Princess Zorka, later Princess Zorka Karadjordjevic of Serbia, was born in Cetinje in 1864. She was the eldest of 12 children of the Montenegrin monarch Nikola I of the Petrović-Njegoš dynasty, and Milena Vukotić, daughter of the Duke Petar Vukotić.
She lived for only 26 years, but in that short time she managed to leave a significant mark in both Montenegrin and Serbian history.
Zorka spent her childhood in Cetinje where she was educated by local teachers and a Swiss woman, Mrs. Naikom. In 1875, Princess Zorka was sent to Russia to continue her studies at the Smolny Institute. The girls from the most influential families of Russian aristocracy were educated at this institute. At the Smolny Institute, the girls were learning what they considered the most important of all – good behaviour, languages, different kinds of art, including dancing and gymnastics, science, and the art of noble manners.
Prince Petar Karadjordjević, of the Karadjordjević dynasty, the future King of Serbia, met Princess Zorka when she was just eighteen. After a short time, Prince Petar, 20 years her senior, developed an obsession with Zorka and wanted to see her as his queen. With her incredible wit and charm, she made it known to Prince Petar that she was ready to marry him.
The arrival of Petar Karadjordjević in Cetinje and his engagement with Princess Zorka did not suit the opponents of these two dynasties, but this act was welcomed by the Montenegrin and Serbian people.
At just 18 years of age, Zorka married Prince Petar of Serbia. The wedding celebration, as well as the previous engagement, was organized according to Montenegrin folk tradition, with a great number of guests who could barely fit into the small area of Cetinje.
The invitation says: “By the highest command of Their Majesties the King and Queen, I am pleased to announce that their loving child Her Royal Highness Zorka Petrović will join in holy matrimony with His Royal Highness Petar Karadjordjević. I have the honor to invite you to the wedding that will be held at the King’s Palace in Cetinje.”
Numerous poems by King Nikola’s epic poets were written to honor the wedding.
Their marriage was short and lasted for 7 years, until her death. They had five children. In 1890, Petar had been away on business for several weeks, and word came to Cetinje Palace that his entourage was making their way up the mountain. Zorka (pregnant with their fifth child) was so excited, she ran, fell, and slipped down the stairs. Unfortunately, very soon afterwards, to Peter’s shock and dismay, she died in childbirth, her infant son following her to the grave.
The tragic death of the Princess Zorka finds its way into the world’s most successful and epic Hollywood movie Gone with the Wind. Movie director Victor Flemming was supposedly so moved by the story of Princess Zorka’s tragedy that it was the basis of the pivotal misfortune in the civil-war saga.
The main preoccupation of Princess Zorka was for her husband to become the King of Serbia. With a spirit and desire stronger than her husband’s, she secretly tried to organize the attacks of Montenegrins in Serbia with the aim of removing the Obrenović dynasty from power. All these attempts were prevented by her father, King Nikola I. She wanted to be the queen and she was open about her desire to achieve it. Zorka thought of the most diverse plans and conspiracies. In the long run, Zorka was the forerunner of everything that would happen on the Serbian democratic scene in the twentieth century. Even then, it was believed that Zorka was the one who made plans and decisions, and not her husband. It is said that only moments before her death, Zorka whispered: “He will be king”. Her words came true, but only 13 years later, in 1903, her husband would return the Karađorđević dynasty to the Serbian throne as King Peter I
Zorka was initially buried in Cetinje, at the Cetinje Monastery. Her remains were later moved to the Mausoleum of the Serbian Royal Family beneath St. George’s Church, Oplenac in Serbia.
The first monument dedicated to a woman in Serbia was of princess Zorka in 1926. The Women’s Association “Kneginja Zorka” initiated this project. The monument was built by a sculptor Stamenko Djurdjević. It was removed and probably destroyed after World War II. The gypsum model of the first version remained and is kept in the History museum of Serbia.
Source: Bjelica, Isidora. Crnogorske princeze. Podgorica: Druga strana BI (2008), stil.kurir.rs, unofficialroyalty.com, ebritic.com