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 Alexander I, The Prince of Bulgaria

 

Alexander I, The Prince of Bulgaria

His Serene Highness Alexander I, The Prince of Bulgaria, GCB, later Count VON Hartenau and formerly Prince Alexander Joseph of Battenberg was born on 5th April 1857 in Verona, Italy, the second son of Prince Alexander of Hesse & By the Rhine (1823-1888) and The Princess of Battenberg, formerly Countess Julia VON Hauke (1825-1895).  Within the family Alexander was known as 'Sandro'. 

 

Due to Alexander's parents morganatic marriage, from birth Alexander was styled Count Alexander of Battenberg with the style of Illustrious Highness and was not permitted to use the higher title and style he would have had from his father. Alexander and his siblings were all barred from the line of succession to the Hessian Grand Ducal Throne.  On 21st December 1858, Alexander's mother was created Princess of Battenberg with the style of Serene Highness which her children shared and subsequently Alexander adopted the new style of Prince Alexander of Battenberg

Alexander completed his secondary education in Damstadt but was a nervous and awkward child and to 'toughen his up' in November 1870, he was sent to the Salzmann Institute at Schnepfenthal, a strict boarding school in the district of Gotha - founded in 1784, where pupils were taught to devote their lives to the Army and the State, with the emphasis that there was no greater glory for a German to die for their country. Alexander was unhappy there, was homesick and clearly did not fit in.  Three years later, his father decided to remove him as he did not want him to be a 'Prussian military machine' and he was placed in a more relaxed school in Saxony.  Despite this, Alexander was indeed destined for a military career.  He was initially enrolled as a Lieutenant in the Hessian Second Dragoon Regiment, but in early 1876, Alexander was asked to join the Russian Army by his uncle - Tsar Alexander II of Russia (1818-1881) and left for St Petersburg.  Whilst serving in the Russian Army, he fought in the Russo-Turkish War 1877-1878 under Field Marshal Count Iosif Vladimirovich Romeyko-Gurko (1828-1901) and served in the HQ staff of Prince Carol of The United Principalities of Roumania, formerly Prince Karl of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, later King Carol I of Roumania (1839-1914).

Following the Congress of Berlin in 1878 - which was called to determine the territories in the Balkan peninsula following the Russo-Turkish War, the independent state of Bulgaria became an autonomous principality under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire. The Tsar of Russia recommended Alexander (his nephew) to the Bulgarians as a candidate for the newly created princely Throne and on 29th April 1879, the Grand National Assembly formerly elected Alexander as Prince of Bulgaria.  On 8th July 1879, Alexander took his oath of office at Turnovo before members of the Grand National Assembly and made his way to his capital - Sofia.

This was a turbulent time for Bulgaria and Alexander found his new country difficult to govern.  He wrote to his father - "all the scum of Russia has taken refuge here and has tainted the whole country."  However his personal support from The Tsar of Russia ended following his assassination in 1881, just two years into Alexander's own reign and his successor (and Alexander's first cousin) Tsar Alexander III of Russia (1845-1894) started an anti-German policy and began to believe the numerous false rumours spread by Russians within Bulgaria to undermine him.  Alexander's position soon became untenable and there soon became strong anti-Russian campaign in Bulgaria.

 

A portrait of Alexander I, The Prince of Bulgaria

by Karl Dielitz

Alexander had for some time been in love with his cousin - Princess Viktoria of Prussia (1866-1929), the second daughter of Kaiser Frederick III of Germany (1831-1888) and Empress Victoria, The Princess Royal (1840-1901), the eldest child of Queen Victoria (1819(1837-1901). However, the match was strongly opposed by Tsar Alexander III of Russia (1845-1894), who enlisted support from Otto VON Bismarck, The Prince of Bismarck, later Duke of Lauenberg (1815-1898), the formidable Chancellor of Germany.  Bismarck was kept abreast of the affair by his spies and a bitter war of words was fought but eventually Princess Viktoria's parents had to back down and gave up all hope of marrying Alexander.  Princess Viktoria would later marry first - Prince Adolf of Schaumburg-Lippe (1859-1916) and secondly Mr Alexander Zoubkoff (1901-1936), a Russian refugee who was 35yrs her junior.

 

 

The arms of Alexander I, The Prince of Bulgaria

With the consent of The Tsar of Russia, Alexander assumed absolute power, having suspended the Constitution on 9th May 1881 and after the Assembly voted to suspend the Constitution for seven years, real power in Bulgaria became held by Russian generals, specifically dispatched from St Petersburg.  Alexander restored the Constitution but a breach with Russia was inevitable.  In September 1885, whilst visiting his family at Heiligenberg Castle there was a revolution in Plovdiv and Alexander took control of the province of Eastern Rumelia, showing great political and military acumen.  He rallied the Bulgarian Army but Russia blamed the uprising on Alexander and he was struck off the Russian Army list and all Russian soldiers in Bulgaria were withdrawn.  Serbia too the opportunity to invade Bulgaria and a battle took place at Slivnitza. After the Bulgarian's victory, Alexander led his forces deep into Serbia and captured Pirot.  The Tsar of Russia was furious and used large amounts of money to bribe and corrupt liberals in Bulgaria in particular Army officers - in efforts to discredit Alexander, whose popularity diminished.