The Queen With a Heart of Thorns
I have many sins and the merciful God will forgive me, but because I killed that woman with my own hand I’m afraid he will never! — Princess Ljubica on her deathbed.
At the beginning of the 1800s Serbia began its heaviest push for independence from the Ottoman Empire. Two families dominated the fight on the Serbian side: those related to Karađorđe and those related to Milan Obrenović. Both men died before the conflict reached a conclusion, but their descendants carried on in both pushing for a completely independent Serbia and in the inherited grudge between the two.
At the beginning of the fight, in 1804, the younger half-brother of Milan Obrenović was riding toward a river when his breath was taken away by one of the women working in the water.
“Then I was past 20 years [old], and yet I was as a young boy. As soon as I saw Ljubica my eyes remained on her. She and her mother, they noticed me, came out of the water, and lowered their skirts. I jumped over the water and on the other bank I sat down to take care of myself. I sat there for an hour, only to endure watching Ljubica. She was beautiful like a miracle.” — Prince Miloš
Ljubica’s family, the Vukmanović, were richer and better placed politically than that of the young Miloš, but Ljubica, too, was smitten. She wanted to accept his proposal of marriage, but her father was against her “marrying down”, and so the two were not able to wed until forty days after Ljubica’s father’s death.
Ljubica’s life was not easy during the First and Second Serbian Uprisings. She moved to out of the way places to avoid being captured. In at least one instance she convinced the retreating rebels to continue the fight by summoning the women and shouting, “Women! Gird your aprons! We women have to go and fight!“
When the First Serbian Rebellion collapsed Ljubica refused to leave Serbia for safety, telling Miloš, “I will not leave my homeland alive, and dogs can eat me when I’m dead.“
Miloš took the last name of his half-brother when Milan died in possibly suspicious circumstances in 1810 and he took over the leadership of the Second Serbian Uprising. His leadership proved to be effective and on 6 November 1817 Ljubica became the Princess Consort of an autonomous Serbia. It was not a completely happy role for her, though, as the knowledge that her husband had become prince by having her godfather Karađorđe murdered with an ax never left her, and she was never able to completely forgive Miloš.
The excitement of her life was still not over, however. Ljubica had taken to wearing two pistols in her belt during both Serbian uprisings, and she proved she was not above using them when she found out about her husband’s affair with one of her servants, Petrija. Ljubica confronted Petrija, who answered her back petulantly. Petrija pointed out that Ljubica had not been able to give Miloš a son, so Petrija would instead.
Ljubica’s temper took over, and she killed Petrija with one of her pistols.
Miloš, for all that he had thought Ljubica was more beautiful than a miracle in 1804, was enraged by Ljubica’s actions in 1817 and she had to flee to avoid being put to death herself. After a few months she returned to Miloš and his court, handing over her pistols and telling him, “Here are the guns. Kill me or forgive me.“
Miloš chose to forgive his heavily pregnant wife, who soon delivered a son.
Ljubica would deliver at least eight children during her marriage; two of whom would be Princes of Serbia. Nor was her confrontation with Petrija the last she had with Miloš’s many mistresses. At one point Ljubica was beaten for hiding underneath a bridge she knew a mistress would have to cross, hoping to enact an ambush.
Ljubica also kept her intellectual independence; mistresses were not the only arguments she had with her husband. She was quite active in Serbian politics, and didn’t bother to keep her views to herself, even when she didn’t agree with the Prince.
Miloš was constantly confronting uprisings in Serbia, but it was an attempt to create a constitution that proved to be his first downfall. In 1835 he introduced the Sretenje Constitution, which was vociferously opposed by the Russians, the Austrians, and the Ottomans (one of the few times all three empires would be in agreement about anything). The Sretenje Constitution was withdrawn and another, the Turkish Constitution of 1838, was implemented in its place.
The blowback cost Miloš his office, and in 1839 he abdicated in favor of his (and Ljubica’s) sons.
Meanwhile, Ljubica still bore loyalty to the family of her murdered godfather. She persuaded her son to bring Karađorđe’s son, Aleksander Karađorđević back from exile and give him a place as an adjutant. When Karađorđe’s wife Jelena died, Ljubica led the funeral procession.
These loyalties did not go unpunished, as it was in Aleksander Karađorđević’s name that Ljubica’s son Mihailo was overthrown in 1842.
Ljubica was the last of the Obrenović family to leave Serbia, and she died in Novi Sad (then a part of the Austrian Empire) on 26 May 1843. The woman who had inspired soldiers, confronted mistresses, raised children, and constantly challenged her husband died of a broken heart. Her only regret was the death of Petrija.
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- April 23, 2021