Ferdinand I

From Kaiserreich

Ferdinand I, Tsar of Bulgaria (February 26, 1861), born Prince Ferdinand Maximilian Karl Leopold Maria of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, is the first and current Tsar of Bulgaria as well as an author, botanist , entomologist and philatelist.

Tsar Ferdinand I of Bulgaria


Early life

Family Background

Ferdinand was born in Vienna, a prince of the Kohary 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 Kohary, descending from a noble Slovak family of Hungary, were quite wealthy, holding for example the princely lands of Čabrad and Sitno.

The son of Prince August of Saxe-Coburg-Kohary and his wife Clémentine of Orléans, daughter of king Louis Philippe of the French, Ferdinand is a grand-nephew of Ernst I of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and of Leopold I, first king of the Belgians. His father Augustus was a brother of the Prince Consort of Portugal, and also a first cousin to Queen Victoria, her husband Prince Albert, Empress Carlota of Mexico and her brother Leopold II of Belgium. These last two, Leopold and Carlota, are 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. Ferdinand has some ancestry from medieval rulers of Bulgaria, descents from both his mother's and father's side.

Prince of Bulgaria

Bulgaria replaced its first Prince, Alexander of Battenberg in 1886, only seven years after he had been installed. His successor was Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Ferdinand was proclaimed Prince Regnant of autonomous Bulgaria on 7 July 1887 in the Gregorian calendar (the "New Style" used hereinafter). The throne had been previously offered, before Ferdinand's acceptance, from Denmark to the Caucasus and even to the King of Romania. 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." To the amazement of his initial detractors, Ferdinand has generally made a success of his reign.

Tsar of Bulgaria

Ferdinand became Tsar of Bulgaria upon that country's declaration of independence from the Ottoman Empire on 5 October 1908. The Declaration of Independence was proclaimed at the Saint Forty Martyrs Church in Turnovo. It was accepted by Turkey and the other European powers.

Balkan Wars

Like many a rulers of an Orthodox land before him, Ferdinand had a "dream of a new Byzantium". In 1912, Ferdinand joined the other Balkan states in an assault on the Ottoman Empire. He saw this war as a new crusade declaring it, "a just, great and sacred struggle of the Cross against the Crescent."Bulgaria contributed the most and also lost the greatest number of soldiers. The great powers insisted on the creation of an independent Albania. Soon after, Bulgaria attacked its recent allies Serbia, Greece and Romania and was defeated. The Treaty of Bucharest in 1913 gave little territorial gains to Bulgaria. A tiny area of land giving access to the Aegean Sea was secured

The Weltkrieg

On 11 October 1915, the Bulgarian army attacked Serbia after signing a treaty with Austria-Hungary and Germany which stated that Bulgaria would gain the territory she sought at the expense of Serbia. Ferdinand was not an admirer of German Emperor Wilhelm II (his second cousin once removed) or Emperor of Austria Franz Josef I who he described as "that idiot, that old dotard of a Francis Joseph". But Ferdinand wanted extra territorial gains after the humiliation of the Balkan Wars. This did however mean forming an alliance with his former enemy, the Ottoman Empire.

Serbia was defeated and Bulgaria took possession of most of the disputed territory of Macedonia. For the next two years, the Bulgarian army fought a defensive war against the Allied army based in Greece. A small part of the Bulgarian army was involved in the conquest of Romania in 1916.

In 1918, Bulgaria took part in a major offensive in Greece, known as operation Teutoburg. The Allied forces in the bridgehead of Salonika were pinned down and the German forces swept through Greece. On December the 28th, the defenders of Salonika surrendered. After this, Bulgaria did not take part in any significant military campaigns.


Having almost fulfilled his dream of a "New Byzantium" by making Bulgaria the only power in the Balkanic powder keg, Tsar Ferdinand to leave most of his powers to his various Prime Ministers and later to his son and heir presumptive, Tzar Boris III. And in the early 30's he abdicated to let his popular son take over Bulgaria. Even if he considers himself as the symbol of Bulgarian power over Balkans, he is widely known as a socialite enjoying life and spirituality in Coburg, in Germany. Some sex scandals involving him with young and handsome men are widely known in the royal courts of Europe and have entached the reputation of the Royal Family, after having been revealed in Bulgaria by political opponents.

Personal life

Ferdinad was married with Princess Marie Louise of Bourbon-Parma (January 17, 1870 – January 31, 1899), although it has been generally thought to have been a marriage of convenience rather than of love. Regardless, they had four children.

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 Caroline Gasparine Louise, Princess Reuss-Köstritz, on 28 February 1908.


Ferdinand is 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 Krupps factory in Essen to French arms manufacturer Schneider-Cruseot.

Another incident particularly occurred on his journey to the funeral of his second cousin, British King Edward VII in 1910. A tussle broke out on 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.

Personal tools