King Nikola I Petrovic, 1860-1918

King Nikola I (137 Kb)

In 1858, three young men from the leading Montenegrin families were sent to Paris to the boarding school “Louis le Grand”. One of them was 17-year old Nikola Mirkov Petrovic who was to become Prince and later King Nikola I Petrovic. Two years later, upon Prince Danilo’s assassination, Nikola returned from Paris to become the Prince of Montenegro. With two years of intensive education in France, Nikola returned to Cetinje to find the Francophile court of his late uncle Danilo in which his widow Darinka continued to cherish the use of French and maintain the contemporary European court etiquette. Like his uncle Danilo, Nikola admired France, its rich national and cultural heritage and its political institutions.

Nikola married Milena from the Vukotic family. This family had played a key leadership role in Montenegro before the Petrovic family came to power. The Vukotic and the Petrovic families were long-time friends and political allies. Nikola and Milena had 12 children: three sons and nine daughters. Six daughters married royal or aristocratic families of Europe. These marriages, providing direct, personal access to Europe’s royal families, were important political assets in Nikola’s foreign affairs. His daughter Milica married the Grand Duke Peter Nikolajevic, a close cousin of Russia’s tzar Alexander III. Alexander III called Nikola the “sole true and loyal friend of Russia”. But his most famous daughter was Princess Elena, a well-known pacifist and humanitarian, who married King Victor Emmanuel of Italy.

The first major challenge to Nikola came in 1862 when the Turkish army launched a series of well-orchestrated offensives designed to completely surround and militarily destroy Montenegro. For much of 1862 battles continued unabated with heavy casualties on both sides. The Montenegrins lost 3,500 men while Turkish regular troops lost over 8,000. In the end, Nikola accepted the cessation of hostilities offered by Omer-Pasha Latas. But the terms of the agreement were never kept, and by 1863, the Montenegrins were preparing for a new war.

Battle at Vucji Do Battle at Vucji Do (1876) by a renowned Montenegrin painter Petar Lubarda (98 Kb)

Hostilities and wars continued and culminated in 1876-1878 when the Montenegrin army, led by Prince Nikola, won several crucial battles: Vucji Do, Fundina, Trijebac, Krstac, and Bjelopavlici. Particularly important were major victories at Vucji Do and in the Bjelopavlici valley (the valley of the Zeta River). The towns of Podgorica, Niksic, Bar and Ulcinj were brought Nikola’s control. The territory of Montenegro was doubled and consolidated under Nikola’s central authority in Cetinje. In 1842, Austria recognized Montenegro’s borders; in 1859, Turkey recognized its borders; and in 1878, at the Congress of Berlin, all other countries recognized Montenegro as an independent nation.

Economic and Social Progress Under Prince Nikola
Around the time of international recognition in 1878, Montenegro and its capital Cetinje saw rapid economic and social development. Remarkably, this development occurred during highly uncertain times of wars and constant hostilities between Montenegro and Turkey.

Before 1868, there was only a handful of elementary schools in Montenegro. But between 1868 and 1875, 72 new schools opened serving approximately 3000 students. Elementary education, that was provided free, became mandatory. In 1869, a teachers’ seminary school and the Girls’ Institute were opened in Cetinje. The Girls’ Institute was a specialized school for teachers of the elementary schools. In 1875, an agricultural school was opened in the newly developed town of Danilovgrad, but the school was closed two years later due to the war with Turkey. Subsequently, a similar school opened in Podgorica in 1893. Increasingly, younger, educated Montenegrins took key positions in the growing government administration. In 1880, the first ‘lower classical gymnasium’ (grades 5-8) was opened. In 1902, it developed into a ‘higher classical gymnasium’ (grades 9-12). In 1899, Montenegro had 75 public and 26 private schools.

Montenegro got its first telegraph and post office in 1869 and 1871, respectively. In 1874, with the aid of Austria, Montenegro started building the first new major road from Cetinje to Kotor, later extended to Rijeka Crnojevica and further into the country. The railroad from Bar to Virpazar was opened during this period. There was a rapid growth of trade and small business. And foreign capital, particularly Italian, flowed into a number of enterprises in Montenegro.

New construction for the rising number of embassies and diplomatic missions, as well as many new residential houses changed the face of Cetinje. In 1882, Nikola sent 14 young people to Italian military academies. These men, together with some that were educated in Russia, subsequently formed the core of the Montenegrin army, introducing modern military organization, strategy and tactics. Russia remained the main financial donor who helped finance the Montenegrin army.

Nikola introduced major new laws. With the introduction of the High Court, the state’s judicial function was separated from the Executive, and the Common Law of the famous lawyer Baltazar Bogisic replaced the earlier General Law of the Land of Prince Danilo. In 1888, Montenegro got its first Property Law (Imovinski zakonik) with precise definitions of property rights and obligations, credit and collateral transactions, and the rules of sale of property. Nikola introduced Montenegro’s first formal constitution in 1905. In addition, he introduced the Freedom of Press Law, and the Criminal Law, laying the foundation for a modern legal framework in accordance with the standards of the Western European countries. Also during this period, several newspapers and literary periodicals were established.

In 1910, the parliament proclaimed Montenegro a constitutional monarchy with Nikola as king. The following years were among the most traumatic in Montenegrin history. Although Montenegro came out victorious from both Balkan Wars, it paid a heavy price in casualties. Particularly costly was the Montenegro’s capture of the Turkish stronghold in the Albanian town of Scutari. This victory was reversed by the great powers, on whose insistence Nikola withdrew the army and left the city to international supervision.

Events during and after World War I led to the end of Montenegro as an independent country and kingdom. From this turbulent time, two events stand out as critical in explaining the end of Montenegro as an independent country: the annexation by Serbia in 1918, and the consequent Montenegrin “Christmas Uprising” in 1919.

King Nikola died in Can Antibe, France and was buried in San Remo, Italy in 1921. In 1989, his remains and those of his wife, Queen Milena, and two daughters, Princess Ksenija and Princess Vjera, were moved to Montenegro’s old capital, Cetinje, to the Chapel of Cipur.

Cipur Chapel Cipur Chapel (121 Kb)

There are separate sections on how the Montenegrin State and Kingdom was abolished in 1918 and the Christmas Uprising of 1919.

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