Thursday, October 28, 2010

Queen Natalie won't take the documents


October 28, 1888

Queen Natalie of Serbia, now residing in Bucharest, has declined "to receive the documents  notifying her of the divorce obtained by her husband," according to a New York Times dispatch.  The decree was brought to Bucharest  by "special messenger, and the decree will therefore be conveyed to her through the foreign office."

[Natalie, born in Florence, Italy, in 1859, was the daughter of Russian colonel Peter Keshko and Princess Pulcheria Sturdza, a member of a Moldavian princely family.
On October 17, 1875, Natalie married Prince Milan Obrenovic IV of Serbia.   She gave birth to the couple's first son, Alexander, whose godfather was Alexander II of Russia, in 1876.   A second son, Prince Sergei, lived for only a few days in 1878.
In 1882,  Prince Milan proclaimed Serbia as a kingdom.  Natalie was now the Queen of Serbia, but her time in Belgrade was not a happy one.  Milan was notoriously unfaithful, and he pursued a pro-Austrian foreign policy.   Natalie was pro-Russian, which was not a surprise considering her own family.
The political differences between the king and the queen erupted into a public scandal.  The queen and her 11-year-old son, Crown Prince Alexander, left Belgrade, and settled in the Crimea.   Pro-russian Serbs demonstrated support for Natalie.
In July 1887,  Natalie and Alexander returned to Belgrade. Only a month later, Natalie again left the country for  Austria.  That October, Milan and Natalie met in Budapest to arrange a formal reconciliation.  The Queen secured her husband's permission to travel with their son to Italy.
In reality, Natalie had no intention of returning to Belgrade.   She and Alexander moved to Wiesbaden, where Milan's behavior led to an international scandal.  He arranged to use German police to bring back his son to Serbia.  The Chicago Daily Tribune wrote: "The Queen of Servia was today treated with great indignity  by the German authorities.  Her son was taken from her by the German police and sent to Belgrade.... Her Majesty was determined to resist to the last.  She had her boy with her and together they waited the arrival of the police.  When the door opened the Superintendent, followed by twenty gendarmes, forced his way into her apartment.  The poor child flung himself with a cry of alarm into his mother's arms.  The Superintendent demanded possession of the Prince.  The Queen clasped him to her breast. 'I refuse,' she said, 'to give up my child.'  It was a terribly painful moment.  The Queen, although dignified, was intensely excited.  The boy sobbed aloud as he clung to his mother's neck. 'If you refuse.' said the Superintendent of Police, 'I am instructed to use force.'  He pointed to the gendarmes and paused, waiting a moment before giving the signal to his men to wrench loose her son from the convulsive embrace in which the poor Queen locked him."   The young prince was pulled from his mother. "A moment more and he hurried out of her sight, weeping bitterly as he was taken under escort to the station."  The Queen "is still guarded by the gendarmes and is kept as an absolute prisoner in the villa.  No one is allowed to visit her.... Sympathy for her Majesty in Wiesbaden is universal."  This was a dispatch on July 13, 1888.]
Milan also began the procedure to divorce his wife, athough he lacked the support of the Serbian Orthodox church.  Although he was able to wrangle a divorce from one church official,  Queen Natalie refused to accept the decision.  She continued to state that she was the queen, and married to Milan.
The political situation became further entrenched.  In 1889, Milan abdicated the crown in favor of his son, Alexander, who would reign under a regency until 1893.
The former king tried to manipulate Alexander's regency to keep Natalie out of  Belgrade.  
But Natalie refused to abide by these conditions, and she received a rapturous welcome from the Serbian people when she returned to Belgrade in August 1889.
The situation between Milan and Natalie remained tense. Although a divorce was officially recognized by the church in 1890, Natalie refused to give in.  After Milan made the decision to leave Serbia in 1891 and allow Alexander to rule on his own,   he still tried to control his former wife.  Natalie refused to leave the country, even at the request of the government.  Eventually, the police were called in , but Natalie opened a palace window, screamed for help, and within minutes a crowd gathered to support her.   But the support was brief.  The next day, a military garrison showed up at the palace and escorted Natalie out of the country.
So what do you think happened next?  Alexander remains in Belgrade with his regency.  His parents are living in exile.  Much to the surprise of everyone, including their son, Milan and Natalie announce in January 1893 that they have reconciled.   The Serbian church annulled the divorce.
Milan returned to Belgrade in early 1894 as the former king has accepted the position of deputy to his son, who has ruled with a majority since mid-1893. With all of her royal titles restored, Natalie finally returns to Belgrade a year after her husband.   But her penchant for traveled continued, and she would spend a part of each year in France.
The young king needed a wife in order to strengthen the succession.  He offered proposals to Grand Duchess Xenia of Russia and her cousin, Grand Duchess Helen, Princess Sybille of Hesse, Princess Feodora of Schleswig-Holstein, and even the widowed Queen Mercedes of Spain.  But none of his conquests would accept his proposal.  His mother, Queen Natalie, put forth a candidate of her own: Princess Anna of Montenegro. Although the news of a proposed betrothal was "at first received with much incredulity at the European courts,"  it was officially confirmed in St. Petersburg.  Natalie sold her estates in the Crimea and Bessarabia to provide a marital income for her son, but it was all for naught,  as Princess Anna broke off the engagement..

[The Chicago Tribune reported in April 1896 that King Milan was about to travel to the United States to find a bride for his son.  "It looks more than probable that some fortunate or unfortunate American heiress will soon marry a European ruler.  Her husband-to-be is only the sovereign of a petty kingdom, but all the same she will be a full-fledged Queen.... For the exchange of shekels it is stipulated that the bride-to-be shall be formally elevated to the nobility, after which the marriage will take place in royal style. In contracting this unequal matrimonial alliance ex-King Milan is to provide that King Alexander secures absolute control of his millionaire bride's money. Queen Natalie, the mother of the royal bridegroom-to-be, evidently does not favor this scheme of King Milan, and there is therefore a bright prospect of too much mother-in-law in this match.  But this need not discourage young American heiresses ambitions to sit on a European throne, for King Alexander has not a dollar to his name and is head over ears in debt, and head over ears in love with any one who will help him out of his financial straits....The American girl who will become King Alexander's wife will have to be a strong-minded woman who will be able to reform her husband should any degree of happiness be hers.  An ex-attache thus describes this personage: 'King Alexander, or King 'Sasha,' as he is nicknamed, is one of the most offensive and displeasing youths that could be found anywhere from the Bosporus to the banks of the Tagus. His manners are course and brutal in the extreme, fully in keeping with his beetling brows, low forehead, and almost bestial nose and jaw, while the opinions which he vouchsafes with regard to women in general are characterized by an affection of cynicism and disillusion that is revolting indeed.'"]
Milan never made it to the United States, and no American heiress volunteered to marry Alexander.  Nor could he find a suitable royal bride. 
In 1900 Alexander decided to marry Draga Masin, one of his mother's former ladies-in-waiting, who was ten years his senior.  His choice of bride did not set well with either parent.  Former King Milan resigned all of his commissions and positions and left Serbia.  He died in Vienna a year later
Natalie made quite clear her feelings about Draga, and her relationship with her son broke after he expelled her from the country.  She described Draga as a "petty, narrow-minded subject." 
In May 1902,  Natalie was received by the Pope shortly after her conversion to the Roman Catholic faith.
In 1903, King Alexander and Queen Draga were killed in a military coup.  Their bodies were tossed from New Palace's window to the courtyard below.
Natalie was Alexander's sole heir.  She donated everything to the University of Belgrade and to Serbian churches. 
After the deaths of her son and his wife,  Queen Natalie largely disappeared from media attention.  In December 1929,  the New York Times reported on a recent assault case in Paris where a coachmen "remonstrated with by a 71-year-old Sister of Mercy for beating his horses, slashed her across the face with his whip."  The police investigation disclosed that the elderly nun as the former Queen Natalie of Serbia.
She lived in a "humble little dwelling near the Luxembourg Gardens," sharing the small flat with a Polish countess.  The New York Times reporter found her at her home asked the former queen as to why she had not written her memoirs.  She replied: Memoirs require memories. I have forgotten everything in order to forgive everything."
She became a lay sister in the Order of Notre Dame de Sion not long after her son's assassination.
She died in France on May 8, 1941.  She lived for many years in Biarritz, "devoting much of her time to charitable works."  Her later years were spent in Paris, where she lived in seclusion in the convent.   She would leave the convent each morning at 8 a.m., to attend mass at Notre Dame.  In the evenings, she would be seen feeding the pigeons in Luxembourg Square.

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