Today, fifty years have passed since the death of King Peter II of Yugoslavia on 3 November 1970. The office of Crown Prince Alexander II of Serbia, the king’s only child, issued the following communiqué on 2 November 2020:

A memorial service for His Majesty King Peter II (son of the great unifier His Majesty King Alexander I) is going to be officiated tomorrow Tuesday, 3 November 2020 by His Grace Bishop Jovan of Sumadija at the Church of Saint George in Oplenac.

According to protocol the first wreath will be laid by Mr. Dragomir Acovic, chairman of the Advisory bodies of the Crown on the behalf His Royal Highness Crown Prince Alexander head of the Serbian Royal Family (son of Hs Majesty King Peter II) on the tomb of the late King.

In New York His Grace Bishop Irinej of Eastern America will officiate a memorial service for His Majesty King Peter II in the presence of Their Royal Highnesses Crown Prince Alexander and Crown Princess Katherine who will light candles in memory of the Crown Prince’s father, HM King Peter II, at the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Sava. His Majesty King Peter II was very close to the cathedral during his time in the United States.

King Peter II of Yugoslavia in London, 1968.

On Thursday, 5 November 1970, Lieutenant Colonel C. Stojilkovic, a member of the Royal Yugoslav Airforce and former staff member to Yugoslavia’s last king, announced that His Majesty King Peter II of Yugoslavia had died on Tuesday, 3 November 1970, in Los Angeles, California, in hospital after suffering from cardio-respiratory failure caused by pneumonia. The king was forty-seven years-old and had been a resident of Playa del Rey, California. Peter had been residing there with Dr and Mrs Frank Lowe. The delay in announcing the king’s death was attributed to the fact that his entourage had to wait to contact his next of kin. It was reported that since April 1970 King Peter had been in and out of hospital in Los Angeles, suffering from kidney problems and other ailments that were brought on when he was diagnosed with pneumonia in September 1970. King Peter II of Yugoslavia lay in state for several days at Christ the Savior Serbian Orthodox Church in Arcadia, California. His attorney Sam Silverstein noted that the king’s will stipulated that the monarch be buried at the Serbian Orthodox Monastery in Libertyville, Illinois. 

King Peter II and Queen Alexandra of Yugoslavia in Paris, 1967.

King Peter’s widow, Queen Alexandra of Yugoslavia (née Greece), his son Crown Prince Alexander, and his brother Prince Tomislav had filed a court motion at the Los Angeles Superior Court challenging the Libertyville burial. The royals stated that Peter had wanted to be buried in London. Queen Alexandra and Crown Prince Alexander also filed a motion in the Lake County, Illinois, Circuit Court asking that the funeral services for King Peter be performed by Bishop Firmilian Ocokoljich, who served as chaplain to the royal family in London during World War II. The family’s attorney, Thomas J Karacic, stated that it would be “sacrilegious” to have services for the king be performed by the group controlling the Saint Sava Monastery near Libertyville. The North American diocese opposed the government of Yugoslavia, while the Serbian Orthodox Patriarch in Belgrade did not. Mr Karacic noted that if services went ahead under the Saint Sava leadership, then Queen Alexandra, Crown Prince Alexander, and Prince Tomislav would boycott the ceremony. Alas, Circuit Court Judge L Erie Carey ruled that the services would be conducted at the monastery by Bishop Iriney and Bishop Dionisije, in accordance with the king’s wishes.

The funeral service of King Peter II of Yugoslavia at Saint Sava in Libertyville, Illinois.

On 15 November 1970, around fifteen thousand mourners filed past the bier in the Byzantine chapel of Saint Sava’s Eastern Orthodox Church in Libertyville, IL, to render their last homage to their late king. The king’s body lay in a brown, metallic coffin, the front half covered with glass. Clad in a Yugoslav Air Force uniform, he looked more like an eighty year-old than his age of 47, it was written. A World War II amputee who had served in the king’s armed forces said, “He was an unhappy man. He helped thwart Hitler’s movement into Russia and then his country was given the Russians.” Bishop Iriney of Pennsylvania delivered a moving eulogy: “He was a unique and unusual man and he lived and reigned under even more unusual circumstances. One of his brothers wanted him to be buried in Westminster Abbey in London. King Peter could have been buried there with the rulers and all the dignitaries of the world in attendance. Instead, he rejected world glamour and brought himself to the level of his people. His choice to be with the Serbian people and lead them against the Axis war machine was of great historical importance. He delayed Hitler three months in attacking the Soviet Union. He could have stayed in the palace and enjoyed the everyday privileges of the royalty. He knew that any resistance would result in the sacrifice of many lives and wholesale destruction. But he also knew that any temporary security for himself and his people would result in the erosion of his people’s essential liberties.” Neither Queen Alexandra, who was estranged from her husband, nor Crown Prince Alexandra attended the funeral of King Peter in Illinois. The only member of the king’s family to attend his burial was his youngest brother Prince Andrej.

The grave of King Peter II of Yugoslavia at Saint Sava’s Eastern Orthodox Monastery in Libertyville.

It was not until Friday, 20 November 1970, that it emerged through Denver Post reporting that King Peter II of Yugoslavia had actually died at Denver General Hospital on 3 November. The king had been admitted to Denver General on 7 October and on 8 October underwent a liver transplant. Peter had been suffering from advanced cirrhosis of the liver for some years, and on 7 October the king had been flown from California via a private chartered jet to Denver, where he underwent the transplant surgery the next day. The liver intended to prolong the monarch’s life had come from Barbara Virginia Peterson, aged fifteen, who died on 7 October after an automobile accident on 3 October in Garden Grove, California. The Denver Post reported that Peter had died in hospital while still recovering from the operation. On his death certificate, which was filed with the Colorado Health Department, the king’s name was given as Peter Petrovich. Following his death, the king’s body was immediately flown by private jet back to Los Angeles. A friend of the royal family gave the following statement: “He [King Peter] had been in and out of hospitals (John Wesley and Queen of Angels) most of the year, and the doctors were trying to keep him alive long enough to find a donor for a liver transplant. When an acceptable donor was located in Denver, he was flown there.” When questioned as to why the truth behind the king’s death was not given earlier, the source replied, “Because the queen [Alexandra] had kept up the pretext of his being here [in California], and she couldn’t very well suddenly admit he’d been in Denver for almost a month. Besides, she didn’t want to discourage potential liver transplant recipients and donors.” At the time of King Peter’s death, his wife Queen Alexandra was living in Venice, Italy. 

Crown Prince Alexander at the memorial service held in London for his father King Peter.

Crown Prince Alexander attended a memorial service for his late father King Peter at the Serbian Orthodox Church in Notting Hill, London, on 11 August 1971.

On 26 May 2020, King Peter II of Yugoslavia was reburied in the mausoleum of the Karadjordjević dynasty at the Church of Saint George in Oplenac. Along with the king, Queen Alexandra of Yugoslavia (his wife), Queen Marie of Yugoslavia (his mother), and Prince Andrej of Yugoslavia (his younger brother) were also reburied in the family mausoleum. 

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Crown Prince Peter of Yugoslavia was born at Belgrade on 6 September 1923 as the eldest son of King Alexander I of Yugoslavia and his wife Queen Marie (born Princess of Romania). Peter was joined by two younger brothers: Prince Tomislav and Prince Andrej. The crown prince became King Peter II of Yugoslavia in 1934 after the assassination of his father Alexander. In 1945, Peter lost his throne due to the Communist takeover of Yugoslavia in the aftermath of World War II. 

In 1944, King Peter II of Yugoslavia married Princess Alexandra of Greece (1921-1993), the daughter of King Alexander I of the Hellenes and his wife Princess Aspasia of Greece (née Manos). King Peter and Queen Alexandra had one child, Crown Prince Alexander II of Serbia (b.1945). 

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