Alexander I may have had a brief reign as King of Serbia, but his life reads more like a soap opera—written in blood—than a fairy tale. From his mommy and daddy issues to his controversial marriage to his explosive downfall, to say Alexander I was a controversial figure would be a massive understatement. Was he a maniacal tyrant or just a lovesick boy with a crown? Read on and find out.
1. He Was Just A Pawn
Born in 1876, Alexander I was the first child born to King Milan I of Serbia and Queen Natalie. And, save for a brother who died in infancy, Alexander stayed their only child. Considering his status, he should’ve been the apple of their eye—right? Well, not quite. While he was technically a prince, his parents treated him like more of a pawn. It was a move they’d come to regret.
2. His Parents Fought
Alexander I’s parents were political rivals, but their differences didn’t end there. Alexander I’s father, King Milan, was an epic philanderer. So epic, in fact, that it was impossible to hide from Queen Natalie. Allegedly, Queen Natalie once slapped one of her husband’s mistresses in the middle of a crowd at a public reception. Drama!
Poor little Alexander I had no idea what kind of family he had been born into.
3. His Mother Made Him Disappear
In 1887, when Alexander I was just 11 years old, his parents’ feud had reached its boiling point—and Queen Natalie made a break for it. She spirited away the young heir apparent to the Russian Crimea, causing a major scandal. Immediately after they left, rumors of divorce and abdication swirled around the royal family.
Funny enough, no one knew just how close Alexander I actually was to the throne—but not for the reasons you’d expect.
4. His Father Called The Fuzz On Him
The royal couple tried to play nice for the next year, but they weren’t fooling anyone. Queen Natalie continued to take Alexander I on extended “trips” to Italy and Germany. And once again, Alexander I found himself in the middle of his parents’ feuding. When Queen Natalie took Alexander I to Wiesbaden, it was the last straw for King Milan
He ordered German officers to take his son away from his mother. Hopefully, no handcuffs were involved.
5. He Became A Boy King
Alexander I’s family drama took an unexpected turn in 1889 when Alexander I was 12 years old. Unexpectedly and completely without explanation, King Milan did the unthinkable. He abdicated his throne in favor of his son. All of a sudden, Alexander I went from being a pawn in his parents’ political games to being a king in his own right.
But he was king in name only.
6. His Father Pulled The Strings
If Alexander I thought that being king meant that he was free of his parents’ feuds, he was wrong. He was still just a kid. And a kid can’t be king. Alexander I may have got the crown and the title, but his father placed him under the control of a regency government. A regency government that the former King controlled.
Not surprisingly, this only upped the ante in his family drama.
7. His Parents Abandoned Him
Alexander I’s parents continued fighting even with Alexander I on the throne. For years, they used visitation rights and manipulated popular opinion to get what they wanted. Eventually, they managed to call a détente and both agreed to leave Serbia, leaving Alexander I alone and to his own devices. They had no idea that all of their fighting had raised a monster.
8. He Learned From The Worst
Alexander I had gotten a little sick of being everyone’s pawn. He wanted to start making his own choices. Even though he had just been a little tyke when his parents were fighting, he definitely learned how to play politics. He might not have gotten much love from his parents, but he got all of their Machiavellian meanness. At just 16 years of age, Alexander I made his first move—and it was a bold one.
9. He Took What Was Rightfully His
At the age of 16—when most kids are worried about getting their driver’s license—Alexander I was worried about getting something much bigger. A kingdom. He had grown tired of having everyone make choices for him. So, in 1893, Alexander I staged a coup. It wouldn’t be the last coup that he was a part of either. But it was the only bloodless one.
10. He Had A Sweet Sixteen
Alexander I hadn’t attained his age of seniority yet. He was 16 years old and therefore too young to be king without a regency government. But all those bureaucratic rules meant nothing to the young king. Alexander I proclaimed himself to be of legal age—because, you know, why not—and dismissed his regency government.
While most teens were getting their first set of wheels, Alexander I was ruling an entire country…but what kind of leader would he be?
11. He Was Full Of Forgiveness
Alexander I, finally in control of his own destiny as King of Serbia, was feeling magnanimous—at least at first. He could have gotten back at his parents for all of their earlier slights but, instead, the young king forgave them. Alexander I lifted his mother’s and his father’s exile and had them return to Serbia. But they were far from being one big happy family.
12. His Father Was Commander
Alexander I wanted to mend fences with his father—you know, the same guy who had sent German officers to pry him away from his mother just a few years earlier. So, he entrusted his father with a position of power. Alexander I made the former King Milan commander-in-chief. Not only was it his first mistake of many, but it was also the beginning of his gruesome downfall.
Oh, and when we say downfall, we mean it literally.
13. He Was Powerless
Alexander I might have been happy that his parents were back in Serbia and, for the first time, not at each other’s necks. Instead, they were at his neck. Alexander I began a power struggle with his father Milan, who was still maybe a little sore at having to give up his throne to his son. Pretty soon, it became obvious to everyone in the kingdom that it was Milan who wielded all the power.
But Alexander I had a few tricks up his sleeve.
14. He Came Up With A Secret Plan
Even though he didn’t wield much power, Alexander I was still king and his father was, technically, his subject. So, Alexander I got his father out of his hair in an ingenious way. He ordered Milan to go to Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic to arrange a marriage for him. His father was probably suspicious of his son’s sudden interest in finding a bride, but he had to obey his king.
Sure enough, Alexander I had a secret plan.
15. He Was Having A Secret Affair
Alexander I had ostensibly sent his father away to find him a bride. But it was really just a way to get him out of the country. Why? Well, Alexander was about to enact a scandalous plan. Secretly, he had been carrying on an affair with one of his mother’s ladies-in-waiting, Draga Mašin. With Milan out of the country, Alexander I was able to do the unthinkable.
16. He Made A Shocking Announcement
With his father all the way in the Czech Republic, there was no one to stand in the way of Alexander I’s plan. The young king made an unexpected—and controversial—announcement. Alexander I announced his engagement to the low-born Draga Mašin. To say that she was an inappropriate choice for a king’s bride would be an understatement.
And Alexander I’s parents were not happy about it—but honestly, were they ever?
17. His Fiancé Had A Bad Reputation
Alexander I’s new fiancé angered his parents—and the entire Serbian kingdom. Apart from the fact that she wasn’t a princess, she didn’t exactly come from what the public considered to be an honorable family. But then, neither did Alexander I. So, the love between the two was probably true. Mašin, for one, knew a thing or two about having crazy parents.
No, actually. Her parents were crazy.
18. His Fiancé Had Bad Parents
It must have been difficult for Alexander I, growing up in the middle of his parents’ constant feuding. But his childhood was a walk in the political minefield park compared to his bride’s nightmarish upbringing. Alexander I’s new fiancé, Mašin, was the daughter of a hard-drinking mother and lunatic father. And she wasn’t exactly the image of sanity herself.
19. His Bride Had A History…A Long History
It wasn’t just Mašin’s family history that made Alexander I’s parents and subjects upset about the match. Oh no. There were rumors—more like insatiable gossip—that the king’s bride-to-be was dishonorable herself. The rumors alleged that Mašin had gotten around. We’re not talking travel here, folks. They claimed that she had multiple partners—and not the dancing kind.
20. He Married Up
Quite apart from the fact that Mašin came from a dishonorable family with only distant royal relations, there was another disturbing reason that Alexander I’s subjects hated her. Alexander I was a total of 12 years her junior. To put that in perspective, he had inherited his throne at the age of 12. As far as the public was concerned, Alexander I was a lovesick puppy dog under the spell of a social-climbing older woman.
21. His Wife Was Barren
If Alexander I’s fiancé did, in fact, have so many “partners,” then where was the evidence? Certainly, with all of those trysts, she must have gotten pregnant at least once. Well, the Serbian rumor mill had that covered. The people believed that Mašin was infertile. That would help to explain some paranoia down the road.
22. He Gave His Mother The Boot
Alexander I’s family didn’t need much reason to fight. They had been doing that ever since he was born. But the young king’s rash decision to marry Mašin was way more than their fraught familial relations could bear. When Alexander I’s mother objected to his choice of bride, he did what his family always did…and exiled her.
23. His Marriage Was Strategic
Alexander I almost certainly loved Mašin dearly. But there was also a political advantage in naming her as his bride. Namely, that advantage was angering his father, the former king. And it worked. Alexander I’s decision made Milan so upset that he resigned as commander-in-chief. For the King, it was just the excuse that he needed to finally get rid of his meddling father once and for all.
24. He Exiled His Own Father
Alexander I thought his father had been too powerful as commander-in-chief. And as long as he remained in Serbia, he would pose a threat to Alexander I’s rule. On top of that, Alexander I just plain didn’t like the man. So, after his father resigned, he gave him the same loving treatment that he had shown to his mother.
He banished his father from Serbia. It turned out to be a fatal blow.
25. His Father’s Passing Was Suspicious
Banishing his father from his own former kingdom was harsh—even by the unscrupulous standards of Alexander I’s family. Not long after he kicked his father out of the palace and out of the kingdom, the former king passed away. Milan’s untimely demise came very unexpectedly. While no one would publicly cast any aspersions about the former king’s death, they couldn’t put anything past Alexander I.
26. He Found His Minister Guilty
One of Alexander I’s own ministers objected to his engagement to Mašin publicly. But if that minister thought that he was safe, he should have thought again. After all, Alexander I had exiled his own parents—and maybe even offed one of them. But Alexander I took it easy on him. He only had the minister imprisoned…for seven years.
27. He Forced His Administration To Resign
For the Serbian government, the writing was on the wall. Alexander I had exiled his parents (or worse) and imprisoned a minister for simply speaking out. Now, Alexander I was demanding their blessing. But, instead of wishing well for the royal couple, Alexander I’s whole government resigned in protest. Every last one of them.
Alexander I would have to seek approval elsewhere.
28. His Best Man Was A Bad Omen
After all of the drama surrounding the announcement of his engagement, Alexander I finally found someone to give their blessing. Tsar Nicolas Romanov accepted Alexander I’s request to serve as the honorary best man at his wedding. Considering how the situation deteriorated from there, it was more like a curse than a blessing.
29. He Finally Got What He Wanted
After all that, Alexander I finally got to marry Draga Mašin. Hopefully, it was worth the cost of his mother, his father, his entire administration, and the love of his people. From the sounds of what happened next, all of those naysayers had been right. After his marriage to Mašin, Alexander I kind of went off the rails and became something of a tyrant.
30. He Staged A Coup
Alexander I definitely sensed that he was in trouble. So, he did what any budding tyrant would do. He staged a coup. Again. In an unprecedented power grab, Alexander I suspended the country’s constitution. In his defense, it was only for a few hours. But in that time, he managed to pass a few decrees and fire some senators. It was too little, too late though.
He had already sown the seeds of his own demise.
31. He Made Powerful People Angry
Alexander I’s marriage made him deeply unpopular. It wasn’t just his parents, his administration, and his people who weren’t happy. Alexander I managed to tick off some very powerful people as well. Namely, the ominous Black Hand secret society of Serbian military officials. That’s the same group largely responsible for sparking WWI.
32. He Was An Expectant Father
Alexander I and Mašin were ready to put the rumors about Mašin’s infertility to bed—pun intended—shortly after their marriage. The royal couple quickly got to the business of baby-making. Although, come to think of it, they had probably been in that business before getting married. Nevertheless, Alexander I believed that Mašin was pregnant and freed a bunch of political prisoners in celebration.
It was a big mistake.
33. He Had A False Alarm
The rumors of Mašin’s infertility might not have been just rumors—they might have been fact. The royal couple was just getting ready to celebrate the birth of their first child when they learned that it was just a false pregnancy. Mašin was not pregnant at all. All of a sudden, the question of succession became the primary issue.
It wouldn’t matter for long though. There wouldn’t be an Alexander II.
34. He Was Without An Heir
After the kingdom learned that Alexander I wasn’t going to have any children with Mašin, they became hyper-focused on the issue of succession, and dark rumors began to spread. Whispers began to circulate around the palace that Alexander I was going to pass his throne on to someone from way outside the royal family. Once again, the rumors were closer to the truth than anyone knew.
35. His Wife Manipulated Him
The Serbian people reviled Mašin as a manipulative shrew who whispered in their king’s ear. They were probably right. Alexander I—devastated after his wife’s false pregnancy—was susceptible to manipulation. Mašin was able to convince Alexander I to name her older brother as his successor. And he thought that his parents used him?
36. He Made One Last Mistake
The Serbian kingdom might have tolerated Alexander I’s squabbles with his parents. They might even have tolerated his tyrannical rule. But they weren’t about to sit back and let their king pass the throne on to the family of his hated wife. Under the cover of darkness, the Black Hand was about to make their move. And it would end terribly for Alexander I.
37. He Slept Peacefully
Alexander I became involved in one final coup—and he wouldn’t survive this one. On the night of June 10, 1903, a group of officers from within the Royal Serbian Army cut the power to the palace. Alexander I and Mašin were asleep when the conspirators snuck into the palace under the cover of darkness. They had no idea what horrors lay ahead.
38. He Lost His Privacy Privileges
With the lights out, the conspirators made their way through the palace without incident. It wasn’t until they got to the royal chambers that things got intense. The conspirators blew off the doors to the Alexander I’s bed chambers using dynamite. It’s like there’s no such thing as privacy anymore. However, when the dust settled, the conspirators were in for a surprise.
39. He Disappeared
Alexander I and Mašin must have sensed that something was going on. Maybe it was the lights going out. Or, more likely, the dynamite blowing their door off of its hinges. Either way, the royal couple acted quickly. When the conspirators burst into his bedroom, Alexander I and Mašin had disappeared. Sadly, they were only delaying the inevitable.
40. He Had A Safe Room
There are a couple of theories as to how exactly Alexander I pulled off his vanishing act. One theory suggests that Alexander I and Mašin decided to hide in a secret compartment somewhere in the royal bedchambers. Alexander I’s plan, according to this theory, would have been to just wait for the conspirators to lose interest.
However, there’s another theory that seems more likely.
41. He Had A Magical Wardrobe
The second theory in Alexander I’s disappearing act suggests that he and Mašin were hiding behind the mirror that opened to Mašin’s wardrobe. Allegedly, that room had once contained a secret passage out of the palace to the embassy across the street. In a cruel twist of fate, however, Mašin had earlier had the secret passageway blocked to make room for more of her clothes.
She would only be needing one dress though. A burial dress.
42. He Was Lost & Found
Regardless of where Alexander I and Mašin were hiding, the conspirators were determined to find them. After two hours without any sign of the royal couple, the conspirators were just about to admit defeat. But then, after intimidating a lieutenant who was still loyal to Alexander I, they finally found what they had been looking for.
That’s when the carnage began.
43. He Came Out Of The Closet
Once the conspirators found Alexander I’s hiding place, they called out to him. Allegedly, Alexander I called back from his hiding place to ask if the conspirators would confirm their oath of loyalty. According to the accounts, the conspirators confirmed their oaths and Alexander I and Mašin came out of hiding. But you should never trust someone who dynamited your bedroom door.
44. He Walked Straight Into A Trap
Alexander I and Mašin cautiously left the safety of their hideaway. They would immediately regret it. The conspirators were obviously ready to break their oaths. Just as soon as the royal couple emerged from their hiding spit, one of the conspirators made his move. He fired every bullet of his fully-loaded revolver straight at the stunned royal couple.
45. His Wife Tried To Save Him
In these terrifying moments, it became clear that Mašin might not have been the manipulative social climber that everyone thought she was. Seeing that Alexander I was in danger, she threw herself on her husband to protect him from the hail of bullets. But it was pointless. They would have been better off with that quick end.
46. He Had No Guts
The hail of bullets hadn’t been enough to end Alexander I’s reign. So, the conspirators took matters into their own hands. Literally. They proceeded to mutilate Alexander I and Mašin. According to one account, the conspirators attacked the couple with knives and even disemboweled them. And what happened next is straight out of Hannibal…
47. He Took A Fall
After a hail of knives and bullets, Alexander I still clung stubbornly to life. After all, if he could survive his parents, he could survive anything. Well, almost anything. According to eyewitnesses, the conspirators threw Alexander I and Mašin—disemboweled and bullet-riddled but still alive—out of a second-floor window.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, they didn’t exactly stick the landing.
48. He Wouldn’t Let Go
Alexander I had fought tooth and nail to live in the royal palace. So, it makes sense that he fought hard to stay in it. Apparently, after the conspirators attempted to throw Alexander I out the window, he somehow clung to the window sill. But it was the end of the line. The conspirators cut off Alexander I’s fingers and sent him tumbling to his demise.
49. He Fertilized His Garden
One has to hope that the life had left the severely mutilated bodies of Alexander I and Mašin by the time the conspirators threw them out of the window. If not, then the insult to their extensive injuries would have been too much to stomach—or even just sniff. Alexander I and Mašin landed on piles of stinking garden manure.
Their final resting place was much nicer.
50. He Was A Fighter To The End
Alexander I’s life had been a fight from the very beginning, at first with his parents and then with everyone else. So, it stands to reason that his demise would have been a fight as well. He was just 26 years old when he met his gruesome downfall. Afterward, Alexander I’s and Mašin’s bodies—or what was left of them—were laid to rest at St. Mark’s Church in Belgrade.