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 Alexander I, The Prince of Bulgaria


During the night of 20th August 1886, Alexander was awoken by a servant at 2.30am, stating that the Royal Palace in Sofia was surrounded by soldiers and he should escape, fearing that Alexander would be murdered. He tried to escape, but was captured by the drunken rebellious soldiers who forced Alexander to abdicate at gunpoint.  They had also captured his younger brother - Prince Franz Joseph of Battenberg (1861-1924), who was a Colonel in the Bulgarian Cavalry.  The rebels forced the two Princes onto the Royal Yacht at Rakhovo and they set sail along the Danube to Reni, and was handed over to Russian authorities - who did not know what to do with their surprise guests and both Princes feared that they would then be shot. 

A contemporary drawing of the abdication of Alexander I, The Prince of Bulgaria ​


A contemporary drawing of the abdication of Alexander I, The Prince of Bulgaria

Tsar Alexander III of Russia (1845-1894) ordered that Alexander return by train to Lemberg, but by this time a counter-revolution had been organised who urged that Alexander be restored to his Throne. However, Alexander was broken, in his telegram to his father he said - "I am a broken man as a result of my inexpressible sufferings I have undergone."   The counter-revolution was successful and Alexander returned to Sofia, but Alexander was disillusioned and his proud spirit never recovered after his abdication.  On return to Sofia, Alexander sent an ill-tempered telegram to The Tsar of Russia - 

I thank Your Majesty for the attitude taken by your representative in Rustchuk.

His very presence at my reception showed me that the Imperial Government cannot sanction the revolutionary action taken against my person.  I beg Your Majesty to instruct General Dolgoruki to get in touch with me personally as quickly as possible;  I should be happy to give Your Majesty the final proof of the unchanging devotion which I feel for Your Majesty's illustrious person.  As Russia gave me my Crown, I am prepared to give it back into the hands of its Sovereign.



The telegram cost Alexander his Crown.  The Tsar could not believe his good fortune, Alexander had given him what he had wanted for years. The Tsar acted quickly and published Alexander's telegram (above) and his reply - "I have received Your Highness's telegram.  I cannot countenance your return to Bulgaria as I forsee the disastrous results it entails for that sorely tried country"  which of course sealed Alexander's fate.  On 3rd September 1886, Alexander confirmed his abdication and left Bulgaria forever on 8th September and headed to Darmstadt. Following his abdication he claimed the title of Prince of Tornovo.  He retired from public life but the Great Powers found it difficult to find an independent successor and for the next two years a series of delegations asked Alexander to return to Bulgaria - which he refused.  


Upon his return to Darmstadt, at a performance of the opera 'Der Waffenschmied' (given in his honour) he was given a rousing welcome and at hailed the 'hero of Slivnica'.  It was at this performance that he met a young actress - Johanna Marie Louise Loisinger (1865-1951), the daughter of Johann Loisinger (d.1887), the secretary to an Austro-Hungarian General and fell in love, despite being still technically 'promised' to Princess Viktoria of Prussia (1866-1929), the second daughter of Kasier Frederick III of Germany (1831-1888) and Empress Victoria, The Princess Royal (1840-1901), the eldest child of Queen Victoria (1819(1837-1901). Eventually - after a great deal of political and diplomatic discussion and several arguments within the family, Alexander became free to marry whoever he wished.

Alexander I, The Prince of Bulgaria ​


Alexander I, The Prince of Bulgaria

Alexander's arms as Count VON Hartenau ​


Alexander's arms as Count VON Hartenau

Alexander's wife - Johanna Loisinger,  The Countess VON Hartenau


Alexander's wife - Johanna Loisinger,

The Countess VON Hartenau

Assène, Count VON Hartenau in 1911 ​


Assène, Count VON Hartenau in 1911


Following the death of his father in December 1888, Alexander secretly persuaded his cousin - Grand Duke Louis IV of Hesse & By the Rhine (1837-1892) to grant him a title and on 11th January 1889, he created Alexander - Count VON Hartenau.  Alexander and Johanna made plans to elope - she gave up the theatre and left for Mentone, on the French Riviera and Alexander headed to Venice and subsequently moved into the same hotel where she was residing. They pretended not to know each other and met in secret to reduce the chance of further scandal.  On 6th February 1889, Alexander married Johanna privately in Mentone and the happy couple lived in Milan, Italy.  Ironically his mother - Julia, The Princess of Battenberg (who herself was deemed an unsatisfactory suitor to a Prince) refused to accept the marriage of her son to an actress.  Shortly after he was appointed a Second Colonel in the Austro-Hungarian Army (and soon became a Major-General) and was stationed in Graz, Austria - where his parents had once lived.

Alexander and Johanna had 2 children

  • Assène Louis Alexander, Count VON Hartenau (1890-1965).  He studied Law at the University of Graz and joined the Diplomatic Service and was a representative of Austria at the Reparation Commission 1922-1928 in Paris, established following World War I at the Treaty of Versailles.  In 1934, he married in Vienna - Bertha VON Riedenau (née Hussa) (1892-1971) and adopted her son from her first marriage in 1939.  He died in Vienna, Austria.

  • Dr Wilhelm Hartenau (formerly Polaczek) (1915-1991).  In 1941, he married in Vienna - Baroness Maria 'Marillis' VON Wisenberg (1919-d.?) and had issue -


  • Alexander Assène Franz Hartenau (1942-2014)​.  He died in Vienna, Austria

  • Elizabeth Franziska Maria Hartenau (b.1945)​

  • Franziska Vera Maria Hartenau (b.1948)

  • Countess Marie Therese Vera Zwetana VON Hartenau (1893-1935). In 1924, she married in New York, USA - Charles Boissevain (1893-1946). The marriage was dissolved in 1927.  She died without issue in Bavaria.


Countess Zwetana VON Hartenau in 1903

The Battenberg Mausoleum, Sofia, Bulgaria
The sarcophagus within the Battenberg Mausoleum above Alexander's final resting place

ABOVE: The Battenberg Mausoleum, Sofia, Bulgaria

LEFT: The sarcophagus within the Battenberg Mausoleum

above Alexander's final resting place

In November 1893, Alexander became ill with appendicitis. He became delirious and in severe pain and died of peritonitis on 17th November 1893 at Graz, Austria.  He had made it clear that he wished to be buried in Sofia, Bulgaria and within days of his sudden death, the Bulgarian Government started to make plans for a State Funeral. He was "their beloved first Prince" and was revered in death much more than he was alive.  His two children were granted an annual State Pension of 50,000 Lev.  Initially Alexander's coffin was laid in the Church of St George in Sofia, but his remains were removed to a specially designed mausoleum with full State honours on 3rd January 1898. The ceremony was attended by his widow - Johanna and leading the official tributes was Prince (later King) Ferdinand I, The Prince of Bulgaria, formerly Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg & Gotha (1861-1948), who was a first cousin to Queen Victoria (1819(1837-1901) and who was offered the Princely Throne of Bulgaria in 1887, became King (Tsar) in 1908 and abdicated in 1918. Alexander's body was buried under the floor slab with a symbolic sarcophagus of polished Carara marble above. The mausoleum was open to the public until 1946, when it was closed.  In the 1980s it was restored and opened once again to visitors in 1991. 

The grave of Johanna, Countess VON Hartenau and their daughter Zwetana in Graz, Austria ​


The grave of Johanna, Countess VON Hartenau

and their daughter Zwetana in Graz, Austria

After Alexander's death, Johanna (who also received a pension from the Bulgarian Government) moved to Vienna and was active in Viennese musical life and was involved in the building of the Academy Mozarteum in Mozart’s birthplace, Salzburg, Austria and served as President of the Vienna Mozart Society, the Vienna Concert Association, and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra.  She became known as an accomplished pianist and worked with the composers Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) and Gustav Mahler (1860-1911).   Johanna died on 20th July 1951, aged 86yrs. She was buried at St Leonhard's Cemetery in Graz, Austria, where Zwetana - their only daughter was buried.   

Johanna, Countess VON Hartenau in later life ​


Johanna, Countess VON Hartenau in later life