Military Wiki
Ferdinand I
Preceded by Himself (as Prince of Bulgaria)
Succeeded by Boris III
Preceded by Alexander
Succeeded by Himself (as Tsar of Bulgaria)
Personal details
Born (1861-02-26)February 26, 1861
Vienna, Austrian Empire
Died 10 September 1948(1948-09-10) (aged 87)
Coburg, Allied-occupied Germany
Spouse(s) Princess Marie Louise of Bourbon-Parma
Eleonore Reuss of Köstritz
Religion Roman Catholicism

Ferdinand I (26 February 1861 – 10 September 1948),[1] born Ferdinand Maximilian Karl Leopold Maria of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, was the ruler of Bulgaria from 1887 to 1918, first as knyaz (prince regnant, 1887–1908) and later as tsar (1908–1918). He was also an author, botanist, entomologist and philatelist.

Family background

Ferdinand was born in Vienna, a prince of the Koháry branch of the ducal family of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. He grew up in the cosmopolitan environment of Austro-Hungarian high nobility and also in their ancestral lands in Slovakia and in Germany. The Koháry descended from an immensely wealthy Upper Hungarian (now Slovakian) noble family, who held the princely lands of Čabraď and Sitno in Slovakia, among others. The family's property was augmented by Clémentine of Orléans' remarkable dowry.

The son of Prince August of Saxe-Coburg and his wife Clémentine of Orléans, daughter of king Louis Philippe I of the French, Ferdinand was a grandnephew of Ernest I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and of Leopold I, first king of the Belgians. His father Augustus was a brother of Ferdinand II of Portugal, and also a first cousin to Queen Victoria, her husband Albert, Prince Consort, Empress Carlota of Mexico and her brother Leopold II of Belgium. These last two, Leopold and Carlota, were also first cousins of Ferdinand I's through his mother, a princess of Orléans. This made the Belgian siblings his first cousins, as well as his first cousins once removed (his father's first cousins). Indeed, the ducal family of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha had contrived to occupy, either by marriage or by direct election, several European thrones in the course of the 19th century. Following the family trend, Ferdinand was himself to found the royal dynasty of Bulgaria.

Prince of Bulgaria

The nine European Monarchs who attended the funeral of Edward VII in 1910; Ferdinand is second from left to right among the standing.

The first Knyaz (Prince Regnant) of the Third Bulgarian State, Alexander of Battenberg, abdicated in 1886, only seven years after he was elected.[2] Ferdinand, who was an officer in the Austro-Hungarian army was elected Knyaz of autonomous Bulgaria by its Grand National Assembly on 7 July 1887 in the Gregorian calendar (the "New Style" used hereinafter).[2] In desperate attempts to prevent Russian occupation of Bulgaria, the throne had been previously offered, before Ferdinand's acceptance, to princes from Denmark to the Caucasus and even to the King of Romania.[3] His accession was greeted with disbelief in many of the royal houses of Europe. Queen Victoria, his father's first cousin, stated to her Prime Minister, "He is totally unfit ... delicate, eccentric and effeminate ... Should be stopped at once."[4] To the amazement of his initial detractors, Ferdinand generally made a success during the first two decades of his reign.[4]

Bulgaria's domestic political life was dominated during the early years of Ferdinand's reign by liberal party leader Stefan Stambolov, whose foreign policy saw a marked cooling in relations with Russia, formerly seen as Bulgaria's protector.

Stambolov's fall (May 1894) and subsequent assassination (July 1895) paved the way for a reconciliation of Bulgaria with Russia, effected in February 1896 with the conversion of the infant Prince Boris from Roman Catholicism to Eastern Orthodox Christianity. However, this move earned him the animosity of his Catholic Austrian relatives, particularly that of his uncle, Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria.

Tsar of Bulgaria

On 5 October 1908 (celebrated on 22 September), Ferdinand proclaimed Bulgaria's de jure independence from the Ottoman Empire (though the country had been basically independent since 1878). He also elevated Bulgaria to the status of a kingdom, and proclaimed himself tsar, or king. The Bulgarian Declaration of Independence was proclaimed by him at the Saint Forty Martyrs Church in Turnovo. It was accepted by Turkey and the other European powers.[3]

Ferdinand was known for being quite a character. On a visit to German Emperor Wilhelm II, his second cousin once removed, in 1909, Ferdinand was leaning out of a window of the New Palace in Potsdam when the Emperor came up behind him and slapped him on the bottom. Ferdinand was affronted by the gesture and the Emperor apologised. Ferdinand however exacted his revenge by awarding a valuable arms contract he had intended to give to the Krupp's factory in Essen to French arms manufacturer Schneider-Creusot.[5] Another incident occurred on his journey to the funeral of his second cousin, British King Edward VII in 1910. A tussle broke out over where his private railway carriage would be positioned in relation to the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The Archduke won out, having his carriage positioned directly behind the engine. Ferdinand's was placed directly behind. Realising the dining car of the train was behind his own carriage, Ferdinand obtained his revenge on the Archduke by refusing him entry through his own carriage to the dining car.[6] On 15 July the same year during a visit to Belgium Ferdinand also became the first head of state to fly in an airplane.[7]

Balkan Wars

Like many other rulers before him, Ferdinand desired the creation of a "new Byzantium".[8] In 1912, Ferdinand joined the other Balkan states in an assault on the Ottoman Empire to free occupied territories. He saw this war as a new crusade declaring it, "a just, great and sacred struggle of the Cross against the Crescent."[9] Bulgaria contributed the most and also lost the greatest number of soldiers. The great powers insisted on the creation of an independent Albania.[3] Soon after, Bulgaria invaded its recent allies Serbia and Greece, before being attacked itself by Romania and the Ottoman Empire. Although Bulgaria was defeated, the 1913 Treaty of Bucharest granted the Kingdom some territorial gains. A tiny area of land giving access to the Aegean Sea was secured.[3]

First World War and abdication

Emperor Wilhelm and Tsar Ferdinand in Sofia, 1916

On 11 October 1915, the Bulgarian army attacked Serbia after signing a treaty with Austria-Hungary and Germany stating that Bulgaria would gain the territory it sought at the expense of Serbia. Ferdinand was not an admirer of German Emperor Wilhelm II (his second cousin once removed) or Austrian Emperor Franz Josef I whom he described as "that idiot, that old dotard of a Francis Joseph".[10] However, Ferdinand wanted additional territorial gains after the humiliation of the Balkan Wars. This also entailed forming an alliance with his former enemy, the Ottoman Empire.

During the initial phase of World War I, the Kingdom of Bulgaria achieved several decisive victories over its enemies and laid claim to the disputed territories of Macedonia after Serbia's defeat. For the next two years, the Bulgarian army shifted its focus towards repelling Allied advances from nearby Greece. They were also partially involved in the 1916 conquest of neighboring Romania, now ruled by another Ferdinand I, who was also Ferdinand's second cousin once removed.

Tsar Ferdinand to save the Bulgarian throne in favour of his eldest son who became Tsar Boris III on 3 October 1918.[11] Under new leadership, Bulgaria surrendered to the Allies and as a consequence, lost not only the additional territory it had fought for in the major conflict, but also the territory it had won after the Balkan Wars giving access to the Aegean Sea.[11]

Personal life

WWI-era portrait of Ferdinand I

Ferdinand entered a marriage of convenience[12] with Princess Marie Louise of Bourbon-Parma, daughter of Robert I, Duke of Parma and Princess Maria Pia of Bourbon-Two Sicilies, on 20 April 1893 at the Villa Pianore in Lucca. The marriage produced four children:

  • Boris III (1894–1943)
  • Kyril (1895–1945)
  • Eudoxia (1898–1985)
  • Nadezhda (1899–1958).

Marie Louise died on 31 January 1899 after giving birth to her youngest daughter. Ferdinand did not think again about marriage until his mother, Princess Clémentine died in 1907. To satisfy dynastic obligations and to provide his children with a mother figure, Ferdinand married Eleonore Reuss of Köstritz, on 28 February 1908.[13] Neither romantic love or physical attraction played any role, and Ferdinand treated her as no more than a member of the household, and showed scant regard.[14]

In his private relations, Ferdinand was a somewhat hedonistic individual. He was thought to be bisexual throughout his life, but up to middle age, his inclination was more towards women,[15] and he enjoyed affairs with a number of women of humble position, siring a number of illegitimate children whom he then supported financially.[14]

But rumours abounded of homosexual trysts with blue-eyed lieutenants and valets. Ferdinand's regular holidays on Capri, then a famous haunt for wealthy gay men, were common knowledge in royal courts throughout Europe.[16] In 1895 an interview given by the embittered former Prime Minister, Stefan Stambolov to the Frankfurter Zeitung created a nine-day scandal across Europe, when he focused strongly on his personal witness of Ferdinand's alleged homosexual interests.[17]

Exile and death

After his abdication, Ferdinand returned to live in Coburg, Germany. He had managed to salvage much of his fortune and was able to live in some style.[18] He saw his being in exile simply as one of the hazards of kingship.[18] He commented, "Kings in exile are more philosophic under reverses than ordinary individuals; but our philosophy is primarily the result of tradition and breeding, and do not forget that pride is an important item in the making of a monarch. We are disciplined from the day of our birth and taught the avoidance of all outward signs of emotion. The skeleton sits forever with us at the feast. It may mean murder, it may mean abdication, but it serves always to remind us of the unexpected. Therefore we are prepared and nothing comes in the nature of a catastrophe. The main thing in life is to support any condition of bodily or spiritual exile with dignity. If one sups with sorrow, one need not invite the world to see you eat."[19] He was pleased that the throne could pass to his son. Ferdinand was not displeased with exile and spent most of his time devoted to artistic endeavors, gardening, travel and natural history. However, he would live to see the collapse of everything he had held to be precious in life.[19] His eldest son and successor, Boris III, died under mysterious circumstances after returning from a visit to Hitler in Germany in 1943. Boris III's son, Simeon II, succeeded him only to be deposed in 1946, ending the Bulgarian monarchy. The Kingdom of Bulgaria was succeeded by the People's Republic of Bulgaria, under which his sole surviving son, Kyril, was executed. On hearing of his son's death he said, "Everything is collapsing around me."[20] He died a broken man in Bürglaß-Schlösschen on 10 September 1948 in Coburg, Germany, cradle of the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha dynasty. His final wish was to be buried in Bulgaria, and for this reason his coffin was temporarily placed in the crypt of St. Augustin, Coburg, next to his parents' coffins. It can still be found there today.


Decorations and awards

Grand Master of the following Bulgarian Orders:

Also a member of the following foreign orders:


  1. Louda, 1981, Lines of Succession, Table 149
  2. 2.0 2.1 Finestone, 1981, The Last Courts of Europe, p 227
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Louda, 1981, Lines of Succession, p 297
  4. 4.0 4.1 Aronson, 1986, Crowns In Conflict, p 83
  5. Aronson, 1986, Crowns In Conflict, pp 8–9
  6. Aronson, 1986, Crowns In Conflict, p 7
  7. "King up in Aeroplane: Ferdinand of Bulgaria First Monarch to Do It – Sons Fly Also" (Adobe Acrobat). New York Times website. New York Times. 16 July 1910. p. 1. Retrieved 2010-07-17. 
  8. Aronson, 1986, Crowns In Conflict, p 86
  9. Aronson, 1986, Crowns In Conflict, p 87
  10. Aronson, 1986, Crowns In Conflict, p 126
  11. 11.0 11.1 Palmer, 1978, The Kaiser, p 206
  12. Constant, 1986, ‘’Foxy Ferdinand’’, p 143
  13. Aronson, 1986, ‘’Crowns In Conflict’’, p 85
  14. 14.0 14.1 Stéphane Groueff, ‘’Crown of Thorns: The Reign of King Boris III of Bulgaria, 1918-1943’’, Madison Books, 1998
  15. Constant, 1986, ‘’Foxy Ferdinand’’, p 96
  16. Constant, 1986, ‘’Foxy Ferdinand’’, p 266
  17. Duncan Perry, ‘’Stefan Stambolov and the Emergence of Modern Bulgaria: 1870-1895’’, Duke University, 1993
  18. 18.0 18.1 Aronson, 1986, Crowns In Conflict, p 201
  19. 19.0 19.1 Aronson, 1986, Crowns In Conflict, p 175
  20. Aronson, 1986, Crowns In Conflict, p 202

External links


  • Aronson, Theo (1986). Crowns In Conflict: The Triumph And The Tragedy Of European Monarchy, 1910–1918. London: J.Murray. ISBN 0-7195-4279-0. 
  • Finestone, Jeffrey (1981). The Last Courts of Europe. London: J.M.Dent & Sons Ltd. ISBN 0-460-04519-9. 
  • Louda, Jiri; Michael Maclagan (1981). Lines of Succession. London: Orbis Publishing Ltd. ISBN 0-460-04519-9. 
  • Constant, Stephen (1986). Foxy Ferdinand, 1861–1948, Tsar of Bulgaria. London: Sidgwick and Jackson. ISBN 0-283-98515-1. 
  • Palmer, Alan (1978). The Kaiser: Warlord Of The Second Reich. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 0-297-77393-3. 
Ferdinand I of Bulgaria
House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
Cadet branch of the House of Wettin
Born: 26 February 1861 Died: 10 September 1948
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Alexander I
Prince of Bulgaria
7 July 1887 – 5 October 1908
Proclaimed Tsar
Bulgarian independence
from Ottoman Empire
New title
Principality elevated
to kingdom
Tsar of Bulgaria
5 October 1908 – 3 October 1918
Succeeded by
Boris III
Political offices
Preceded by
Alexander I
Governor-general of Eastern Rumelia
7 July 1887 – 5 October 1908
proclaimed Tsar
Bulgarian independence
from Ottoman Empire

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