It actually happened, but we’re not thinking about the Colonial American militia.
It happened in 20th-Century Europe. And it was made to happen in an obscure country by an even more obscure King who was, in Conan the Barbarian fashion, king by his own hand.
The interesting character in question was one Nikola Petrović, who had become Prince (Knjaz, pronounced KNEE-ahs) of the Ruritanian postage-stamp principality of Montenegro (in Montenegrin, Crna Gora) at age 19 in 1860, when his uncle, Knjaz Danilo I, fell to assassins (a drearily typical occupational hazard for Balkan princes).
The Montenegrin flag carried at the battle of Vučji Do in 1877. If the Turks had fired all those shots at the Montenegrins instead of at the flag, might they have won?
Danilo himself was a fascinating character who, after a power struggle, became bishop-prince of what was then an ecclesiastical state, and then essentially defrocked himself and secularized Montenegro, becoming the first secular Knjaz. Danilo was a warrior prince who spent much of his life engaged in combat with the former colonial power, the Ottoman empire. He was also a tyrant, if a benevolent one, who centralized power in a state that had been feudal almost to the point of tribal in its internal structure.
For whatever reason — online sources and old encyclopedias have the facts, not the reasons — a young noble named Todor Kadić of the Bjelopavlići shot Danilo dead in 1860. (Possible reasons include internal politics, a family dispute, political intrigue — Austria-Hungary may have procured the murder — and a persistent rumor that Danilo had cuckolded Kadić. Danilo is like that guy in a murder mystery, where every other character has a motive). Danilo’s only child, a daughter named Olga, had recently died, so succession fell to his young nephew. To the surprise of everyone, young Nikola had a talent for leadership. .
Battle of Vučji Do, one of Nikola’s many fights wih the Ottomans.
Knjaz Nikola, who was called in English Prince Nicholas, was an educated, westernized youth who wished to modernize and westernize his all-but-tribal people. But first he had to fight several wars of national survival with the former colonial power, the Ottoman empire.
He also had to keep the Bjelopavlići, who didn’t like him much more than they had his uncle, and many other independent-minded mountain tribesmen, in line. Bjelopavlići conspirators carried out a series of terrorist bombings, and then their noses were out of joint when Nikola’s government found, tried, and convicted the bombers.
Having secured the survival of his nation, in 1910, Nikola made it a Kingdom, and himself the first (and, as it turns out, only) King. By now he was’t a kid anymore — he was a man of full years, fifty years of them as ruler.
The essential problem of Montenegro’s leaders was always how to encourage nationalism over clan loyalty, while retaining nationalism on the Montenegrin level, without seeing it subsumed in pan-Slavic identification.
At that time, the new King declared that, much as in other nations with militia laws, like Switzerland or the USA, every able-bodied man was a member of the militia. That was not a controversial or unusual idea, especially in a country that faced a hostile frontier.
And then he went a step further: as a militia member, every man needed to own and carry a service pistol, namely, a Montenegrin 11.75mm 1870/74 revolver as made by the firm of L. Gasser in Vienna.
This idea was, you might imagine, popular among the young men of the nation and many of the revolvers were sold; yet they did seem to damp down some of the tribal friction that always occurs when young men in groups encounter one another. Long before Robert Heinlein, Montenegrins discovered that an armed society is a polite society.
The firearm is a period-typical large-caliber double-action, gate-loaded (and manually-ejected) revolver, with a somewhat anachronistic open-top frame, and the rear sight mounted forward of the cylinder. It is the forerunner of the improved solid-frame Rast & Gasser which became the Austro-Hungarian service revolver. Ammunition hasn’t been available anywhere since 1945, but it could be handcrafted.
These revolvers, like early European cartridge revolvers in general, have a weak and shallow market in North America, rather like other European avocations, say Märklin trains or professional soccer. But, as is the case with many firearms, the history is interesting, both the history of the gun and the history of the nation that spawned it.
The revolver in this article is for sale by Collectors Firearms at this link. Montenegrin Gassers are found in a wide range of conditions and decorations; Montenegrins seem to have liked to bling-up their sidearms, and lavishly decorated and even bejeweled Gassers (the last perhaps Ottoman influence?) turn up. Almost all of them have some engraving.
Authentic Montenegrin Gassers are marked with the cartouche of King Nicholas, a crown over N1. In this pistol, it’s just forward of the rear sight on top of the frame where the barrel screws in (see above).
This pistol is in excellent condition for a Montenegrin Gasser. The stories it could tell, if only it could talk!
And could you ever pick it up without thinking of King Nikola, who thought he would keep his little country safe by encouraging revolver ownership?
Oh, yeah — what happened to King Nicholas? He fought alongside Serbia in 1914, and was defeated by Austria-Hungary, signing a peace treaty in 1916. His throne was lost in 1918 when Montenegro merged into the new state of the South Slavs, Yugoslavia. He himself died of natural causes, in comfortable exile on the Côte d’Azur.
And Montenegro? After an eventful period as one of the constituent Republics of Yugoslavia, it’s independent again, although it aligns closely with Serbia. But, no king, and alas, no mandatory revolvers.