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Serbian Orthodox Action ''Sabor''

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The Reverend Father Deacon
Hadzi Nenad M. Jovanovich


   The Grand Duke, Supreme Leader and Commander of Serbs, Djordje Petrovich-Karageorge (1762-+1817) and Prince Milosh Teodorovich-Obrenovich I - The Great (1780-+1860) were authorized and indeed have conferred nobility during their reigns - 1804-1838.

Grand Duke, Supreme Leader and Commander of Serbs Djordje Petrovich-Karageorge

   Karageorge has been granting (1804-1813) titles of Vojvoda (Duke), Knez (Prince) and Serdar (Count) /the latter in at last one occasion/, and those titles were usually held inside the same family. So, they were usually hereditary. Number of Dukes alone, ennobled by Karageorge can’t be established precisely. Documentation of the Governing Assembly (actual Diplomas etc) was lost during the course of war and time. Never the less, some sources speak of 90 and some not less than 50 Vojvodas (in two categories – Dukes and “Small” Dukes) ennobled by Karageorge.

    Among all these numerous examples, we could mention the example of a grant of a ducal title to one of the lesser, but very meritorious and famous, Serbian Dukes of the time. The great man in question was Grand Prince and Duke Ivan Knezhevich of Semberija (1760-+1840), known as Prince Ivo of Semberija in popular tradition and Serbian epic poetry of the era.

    Before the The First Serbian Uprising (1804-1813) he was an Obor-Knez (Grand Prince) in charge of all of the twelve villages in the Bijeljina Nahiyah (in what is today Republic of Srpska). It is important to know that an Obor-Knez was always a local Christian dignitary, a senior chief responsible for his district's people. Among his other duties, he was in charge of the transfer of taxes and was the intermediary in direct relations with the local Ottoman authorities on behalf of the Serbian population. The Obor-Knez was usually appointed by the Ottoman Pasha in charge of the said region.

Grand Prince and Duke Ivan Knezhevich of Semberija

    One of the greatest merits of Prince Ivan was the liberation of some three hundred enslaved Serbs, mostly women and children, from the notorious Gazi Mehmed-bey Kulenovich, the Ottoman Captain of The Eyalet of Bosnia. Namely, in 1806, Prince Ivan has managed to gather a substantial sum of money, with enormous self-sacrifice and personal risk exposure, and to buy their freedom back. In 1809. he has joined Karageorge and his Uprising, and has raised a Serbian rebellion against the Turkish oppression on the territory of his District and the wider region of Semberija. Unfortunately, not long after that, he was forced to withdraw with his army to the region of Machva (in central Sebia) where he continued his struggle and military service until the collapse of the Uprising in 1813.

    Beside his princely title, in 1809, Karageorge has granted him a ducal title too and has entrusted to him the command of the insurgent units composed of Serbian refugees from Bosnia. Also, in 1820, Prince Milosh has appointed him a member of the Municipal Court of Shabatz...

The Standard of a Duke during The First Serbian Uprising

   Prince Milosh The Great has proceeded with such practice (based on tradition and approved by the Governing Assembly) but wasn’t as generous while granting titles of nobility. But, as opposed to Karageorge - he was even entitled to ennoble by the very word of the Constitution from 1835. Chapter V, article 20 of that Constitution says: “The Prince has the right to confer decorations and nobility”.

Prince Milosh Teodorovich-Obrenovich I The Great

   The stated above doesen't mean that Prince Milosh has waived his right to confer titles of nobility altogether! This can be wieved through a prism of tragic events regarding the regicide of Karageorge in 1817.

   Namely, Karageorge was assasinated on the orders of Prince Milosh, and one of the accomplices in this heinous crime was Duke Vujitza Vulichevich (1773-+1828). Duke Vujitza has inherited his ducal title after the heroic death of his late brother Duke Dushan Djusha Vulichevich (1771-+1805), who was made Duke by Karageorge. Prince Milosh and Duke Vujitza also had certain family ties since Petar Vulichevich, son of Duke Vujitza, was married to the sister of Princess Ljubitza Obrenovich of Serbia (nee Vukomanovich), wife of Prince Milosh of Serbia. Petar Vulichevich has also inherited his father's princely title, authority and power as the Prince of the Smederevo Nahiyah.

Grand Prince and Duke Vujitza Vulichevich of Smederevo

   Anyway, after the regicidal crime was completed, Prince Milosh has decided to reward Duke Vujitza for his role in this terrible atrocity, elevating him to the rank of Obor-Knez (Grand Prince) of the District of Smederevo. By the way, even though the title of Obor-Knez can literally be translated as Grand Prince, it’s not the equivalent of the same title in other European nobiliary systems. Rather, it can be equated with the Ottoman title of Hocabaṣı. In XIX c. Serbia, the title was above that of Knez (Prince as a local chief) and below that of the ruling Prince (Knez as a hereditary dignity of a reigning Serbian Monarch).

   As a reaction to the murder of his father, the eldest son and heir of Karageorge, Prince Aleksa Karageorgevich (1798-+1831) who was exiled in Russia, has sent his Proclamation to the Serbian people denouncing the tyranny of Prince Milosh and putting a price on his head. For the one who would assassinate Prince Milosh he has offered the title of Grand Duke of Kragujevatz, with the authority over that District, the office of his First Secret Counselor and a reward of one hundred thousand ducats a year annuity. At te same time, the price was put on the head of the younger brother of Prince Milosh, Grand Prince Jevrem Teodorovich-Obrenovich of Shabatz (1790-+1856), with a reward including the title of the Duke of Posavina, with the authority over the District of Shabatz, the office of his Second Secret Counselor and annuity of fifty thousand ducats per year.

   However, those titles have never been granted, since this plan of Prince Aleksa Karageorgevich never came to pass…

The tombstone of Prince Aleksa Karageorgevich in Chisinau

   It is interesting that Prince Milosh didn't use his sovereign right to grant titles only as a means to reward loyality, but also in his effort to ensure it. A good example for this could be the case of Prince Milutin Gagich, the son of buljubasha (captain) Janko Gagich, the Kmet of Bolech, who was one of the first victims of the infamous and bloody Slaughter of The Princes (January 1804). The traditional Serbian title of Kmet has its etymological origin on the Latin - Comes (Count), and was the lowest title in the Serbian title system of the time, since it was actually just a village chief.

   Son of a Kmet, Milutin Gagich was elevated to the princely rank not because of his late father's sacrifice and heroism or his own merits, but because of his active participation in the well known Djak's Mutiny against the absolutism of Prince Milosh (1824). Just a few months after the rebellion was stifled, regardless of his active involvement, Gagich wasn’t punished, but rather elevated to the rank of Prince – a vivid testimony that Prince Milosh was no stranger of keeping his friends close and his enemies even closer…

   After the termination of The Second Serbian Uprising (1815–1817) and consolidation of his own monarchic power, in 1819. Prince Milosh has kept the division his vassal Principality in to twelve Districts (Nahija), each of them containing 2 – 7 Princedoms (Knezhina), whilst those Princedoms contained 12 – 84 villages. Each of the Districts and Princedoms was headed by its own Prince (Knez) as its governor. In 1834. the territory of Serbia was organized in to five Counties (Serdarstvo) which were composed by Districts and Princedoms. Those Counties were headed by governors titled as Grand Counts (Veliki Serdar), and all of those titles (Grand Count, District Prince and Prince) were under the exclusive granting power of the ruling Prince of Serbia as a fons honorum, and absolute monarch.

Lord Mileta Radojkovich, Prince of Jagodina and Grand Count of Rasina

   As an example to illustrate the described above, we can mention one of the better known Serbian leaders of the time, Mileta Radojkovich – Prince of Jagodina and Grand Count of Rasina (1778-+1852). He has received his princely title from Prince Milosh in 1815, and his comital title in 1834.

   Prince and Grand Count Mileta Radojkovich has participated in both Serbian uprisings, and was one of the most influential people in the country, as the first and most prominent Prince of Jagodina District and Grand Count of Rasina County, member of The General National Court in Kragujevatz, The National Court in Belgrade, Minister of Defence, member of The Governing Council and High Court, honorary member of The Society of the Serbian Literacy etc… Lord Mileta was one of the chief leaders of a popular armed rebellion known as The Mileta’s Revolt (1835). The aftermath of the said revolt was the limitation of the absolutist power of Prince Milosh and the introduction of a parliamentary monarchy in Serbia.

   In Serbia, under the reign of Prince Milosh, the so called ''aristocratic movement'' has strengthened. Some of the Serbian leading figures were increasingly vocal advocating the official establishment of the aristocratic class, modeled after the Boyar system. These aristocratic aspirations included the existence of titles by the Russian model, but not necessarily the feudal system. The new nobility would be conferred upon the members of the upper class engaged in the service of the State within the military and government, as well as in other matters, worthy of their existing status.

Sojan Simich

   Serbian national enthusiasm during the XIX century, therefore, hinted at the renewal of the Orthodox and aristocratic Monarchy in Serbia. Unfortunately, this did not let any deep root. These aspirations and ambitions of the Serbian elite were not encountered with approval at the very top of the State.

Avram Petronijevich

   Acquisition of State autonomy from the Ottoman Empire and the gradual elimination of the Turkish feudal estates in Serbia, have caused various social movements that caused this. For example, in 1820, with the support of Russia, a National Application (Narodno Proshenije) was submitted to the Ottoman Porte, which required the recognition of the new National feudal system in Serbia. The existence of five classes was envisaged. The classes were to be organized in to five ranks, according to merit and fortune. These classes were: nobility, clergy, merchants, craftsmen and farmers. For the members of the noble class, hereditary fiefdoms were demanded, while others felt that noble title holders should enter the military and the civil service or engage in commerce.

Vuk Stefanovich-Karadzich

   In this regard, the contemporary proponents of this idea, and members of the ''aristocratic movement'', have emphasized the existance Boyars in Wallachia, as an example. Among the most ardent advocates of this project were some of the most powerful, deserving and influential people of the time, like: Stojan Simich, Avram Petronijevich and Vuk Stefanovich - Karadzich.

   The seed of such an idea was planted since the time of the First Serbian Uprising, under the rule of Karageorge, when his Governing Council (Praviteljstvijuschi Sovjet) was, indeed, a true Aristocratic Parliament. Of course, the model for the establishment of such a Sovjet was the Medieval Serbian Assembly (Sabor), which has flourished and experienced a boom during the rule of The Holy Nemanjich Dynasty (1166-1371).

Duke and Baron Stefan Petrovich - Knichanin

   Anyway, the next Constitution (that from 1838) has no mention of the noble class, but it doesn’t prohibit such practice either. Indeed, by the article 59 of this Constitution – feudalism is abolished (Turkish feudal properties have been officialy abolished), but there’s no mention of titles of nobility. It’s the same according to the Constitution of 1869.

Duke and Prince Toma Vuchich Perishich of Gruzha

   Regardless of the fact that the Constitution did not regulate this matter, it is well known that His Serene Highness Prince Aleksandar Karageorgevich of Serbia did indeed exercise his sovereign power as a fons honorum to ennoble those deserving of such recognition, just as his father, Vozhd Karageorge, did before him. For example, in May 1849, he has granded the title of Duke (Vojvoda) to the celebrated military commander Stefan Petrovich - Knichanin, just as he did, before him, to Prince Toma Vuchich Perishich of Gruzha (the Princely Regent, Chairman of The State Council, Minister of Army and Minister of Internal Affairs). Incidentally, it is interesting that Duke Stefan Petrovich - Knichanin, being a recipient of The Military Order of Maria Theresa and following the usual petition to the Imperial Court in Wienna, also bore the Austrian hereditary title of Baron. The interesting thing is that his Serbian ducal ennoblement (by Prince Aleksandar Karageorgevich) and his Аustrian baronial ennoblement (by Emperor Franz Joseph I von Habsburg) were simultaneous...

His Majesty King Aleksandar I Karageorgevich of Yugoslavia

   It is interesting that, in 1900, Prince Petar Karageorgevich (1844-+1921) (later - His Majesty King Petar I Karageorgevich of The Serbs, Croats and Slovenes), residing in exile, tryed to approach His Majesty King Aleksandar I Obrenovich of Serbia (1876-+1903) and to get his Princely title officially recognized in Serbia. Unfortunately, with no success, even though he was the son and Heir of the ruling Prince of Serbia, His Serene Highness Prince Aleksandar I Karageorgevich (1806-+1876) and the grandson of The Grand Duke, Supreme Leader and Commander of Serbs, Djordje Petrovich-Karageorge. That is understandable if we take in to account the relations between two Serbian Royal Dynasties at the time, and the fact that the Constitution of 1896. has officially forbidden all of the members of the Karageorgevich Family to return to Serbia and confiscated all of their properties...

   However, the Constitution of 1888, has officialy abolished titles of nobility in Serbia. Chapter II, article 8 of the said Constitution is rather clear: “To citizens of Serbia, titles of nobility can neither be granted or recognized”.

Count Chedomilj Mijatovich

   Again, the Constitution of 1901 completely ignores thе nobiliary matter, while the Constitution of 1903 repeates the same as the Constitution of 1888 (same Chapter, same article).

   This state of nobiliary affairs was kept until the very end of Monarchy in 1945. At least, as far as the constitutional provisions on this matter are concerned...

His Majesty King Petar II Karageorgevich of Yugoslavia

   But, in spite of this strict constitutional prohibition, some sources claim that His Majesty King Aleksandar I Karageorgevich of Yugoslavia (1888-+1934) has confirmed three noble titles to his subjects, out of which one was a comital one. Allegedly, the title of Count was recognised to Prof. Chedomilj M. Mijatovich, a celebrated Serbian historian, economist, diplomat and politician, a six times Мinister of Financе, three times Minister of Foreign affairs, Minister Plenipotentiary to United Kingdom, Romania and the Ottoman Empire etc. It is known that Prof. Mijatovich has openly used his title of a Count, on the grounds of him being decorated in 1881, by Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary with The Order of The Iron Crown - I Class. It is undesputable that the investment of this Order carried an Imperial patent of nobility, but we have no proof if he ever officially submitted his application to the Habzburg Court to that end.

   The interesting point is that, regardless of the said constitutional prohibition, His Majesty King Petar II Karageorgevich of Yugoslavia, as the last Serbian ruling Monarch, has granted titles of nobility while in exile, after he was unlawfully deposed.

Ennoblement of The Duke of Saint Bar

   The reason for such practice can be disputed and discussed, but the fact remains that the late King has decided to reward some of his followers in his hour of need, by granting them Western style titles like Marquis and Duke. Giving the circumstances of that period, those titles were regarded by many as purely curtesy titles with little legal significance.

   According to some sources, King Petar II has granted as much as 7 or 8 titles of Prince, Duke, Count, Marquis and Baron.

   Such was the well known case with Baron Thomas Shannon Foran, who was granted the title of The Duke of Saint Bar (Duc de Saint Bar). The corresponding Royal Decree has obviously been backdated March 30th 1941, to give it more weight.

Tombstone of The Duke of Saint Bar

   Also, March 22nd 1962, King Petar II has granted the title of The Marquis of Valjevo (Marquis de Valjevo) to Mr George Arvid Edmond Lyman, although he had no such prerogative by The Yugoslavian Constitution even while he was a reigning Monarch and even though this had no justification in the tradition either of his House or the Serbian Monarchy, both medieval or modern…

   The title of Baron was granted in 1964. to Mr Gilbert de Melita. The title of the Prince of Premuda was granted to Count Theo Rossi de Montelera, and in 1967, the title of the Prince of Incoronata (Kornati) was granted to Count Robin Ian Evelyn Milne Stuart de la Lanne-Mirrlees, Baron of Inchdrewer, Laird of Bernera and Richmond Herald of Arms in Ordinary.

Ennoblement of The Marquis of Valjevo

   Regardless of any possible remarks to such actions of the late King, the fact remains that he was a recognized and legitimate fons honorum, and that he actually didn't violate the said constitutional provision, since he didn't bestow any of the mentioned titles to Yugoslav subjects...

   It is worth mentioning that, also today, Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna Romanova of Russia, and her close cousin, His Royal Highness Prince Davit Bagrationi Mukhran Batonishvilli of Georgia, grant their supporters with titles of nobility. Such is the case also with His Majesty King Jean-Baptiste Kigeli V Ndahindurwa of Rwanda (in exile), His Imperial Highness Prince Ermias Sahle Selassie of Ethiopia (as The President of The Crown Council of Ethiopia in exile), with the pretenders to The Imperial Throne of Vietnam (also in exile) etc...

Metropolitan - Prince Patar II (Petrovich-Njegosh) of Montenegro

   Montenegro, albeit a Serbian State in an ethnic sence of the word, had a different Dynasty alltogether until 1918, but conferring nobility wasn’t unknown to the Rulers of The House of Petrovich-Njegosh either.

   Same as in Serbia, titles of Vojvoda (Duke), Knez (Prince) and Serdar (Count - in Venetian sources transliterated differently - Serdar, Sardar, Zardar or Sardaro) were traditionally in use and were hereditary since ancient times.

Serdar Shkrnjo Filip Kusovatz, Duke Djuro Matanovich, Duke Miljan Vukovich, Archmandrite Nichifor (Duchich), Duke Krtzo Petrovich, Duke Marko Martinovich and Duke Ilija Plamenatz

   We know of examples of Prince Nikola I Petrovich-Njegosh (1841-+1921) (King from 1910) depriving those in disobedience to him of those titles inherited from their ancestors. Such is, for instance the example of Marko Miljanov Popovich-Drekalovich, who was deprived of his title of Vojvoda of The Clan of Kuchi by Prince Nikola. So, obviously, those titles were in the jurisdiction of Prince Nikola I of Montenegro during his reign (1860-1918).

   Of course, King Nikola Petrovich-Njegosh wasn’t the first and only in his Dynasty to deal with nobiliary matters!

His Serene Highness Prince Aleksandar I Karageorgevich of Serbia

   For example, it is well known that Metropolitan and Prince Petar II (Petrovich-Njegosh) (1813-+1851) has issued a Charter recognizing a Title of Duke to the younger son of Karageorge, Prince Aleksandar Karageorgevich (later - Ruling Prince of Serbia, Aleksandar I).

   On 1. April 1836, Petar II has also issued a similar document for Field marshal lieutenant Jovan Aleksich of Mainе (+1861) confirming his existing noble status, by citing the supposed data from the Archdiocesan residence archives. Jovan Aleksich of Mainе was the son of Count Nikola Aleksich of Mainе, and the father of General Teodor Knight Aleksich of Mainе (1825-+1891), who was the husband of Anastasija Obrenovich (1839-+1933), daughter of Lord Jovan Teodorovich-Obrenovich, the younger brother of Prince Milosh Teodorovich-Obrenovich I of Serbia. So, the members of the Aleksich of Maine family already held Venetian comital and Austrian knightly titles, and were even closely related by marriage to the Serbian ruling Dynasty, as well as to the Dukes Chupich of Machva, Barons Baich of Varadija and Barons Nikolich of Rudna etc. But, regardless of all that, Petar II executes his own authority as a sovereign Fons honorum and also confirms their nobility in the said document by styling them as Highborn and stating that their noble line was ancient and that their ancestors were the Counts of Brcheli before they moved to Maine in 1621.

The Austrian Ennoblement of Aleksich of Maine

   It is similar with his Certificate of Nobility for Prince Nikola Mihailov Vasojevich of Holmia /1797-+1844/. This Document was issued in Tzetinje (the capital of Montenegro) and signed by the Metropolitan as: “Petar Petrovich Prince Njegosh, Orthodox Ruler and Lord of Montenegro and Brda”. It is interesting that this Document (supposedly composed according to research of other ancient Charters from the Archives of the Metropolitanate) establishes noble genealogy of Prince Nikola Vasojevich who is said to be a direct descendant of Prince Radonja of Holmia, who was raised to that noble rank by the Serbian Emperor Stefan Urosh IV Dushan Nemanjich - The Mighty /c.1308 –+1355/ in 1346. Another interesting thing is that this Document provides a blazon of the arms of the Princes of Holmia, as well as the heirs to the title of Princes of Holmia. So, it was considered as hereditary too...

Prince Nikola Vasojevich of Holmia The seal of the Prince Nikola Vasojevich of Holmia

   In order to support such a claim, let us just stress that, during the reign of Petar II (Petrovich-Njegosh), there were 14 Sedar families in Montenegro: Petrovich-Njegosh, Vukotich, Djurashkovich, Martinovich, Perovich, Plamenatz, Drekalovich, Mijushkovich, Boshkovich, Bozhovich, Dulovich, Medenitza, Vlahovich and Laketich, and most of them were close relatives of the Reigning Dynasty. Later, during the entire reign of King Nikola I, the titles of Knez, Vojvoda and Serdar were kept under the granting authority of the Monarch. By the end of his reign, in 1918, there were only six Serdars left in Montenegro: Serdar Janko Vukotich, Serdar Joko Jovichevich, Serdar Rade Turov Plamenatz, Serdar Ilija Begovich, Serdar Miro Gagovich and Serdar Mashan Bozhovich of Piperi.

His Majesty King Nikola I Petrovich-Njegosh of Montenegro

   His Serene Highness Prince Danilo I Petrovich-Njegosh of Montenegro (1826-+1860) has also executed his sovereign right of ennoblement. For example, in 1856, he has granted a ducal title upon Duke Milorad Georgijev Medakovich (1826-+1897), his State Secretary, diplomat and lawmaker. Also, after the victory over the Turks in the famous Battle of Grahovatz (1858), he has rewarded his older brother, Duke Mirko Petrovich-Njegosh, as the commander of the Montenegrene Army in that battle, with the title of The Grand Duke of Grahovo. Beside Grand Duke Mirko, other heroes and commanders of the battle were rewarded and ennobled. For example, on that occasion, Serdar Milosh Androv Krivokapich was also promoted and rewarded for his heroism with a ducal title....

His Serene Highness Prince Danilo I Petrovich-Njegosh of Montenegro   Duke Milorad Georgijev Medakovich

   In closing, for clarity, it is worth mentioning that ducal titles (Vojvoda) have been granted in Serbia during the reign of King Petar I (1904-1921), but they were neither hereditary nor nobiliary, but purely military. The military rank of Vojvoda (Duke) in The Serbian Royal Army was in fact an equivalent of the rank of Field Marshal in some other armies. It was introduced in 1901, during the reign of King Aleksandar I Obrenovich and was granted only to four high-ranking Serbian Army officers: General Radomir Putnik (1912), General Stepa Stepanovich (1914), General Zhivojin Mishich (1914) and General Petar Bojovich (1918). Also, the same ducal title, which was regarded as a honorary title and not a military rank, was bestowed upon General of the Army Serdar Janko Vukotich (1915) and Marshal Louis Félix Marie François Franchet d'Espèrey (29. January 1921). Although the military rank of Duke did continue to formally exist in the Yugoslav Royal Army (1918-1945), it was never granted and was, in fact, dormant.

Serdar and Honorary Duke Janko Vukotich

   Simillar is the traditional Serbian title of a Chetnik Duke, which is also not nobiliary nor hereditary, put personal. The title of Chetnik Duke originates from late XIX c, and was bestowed upon prominent military commanders of Chetnik guerrilla units, and shouldn't be mistaken for a title of nobility.

The coat of arms of The Prince of Holmia






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