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A forbidden love and an end of a dynasty – Serbian royal couple Alexander and Draga Obrenovic

Draga and Aleksandar Obrenovic

Aleksandar_I_Obrenovi?_i_Draga_-_?lanak_povodom_ubistva_3The dynasty Obrenovic which won Serbian independence from the Ottoman empire in 1830, and elevated the status of Serbia to an internationally recognized kingdom in 1882, ended tragically in 1903 by a murder of the last ruling couple, Alexander and Draga. Serbian throne was inherited by a dynasty Karadjordjevic, which exists to the present day, while the genealogy of Obrenovics’ is totally extinct. It is widely held that one of the main reasons for such outcome was a scandalous decision of the young king Alexander to marry a widow without noble origins, 12 years older than himself and suffering from sterility issues. As a result, the queen Draga is memorized as a treacherous and evil woman, and King Alexander as unfit and featherbrained. The truth is, as it’s often the case, much more complicated.

The queen, born as Draga Lunjevica, belonged to a family with strong connections to the progenitor of the Obrenovic genealogy, knez Milos. Lunjevicas helped the Second Serbian Uprising (1815-1817) led by Milos and mediated in marriage between him and kneginja Ljubica. Draga Lunjevica was very proud of her origin and was raised in a national spirit, with the belief that female children should be educated too. She was sent, along with her sisters, from native Gornji Milanoviac to Belgrade, where she learned four languages and several other subjects in the only high school for girls. She was talented for literary work and wrote short stories. At the library she soon meet her first love, Bogdan Popovic, who was to become the greatest literary critic and essayist of that time. However, her parents arranged another marriage, and as a 17 years old girl, she became a wife to 32 old mining engineer Svetozar Masin, of strange temper and prone to alcoholism. After only three years of their marriage, Svetozar died from a heart attack in a drunken state, and Draga fell into poverty. With a very modest pension, she rarely left home. She wrote and translated for newspapers in order to get some extra money and also help her younger sisters, who were underage for marriage. Although later accounts describe her as a promiscuous widow receiving gifts in exchange for love, the truth is that she soon became a lady-in-waiting of the Serbian Queen Natalie, which could have never happened were Draga a compromised woman. On the contrary, Queen Natalie knew of her literary work and heard many recommendations from the “best houses” before she decided to take Draga on her joruney into exile, which had befallen this Queen after the divorce from the Serbian King Milan Obrenovic.

After this divorce, which happened in 1889, King Milan abdicated and left the only child he had with Natalie, young Alexander (aged 13), to rule under regency, until he reaches maturity. Both parents leaving him, Alexander grew up as a strange and cautious boy, trying to emancipate himself from the quarrels his parents conducted through relations with him. In seventeen years of age he dismissed the regency, proclaimed himself an adult, and started ruling alone. Records say that he had very good education and mastered all high society manners, but was still clumsy with women, which worried his father. In 1895, when he was visiting the French abode of his mother, Biaritz palace, Alexander met Draga for the first time. Her modesty, eloquence and beauty enchanted him. Ne never stopped courting her for two years, after which she finally succumbed to his affection. It is clear from the correspondence, that Queen Natalie did not oppose this affair of her son. On the contrary, she wanted Alexander to be taught in “the art of love” by a woman who, being a widow, was not obliged to anyone. However, when the affection that the young king felt for Draga was noticed in still wider and wider circles, Draga fell into disfavor and lost the position of a lady-in-waiting. Returning to Belgrade in 1897, Draga became an official mistress of King Alexander, which again did not make a big fuss, because it was believed to be only an affair. However, private letters show that the two of them had very elaborated relationship and that Draga was the only person Alexander confided in. She gave him a feeling of family care and the warmth of home, which he never really experienced. He even asked her for political advices and invited her to meetings and balls of the highest order. Although many attempts to of a decent marriage arrangement which will connect Alexander to some of the influential European courts were not opposed by the young King, he did not show genuine interest in any of the possible queens. This is when the official circles as well as the diplomatic corps became worried about his relationship to Draga Masin. They started plotting to separate them, and attempted to convince the King that Draga is unworthy and immoral. Nothing helped, and in 1899 their relationship was stronger than ever. Draga became the target of gossips, intrigues and even public scandals, which she stoically endured. In 1900, contrary to all wishes of his parents, most of the politicians and a good part of Serbs, King Alexander declared his engagement to Draga Masin, born Lunjevica. This scandal was soon calmed by underlining that Alexander wanted the Queen of Serbian origin, from a well-known family connected to the Second Uprising, and an Orthodox believer. The godfather at the wedding was the Russian Tsar Nicholai II, who did not, however, appear in person. Alexander proclaimed amnesties for political prisoners and turned the foreign policy towards Russia, ending the traditional Austrophile directions led by his father Milan. With all those measures, people were mostly ready to accept Draga as a new Queen. Bu the army and the nobility could not digest her low rank and her age. They also strongly opposed Draga’s attempts to popularize her own family, which king Alexander readily supported, not having the family abode of his own. The climax of dissatisfaction was Draga’s false pregnancy, which occurred in 1901, erroneously diagnosed by a French doctor. After it turned out that there is no gravidity, a great wave of disappointment and rage swiped through the population and Draga’s rating as a Queen was lower than ever. High army officials and opponents of the dynasty used the moment to start preparing the assassination, but almost two years passed from the idea to the realization. The false pregnancy did not affect the love of Alexander and Draga, and King planned to send his queen to foreign hospital treatments, obsessed with the idea that they should have an offspring. They never really had time to work on it.

Assasination of Draga and AlexanderIn May 1903, King Alexander and Queen Draga were gunned down, mutilated and thrown out the window from the second floor of their Belgrade court. Although not all of their governing was prudent and popular, this barbaric act was unanimously condemned by all the European public. Some of the countries such as Great Britain, suspended all the diplomatic relations with Serbia for several years. Obrenovic dynasty was substituted by Karadjordjevic dynasty and the international reputation of Serbia gradually improved. However, reputation of Alexander and Draga among the people stayed very negative until the present day. Only recent scholarship slowly uncovers more delicate elements of their story, which shows how strong was the nature of their love and how complex their situation really was.

About the author

Vesna Adic

Vesna Adic holds an MA degree in Art History from the University of Belgrade and has graduated with the Mention of Excellence from the Paideia Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden. She is a certified curator, an experienced public speaker and a freelance writer. Her major interests are history, 19th century art & literature, music and traveling.