Friday, 13 January 2017

A Knightsbridge Scandal

No 3 in the Flora Maguire Mystery Series
Released on 1st March from Aria Fiction

While researching current affairs which could be discussed over the teacups in Flora's drawing room, I discovered the assassination of a royal couple which almost equalled the atrocity of that of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Duchess Sophie in Sarajevo on June 28th 1914 and was the catalyst for World War I. 

I prefer not to regurgitate history in my novels, using historical events as a backdrop to the mysteries Flora gets involved with. The May Coup as it was called is an event Flora's father, William now working for the Foreign Office is distantly involved with as it affected the British Government. 

King Alexander I and Queen Draga of Serbia
A bitter feud which existed between Serbia's leading families; the Obrenovich and Karageorgevich dynasties, both of whom struggled for independence from the Turks. 

Queen Nathalie
 At twenty-two, King Milan Obrenovich I married the beautiful, sixteen-year-old Moldavian, Natalie [Natalija or Nathalie] Keshko. Their only child, Alexander was born a year later. King Milan was an unpopular, autocratic ruler, nor was he a faithful husband. Queen Natalie was reputed to be hot-headed, impulsive and indiscreet. After ten years, they separated and Queen Natalie left Serbia taking ten-year old Prince Alexander, known as Sascha, with her. King Milan removed the Crown Prince from her influence by force, and took him to Belgrade.

King Milan abdicated in 1889 and went to live in Paris, leaving his twelve-year-old son Alexander as king under a council of regency. At sixteen, Alexander proclaimed himself of age, dismissed the regents and their government, abolished his father’s liberal constitution and restored a conservative one. He brought back his father Milan, and appointed him commander-in-chief of the Serbian army, though this didn't last and Milan left again.

King Milan I of Serbia
After a great deal of unpleasant publicity, not to mention the to-ing and fro-ing between Belgrade and their chosen locations of exile, the King and Queen of Serbia divorced in October 1888, after thirteen years of marriage, although later this was declared illegal. Nathalie was in her twenty-eighth year, and considered one of the most beautiful women in Europe, who went to live in Biarritz together with her lady-in-waiting, Draga Mašin. When Natalie discovered her son was having an affair with her lady-in-waiting, she took the view that a liaison with an older woman would be good for her son. However Alexander becamse obsessed with Draga, so the Queen dismissed her. However, Draga returned to Belgrade where she acted as King Alexander's adviser.

Draga [which means ‘dear’ or ‘precious’ in Serbian] Lunjevica, was the daughter of a prominent Serbian family. She married an engineer, Svetozar Maschin at fifteen and was widowed at eighteen. She had two brothers, Nikola (Nicholas) and Nikodije (Nicodemus) and four sisters, Christina (Christine), Đina, Ana (Anne) and Vojka.

Draginja Milićević Lunjevica Maschin
Draga was well read, liked poetry, spoke four languages, and had written for Serbian newspapers whilst she served as a lady-in-waiting. She was also flirtatious and had a bad reputation, which may or may not be propaganda put about by the unhappy royals. 

King Milan, who was always broke, wanted a wealthy American for his son, and was outraged at the relationship. Alexander got him out of the way on the pretext of negotiating a marriage for him to a German Princess.

When he was gone, Alexander announced his engagement to Draga Mašhin. When his father found out, the furious Milan resigned as commander-in-chief and left Serbia, refusing to return. The government resigned and Alexander had difficulty in forming a new cabinet. Alexander had his Minister of the Interior jailed for seven years and Queen Natalie banished from Serbia.

An ex attaché wrote of Alexander: King 'Sasha' of Serbia is one of the most offensive and displeasing youths that could be found anywhere from the Bosporus to the banks of the Tagus. His manners are course and brutal in the extreme, fully in keeping with his beetling brows, low forehead, and almost bestial nose and jaw, while the opinions which he vouchsafes with regard to women in general are characterized by an affection of cynicism and disillusion that is revolting indeed.’

They married on 23 July 1900; she was thirty-two; he was twenty-three. Russian Tsar Nicolas Romanov agreed to be Alexander's honorary best man. 

On hearing that the marriage had taken place Queen Nathalie said:

‘We must hope that this comedy, for I can speak of it by no other name, may not turn into a most fearful tragedy.’

Rumours of Draga’s pregnancy started soon after the wedding, but those in her private circle knew her to be infertile after a youthful accident, which Alexander refused to believe, although the pregnancy did not materialise.

Draga was made Queen of Serbia, with equal rights to reign with the King. Various institutions founded by Queen Nathalie, and which bore her name were re-named as Queen Draga institutions, as was the Queen's Serbian regiment. A propaganda campaign began, with Queen Natalie pressuring Alexander to divorce Draga, then a story circulated that Draga was trying to get her sister to have a baby and pass it off as her own, and that she had killed her first husband. Draga became terrified her enemies would poison her so she had all her food tasted.

Discontented army officers plotted in September 1901 to kill Alexander and Draga with knives dipped in potassium cyanide at a party for the Queen's birthday on 11 September, but the plan failed since the royal couple never arrived.

By March 1903, a rumour started that Draga tried to have her brother, Nikola Lunjevica, named heir to the throne. Nikola was a junior military officer who threw frequent temper tantrums and once killed a policeman whilst drunk. As the king's brother-in-law, he had also demanded senior officers report to and salute him. 

The Assasination

Colonel Dragutin Dimitriević, [Apis]
On June 10th 1903, while Draga and Alexander dined with courtiers and members of Draga’s family at the Old Palace in Belgrade, conspirators surrounded the houses of the Prime Minister and senior officers loyal to king, including several officers of the Royal Guard. The palace guard unlocked the gates at 2.00 am, and a small band of army officers led by Apis [Colonel Dragutin Dimitriević,] the head of Royal Serbian Military Intelligence,entered the palace, killing two of Draga’s sisters and most of the court.

Draga and Alexander heard the crowd approaching and hid in a cupboard in Draga’s bedroom where they held each other and tried to keep quiet.

Apis thought he had seen the king running away, at which a chase and gunfight erupted in the garden. A palace guard shot Apis three times in the chest, though he survived. While Apis lay wounded in the basement of the palace, the conspirators ordered the King's first aide-de-camp, General Lazar Petrović to tell them if a secret room or passage existed. Petrović waited for the deadline of ten minutes to expire, then the doors were shattered with dynamite, but the King's bed was empty.

The couple were found in a secret room behind a mirror or in an alcove - accounts vary. When the partially dressed Alexander and Draga emerged, three officers emptied their revolvers into them, killing Draga and wounding Alexander, who frantically clung to the balcony until an officer drew his sword and cut off his fingers.

Contemporary artist's impression of the killings
Their bodies were mutilated and tossed from a second floor window - some accounts say they were disembowelled, their remains taken to St. Mark's Church, Belgrade and buried in secret.

The Prime Minister Dimitrije Cincar-Marković and the Minister of the Army Milovan Pavlović, as well as the Queen’s brothers Nikodije and Nikola Ljunjevice all died that night.

The National Assembly voted Peter Karađorđević as King Peter I, but international outrage came swiftly, with both Russia and Austria-Hungary condemning the assassinations. When no attempt was made to bring the assassins to justice, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands withdrew their ambassadors from Serbia, froze diplomatic relations, and imposed sanctions.

Russia returned its ambassador after a short, placatory negotiation, followed by other states, leaving only the United Kingdom and the Netherlands to boycott the new Serbian government. British-Serbian diplomatic relations were renewed by decree signed by King Edward VII in 1906.

The  Black Hand became increasingly powerful, and in 1914, they ordered the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo that launched WWI.

Queen Natalie converted to the Roman Catholic faith and became a lay sister in the Order of Notre Dame de Sion. As Alexander's sole heir, she donated everything he bequeathed to her to the University of Belgrade and Serbian churches. In the 1920’s, a New York Times reporter asked Natalie why she had not written her memoirs. She replied: 'Memoirs require memories. I have forgotten everything in order to forgive everything.'

Milan died in Vienna in February 1901, aged 46, just six months before his son, while Nathalie lived until she was 81 and died in France in 1941.

More Here at The Esoteric Curiosa

1 comment:

Petrea Burchard said...

That's a fascinating bit of history. Such drama, too.