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Milan I
King of Serbia


Other Titles and Honours

Milan Obrenović IV, Prince of Serbia, 1868-82 (under a Regency until 1872)

Positions Held

Commander-in-Chief of the Serbian Army, 1897


During the reign of his cousin Mihailo Obrenović III, young Milan was educated in Paris, at the Lycжe Louisle-Grand, where he displayed considerable precocity, but he was only fourteen years of age when in 1868 his cousin was assassinated and he succeeded to the throne under a regency.  In 1872 he was declared of age, and taking the reins of government into his own hands, soon manifested great intellectual power, coupled with a passionate headstrong character.  Eugene Schuyler, who saw him about this time, found him 'a very remarkable young man...singularly intelligent and well-informed.'  By a careful balancing of the Austrian and Russian parties in Serbia, with a judicious leaning towards the former, Prince Milan was enabled in 1878, at the end of the Turkish War, to induce the Porte to acknowledge his independence, and was proclaimed king in 1882.  Acting under Austrian influence, King Milan devoted all his energies to the improvement of means of communication and the development of natural resources, but the cost, which was unduly increased by reckless extravagance, led to proportionately heavy taxation.  This, coupled with increased military service, rendered King Milan and the Austrian party most unpopular; and his political troubles were further increased by the defeat of the Serbians in the war against Bulgaria, 1885-86.  In September of 1885 the union of Rumelia and Bulgaria caused widespread agitation in Serbia, and Milan precipitately declared war upon his kinsman Prince Alexander on the 15th of November.  After a short but decisive campaign, the Serbians were utterly routed at the battles of Slivinska and Pirot, and Milan's throne was only saved by the direct intervention of Austria.

Domestic difficulties now arose which rapidly assumed a political significance.  In October 1875 King Milan had married Natalie, the sixteen-years-old daughter of Peter Ivanović Ketchko, a Moldavian Boyar, who was a colonel in the Russian army, and whose wife, Pulcheria, was by birth Princess Sturdza.  A son, Alexander, was born in 1876, but the king and queen showed signs of friction.  Milan was anything but a faithful husband.  Queen Natalie was greatly influenced by Russian sympathies; and the couple, ill-assorted both personally and politically, separated in 1886, when the queen withdrew from the kingdom, taking with her the young prince, Alexander, afterwards king, then ten years of age.  While she was residing at Wiesbaden in 1888, King Milan succeeded in recovering the crown prince, whom he undertook to educate; and in reply to the queen's remonstrances, he exerted considerable pressure upon the metropolitan, and procured a divorce, which was afterwards annulled as illegal King Milan now seemed master of the situation, and on the 3rd of January 1889 promulgated a new constitution much more liberal than the existing one of 1869.  Two months later, the 6th of March,  he suddenly abdicated in favour of his son, a step for which no satisfactory reason was assigned, and settled as a private individual in Paris.

In February 1891 a radical ministry was formed, Queen Natalie and the ex-metropolitan Michael returned to Belgrade, and Austrian influence began to give way to Russian.  Fear of a revolution and of King Milan's return led to a compromise, by which in May 1891 the queen was expelled, and Milan was allowed a million francs from the civil list, on condition of not returning to Serbia during his son's minority.  Milan in March 1892 renounced all his rights, and even his Serbian nationality.  The situation altered, however, after the young King Alexander in April 1893 had effected his coup d'жtat and taken the reins of government into his hands.  Serbian politics began to grow more complicated, and Russian intrigue was rife.  In January 1894 Milan suddenly appeared at Belgrade, and his son gladly availed himself of his experience and advice.  On the 29th of April a royal decree reinstated Milan and Natalie, who in the meantime had become ostensibly reconciled, in their position as members of the royal family.  On the 21st of May the constitution of 1869 was restored, and Milan continued to exercise considerable influence over his son.  The queen, who had been residing chiefly at Biarritz, returned to Belgrade in May 1895, after four years' absence, and was greeted by the populace with great enthusiasm.

In 1897 Milan was appointed commander-in-chief of the Serbian army.  In this capacity he did some of the best' work of his life, and his success in improving the Serbian military system was very marked.  His relations with the young king also remained good, and for a time it seemed as though all Russian intrigues were being checked.  The good relations between father and son were interrupted, however, by the latter's marriage in July 1900.  Milan violently opposed the match, and resigned his post as commander-in-chief; and the young king banished him from Serbia and threw himself into the arms of Russia.  Milan retired to Vienna, and there he died unexpectedly on the 11th of February 1901.

Milan was an able, though headstrong man, but he lived a scandalously irregular life, and was devoid of moral principle.  In considering his relations with his young son, it must be remembered that in the dynastic and political condition of Serbia natural feeling was inevitably subordinated in Milan to other considerations.

Place of birth: Marasesci, Romania
Place of marriage: Belgrade
Place of death: Vienna
Place of burial: Krušedol monastery



H.  Montgomery-Massingberd, ed.  Burke's Royal Families of the World.  Volume I: Europe & Latin America.  London: Burke’s Peerage Ltd., 1977.
2. Encyclopaedia Britannica: A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, Literature and General Information, 11th edn, vol. 18. New York: Encyclopaedia Britannica Co., 1911.
3. A. Backo and H. N. M. Jovanović. Obrenović (Teodorovic - Obrenovic) Extinct Serbian Dynasty. Belgrade: by the authors, 2016.

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