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16-7 Who was Ferdinand I Coburg-Gotha?


This article is from the Bulgaria FAQ, by Dragomir R. Radev radev@tune.cs.columbia.edu with numerous contributions by others.

16-7 Who was Ferdinand I Coburg-Gotha?

(by Luben Boyanov), last updated: 18-Jun-1995

Ferdinand I (Maximilian-Karl-Leopold-Maria) of Coburg-Gotha, Tsar
(King) of the Bulgarians was born in Vienna on February 26, 1861. He was
the third son and the youngest child of five of prince Augustus
Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and Princess Clementine of Orleans, daughter of Louis
Philippe, the "Citizen King" of the French.

Aged 26 and a retired lieutenant of the Austrian Army, he was
elected Prince of Bulgaria by the Great National Assembly in Turnovo on
July 7th, 1887, after the abdication of Prince Alexander Battenberg.

Upon his arrival in Sofia, he worked with the great Prime Minister
of the day, Stefan Stambolov and his government; secretly supported by
Austria and England, he managed to counter the opposition of Russia, which
had been trying to prevent the Great Powers from recognizing him. His
marriage to a Catholic, Mary Louise, daughter of Robert, Duke of Parma, in
1893, increased Russia's hostility. However, after the death of Tsar
Alexander III and the murder of Stefan Stambolov in 1895, relations with
St. Petersburg improved. Prince Ferdinand won the support of the new
Russian Tsar, Nicholas I, by baptizing Boris, heir to the Bulgarian throne,
in the Eastern Orthodox faith in 1896. Following the baptism, Ferdinand
was officially recognized by Russia, and the other Powers. The Pope, Leo
XIII, vehemently disapproving, promptly excommunicated the Prince. Some
years later, Pope Pius X reinstalled him to the faith.

Having stabilized Bulgaria's position, Ferdinand and his government
pursued active domestic and foreign policies. During the late summer of
1908, taking advantage of the difficulties besetting the Ottoman Empire, he
declared Bulgaria's independence and proclaimed himself Tsar of the
Bulgarians on October 6th. During the following year, this too was
recognized by the Powers.

Prompted by the mood of his nation to liberate and unite Bulgarians
still living under Ottoman rule, he exploited Turkey's problems (war with
Italy since 1911), and entered into a secret treaty with Serbia in March
1912, followed by similar accords with Montenegro and Greece. He assumed
supreme command of the Bulgarian army when the First Balkan War started.
The spectacular successes of the victorious Bulgarian army kindled great
ambitions in him and he supported his government to seek the full
unification of the Bulgarian people.

The second Balkan War started on June 16th, 1913 and ended with the
crushing defeat of Bulgaria and the Treaty of Bucharest. The betrayal of
Bulgaria by her ex-allies Serbia, Montenegro and Greece influenced Tsar
Ferdinand to accept his government's policy decision to side with the
Central Powers during World War I, which Bulgaria entered in 1915. The war
ended in defeat for Bulgaria and Ferdinand abdicated on October 3rd, 1918
in favour of his son Boris III. He left the country on the same day and
settled in Germany where he died on September 10th, 1948.

King Ferdinand was known as a skillful diplomat and strong and
gifted Head of State. His reign left a significant and lasting impact on
the political, cultural and social life of Bulgaria. The progress of the
fledgling Bulgarian State to a level where it was regarded as the strongest
and most advanced Balkan country, was due in no small measure, to its first
Tsar of modern times and his innovative spirit, which guided it into the
Twentieth Century.


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