear."
The sudden intervention of the Czar, congratulating Alexander on his engagement, and volunteering to act as his "Koom," or matrimonial sponsor, removed the last obstacle. Politically, the wedding was sheer suicide, and inflicted a blow from which it was impossible for the dynasty to recover. The one chance of rehabilitating the Obrenovichs had lain in an alliance with Royalty. Alexander's marriage with a simple Servian woman who was known to have been his mistress, and about whom every kind of scandalous story was in circulatiOn, alienated all classes, and in particular the Army. His harsh and con- temptuous treatment of the officers who implored him to forego his resolution had given bitter offence. M. Mijatovieh main- tains that the scandals were without any foundation, and that Draga's only lapse from virtue had been with the King. But she was seven or eight years his senior, and it was well known that there was no likelihood or possibility of issue to the marriage. Its first consequence was an irreparable quarrel between Alexander and his father, who had been beguiled out of the country on a fool's errand on the eve of the wedding; the King actually ordered one of his officers to fire on Milan and kill him like a mad dog if he should attempt to cross back into Servia. The accomplished, worthless, attractive ex-Monarch died in exile, predeceasing his son by a twelvemonth.
From that summer a conspiracy for the proclamation of Peter Karageorgevich was on foot in more than one European sapital. The alienation of the Army, with whom Alexander bad never been popular, left him defenceless. Yet on the fatal June 11th the lives of the Royal victims might have been saved but for a misunderstanding over the telephone. A message from the Police Commissioner, who had noticed the regiments converging on the Palace at midnight, failed to reach the King. Had he been advised in time, he might have put himself at the head of his Guards and of the gendarmerie. Probably he would have cowed the mutineers; at least he would have died with harness on his back.
Fate willed otherwise, and a miniature St. Bartholomew involved the King, the Queen, her brothers, and her husband's Ministers in a common doom. It is a horrible story, and Tcrrquemada could have devised nothing more appalling than the two hours spent by the Royal lovers in the secret alcove before the butchers had discovered their biding-place. " The agony of their souls," says M. Mijatovich, " most have caused them far greater sufferings than the physical agony of their mutilated, massacred, dying bodies:' But, indeed, the agony bad begun with their wedding-day: "they lived like two persons condemned to death, expecting every moment to see the executioners enter their cells. Never in the history of the world have a King and Queen undergone a more terrible penalty."
A year before her murder Drags had insisted on hearing from a friendly journalist the famous "Black Prophecy" of Mato, the Kremna peasant who in June, 1868, had seen in a vision the murder of Prince Michael Obrenovich in the deer- park of Belgrade. "Oh men ! oh brethren!" he had cried out in the market-place of Ojitza. "For God's sake. help, help! They are killing our ruler ; they are killing our Prince! help! They are slashing him with their yatagans ; our Prince Michael is murdered." Eventually Rata had been brought to Belgrade, and had been interrogated by Milan, for whom he bad prophesied a chequered destiny. "Under his reign the country will be enlarged and strengthened. He will be a King, but will have many misfortunes. He will die in the prime of life. He will have an only son who will be still more unfortunate, dying very young, before his thirtieth year, and with him the candle will be blown out." M. Mijatovich
goes on to relate that the clairvoyant foretold the reign of the Karageorgevich, " but not for long." Then are to follow internal struggles and bloodshed, the intervention and the tyranny of a foreign Power, until there appears in the midst of the nation a man who will lead it to independence and prosperity ; and this man is to be "in some ways a descendant of the Obrenovich dynasty." Though the genuine stock was extirpated on that fatal Jane night, there is still a Henry of Richmond in the shape of an illegitimate son of King Milan, who from dubious security at Con- stantinople is awaiting what may be a Tewkesbury, or perchance a Bosworth field. Has M. Mijatovich cast himself for the part of Cardinal Morton ?