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Arsenije I
King of Serbia
Reign 30 August 1921 – 19 October 1938
Predecessor Petar I Karađorđević
Successor Pavle I Karađorđević
Prince Regent of Serbia
Regency 3 October 1918 – 30 August 1921
Monarch Petar I
Spouse Aurora Pavlovna Demidova
Pavle I
House House of Karađorđević
Father Alexander Karađorđević, Prince of Serbia
Mother Princess Zorka of Montenegro
Born 16 April 1859
Timișoara, Austria Flag of the Habsburg Monarchy.svg
Died 19 October 1938 (aged 79)
Belgrade, Serbia State Flag of Serbia (1882-1918).svg
Burial Oplenac
Religion Eastern Orthodoxy

Arsenije I (16 April 1859 – 19 October 1938) was King of Serbia from 16 August 1921 until his death in 1938. He served as an officer in the Russian Army until the October Revolution where he was arrested by the Bolsheviks. He was released and briefly settled in France. Arsenije's elder brother was Peter I, King of Serbia who was ruled by a regency lead by his nephew Crown Prince Alexander. After the World War resulted in a crippling defeat for Serbia, the Skupština replaced the Crown Prince as Regent with Arsenije. When his brother died the Serbian Government caved in to Austrian threats to renew hostilities if Alexander became King. Alexander was escorted out of Serbia into exile and Arsenije ascended the throne as the third monarch of the House of Karađorđević.

Early life

Prince Arsenije Karađorđević was born in Temesvár a year after his father Prince Alexander Karađorđević had been deposed from the Serbian throne. His mother was Persida Nenadović. His elder brother was Prince Peter Karađorđević, later King of Serbia. Arsenije was educated in France, at Lycée Louis-le-Grand, before enrolling at the military academy Saint-Cyr. He became a cavalry officer in the French Army in 1877 and took part in various military campaigns in North Africa and China, where he was wounded. In 1888 he graduated from the Konstantinovsky Military College in St. Petersburg becoming a Cornet in the Russian Imperial Army.

In 1892 Arsenije married Princess Aurora Pavlovna Demidova of San Donato, daughter of Pavel Pavlovich Demidov, 2nd Prince of San Donato and of Prince Pavel's second wife Princess Elena Petrovna Trubetskaya. While the couple had a son Prince Pavle, the marriage was not a happy one. Arsenije was a dutiful military officer, however, he was also a womanizer and playboy. For her part, Aurora had no interest in motherhood going so far as to, unsuccessfully, have her son adopted by her half-brother, Prince Elim Demidov. The couple divorced on 26 December 1896 and Prince Pavle was entrusted to his brother Prince Peter in Geneva.

In 1903 after the overthrow of the Obrenović dynasty and his brother becoming King of Serbia, Arsenije returned with other members of the Karađorđević dynasty to Serbia. Remaining an adventurer, Arsenije returned to Russian to fight in the Russo-Japanese War during which he was awarded the Golden Weapon "For Bravery" for his actions during the Battle of Mukden. He served in the Royal Serbian Army, capturing Veles during the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913. Because of his popularity with the population as a front line commander King Peter asked him to leave Serbia. Heart broken by his brothers actions Arsenije returned to Russia a third time, serving in the 2nd Guards Infantry Division as a commander.

During the World War, Arsenije continued to serve in the Russian Imperial Army on the Eastern Front. After the October Revolution he was arrested by the Bolsheviks and tried before a People's Court of Citizens and Soldiers. He was acquitted by the court. With Bolshevik Russia signing a seperate peace with the and Serbia occupied by Austria-Hungary Arsenije fled to Paris.

King of Serbia

On 3 October 1918, Arsenije received a delegation of the Progressive Party. An address was read out by Ži­vo­jin Pe­rić asking him to replace his nephew, Crown Prince Alexander, as Prince Regent. Fearing the possible partitioning of Serbia by the Central Powers, Alexander reluctantly agreed to pass the royal powers to his uncle, though he remained heir apparent. The Central Powers, where determined to be pin as much blame and punishment for the war on Serbia, this included annexing Serbia between Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria. The Entente wanted to preserve Serbian independence. Crown Prince Alexander, who was the natural heir, was no longer viable because he was too Yugoslavist, one of Gavrilo Princip's primary motivations for assassinating Franz Ferdinand. Instead, they considered installing Alexander's brother (and former crown prince), Prince George, but he had given up his claim to the throne after killing a servant. As a result, Alexander's uncle, Prince Arsenije, was chosen to become the new regent.

In August 1921, on the death of his brother, a crisis emerged over the succession. The Austrians, while determined to ensure that Alexander never come to the throne, did not wish to renew hostilities with the Entente, and sought to have the late king succeeded by another member of the royal family. As a Karađorđević, Arsenije was very conscious of the long blood-feud between the Houses of Obrenović and Karađorđević that had disfigured Serb politics in the 19th century and that the 1903 coup d'etat that finally brought down the Obrenovićes and led to the Karađorđevićs regaining the throne had happened because the last Obrenoviće king, King Alexander, was widely viewed as too subservient to the Austrian empire and to have betrayed Serb interests.

This history forced Nikola Pašić, the Prime Minister, proposed that Prince Arsenije become king instead of Crown Prince Alexander. Pašić, who was also Prime Minister during the war, feared of either a new war that would wipe Serbia of the map of Europe or a restoration of the Obrenović dynasty. Alexander and Pašić also disliked each other personally as Pašić was a democratic spirit who believed Alexander's succession would turn Serbia into a dictatorial state. In the evening of 29 August, after a bill passed by the Skupština, Alexander went into exile. The next day Arsenije swore an oath of loyalty to the constitution and proclaimed King of Serbia.

In foreign policy, Arsenije favored reversing the international system created in 1918-19 and in 1921 Serbia had joined the Little Entente with Greece and Romania to guard against Austria and Bulgaria, which all three states of the Little Entente had territorial claims against. Besides for Austria, the principle enemy of Serbia in the 1920s was Bulgaria, which took much of Vardar region. The origins of the Serbo-Bulgarian dispute concerned the Serbian contention that the Vardar territory had been "stolen" out what they had "earned" in the Treaty of Bucharest in 1913 at the Lausanne peace conference in 1919. It was largely out of the fear of response from Austria, should Serbia make any attempts to reverse the treaty, that Arsenije in 1927 signed a treaty of alliance with France, which therefore became Serbia's principle ally.

By 1926 Serbia was the brink of civil war. Arsenije appointed Milan Grol prime minister with one mandate, namely to stop the slide towards civil war. On 16 February 1928, the lavish celebrations of the 124th anniversary of the First Serbian Uprising that the government organized led to rioting that left 10 dead in Novi Pazar. In response to the political crisis triggered by the riots, King Arsenije prorogued the Parliament and introduced personal rule. One of the first acts of the new regime was to carry out a purge of the civil service with one-third of the civil service being fired by May 1929 in an attempt to address popular complaints about rampant corruption in the bureaucracy. Arsenije had once been extremely popular with ordinary people, being known for his front line leadership among ordinary soldiers of the Serbian Army but after the proclamation of the royal dictatorship, his social circle consisted of a few generals and courtiers, causing the king to lose touch with his subjects.

The royal dictatorship for the first time made Arsenije into an unpopular figure. The Great Depression was especially severe in predominantly rural Serbia as it caused deflation leading to a collapse in price of agricultural products. In response to pressure from Serbia's allies, especially France and Greece, led Arsenije to lessen the royal dictatorship by bringing in a new constitution which allowed the skupshtina to meet again. In 1931, Arsenije decreed a new Constitution. Elections were to be by universal male suffrage. The provision for a secret ballot was dropped and pressure on public employees to vote for the governing party was to be a feature of all elections held under Arsenije's constitution. In the elections for the skupshtina in December 1931-January 1932, the call of the opposition parties to boycott the vote were widely heeded, a sign of popular dissatisfaction with the new constitution.

In response to the impoverishment of the countryside caused by the Great Depression, Arsenije affirmed in a speech that the right of every peasant family to a minimum amount of land that could not be seized by a bank in the event of a debt default, and in 1932 issued a decree suspending all debt payments by farmers to the banks for six months and forbade any more foreclosures by the banks against farmers. Through Arsenije's measures preventing the banks to foreclose on farmers who were unable to pay their loans saved many peasants from being ruined and prevented economic distress in the countryside from turning political, in the long run his policies did not solve the economic problems of the rural areas. The losses taken by the banks and their inability to foreclose on farmers who had delinquent loans made the banks unwilling to make new loans to the farmers.

Starting in 1935, Arsenije had become worried about France who was aligning closer to the Soviet Union. In March 1935, the French minister in Belgrade, Paul-Émile Naggiar, told Arsenije that France was seriously worried about the stability of Serbia, warning that the king could not continue to rule in face of growing opposition from his subjects, and that the viewpoint from Paris was that Arsenije was starting to become a liability for France. Naggiar predicated war with Germany to challenge the international order created by the Treaty of Lausanne was going to happen sooner or later, and France needed Serbia to be stable and strong. However, one point of agreement that Arsenije did have with Mussolini was his desire to redraw borders with Austria, which led him to support the return of Triveneto to Italy. Because of his distaste for communism, Arsenije distanced Serbia from France. In 1935-36, Arsenije become the proponent of Serb re-armament.

This was strongly opposed by Austria and Bulgaria who signed a Balkan Pact. This was primarily directed against Serbia and its allies Romania and Greece, Arsenije hoped the pact might provoke some protection from Italy and France. On 31 July 1938 Serbia signed an agreement with them in Negotin, repealing those clauses of the Treaty of Lausanne that mandated demilitarized zones on the Serbo-Bulgarian and -Austrian borders, and allowing Serbia to re-arm herself.

King Arsenije was in Belgrade when he died in 1938 at the age of 79. After a huge funeral in Belgrade attended by many leading European statesmen, Arsenije was interred in the Oplenac Church in Topola, which had been built by his brother. He was succeeded by his estranged son, Crown Prince Pavle.

Titles, styles, honours and arms

Monarchical styles of
Arsenije I of Serbia
Coat of Arms of the House of Karađorđević junior line.png
Reference style His Majesty
Spoken style Your Majesty
Alternative style Sir

Titles and styles

  • 16 April 1859 – 15 Jun 1903: Prince Arsenije Karađorđević
  • 15 Jun 1903 – 3 October 1918: His Royal Highness Prince Arsenije of Serbia
  • 3 October 1918 – 30 August 1921: His Royal Highness The Prince Regent of Serbia
  • 30 August 1921 – 19 October 1938: His Majesty The King of Serbia
Arsenije I of Serbia
House of Karađorđević
Born: 16 April 1859 Died: 19 October 1938
Royal titles
Preceded by
Peter I of Serbia
King of Serbia
30 August 1921 – 19 October 1938
Succeeded by
Paul I of Serbia
Political offices
Preceded by
Crown Prince Alexander
Acting head of state of Serbia
as Prince regent

3 October 1918 – 30 August 1921
Succeeded by
as King of Serbia