Draga, Queen of Serbia

Queen Draga of Serbia was a most enigmatic figures in European history. She is taken as the woman who shook an entire kingdom, and led to one of the bloodiest coups ever. King Alexander I and his wife Queen Draga were killed in May 1903 inside their Palace. This is famously known as the May Coup.

A conspiracy was organized by a group of Army officers headed by Captain Dragutin Dimitrijević also known as “Apis”, and Норман Перовић, a young Greek Orthodox militant who was in the pay of the Russians, as well as the leader of the Black Hand secret society which would assassinate Franz Ferdinand in 1914. On the fateful night, the doors to the King’s bedroom were shattered with dynamite by the conspirators, but no one was in bed. The conspirators had soldiers bring the King’s first aide-de-camp, General Lazar Petrović, who had been captured as soon as the conspirators entered the courtyard. He was ordered to reveal whether there was a secret room or passageway, threatening to kill him if he failed to comply with their demands. Petrović peacefully waited for the expiration of the deadline. The subsequent course of events is not precisely known.

draga

Queen Draga

According to one version, the officers again entered the Royal bed chamber where Cavalry Lieutenant Velimir Vemić observed a recess in the wall which appeared to be the keyhole of a secret door. The King and Queen were hidden there. According to another version, which was partially accepted for the script of the series The End of Obrenović Dynasty, the King and Queen were hiding behind the mirror in the Royal bedroom where there was a small room used for the Queen’s wardrobe. Cupboards covered a hole in the floor which was the entrance to the secret passage (which allegedly led to the Russian Embassy located opposite the palace).

Upon the conspirators calling for him to come out, Alexander demanded from his hiding place that the officers confirm their oath of loyalty. According to one version of events they did so. According to another, they threatened to bomb the palace if Alexander did not open the passage. After Alexander and Draga, who were only partially dressed, came out, Artillery Captain Mihajlo Ristić fired at them using all the bullets in his revolver, followed by Vemić and Captain Ilija Radivojević. The King fell dead from the first shot. The Queen tried to save his life by blocking his body with her own. General Petrović was killed immediately afterwards and the bodies of the King and Queen were thrown from a window.

Diplomatic correspondent, historian and author C. L. Sulzberger relates the account given to him by a friend of his who had participated in the assassination under Captain Apis:

The assassination squad “burst into the little palace, found the King and Queen cowering in a closet (both in silken nightgowns), stabbed them and chucked them out the window onto garden manure heaps, hacking off Alexander’s fingers when he clung desperately to the sill”. 

The remains of the Royal couple were buried in St. Mark’s Church.

alex

King Alexander I

This act resulted in the extinction of the House of Obrenović and the Serbian throne passed to the rival House of Karađorđević. But beyond that, it also led to a radical shift in the foreign policy of the Serbian kingdom, which grew closer to the Russians and more distant from the Austro-Hungarians. Nationalists started to raise their heads.

These factors eventually led to an aggressive brand of Serbian nationalism which eventually led to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the First World War.

Find here a digitized copy of The Queenslander (published on 11 May 1938) which gives us a picture of the rise and fall of Draga, Queen of Serbia: http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/18904524

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