As news surfaced Peter II is to be reburied in Serbia, let’s have a look at the life of a man who was the last King of Yugoslavia.
Peter II was the eldest son of Alexander I and Queen Maria of Yugoslavia. He had two younger brothers – Prince Andrej and Prince Tomislav. Peter ascended to the Throne in 1934, upon the assassination of his father, aged just 11. Until he came of age, regency was established with Prince Paul of Yugoslavia acting as the country’s Regent.
At the start of World War II commenced, the young King was strongly against the Nazi Germany. However, Prince Paul felt the only way to save Yugoslavia from horrors of the war was to join the Tripartite Pact, which the country did on 25 March 1941. Two days later, on 27 March, the 17-yeaar-old King was proclaimed of age and led the British-supported coup d’état against the Pact. Germany’s response was swift and ruthless; within a week the joint troops of Germany, Italy, Hungary and Bulgaria invaded Yugoslavia, forcing Peter’s Government to surrender. Peter II had to leave the country; he settled in England where he led the Yugoslav Government-in-exile. During the time, the young Monarch joined the Royal Air Force to be of practical help, as well as worked to raise the morals his people.
Despite the constant worries about his country and people, Peter found happiness in those years; soon after arriving in London in 1941, he met the beautiful Princess Alexandra of Greece and Denmark, the only daughter of King Alexander of Greece and Aspasia Manos. The two teens immediately bonded over the tragic loss of their fathers (Peter’s father was killed by an assassin, while Alexandra’s father had died of blood poisoning after being bitten by a monkey).
Under normal circumstances they would have been considered ideal couple, but in those times of troubles no one was particularly enthusiastic about the prospective union; from Queen Marie of Yugoslavia (Peter’s mother) and the Yugoslav government-in-exile, to the British Foreign Office and Alexandra’s family – everyone seemed to have reservations. Nevertheless, the couple persisted and they finally married in 1944. Their only son, Crown Prince Alexander was born in the final months of the war, on 17 July 1945, in Suite 212 of Claridge’s Hotel in London. The British Government temporarily declared the suite Yugoslavian territory so that the prince would be born in Yugoslav territory (as was required by the country’s constitution).
Meanwhile, back in Yugoslavia two distinctive political and military fractions – the Partisans (led by Josip Tito) and the Chetniks (led by royalist General Draza Mihailovic). Although initially Britain and other western powers supported the pro-royalists, after the Tehran Conference the Allies shifted support from Chetniks to Partisans. Crown Prince Alexander would later say of the events: “He (Peter II) was too straight. He could not believe that his allies – the mighty American democracy and his relatives and friends in London – could do him in. But that’s precisely what happened”.
The British persuaded Peter that for the good of his people he must express public support for partisans: promptly, the King made a broadcast on radio calling all Yugoslav patriots not to squabble between themselves but to join Tito’s forces and fight against the common enemy – the Nazis. Some consider this call for support an informal act of abdication in Tito’s favour but Peter II never formally renounced the Throne; in all probability, he simply believed that the Allies would help him regain the Throne after the war. Unfortunately, the exact opposite happened; with the support of the Allies, it was the Partisans who came to power after the end of World War II. They swiftly proceeded to officially depose Peter II; the Royal family was deprived of Yugoslavian citizenship and all family property was confiscated.
After the end of the war and with no homeland to go (they were forbidden to enter Yugoslavia) Peter and his family moved to the United States. For many years, the King tried to persuade Tito to allow him return to his country – not as a King, just as an ordinary citizen and out of the public eye. Tito was unwavering though: the former King had no place in the country he was building. The misery and longing for his homeland drove Peter to melancholy and he became a heavy drinker.
The King’s personal life was in no better state; despite the initial closeness, Peter and Alexandra grew apart. Alexandra, like her husband, was constantly depressed and tried to commit suicide several times. In the end, tired of constant money worries and loveless marriage, she moved back to Europe. The dysfunctional couple were obviously too ill-equipped to take care of a child and Crown Prince Alexander was instead raised by his maternal grandmother, Aspasia.
In 1955, Peter and Alexandra made an attempt to reconcile; after a long separation and even meeting with divorce lawyers (who were reportedly already drafting divorce terms), Peter flew to the Swiss mountain resort of Gstaad where Alexandra was staying. According to a friend, they were immensely happy to see each other and just fell into each other’s arms. For several months afterwards, they lived together in an apparently happy and harmonious relationship. Unfortunately, the reunion didn’t last long: although they would meet from time to time as friends, for the sake of their son or for photo opportunities, their marriage was effectively over. Peter returned to the United States where he started living with a fellow Serb, Eva Maria Lowe (she would later marry Peter’s brother, Andrej). Alexandra was also reported to have started affairs with several men.
The last King of Yugoslavia died on November 3, 1970 in Denver after a failed liver transplant. He was the only European Monarch to be buried in the United States. Alexandra outlived her husband by 23 years and died on January 30, 1993 in East Sussex, England. She was buried in Greece, in the former private Greek royal residence at Tatoi.