20 March 2018
Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick,
850th anniversary lecture series,
1.15 p.m., Tuesday 20 March 2018.
In Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, we have one of the most unusual graves in any churchyard in Ireland. This grave, with its simple headstone is of Prince Milo of Montenegro. It faces the great west door of the cathedral, and lies beside the boundary wall, looking out onto the banks of the River Shannon.
But residents of Limerick and visitors share the same bewilderment, often asking who was Prince Milo, where is Montenegro, how did he end up in Ireland, and why is he buried at Saint Mary’s Cathedral.
For many people in Ireland, it may be difficult for people to tell apart Montenegro, Macedonia, Moldavia and Moldova. Indeed, this was a problem for Donald Trump at a summit last year, and these geographical challenges allowed a conman posing as a royal pretender to hoodwink high society on the Riveria until recently.
Montenegro, whose name means ‘Black Mountain,’ is a former Yugoslav republic and a sovereign state in the Balkans in south-east Europe. It has a short Adriatic coastline and it is encircled or surrounded by Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo and Albania. The capital and largest city is Podgorica, while Cetinje is designated as the Old Royal Capital.
Montenegro is a member of the UN, NATO, the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe and the Central European Free Trade Agreement.
In the ninth century, there were three mediaeval Serbian principalities in what is now Montenegro: Duklja, Travunia and Rascia. In 1042, the archon Stefan Vojislav led a revolt that resulted in the independence of Duklja from the Byzantine Empire and the establishment of the Vojislavljević dynasty.
Later, large portions of what is now Montenegro were ruled by the Ottoman Empire from 1496 to 1878. But in the 16th century, Montenegro developed a unique form of autonomy within the Ottoman Empire, allowing Montenegrin clans freedom from some restrictions. Nevertheless, the Montenegrins were disgruntled with Ottoman rule, and in the 17th century, raised numerous rebellions, which culminated in the defeat of the Ottomans in the Great Turkish War at the end of the 17th century.
Montenegro achieved de facto independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1711. From 1852, it was known as the Principality of Montenegro, although it only received formal international recognition as an independent principality in 1878. In 1889, Czar Alexander III said Prince Nikola of Montenegro was Russia’s ‘sole sincere and true friend’ in the Balkans.
The country declared itself the Kingdom of Montenegro on 28 August 1910. At the end of World War I, the king was deposed and Montenegro was forced into the newly-formed Kingdom of Serbia and Montenegro, which later became Yugoslavia.
Prince Milo: birth and family
Prince Milo Petrović-Njegoš (1889-1978) was a prince of Montenegro and a direct descendant of Radul Petrović, brother of Danilo I (1675-1735), the first Vladika or Prince-Bishop of Montenegro from 1696 to 1735.
But the family tree of Montenegro’s royal family is very difficult to disentangle. The first claimants to princely status were the Bishops of Cetinje, who, as Orthodox bishops, were unmarried and passed both their episcopal and princely status from uncle to nephew, nephew to uncle, or cousin to cousin in an obscure, indeed whimsical and often capricious, line of succession, in which a bishop’s family member was chosen as his successor on the basis of favouritism rather than seniority, age, ability or even literacy.
All members of the family claimed the title of prince, and the Petrović family only began to take on the trappings of other European royal families during the reign of Danilo Petrović Njegoš (1826-1860). He came to office in 1851 after a dynastic power struggle, and as Danilo II, he was the Metropolitan or Prince-Bishop of Montenegro. But in 1852, he stood down as bishop, declared himself Montenegro’s hereditary monarch, and as the renumbered Danilo I reigned as Prince of Montenegro from 1851 to 1860.
During his reign, Montenegro became, nominally, a secular state or a lay principality instead of a bishopric-principality. A constitution was introduced although, in fact, Danilo ruled as an absolute monarch, with all the trappings of an almost Ruritanian-style monarchy yet with the grip of a Balkan despot or tyrant.
Prince Milo was never the son of a king or a reigning prince. His title of ‘Prince’ comes from being a member of this unusual family, and he was born in Njeguši on 3 October 1889, the son of Đuro Petrović and Stane-Cane Đurašković.
At the age of 12, he was sent to the Military Academy in St Petersburg, Russia, where he became a personal friend of Czar Nicholas II and Czarina Alexandra, and was introduced to various Romanovs and also to Rasputin.
In 1910, Prince Nikola I of Montenegro upgraded himself among the royal families of Europe by proclaiming himself the King of Montenegro. He became known as ‘the father-in-law of Europe’ because his daughters married into so many royal families: Princess Zorka married King Peter I of Yugoslavia; Princess Elena married King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy; and other daughters married into Russian and German royal and noble families, including the Romanovs and the Battenbergs.
Prince Milo was a distant cousin of this extended, minor European royal family, and during World War I he was the commander of the Lovćen Brigade, leading his troops into Albania in 1916.
Montenegro became a part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1918. After Montenegro was absorbed into the new Yugoslavia, Prince Milo left Montenegro in 1919, and for more than half a century he moved around the world as an exile, engaged in a diplomatic campaign to secure the restoration of the recognition of Montenegro as a sovereign, independent state.
His distant cousin, King Nikola, died at Cap d’Antibes in the south of France, in 1921. Meanwhile, Milo was a wandering exile, moving from the Cote d’Azur, to Italy, Mexico, Shanghai, Beijing, and back again to Mussolini’s Fascist Italy. In Mexico, Milo was offered a home in Mexico by the Mexican dictator. In Shanghai, he befriended Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek and Noel Coward. In Beijing, he flirted with Wallis Simpson, and they remained lifelong friends. In Italy, Milo’s cousin was Queen Elena, the wife of King Victor Emmanuel III, who became a puppet monarch in the hands of Mussolini.
Milo eventually moved to London in 1926, taking a job as a bank cashier and a renting a basement room at No 44 Bedford Square. Three storeys up, and in much higher society, lived the celebrity hostess Lady Ottoline Violet Anne Morrell (1873-1938), whose circle of literary and artistic friends included Aldous Huxley, Siegfried Sassoon, TS Eliot, DH Lawrence, Dora Carrington and Gilbert Spencer.
At an exhibition in the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly, Milo met both Doreen Powell, who would become his protector and patron, and Helena Grace Smith from Haworth in Yorkshire, who had returned briefly from the US to London.
Milo pursued Helena to the US, and they were married in Santa Barbara, California on 3 September 1927. A year later, their only child, Milena, was born in Los Angeles, and she was named at birth after the last Queen of Montenegro.
But Milo abandoned his young family the following year and returned to England. He settled back into London, where he ran an antiques shop near Grosvenor Square with the half-Irish Doreen Powell. They spent many hours together in Claridge’s, the Ritz, the Connaught and the Savoy, and he even reacquainted himself with the flirtatious Wallis Simpson; clearly, he had no intention of returning to Helena and Milena in Santa Barbara.
In California, Helena was awarded her PhD at the University of Southern California in 1934; in London, Milo gathered a circle of Montenegrin friends around him, including Major Marko Zekov Popović.
Fleet Street feted him, and the headlines proclaimed him as ‘The King Without a Throne.’ But it was his cousins, Prince Danilo (1872-1939), who renounced his claims in 1921 in favour of his nephew Prince Michael (1908-1986), who had inherited the royal claims of their predecessors while living in exile in France. Prince Michael survived arrest and internment on Hitler’s orders for refusing to head up a puppet state in Montenegro.
When the Italians invaded Yugoslavia at the beginning of World War II, Mussolini planned on setting up a puppet monarchy in an ‘independent’ Montenegro. When Prince Michael Petrović-Njegoš spurned the offer of the throne, it was then offered to Milo, it is said. But, instead, Milo had chosen to move from London to Dublin.
He first took a room in the Shelbourne Hotel on Saint Stephen’s Green, and then bought or rented a two-storey house on Arranmore Road, off Herbert Park in Dublin, while Doreen Powell moved into Harcourt Terrace. In Dublin, Milo acquired a Daimler, ZH 4685, and he and Doreen set up another antiques shop.
Milo’s daughter says it was at one of their dinner parties that he began what became, after Doreen Powell’s death, an affair with a woman named in his biography as Blanche Drummond, 12 years his senior. However, Turtle Bunbury and other genealogists and historians name the woman at the centre of this mid-20th century society scandal and source of gossip as Gladys (née McClintock), wife of Henry Arthur Bruen of Oak Park in Carlow. She was from Rathvinden House, in Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow, and the Bruens had been married for 26 years.
Turtle Bunbury says Gladys and Milo were introduced to each other by Doris Kane Smith and her husband, the solicitor Samuel ‘Sammy’ Roche, who lived at Bennekerry House, on the Carlow-Tullow road.
In May 1945, shortly before the end of World War II, Milo invited his 16-year-old daughter in California, Milena, to visit him in Ireland. But her mother was totally opposed to the visit and to any possibility of reconciliation.
Milo and Gladys moved into a house she owned in Errisbeg, near Roundstone in Connemara. There in the 1960s, they became friends with David Allen, who ran Mullen’s auction house in Bray for many years, and his wife Noreen, who ran Clifden Antiques.
When Gladys Bruen died in 1969, however, she was buried in the Bruen mausoleum in Carlow and Prince Milo stayed on in the house in Errisbeg, where he became a virtual recluse. Nevertheless, he continued to maintain his friendship with David Allen, who agreed to buy the house and land, allowing the prince to continue living there until he died.
For most of his life, Prince Milo was estranged from his only daughter, Milena. But as an adult she renewed her acquaintances with him after 39 years, and she visited him in Ireland several times from 1967 on.
Milo died 40 years ago this year in Barrington’s Hospital, Limerick, on 22 November 1978, and was buried in a small plot he had bought by in the churchyard at Saint Mary’s Cathedral. Only two people were present at his funeral: his daughter Milena, and Reginald Miley, a retired banker living in Ballinteer, Dublin, and one of the few friends he had left in life. The modest and unassuming stone marking his grave is fading and in the rain it is almost impossible to read the wording.
Recently, his Connemara home, now known as the Prince’s Cottage, was on the market with an asking price of €470,000.
Meanwhile, Princess Milena, a retired school principal, continued to live in California with her husband Malcolm Thompson. Like her father, she hoped to see Montenegro become an independent country once again.
In 2001, she published her biography of her father, My Father, the Prince. She died in Los Angeles on 14 February 2005.
But the story does not end there, for there is a strange connection with Montenegro that links the humble gravestone at Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Limerick with an ornate casket Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin.
Marko Zekov Popović was the Hereditary Royal Standard Bearer of Montenegro, a member of the Montenegrin National Committee, and the author of Where is Montenegro? The Martyrdom of a Small Nation (1926).
When Popović died in London on 26 October 1934, he was cremated, despite Orthodox traditions. His ashes were later brought to Dublin by Milo when he moved to Ireland. In Dublin, Milo placed these ashes in an ornate casket on a shelf in the south ambulatory in Christ Church Cathedral, with an accompanying plaque..
The fate of Montenegro
Meanwhile, what happened to Montenegro?
At the end of World War II, the former Kingdom of Yugoslavia was succeeded in 1945 by the Federal People’s, later Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
After the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1992, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia formed separate, independent states, while the republics of Serbia and Montenegro together established a federation as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, renamed in 2003 as Serbia and Montenegro.
A year after Princess Milena died in 2005, an independence referendum was held on 21 May 2006, and Montenegro declared independence from Serbia on 3 June 2006. Following an independence referendum 6, Montenegro declared independence on 3 June 2006. It was officially named the Republic of Montenegro until 22 October 2007.
When Donald Trump brusquely shoved aside the Prime Minister of Montenegro, Dusko Markovic, at the NATO summit in Brussels last year  it was yet another rude rebuff for the tiny Adriatic state, almost a century after the Western allies had forced it to be subsumed into the greater Kingdom of the Southern Slavs or Yugoslavia.
Once again, Russia’s President Putin must have been pleased with Trump’s rude behaviour. Montenegro’s government accuses Russian intelligence of plotting a failed coup in October 2017, while Moscow accuses Markovic and his government of being a mafia clique.
As the Econmoist reported last year, the meeting in Brussels was supposed to be a celebratory preparation for Montenegro’s entry into the western alliance last year (5 June 2017). But perhaps the Montenegrins will have the last laugh when Trump receives what may yet be an imminent heave-to before his term of office comes to an end.
A royal pretender or a conman?
While I was researching the story of Prince Milo of Montenegro and his grave here at Saint Mary’s, newspapers around the world were reporting the arrest of a 57-year-old Italian conman who has been charged with fraud and forgery after posing for years as a member of the Royal Family of Montenegro.
The man, whose real identity has not yet been revealed, calls himself ‘His Imperial and Royal Highness Stefan Cernetic, Hereditary Prince of Montenegro, Serbia and Albania,’ and claims to be a descendant of the Emperor Constantine, and the head of the royal family of Montenegro.
He is such a convincing conman that he has hoodwinked and fooled many royals and celebrities. He travelled across Europe in a luxury black Mercedes flying Montenegrin flags and fake royal insignia, and stayed in luxury hotels, free of charge.
To make his claims even more credible, Cernetic set up a website and several social media accounts, where he regularly posts photographs of himself alongside known royals, like Prince Albert of Monaco, and members of famous aristocratic families, like Savoy, Hapsburg and Hohenzollern.
On his website, Cernetic describes himself as ‘the head of the family that ruled Montenegro, Albania and Serbia from the XIV century to the second half of the XVIII century,’ and has published family trees, photographs and illustrations of medals, seals, coats of arms and ‘legal rulings.’
It all looks impressive until you start reading some of the meaningless babble, such as this paragraph:
His Royal and Imperial Highness, as descendant of S. Constantine the Great and of the Emperor of Constantinople Angelo, Comneno, Ducas, Paleologo, Lascaris, Vatatze is holder and guardian of the heraldic knightly heritage of his House and as such fons honorum, precious evidence of a glorious past, that is alive and propelled to the future, carrying on values without wich (sic) the present has not roots.
If that reads like nonsense, then it is not surprising that Italian police, who have been investigating him for more than a year, say his claims are all just ‘nonsense.’
Yet this man’s elaborate charade has been effective for many years. He attends receptions organised by real royal families and pretenders. Earlier this month, he shared a table with Princess Irena of Greece and Denmark, in Athens. He has met bishops in the Vatican, patriarchs in their palaces, and attended lavish parties on yachts.
The Mayor of Monopoli in Italy, Emilio Morani, has hosted a reception in his honour, and he managed to get Baywatch star Pamela Anderson to kneel before him two years ago as he bestowed on her the title of ‘countess’ in a solemn ceremony. The Hollywood actress was also named ‘Great Lady of Montenegro’ and her children received the title of knights.
He bestows ‘the nobility titles of Noble, Hereditary Knight, Baron, Viscount, Count, Marquis, Duke, Prince’ to anyone who is silly enough to pay for them. He also doles out five different chivalric orders to anyone who is naive enough to pay for them: the Imperial Equestrian Order of Saint Hubert; the Imperial Orthodox Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem; the Dynastic Equestrian Order of Merit ‘Goldener Doppeladler’ (Golden Double Eagle), the Imperial House Cernetic; the Angelico Sacro Imperiale Equestrian Order of Saint George Orthodox Constantinian; and the Cernetic Imperial Order.
It is curious that orders that claim to be Orthodox use Latin lettering on their insignia. But this is probably a minor quibble for those eager to buy baubles to wear to the ball.
He claims his ‘official residence’ is in Belgrade, some of his Facebook accounts indicate he lives in Monte Carlo, but he seems to spend most of his time in Italy.
His self-styled Highness appointed an honorary consul who travelled around Europe as his royal ambassador. But Maurice Andreoli is a total fake too.
After his arrest Italian police revealed the ‘prince’ is not from the Balkans, but from Trieste and his parents are Italian. He was being paid to attend public events and even had his own brand of wine in Tuscany.
But the royal house of cards began to tumble down last year. While he was staying in the luxurious Italian resort of Fasano, he instructed the hotel to forward his bill to the Macedonian embassy. It was reported that a terse reply came back: ‘Do not send us the bills, we don’t have a prince, and we certainly don’t share one with Montenegro.’
Confusing Macedonia and Montenegro is a laughing matter even in table quizzes in pubs. Confusing them when you are trying to avoid paying your hotel bill and claiming royal status is beyond belief.
Italian police raided the homes of the fake prince and his ambassador, and found several fake titles and awards, diplomatic permits and a royal seal.
His arrest was widely reported last weekend. But by Monday, he was on his way from Milan to Rome by fast train, boasting he was travelling with ‘diplomatic discount’ and ‘Club Class’ Italo. He was in Monte Carlo by Tuesday, it would appear from his Facebook page.
Has he managed to get away with it?
Stefan Cernetic, if that is his name, is not a member of any royal or imperial house, and certainly not the head of one. He has no connections to the royal houses of Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania or anywhere else, and certainly no connections with family of Limerick’s Prince Milo. The titles and orders he bestows are as bogus as his claims.
On some of the parchments handed out with his gongs he describes himself in true Ruritanian style as ‘His Imperial and Royal Highness Prince Stephan Tcherneitch, By the Grace of God, Head of the Imperial and Royal House and Rightful Dynastic Heir to the Historical Crowns of Montenegro, Macedonia, Croatia, Dalmatia, Illyria, Romania, Greece, &c.
That must come as news to the people of Greece, who decided democratically to reject all royalty in 1974, and are still disturbed by another would-be-king who is waiting in the wings.
The ‘&c’ is a little worrying, that I would worry too much about this claimant. If the Macedonian and Montegrin embassies are sending back his hotel bills, is he going to start forwarding them to the Irish embassy in Rome? Perhaps the ‘&c’ may even refer to Royal Meath and the Kingdom of Kerry. Who knows?
Everyone knows Macedonia has no royal family waiting in the wings to accede a throne if the electorate is ever barmy enough to want a king. Count Gyula Cseszneky, a Hungarian-Croatian aristocrat who collaborated with Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, was proclaimed Grand Voivode or Grand Duke of Macedonia but reigned for less than two months in August and September 1943. In fact, the former Yugoslav republic only started calling itself Macedonia in recent years, much to the chagrin of the majority of people in Greece. It has only existed as a state since 1991, and when it was part of Yugoslavia, it was also known as Vardar Banovina.
The last king of Croatia, Tomislav II, was an Italian prince who collaborated with Nazi Germany. He became king at the request of Ante Pavelić, the leader of the fascist Ustaše movement in Croatia.
Montenegro, Serbia and Albania have living pretenders who continue to claim they are the rightful royals in those Balkan nations.
Montenegro has not had a royal family since 1918. Nikola II Petrović-Njegoš is the current head of the House of Petrović-Njegoš, making him, in royalist eyes, the true pretender to the throne of Montenegro. He is a second cousin once removed of Alexander II Karađorđević, the current head of the House of Karađorđević and the man who wants to be recognised as King of Serbia.
Someone, I imagine, is wondering whether Prince Milo is turning in his grave in the churchyard here at Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick.
(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Precentor of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, and priest-in-charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This lecture on 20 March 2018 was part of the ‘Lunch Time History Focus’ that is part of the cathedral’s 850th anniversary commemorations.
In my meditations and reflections in Lent this year, I am being guided by the Stations of the Cross from three locations. The idea for this series of morning Lenten meditations came from reading about Peter Walker’s new exhibition, ‘Imagining the Crucifixion,’ inspired by the Stations of the Cross, which opened in Lichfield Cathedral last month and continues until the end of Lent.
Throughout Lent, my meditations each morning are inspired by three sets of Stations of the Cross that I have found either inspiring or unusual. They are the stations in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford, at Saint John’s Well on a mountainside near Millstreet, Co Cork, and in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield.
In my meditations, I am drawing on portions of the Stabat Mater, the 12th century hymn of the Crucifixion (‘At the cross her station keeping’) attributed to the Franciscan poet Jacopone da Todi. Some prayers are traditional, some are from the Book of Common Prayer, and other meditations and prayers are by Canon Frank Logue and the Revd Victoria Logue of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia.
Lichfield 3: ‘First Fall’
For these last two weeks in Lent, I am looking at the 14 Stations of the Cross in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield. Since the age of 19, I have regarded this chapel as my spiritual home.
The Third Station in the Stations of the Cross has a traditional description such as ‘Jesus falls for the first time.’ But in the Third Station in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, instead of a traditional full description, there are two simple words in plain capital letters: ‘First Fall.’
Having received the Cross, Christ has turned around is on his journey to Calvary. Christ’s three falls depicted traditionally in the Stations of the Cross (Stations III, VII and IX) are not recorded in any of the Four Gospel accounts of the Passion.
As the piety around this traditional station developed, perhaps people recalled Christ’s words: ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light’ (Matthew 11: 28-30).
Now his yoke is not easy and his burden is heavy. But he remains gentle and humble in heart as a Roman soldier takes a stick to beat him. He is going to fall twice again.
From Stabat Mater:
Lord Jesus, crucified, have mercy on us!
O, how sad and sore distressed
Was that Mother highly blessed
Of the sole-begotten One!
Stumble. Waver. Collapse.
Jesus’ sweat mingles with dust as he falls to the earth.
The weight of the sins of the world on his shoulders.
Barely able to stand.
He cannot carry the cross without falling.
Lion of Judah, you know our weaknesses, our temptations and our failings. Support us by the power of the Holy Spirit that we do not stumble so as to fall away from you. This we pray in the name of Jesus, our crucified Lord, the King of Glory, the King of Peace. Amen.
We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you.
Because by your holy cross You have redeemed the world.
Jesus, the cross you have been carrying is very heavy.
You are becoming weak and almost ready to faint, and you fall down.
Nobody seems to want to help you.
The soldiers are interested in getting home,
so they yell at you and try to get you up and moving again.
A prayer before walking to the next station:
Holy and mighty Holy immortal one,
Have mercy on us.
Tomorrow: ‘Mother’ … Station 4 in the Chapel at Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, Jesus meets his mother Mary.