The end of Montenegro

Montenegro was “the only victorious nation at the cessation of hostilities in 1918 to lose its independence, an ally bereft of allies”.[1]  This outcome owed more to neglect and procrastination than clear-sighted intent of the Allied statesmen.  Even in their inaction, however, the Allies presented a picture of high-handedness as their understanding of the question, in particular their reading of the wishes of the people of Montenegro, was based largely on their own, ill-informed prejudices and preconceptions.   

Abstract of contemporary ethnographical map showing Montenegro as a part of the Serbian nation.[3]

An independent “Serb kingdom” before 1914, Montenegro was regarded by many Serbs as part of “Old Serbia” and, in the new currency, it belonged to their vision of Greater Serbia.[2]  Occupied by the Austrians for most of the war, it was invaded by the Serbian army as the enemy withdrew in October and November 1918.  Quickly improvised elections produced a Skupština (parliament) in Podgoritsa (Podgorica) which voted for union with Serbia on 26 November, so Montenegro was part of the new Yugoslav kingdom proclaimed by Serbia’s Alexander on 1 December.  King Nicholas of Montenegro, in exile in Paris, disputed the legitimacy of this assembly: “a packed body” which “had voted under the menace of Serbian bayonets,” its decision was “invalid and negligible”.[4]  Allen Leeper in London had no reservations: Nicholas “has now been deposed by his own people in their Skupština…  The Montenegrin people [want] union … with their brother Jugoslavs.”[5]  However, a subsequent report for the British Government effectively sustained Nicholas’s line: the elections were “railroaded through”; they were held “under the bayonet of the Serbian forces; behind them bands of lawless komitajis.”[6]  The Podgoritsa assembly of November 1918 was lacking in legal or constitutional validity and reflected no more than a token, indeed a sham, effort to consult Montenegrins about their future.

Allied support for the new union owed much to the idea that King Nicholas had been a false ally in the war, one who might even have permitted the fall of Mount Lovćen, the black mountain near Cetinje that gave the country its name, to the invading Austrians.  It was also felt that the future economic and military security of the country was dependent on its union with Serbia.  The fear that an independent Montenegro would fall prey to the regional ambitions of Italy raised hackles among the British, French and Americans.[7]  Opposed to strengthening Serbia and keen to limit her access to the Adriatic, Italy was Nicholas’s stoutest ally.  From November 1918, Italian forces occupied much of nearby Dalmatia and Albania and the Montenegrin port of Antivari – but they were rebuffed at Cetinje, the capital, in December 1918, withdrawing when the captain who led the American advance guard accepted that the citizens “did not want Italian troops”.[8]

The so-called Christmas Rising of 1918 saw an unsuccessful attempt by Nicholas’s supporters to oust the pro-Serbia forces from Cetinje and, though that quickly failed, fighting continued in smaller towns and rural areas.[9]  The King’s advocates claimed that there were 20,000 insurgents.  A modern historian, Sabrina Ramet, has described it as a “civil war” between “the widely popular pro-independence “greens” and the less popular but better armed pro-Serbian “whites”.”[10]  The rebels undoubtedly had strong support among the tribesmen of Old (pre-1913) Montenegro in the west.  Britain’s General Plunkett (in Belgrade) understood that “the Montenegrin peasants probably side with Nicholas…  [T]hey know him and like him [and are] accustomed to see the old gentleman driving about amongst them in his pony carriage” and they had no appreciation of his “double game” in the war.[11]  In contrast, General Thwaites, surveying reports from several sources, held, incredibly, that there was “a universal desire for incorporation in Jugo-Slavia”.[12]  The Serbians and French (and General Phillips at Scutari) attributed the revolt to “Italian intrigue” and Temperley noted that some rebels “admitted to have been stirred up by the Italians…”  “[T]he chief difficulties are in Njegush [Njeguši, birthplace of the Petrović dynasty] … where the Italian money and influence are.”[13]  The Italians did attempt to use the conflict as diplomatic capital, Foreign Minister Sonnino complaining to America’s ambassador in Rome of “the present condition of terror in Montenegro, whose independence is being destroyed…”[14]  

A British critic of Serbia’s conduct towards Montenegro suggested that Serbia now rivalled Bulgaria for the title of “the Prussia of the Balkans” and Harold Nicolson wrote of “terrorisation by the Serbian troops whose extreme unpopularity in Montenegro had led to a revolt at the beginning of January”.[15]  Serious consideration was given to replacing the Serbian army with American (and/or British and French) forces.  However, the Americans preferred simply to order the departure of all occupying troops, “leaving to the people of that country determination of their own future”.  This was a naive idea: Nicolson was clear that it meant “civil war and massacres in Montenegro” and Leeper that “Montenegro will be left a prey to intrigues & disorders of every kind, which the presence of a small Anglo-French or American force might prevent.”[16]  But the Americans refused to take part and the British War Office had no troops available to send to Montenegro.  The French decided to order the withdrawal of every occupation force, in the full knowledge that the Serbs would not leave.  Of course, the Serbs did remain; Montenegro was now part of their national territory.[17]

Montenegro at the Peace Conference (the empty chair)   

The Yugoslav government was informed that the Peace Conference “alone can pronounce on the definite disposal of territory”.[18]  This was not expected to pose difficulties because most of the peacemakers approved of the union.  For Nicolson, Montenegro would “enter Jugo Slavia on the same terms as Croatia, & it is extremely misleading to pretend that Serbia is trying to annex the country…”  Sir Eyre Crowe, too, was “strongly in favour of the Serbian claim.  I doubt whether there is anything substantial behind the King of Montenegro who, although the father-in-law of the King of Italy, is both personally and politically a rascal, and a bane to his country.”[19]  This meant that Serbia should speak for Montenegro at the Peace Conference.  As Nicolson put it, “the general attitude of ourselves and the Americans was that the mass of Montenegrin opinion desired union with Serbia, and after the Podgoritsa decision it appeared quite natural that Montenegro should be represented in the same way as other Jugo-Slav states – i.e., by the Serbian representatives.”[20] 

However, despite this broad consensus in Paris, King Nicholas, Woodrow Wilson and the Italian delegates served as flies in the ointment.  Nicholas wrote to Wilson to assail Serbian imperialist “greed” and their use of “the methods of Prussia…  I complain that by force and ruse one people is doing its utmost to annex another!”  Wilson, affected by this “very moving letter”, declared that “the sympathies of the people of the United States are as much with Montenegro as with Serbia” and assured Nicholas that “the days will not be too crowded or too hurried for me to drive the interests of sturdy Montenegro out of my mind…”[21]  When reports arrived of violent oppression by Serbian troops, Wilson told the Council of Ten that “the action of Serbia in regard to Montenegro had gone somewhat towards prejudicing him against the Government of Serbia.  To act with force like this was contrary to the principles of self-determination.”  Lloyd George even-handedly said he was “not anti-Serbian in this matter,” to which Wilson sharply replied that “he was anti-Serbian in this case…”[22] 

In the event, Wilson failed to sustain his commitment to Nicholas, refusing to receive him on being advised that it would displease the British and French.[23]  Clemenceau’s speech opening the Peace Conference reviewed the main events of the war but omitted to mention the contribution of Montenegro, to the chagrin of Nicholas’s supporters.[24]  Montenegro was awarded one delegate at the Peace Conference, but “the manner of his appointment” would “not be decided until the present political position of that country becomes clear”.[25]  Nicolson captured the air of equivocation and fudge:

As generally happens in such cases, the Conference has never had time to consider whether representation is necessary or not, and their indolence in this respect is to some extent justified by the fact that we do not yet know what the Montenegrins really want and whether they will not in the end be adequately represented by Serbia.  You will see therefore that the situation as regards Montenegrin representation is not a situation at all, but merely a haze.[26] 

Of course, the avoidance or postponement of a decision effectively gave the floor to the Serbs.  Curzon accepted that “as far as external questions are concerned it would seem that the Serbian Representatives, who confidently look forward to the incorporation of Montenegro in the Greater Serbia [sic], may be trusted to defend Montenegrin interests”.[27]  There the matter remained: Montenegro was “represented only by an empty gilt chair and a white card on the blotting pad”.[28] 

In the Commission on Romanian and Yugoslav Affairs in March, Giacomo de Martino (Italy) proposed that they should examine the frontier between Montenegro and “Serbia” and contended that Montenegro remained an independent state.[29]  The other members, opposed to including the question in their remit, maintained that the two were united in one country and that the only disagreement among Montenegrins was about the form of union, not the principle.[30]  The Council of Ten was equally reluctant to examine the issue.  Nicholas’s representative was allowed to submit a lengthy statement on 5 March, when he claimed that Montenegro was the only Ally “against whom the doors of the Council have been closed” and denounced Serbia’s “audacious and forcible coup”.  This provoked no response.  “M. Clemenceau thanked the Delegation, which then withdrew.”[31]  There was no appetite for consideration of the question in the formal institutions of the Peace Conference. The doors were indeed “closed”. 

Leeper simply noted that the King’s delegation “pleaded their case yesterday – very unconvincingly”.[32]  The British and French view was firmly established by this stage and Sir Eyre Crowe spoke for most in Paris when he denounced both the royalists, “a set of rascals, deeply tainted with dirty and traitorous intrigues with the Austrians both before and during the war,” and the Italians and their “unscrupulous campaign” directed to “the absorbtion of Montenegro by Italy and its permanent separation from the Yugo-Slav Kingdom.  This is only another move in the direction of gaining further ports and stretches of coastline for Italy…”  “The present effort of the Italians is directed to the establishment of a big Italian Albania and to linking up Montenegro with Albania instead of with Serbia, with which there is every affinity, nationally, economically and politically speaking.”  “The only salvation of the country lies in its entering, under some form, into the Yugo-Slav state.”[33]

Nicholas continued to complain to Wilson, the best hope of the anti-union Montenegrins, about the “Serbian invasion” and the complicity of “a small number of Montenegrin renegades”.[34]  On 21 April, Wilson wrote to Serbia’s Milenko Vesnić to criticise the imprisonment of “well known Montenegrins” and expressed his disapproval in words that suggested he still regarded Montenegro as a separate entity: “cordial and satisfactory relations with Montenegro can hardly be established by such means.”[35]  Vesnić, aware of Wilson’s hostility to Italy over the Adriatic question, pointed to Sonnino’s use of Nicholas as “an instrument of his policy in the Balkans”.  He denounced the King’s “autocratic and tyrannous rule” and, pressing as many Wilson buttons as possible, argued that, “If the world is to be made safe for democracy, I beg you to believe me that King Nicholas is not the man to assure it…”  With Montenegrins finally realising “their dream of centuries”, a very questionable idea, the issue was a simple matter of national self-determination:

The Montenegrins are as much Serbian as the people of New Jersey are American.  The population of these highlands is as patriotic as the most loyal citizen of Serbia, and it has always aspired to reunion in one State with the other Serbs…  [S]ince our Croat and Slovene kinsmen have succeeded in grasping our hands, our Montenegrin brothers have considered that they, too, and perhaps more than anyone else, had the right to realize their dream of centuries, and that no one would contest them this right.[36] 

Wilson was annoyed by this reply, which did not address the issue of Serbian misconduct, and he could not “escape the impression that the Serbians have taken a very high-handed course and have done things that the opinion of the world would certainly condemn, if they were generally known.”[37]  He asked Secretary Lansing to see Jovan Plamenatz, Nicholas’s so-called Foreign Minister, according that individual (and Nicholas, implicitly) a degree of respect he never got from the officials who received and generally ignored his constant complaints.  (Plamenatz later listed details of 32 notes he had sent to the Conference between 22 February and 12 May, only 12 of which were acknowledged; Leeper found it “A formidable list” and Nicolson added that, “This is very funny.”[38])  But Wilson’s scruples were not shared by his own advisers.  The American Inquiry had put Montenegro in Yugoslavia.  Clive Day, the regional expert, now submitted a paper in which he argued that backing Nicholas was “really playing in the hand of Italy … so that it may work through Montenegro to weaken the Jugo-Slav State” and backed a union that was inevitable because the Montenegrins and Serbs shared “a common language, religion, and economic interests”.[39]  In the Council on 7 May, Wilson again raised the question of Montenegro’s representation and decried Serbia’s brutal treatment of the Montenegrins, and on 17 May he was still “very anxious to get someone to represent Montenegro at the Peace Conference”.[40]  No action followed these remarks. 

What Montenegrins wanted

The true state of popular opinion in Montenegro in 1919 is now unknowable, even by those historians who claim to know it, and they are legion.  Most of the peacemakers in Paris believed that there was majority support for uniting with Yugoslavia, and dissent among Montenegrins was seen as unease about the way in which Serbia had annexed the country and not hostility to the basic concept.  The Leeper-Nicolson memorandum in December 1918 held that the union would “be welcome to the Montenegrin people, and would be in accordance with the doctrines of self-determination and nationality”.  To counter the problem of opposition from Nicholas, it was “advisable to ascertain the wishes of the Montenegrin people by some impartial international commission” which, it was expected, “would decide overwhelmingly in favour of the union”.[41]  As James Evans has commented, “A commission was mooted not because its verdict seemed in doubt but because its evidence would undermine the ex-King’s campaign” against union.[42]  

Leeper went on to declare that there was “no doubt that the great majority of Montenegrins are in favour of Jugoslav unity” and held that there was “no possibility … of the Powers forcing King Nicolas on a people that does not wish for his return”.[43]  For Nicolson, there could be “little doubt that the great mass of Montenegrins desire this union, and that the recent Skuptchina decision does, in fact, represent the national will.”  He even invented a helpful statistic: “quite 80% of the Montenegrins desire union with Serbia”.  His January 1919 proposal of a plebiscite, like the earlier idea of a commission, was designed to counter opposition, not to measure opinion as if the truth were in any doubt.[44]  The French and Americans generally concurred.  Foreign Minister Stephen Pichon declared that they had “every reason to believe that Montenegrins are desirous of unity, and that this desire takes the character of a fusion with Serbia”.[45]  Robert Lansing claimed at the end of April that Nicholas and independence were supported by “a relatively small minority” – Day put it at only 10% – and that the Montenegrins were divided only on the form of their union with Yugoslavia, some wanting “wide local autonomy”, others “close political union”.[46] 

The idea of popular support for union became a mantra of the Allies, Italy apart, regardless of the fact that they were discussing the views of a people about whom they knew almost nothing.  When the British tried to achieve greater certainty (or to prove the thesis), the exercise revealed that closed minds could not, late in the day, be opened and changed.  The reports of conflict and oppression in Montenegro led in March 1919 to the decision to send an Anglo-American Commission of Enquiry.  This mission was intended to be a genuine attempt “to ascertain the true wishes of [the] population as regards [the] future status of Montenegro”.[47]  As Nicolson put it, in a moment of self-doubt, “We simply do not know the real situation and cannot trust people to tell us the truth.”[48]   Count de Salis was Britain’s chosen representative, his American partner was Colonel Sherman Miles, and both arrived in Cetinje on 3 May.  However, Miles’s remit was to investigate allegations of anti-Albanian atrocities at Gusinje and he had “no instructions whatever” to assess opinion in Montenegro.  At any rate, he quickly concluded that “it would be very difficult to make enquiries from people with regard to their wishes especially as we cannot guarantee support to those who oppose [the] present régime” – so he departed after only four days.[49]  De Salis (“I agree with him”) concurred, but Crowe ordered him to continue and described the task in something akin to a leading question:

I am still under the impression that Montenegrins as a whole do desire such union [with Yugoslavia] and that the Separatist movement is largely engineered for dynastic purposes by King Nicolas and his entourage…  You will of course realise that in general British interests it will be to our advantage if Montenegro enters the Jugoslav Federation in some form or other.  In any case I doubt whether we should be prepared to allow King Nicolas to return to his country, which would then become a base for Italian intrigue.[50] 

The need to forestall Italy was the only British interest explicitly identified.  De Salis remained until September.  Nicolson was pleased that his interim report “confirm[ed] what we had ourselves always imagined” about Montenegrins’ desire for union with Yugoslavia, “but on terms of local autonomy”.[51]  Some of de Salis’s telegrams caused ripples of concern.  The Serbs were “being typically “Balkan”” and “terrorising the Montenegrins” (Howard Smith), “behaving with the utmost imprudence” (Nicolson), and Curzon approved a proposed Allied warning to the Serbs “that in their own interests they would be well advised to put an end to these acts of terrorisation”.[52]  Nevertheless, de Salis’s final report must have come as an unpleasant surprise.  It described an oppressive and occasionally brutal Serbian regime in Montenegro – “The Government is purely one of military force” – against which the clans of Old Montenegro conducted a tenacious armed resistance that owed nothing to the Italians.  Conflict continued into July and August – indeed, there appears to have been a resurgence of violence – with “the establishment of a regular system of terrorism”.  The “unscrupulous use of Balkan methods” by Serbia meant that the union “now meets with determined opposition on the part of the population, perhaps a considerable majority”.[53] 

De Salis’s denunciation of Serbian terror and catalogue of acts of resistance was so damning, and unwanted by his employers, that the British refused to publish the report.  Curzon wanted to publish (though it would “provoke fierce controversy”), but Leeper argued that it would be “an intolerable affront to the Serb-Croat-Slovene Govt & an advantage only to Italian chauvinists”.  Crowe backed Leeper and the report was never published.[54]  Despite the report’s strong condemnation of Serbia and description of widespread opposition (by “perhaps a considerable majority”), de Salis’s conclusion compliantly and acrobatically asserted that most Montenegrins wanted to be part of Yugoslavia but “to enter it as Montenegro, and not as a prefecture of Serbia”.[55]  Of course, Crowe read the message he wanted to read:

It is generally agreed, and I think there is nothing in Count de Salis’ report which runs counter to this view, that the great majority of the Montenegrin people are genuinely conscious of their Yugo-Slav descent and traditions, and are whole-heartedly desirous of union with the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.  It is also, I think, practically universally accepted – and again I can find nothing in Count de Salis’ report to contradict this view – that few disinterested persons in Montenegro desire the return of King Nicholas…[56]

Similarly, Nicolson began his summary of the report with, “it amounts to this; the great majority of Montenegrins desire union with the new Jugo-Slav State,” before going on to notice their objection to being a “prefecture” of Serbia and the latter’s oppressive conduct (they “behaved abominably”).[57]  Harold Temperley visited Montenegro in late August to early September 1919 and, writing up his observations, he admitted many “Serb defects” but forecast “anarchy” and Italian intervention were Nicholas to return.  The Serbs “have indulged in massacres; but the country is under proper control at the moment, and disturbances are promptly suppressed.”  One of the General Staff officers in Paris indignantly protested against this passage, which seemed to endorse violent oppression, and suggested that “the fairest way [would] be for Serbians and Italians to withdraw and let Montenegro work out her own salvation.”  Leeper (“I agree with Major Temperley”) and Crowe (“I think Major Temperley is right”) were not prepared to consider this option.[58] 


If “dénouement” suggests a slow drift towards an almost inevitable outcome, it accurately describes the course of events over the following months.  The ministers and officials in London considered the Salis report “a severe but doubtless fully deserved indictment of the Serbs” (Oliphant) and they wanted to confront Belgrade: the Powers must “stand up to the Serbs as they have done to the Roumanians” and “use a show of force and have both the Serbs and Italians out of the country and cause the King to hold elections under Allied supervision” (Smith).  They urged Crowe “to endeavour to secure the same status for Montenegro in the new Jugo-Slav State as has been accorded to Croatia and Slovenia, as part of the Adriatic settlement,” with Montenegro established “as a separate federal unit in a Jugo-Slav Federation” – this suggestion coming from Frederick Adam and, more formally, Foreign Secretary Curzon in December 1919.[59]  On the other side, the peacemakers in Paris felt that “it would be most unfortunate should so controversial a matter as the Montenegrin question be publicly raised at a moment when the general [Adriatic] question, of which it is a very small part, seems to be … on the verge of solution.”  Crowe agreed that a federal system would reconcile the Montenegrins, but he rejected the idea that this could be secured by the Peace Conference.  It would happen only after a general settlement decided Yugoslavia’s frontiers and paved the way to elections for a constituent assembly, when, he believed (wrongly), the Greater Serbia centralists (“a small reactionary clique of politicians”) around Nikola Pašić would be defeated by “the moderate and conciliatory element among Jugo-Slav politicians”.[60]

At the end of November 1919, Nicholas issued a last cry of distress when he wondered how his sixtieth year on the throne in 1920 might be celebrated and charged that the “present sad state of affairs had been brought about not by the enemy but by the action of his Allies…  There had never been in history a more flagrant case of the violation of the rights of a Nation or of a Dynasty…”  Britain and France had ended their funding of Nicholas and he complained that “he was being kept in France and denied financial assistance.  Did the Allies think that he could live on air?  He was now reduced to selling his jewels in order to attempt to meet his daily expenditure at the Hotel Meurice where he was living.”  At an auction in Cetinje his private belongings had been “held up for the highest bidder including articles of apparel of the Queen…”[61]  His Foreign Minister was driven to conclude that the Peace Conference had colluded in Serbia’s “crime against Montenegro”.  He called on the Conference “to summon at the earliest possible moment our delegate” – failing which Montenegro would endeavour to sign separate treaties with Germany, Austria and Bulgaria, “being unwilling to remain in a state of war with those countries”.  The Council “decided to return no communication to this communication”.[62] 

The joint Allied (American, British and French) memorandum of 9 December 1919 on the Adriatic question stated that, “It is assumed … that Montenegro will form part of the Serb-Croat-Slovene State.”[63]  However, the Allies’ failure to settle that question and the decision in February 1920 to resort to direct Rome-Belgrade negotiations prevented movement towards a formal decision on Montenegro.  Leeper not only echoed Crowe’s view that the Adriatic and Montenegrin questions were inseparable but also expressed the cynical idea that the promise of gaining Montenegro served usefully to encourage Yugoslav moderation in the Adriatic dispute: it “forms one of the most powerful arguments to bring the Yugo-Slav Government to acceptance of a compromise on the Adriatic question”.  This made Montenegro a mere pawn in a bigger game.  Leeper, producing a full review, clung to the idea that union with Yugoslavia was essential for the “future welfare” of Montenegro and desired by “the great majority” of Montenegrins, notwithstanding the “discontent” caused by “the unusual and arbitrary behaviour of certain Serb officials…  Full opportunity for the Montenegrins to make their wishes clear in the matter should and would be afforded at the elections for the Constituest Assembly” after the country’s frontiers were decided, as long as they were “held freely” and avoided the “coercion” alleged to have occurred, he acknowledged, when the Podgoritsa Assembly was elected in 1918.  He suggested the sending of observers by the Allies “so that they may be assured that the will of the Montenegrin people is fully and fearlessly expressed”.[64]  The flaw in this thinking is discussed below.

Reports of unrest continued and by August 1920 Nicolson had begun to develop doubts: three elements – the “intrigues” of Nicholas, Italian opposition and the “brutal behaviour” of the Serbs – had emerged to “confuse the logic” of the premise “that the great mass of the Montenegrin people desired union with Yugo-Slavia”.  Nicolson still dared to hope that Temperley, sent out again to assess the situation, would be able to refute “the evidence of ignorant and enthusiastic” opponents of union.[65]  Britain’s ambassador in Belgrade expected an angry reaction to Temperley’s visit if it cast doubt on Montenegro’s status: the Serbs were “more sensitive with regard to Montenegro than at [sic] any other question…  Serbs proper are not so sensitive with regard to Fiume and Dalmatia as [they] are new provinces.”[66]  However, it was too late to unpick the decision – really a non-decision, a protracted acquiescence – to permit the union with Yugoslavia, and in the second half of 1920 Montenegro’s fate was finally sealed.  Crucially, the Italians had withdrawn their troops from nearby Cattaro (Dalmatia) in December 1919 – which was “the signal for the cessation of komitaji activities in favour of King Nicholas” (Nicolson) – and they left Antivari (Montenegro) in June 1920 and Albania in August-September 1920.[67]  Yugoslavia’s Prince Regent Alexander declared in August 1920 that “no real trouble was expected since the departure of the Italians”; he “practically looked on the settlement as a fait accompli.”[68]  Temperley found in Montenegro that backing for Nicholas had “greatly diminished” and “the bulk of the population appeared to be Jugoslav in one form or another.”[69]  He submitted a report which described an efficient and benevolent regime, general tranquillity (the American Red Cross girls could climb Mount Lovćen “without mishap”) and acceptance of Yugoslavia by “the great majority”.[70] 

The fait accompli was reflected in the union of the Montenegrin and Serbian Orthodox Churches in September 1920 (really the former’s subordination to the latter), and the participation of Montenegrins in the constituent assembly elections in November confirmed Montenegro’s future as part of Yugoslavia.  The elections provided, as Curzon hoped, “at least the appearance even if not the reality of legality & free choice”.  Nicolson acknowledged the danger that the votes of the Montenegrin deputies would be “summarily quashed by the non-Montenegrin majority”.[71]  Given that Montenegro had only ten out of over 400 deputies in the assembly, the exercise, as a legitimising device, had something of the flavour of Hitler’s Greater Germany plebiscite of April 1938.  The French cited the elections as the reason for their recognition of the union and ending of diplomatic relations with Nicholas.[72]  Italian assistance to Nicholas’s men, always half-hearted, was terminated when an Adriatic settlement was finally agreed in November 1920 and Italy recognised the integrity of the Yugoslav state.  King Nicholas’s death on 1 March 1921 dispirited the loyalists and, deprived of its figurehead, the independence movement quickly expired as a significant force.[73]  The centralist Yugoslav constitution of 1921 ended the hopes of those Montenegrins who had wanted autonomy within a federal union.  Montenegro was destined to remain within Yugoslavia (except briefly, under Hitler’s aegis, in 1941-44) until the union collapsed in the 1990s.

Harold Nicolson, initially an avid proponent of Montenegro’s entry into Yugoslavia, was later full of remorse about Britain’s role in “not a very pleasant story” and recalled how the Serbs “had behaved badly about all those bayonets and that Podgoritza Assembly”.  He also confessed to having “felt extremely uncertain whether such a solution was in fact that desired by the Montenegrin population themselves”.[74]  His government’s attempt to gauge Montenegrin opinion was almost as cynical and dishonest as the Serbians’ own attempt to legitimise their conquest.  It was not Britain’s finest hour.

[1] Kenneth Morrison, Montenegro: A Modern History (London, 2009), 43.

[2] This avoids the modern controversy about whether the people were Serbs or a different tribe (or different tribes) of Slavs.

[3] Foreign Office Papers, FO 925/21091, Ethnographic Map of the Balkan Peninsula by Jovan Cvijić.

[4] Harold Nicolson and Stephen Pichon, respectively, paraphrasing Nicholas.  Harold Nicolson, Peacemaking 1919 (London, 1933), 150.  Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States: The Paris Peace Conference 1919 (FRUS), III, 487, Council of Ten, 12 January 1919.  See also FO 371/3149, 288, Sir George Grahame to Foreign Office, 11 December 1918.

[5] Ibid., 266, note by Leeper, 3 December 1918.

[6] FO 371/8903, 37, 39, Report by Count de Salis on Montenegro, 21 August 1919.  Nicolson, Peacemaking 1919, 150.  Temperley on the Skupština: “If it had not been unanimous I should have believed in its unanimity.”  T. G. Otte, ed., An Historian in Peace and War: The Diaries of Harold Temperley (Farnham and Burlington, 2014), 395, 5 April 1919. 

[7] These views were expressed by Leeper and Nicolson in December 1918 and summarised in Nicolson’s later memorandum (1923).  FO 371/4355, 26, South-Eastern Europe and the Balkans, December 1918.  FO 371/8903, 16, Paper by Nicolson, 19 March 1923. 

[8] Otte, Diaries of Harold Temperley, 354-55, 25 December 1918.  See also FRUS, II, 357, Dodge to Polk, 18 December 1918.  FO 608/44, 545, Temperley to Thwaites, 3 January 1919.

[9] The rising began on Christmas Eve in the Julian calendar, 6 January 1919 in the Gregorian.

[10] Sabrina P. Ramet, The Three Yugoslavias: State-Building and Legitimation, 1918-2005 (Washington, 2006), 47.  In the Skupština elections in November, the pro-independence side distributed green candidate lists and the supporters of union with Serbia issued white candidate lists.  Ivo Banac agreed that in the rising “the Greens had the support of the larger part of the people”.  Ivo Banac, The National Question in Yugoslavia: Origins, History, Politics (New York and London, 1984), 286.

[11] FO 371/3565, 405, Plunkett to Thwaites, 2 February 1919.  He believed that the middle classes, known as the “black coats”, not only knew the King’s faults better but also saw the advantage of joining “a big state” that could protect the country’s interests.

[12] Ibid., 404, Thwaites to Curzon, 12 February 1919, citing claims by Temperley (3 January), Rodd (10 January), Brodie (13 January) and Rocke (19 January).

[13] Ibid., 367, Political Intelligence Department, January 1919; FO 371/3570, 463, Phillips to Gribbon, 11 January 1919.  Otte, Diaries of Harold Temperley, 377, 386, 391, 21 January, 11 February, 26 March 1919.  

[14] Arthur S. Link, ed., The Papers of Woodrow Wilson (Princeton, 1989), Volume 53, 638, Page to Wilson, 7 January 1919.

[15] FO 608/44, 503, Alex Devine to Lord Robert Cecil, 26 January 1919; ibid., 481, note by Nicolson, 24 January 1919; FO 371/3590, 477, Nicolson to Wellesley, 22 February 1919.

[16] FO 608/44, 507, Derby to Curzon, [28?] January 1919, with notes by Leeper and Nicolson, 31 January 1919.  Link, The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, Volume 56, 394, Balfour to House, 28 March 1919.

[17] FO 608/45, 404, Derby to Curzon, 19 April 1919; ibid., 414, Curzon to Derby, 30 April 1919, with note by Temperley, 2 May 1919.  FO 371/3580, 279, des Graz to Foreign Office, 23 April 1919.  James Evans, Great Britain and the Creation of Yugoslavia: Negotiating Balkan Nationality and Identity (London, 2008), 136-38.

[18] FO 371/3578, 34, Foreign Office to des Graz, 15 January 1919.

[19] FO 608/44, 469, notes by Nicolson and Crowe, 15, 16 January 1919. 

[20] FO 371/3590, 477, Nicolson to Wellesley, 22 February 1919. 

[21] FRUS, II, 362-65, King Nicholas to Wilson, 7 January 1919; 367-68, Wilson to Lansing, 9 January 1919; 368, Wilson to King Nicholas, 9 January 1919 (also in Link, The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, Volume 53, 700-4).

[22] “… because no country had the right to take the self-determination of another country into her own hands.”  FRUS, III, 487-88, Council of Ten, 12 January 1919.

[23] FRUS, II, 370, Wilson to Lansing, 11 January 1919; 370, Lansing to Wilson, 13 January 1919.  Link, The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, Volume 54, 54, Lansing to Wilson, 13 January 1919.

[24] FO 608/44, 408, Derby to Foreign Office, 23 January 1919. 

[25] FRUS, III, 173, Rules of the Conference, 18 January 1919.

[26] FO 371/3590, 477, Nicolson to Wellesley, 22 February 1919. 

[27] Ibid., 479, Oliphant for Curzon to Wellesley, 1/15 March 1919. 

[28] Nicolson, Peacemaking 1919, 150-51.

[29] Curzon privately commented that the Italians supported “any proposal calculated to mark the separation between Montenegro and Serbia”.  FO 371/3590, 479, Oliphant for Curzon to Wellesley, 1/15 March 1919. 

[30] Commission des Affaires Roumaines et Yougo-Slaves, FO 374/9, Procès-Verbal Nos. 9, 10, 86-7, 88-9, 2, 3 March 1919.

[31] FRUS, IV, 207-11, Council of Ten, 5 March 1919.

[32] FO 608/46, 162, note by Leeper, 6 March 1919.

[33] Ibid., 158, note by Crowe, 5 March 1919; FO 608/30, 270, note by Crowe, 15 March 1919.

[34] Link, The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, Volume 56, 572-74, Nicholas to Wilson, 3 April 1919.  See also FO 371/3590, 503, Plamenatz to Curzon, 9 April 1919.

[35] Link, The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, Volume 57, 558, Wilson to Vesnić, 21 April 1919.    

[36] Ibid., Volume 58, 161-64, Vesnić to Wilson, 26 April 1919.

[37] Ibid., 354, Wilson to Lansing, 2 May 1919. 

[38] FO 608/47, 243, Plamenatz to Clemenceau, 13 May 1919, with notes by Nicolson and Crowe, 16 May 1919.  On receiving another Plamenatz letter about Montenegrin representation, Nicolson commented, “This is almost the 50th note from M. Plamenatz on this subject.”  Ibid., 248, note by Nicolson, 16 May 1919.  Later, rejecting Plamenatz’s request for an interview, Leeper wrote that they were “probably more fully supplied with information from M. Plamenatz & King Nicolas … than from any other representative of any other people.”  Crowe noted, “I think M. Plamenatz must be paid for “piece-work”.”  FO 371/3581, 332, 580, notes by Leeper and Crowe, 4 March, 14 April 1920.

[39] Link, The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, Volume 59, 178n2, Day to Lansing, 6 May 1919, enclosed in White to Wilson, 15 May 1919.

[40] Paul Mantoux, The Deliberations of the Council of Four (Princeton, 1992), I, 503, 7 May 1919.  FRUS, V, 681, Council of Four, 17 May 1919.

[41] FO 371/4355, 26, South-Eastern Europe and the Balkans, December 1918.

[42] Evans, Great Britain and the Creation of Yugoslavia, 132-33.

[43] FO 608/44, 574, note by Leeper, 28 February 1919; FO 608/46, 47, note by Leeper, 14 May 1919. 

[44] Ibid., 162, note by Nicolson, 5 March 1919; FO 608/47, 167, note by Nicolson, 15 January 1919.

[45] FO 371/3565, 328, Derby to Balfour, 5 January 1919.  Derby was translating Pichon’s words.  Ibid., 330, Pichon to Derby, 4 January 1919.

[46] Link, The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, Volume 58, 267-68, Lansing to Wilson, 30 April 1919; ibid., Volume 59, 178n2, Day to Lansing, 6 May 1919.

[47] FO 608/45, 398, Curzon to Balfour, 20 April 1919, with the terms of reference. 

[48] Nicolson, Peacemaking 1919, 313, Diary, 15 April 1919.  Balfour subscribed to the prevailing view that “the majority of the Montenegrin people really desire to enter the Jugo-Slav State” but went on to admit “that we do not actually know the real wishes of the Montenegrin people.”  Link, The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, Volume 56, 394-95, Balfour to House, 28 March 1919.

[49] FO 608/45, 424, 426, de Salis to Balfour, 7, 8 May 1919.  Nicolson: “Most unsatisfactory.  I fear our joint “mission of enquiry” has proved a fiasco.”  Ibid., 430, note by Nicolson, 14 May 1919.  In a brief report, Miles restated his view that gauging opinion would be “absolutely impossible” during Serbian occupation but recommended recognition of Montenegro’s inclusion in Yugoslavia.  Ibid., 438, Political conditions in Montenegro, 19 May 1919.

[50] FO 608/45, 427, Crowe (for Balfour) to de Salis, 12 May 1919.  See also ibid., 452, Crowe to de Salis, 5 June 1919; FO 371/3580, 299, Balfour to de Salis, 14 May 1919; ibid., 331, Crowe to de Salis, 5 June 1919.

[51] FO 608/45, 470, De Salis to Balfour, 19 June 1919, with note by Nicolson, 25 June 1919.

[52] Ibid., 308, note by Nicolson, 14 August 1919.  FO 371/3580, 368, 531, notes by Howard Smith, 26 June, 12 August 1919; ibid., 504, Howard Smith (for Curzon) to Balfour, 12 August 1919.  The British issued this warning in Belgrade.  Ibid., 577, Norman (for Balfour) to Curzon, 28 August 1919; ibid., 578, Oliphant (for Curzon) to des Graz, 2 September 1919.

[53] Ibid., 598, Report by Count de Salis on Montenegro, 21 August 1919 (also in FO 608/46, 207).   “The country is rapidly becoming a second Macedonia.”

[54] Crowe and Leeper feared that the report would inflame opinion just when the whole Adriatic question was “in its most delicate stage”.  FO 608/46, 130, Curzon to Crowe, 8 October 1919, with notes by Leeper and Crowe, 10, 12 October 1919.

[55] FO 371/3580, 602, Report by Count de Salis on Montenegro, 21 August 1919. 

[56] FO 608/46, 134, Crowe to Curzon, 16 October 1919 (also in FO 371/3581, 50).  

[57] Ibid., 205, note by Nicolson, 16 September 1919.

[58] Ibid., 222, Some Observations on the Existing Situation in Montenegro, 22 October 1919 (also in FO 371/3581, 64), with notes by Cole, Leeper and Crowe, 3, 5, 6 November 1919.

[59] FO 371/3756, 605, note by Howard Smith, 13 November 1919; FO 371/3580, 597, notes by Howard Smith and Oliphant, 6 September 1919; FO 371/3590, 535, note by Adam, 3 December 1919; ibid., 540, Curzon to Crowe, 15 December 1919, with note by Hardinge; FO 371/3576, 614, note by Adam, 17 November 1919.  The words used by Adam (quoted) and Curzon were almost identical, but the latter added his view “that the large majority of the Montenegrin people desire that Montenegro should join a Yugo-Slav Federation as a federal unit and not as an incorporated part of the former kingdom of Serbia”.

[60] FO 608/46, 134, Crowe to Curzon, 16 October 1919.  FO 371/3581, 50, 226, Crowe to Curzon, 16 October, 19 December 1919.  Evans, Great Britain and the Creation of Yugoslavia, 143-46. 

[61] FO 608/47, 225, Grahame to Curzon, 29 November 1919 (also in FO 371/3581, 159).  Britain and France each gave Nicholas 100,000 francs per month until July 1919 – but it was not until 7 November that a final decision to discontinue was made and notified to Nicholas.  FO 371/3576, 690, Adam’s Memorandum on the Montenegrin Subsidy, 1 April 1920.

[62] FO 608/44, 523, Plamenatz to Crowe, 29 November 1919, with note by Norman, 1 December 1919.  FO 371/3590, 537, Plamenatz to the Peace Conference, 26 November 1919.  Heads of Delegations, CAB 29/76, 101, 154, 1 December 1919.

[63] Correspondence relating to the Adriatic Question (Parliamentary Paper, London, 1920), 8.

[64] FO 371/3581, 551, Leeper’s Memorandum on Montenegro, 17 February 1920.

[65] FO 371/4660, 183, memorandum by Nicolson, 14 August 1920.  

[66] FO 371/4695, 222, Young to Foreign Office, 16 July 1920.

[67] FO 371/8903, 34, Foreign Office Report, 18 April 1923.  Baerlein, denying the legitimacy of the movement behind Nicholas, gave an interesting definition: “komitadji is the proper name for the many lawless elements who have found the traditional fighting life more congenial than the thankless task of tilling their very barren land.”  Temperley was also dismissive: “comitadjis are always agin the government!”  Henry Baerlein, The Birth of Yugoslavia (London, 1922), II, 256.  Otte, Diaries of Harold Temperley, 472, 31 August 1920.

[68] Ibid., 466, 13 August 1920. 

[69] Ibid., 489, 17 October 1920.  See also ibid., 493, 3 December 1920.

[70] Harold Temperley, Report on Political Conditions in Montenegro, 12 October 1920, Parliamentary Papers, Miscellaneous No. 1 (1921).  Also in FO 371/8903, 20.  Otte, Diaries of Harold Temperley, 472, 481-82, 31 August, 12, 13 September 1920.  Temperley felt that this was “the conclusion at which one must arrive if the problem is studied without preconception or prejudice” – an objectivity he did not claim when he encountered a member of Serbia’s royal family in Belgrade: “Princess Hélène, who spoke good English, began by saying that she had heard I was a great friend of Jugoslavia.  I said I had deserved that title.”  Otte, Diaries of Harold Temperley, 489, 17 October 1920.

[71] FO 371/4668, 180, notes by Nicolson and Curzon, 25, 26 September 1920.

[72] Srdja Pavlović, Balkan Anschluss: The Annexation of Montenegro and the Creation of the Common South Slavic State (West Lafayette, 2008), 98, letter of Delaroche-Vernet, 20 December 1920.  America and Britain broke off relations with Nicholas in January and March 1921, respectively.  Ibid., 112.  Baerlein declared that, in the elections, the majority “dethroned its traitor-king”.  Baerlein, The Birth of Yugoslavia, II, 253-57.

[73] Jannine Leadbetter, ‘The End of Montenegro, 1914-1920’, The South Slav Journal (Autumn-Winter 1991), Vol. 14, Nos. 3-4, 67.  “… the Green insurgency subsided, as the gendarmes smoked the outlaws, like badgers, out of their holes.”  Banac, The National Question in Yugoslavia, 289.

[74] Nicolson, Peacemaking 1919, 148, 151-52.