Boris III of Bulgaria

From New World Encyclopedia
Boris III
Tsar of Bulgaria

Tsar of Bulgaria
Reign October 3, 1918 – August 28, 1943
Predecessor Ferdinand I of Bulgaria
Successor Simeon II of Bulgaria
Issue Marie Louise of Bulgaria
Simeon II of Bulgaria
House House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
Father Ferdinand I of Bulgaria
Mother Marie Louise of Bourbon-Parma
Born January 30, 1894
Sofia, Bulgaria
Died August 28, 1943 aged 49

Boris III, Tsar of Bulgaria (January 30, 1894 – August 28, 1943), originally Boris Klemens Robert Maria Pius Ludwig Stanislaus Xaver (Boris Clement Robert Mary Pius Louis Stanislaus Xavier), son of Ferdinand I, came to the throne in 1918 upon the abdication of his father, following Bulgaria's defeat in World War I. This was the country's second major defeat in only five years, after the disastrous Second Balkan War (1913). Under the Treaty of Neuilly, Bulgaria was forced to cede new territories and pay crippling reparations to its neighbors, thereby threatening political and economic stability. Two political forces, the Agrarian Union and the Communist Party, were calling for the overthrowing of the monarchy and the change of the government. It was in these circumstances that Boris succeeded to the throne.

Signature of Tsar Boris III

Boris died in 1943 during World War II and the Communists were able to gain power in 1944, coming under Soviet control after the collapse of Nazi Germany. The political instability caused by the Tsar's death helped to create the ground for communist ascension, but all the states of Eastern Europe were destined to Soviet domination after the war.


Boris III was the first son of Ferdinand I, Tsar of Bulgaria and Princess Marie Louise of Bourbon-Parma, the eldest daughter of Robert I, Duke of Parma and Princess Maria Pia of Bourbon-Two Sicilies.

Ferdinand was 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 the princely lands of Čabrad and Sitno, in what is now Slovakia.

Ferdinand was the son of Prince August of Saxe-Coburg and his wife Clémentine of Orléans, daughter of king Louis Philippe I of the French, and grand-nephew of Ernest I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and of Leopold I, first king of the Belgians.

Boris married Giovanna of Italy, daughter of Victor Emmanuel III of Italy, first in Assisi in October 1930 (attended by Benito Mussolini), and then at an Orthodox ceremony in Sofia. The marriage produced a daughter, Maria Louisa, in January 1933, and a son and heir to the throne, Simeon, in 1937. Tsar Boris was on the front cover of the Time Magazine of January 20, 1941 wearing full military uniform.

Early reign

After Tsar Boris III took the throne, the emerging political factions in Bulgaria were the Agrarians, the Socialists, and the Macedonian extremists. However, due to the loss of the territory of Macedonia immediately following Bulgaria’s surrender to the Allied forces, the Macedonian faction fell out of contention leaving the Agrarian and Communists factions struggling for political supremacy.

One year after Boris's accession, Aleksandar Stamboliyski (or Stambolijski) of the Bulgarian People's Agrarian Union was elected prime minister. During his term in office, Stamboliyski took the unpopular measures of complying with the terms of Bulgaria's surrender. Though popular with the peasants, this antagonized the middle class and military. Many considered him to be a virtual dictator. He was ousted in a military coup on June 9, 1923. He attempted to raise a rebellion against the new government, but was captured by the military, tortured and killed.

A right wing government under Aleksandar Tsankov took power, backed by Boris, the army and the VMRO, who waged a terror campaign against the Agrarians and the communists.

In 1925, there was a short border war with Greece, known as the Incident at Petrich, which was resolved with the help of the League of Nations. Also in 1925, there were two attempts on Boris's life perpetrated by leftist extremists. After the second attempt, the military in power exterminated in reprisals several thousand communists and agrarians including representatives of the intelligentsia.

In 1926, Boris persuaded Tsankov to resign and a more moderate government under Andrey Lyapchev took office. Amnesty was proclaimed, although the communists remained banned. The Agrarians reorganized and won elections in 1931.

In the coup on May 19, 1934, the Zveno military organization established a dictatorship and abolished the political parties and trade unions in Bulgaria. Colonel Damyan Velchev and Colonel Kimon Georgiev established an authoritarian regime. Georgiev became Prime Minister. King Boris was reduced to the status of a puppet king as a result of the coup.[1]

Bulgarian Royalty
House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha

Ferdinand I
   Prince Boris
   Prince Kyril
   Princess Eudoxia
   Princess Nadejda
Boris III
   Princess Marie Louise
   Prince Simeon
Simeon II
   Prince Kardam
   Prince Kyrill
   Prince Kubrat
   Prince Konstantin-Assen
   Princess Kalina
   Prince Boris
   Prince Beltran
   Princess Mafalda
   Princess Olimpia
   Prince Tassilo
   Prince Mirko
   Prince Lukás
   Prince Tirso
   Prince Umberto
   Princess Sofia

In the following year, Boris staged a counter-coup and assumed control of the country by establishing a regime loyal to him through monarchist Zveno member, General Pencho Zlatev, who became Prime Minister (January 1935). In April 1935, he was replaced by a civilian, Andrei Toshev, also a monarchist. The political process was controlled by the Tsar, but a form of parliamentary rule was re-introduced, without the restoration of the political parties.

World War II

In the early days of World War II, Bulgaria was neutral, but powerful groups in the country swayed its politics toward Germany (whom they had also allied with in World War I), which had gained initial sympathies by forcing Romania to cede southern Dobruja back to Bulgaria. In 1941, Boris reluctantly allied himself with the Axis Powers in an attempt to recover Macedonia from Greece and Yugoslavia, which had been gained by Bulgaria in the First Balkan War and lost again in the Second.

However, in spite of this loose alliance, Boris was not willing to render full and unconditional cooperation with Germany, and the only German presence in Bulgaria was along the railway line, which passed through it to Greece.

In early 1943, Nazi officials requested that Bulgaria send its Jewish population to German occupied Poland. The request caused a public outcry, and a campaign whose most prominent leaders were Parliament Vice-Chairman Dimitar Peshev and the head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Archbishop Stefan, was organized.[2] Following this campaign Boris refused to permit the extradition of Bulgaria's 50,000 Jews. Nonetheless, he did sanction the German demand for the extradition of 11,343 Jews from those territories re-occupied by Bulgaria. These two decisions resulted in large numbers of people regarding Boris as a hero for 'saving' Bulgaria's Jews, while large numbers revile him for condemning those of the occupied territories. The extent to which the Tsar was able to influence events in either case remains a matter of debate.

Most irritating for Hitler, however, was the Tsar's refusal to declare war on the Soviet Union or send Bulgarian troops to the Eastern front. On the August 9, 1943, Hitler summoned Boris to a stormy meeting at Rastenburg, East Prussia, where Tsar Boris arrived by plane from Vrajdebna on Saturday August 14. While Bulgaria had declared a 'symbolic' war on the distant United Kingdom and the United States, at that meeting Boris once again refused to get involved in the war against the Soviet Union. Boris was unwilling to send troops to Russia because many ordinary Bulgarians had strong Russophile sentiments for their Slavic brethern, and the political and military position of Turkey remained unclear. The 'symbolic' war against the Western Allies, however, turned into a disaster for the citizens of Sofia in 1943 and 1944 as the city was heavily bombarded by the United States Air Force and the British Royal Air Force.


Shortly after returning to Sofia, Boris died of apparent heart failure on August 28, 1943.[3] He had complained of chest pains for some months and had put it down to angina. Conspiracy theories instantly sprang up; many choosing to believe that he was poisoned by Hitler in an attempt to put a more obedient government in place. The evening before the illness occurred, Boris had an official dinner in the Italian embassy. Others suggest that his death was a Communist plot to destabilize the monarchy, and that Boris was poisoned while visiting the Rila Monastery before getting ill. The question has never been settled and many people remain of the belief that Boris was murdered, in spite of any corroborating evidence. Boris was succeeded by his six-year-old son Simeon II under a Regency Council headed by his brother, Prince Kyril of Bulgaria.

Following a large and impressive State Funeral at the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia, where the streets were lined with weeping crowds, the coffin of Tsar Boris III was taken by train to the mountains and buried in Bulgaria's largest and most important monastery, the Rila Monastery.


The reign of Boris was overwhelmed by the struggles of World War II. Bulgaria was caught between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Boris tried to maintain Bulgarian independence, but ultimately succumbed to the pressure and aligned with Hitler. However, despite the efforts of the Nazi to remove all the Jews from Bulgaria, Boris resisted. Some 50,000 Jews were spared the horrors of Nazi concentration camps. He set up Bulgarian camps to forestall the Nazi efforts. The Bulgarian version included weekend furloughs and generally humane conditions with no extermination efforts. For this he has generally received praise for his efforts to spare Jews.[4]

After taking power in September 1944, the Communist-dominated government had his body exhumed and secretly buried in the courtyard of the Vrana Palace near Sofia. At a later time the Communist authorities removed the zinc coffin from Vrana and moved it to a secret location, which remains unknown to this day. After the fall of communism, an excavation attempt was made at the Vrana Palace, in which only Boris's heart was found, as it had been put in a glass cylinder outside the coffin. The heart was taken by his widow in 1993 to Rila Monastery where it was reinterred.



  1. "Tsar's Coup", Time Magazine, February 4, 1935. Retrieved February 19, 2009.
  2. Lampe 2006, 154
  3. "Bulgarian Rule Goes to Son, 6. Reports on 5-day Illness Conflict," United Press dispatch in a cutting from an unknown newspaper in the collection of historian James L. Cabot, Ludington, Michigan.
  4. Author recounts how Bulgaria defied Nazis , PG Publishing. Retrieved February 23, 2009.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • "HM Queen Ioanna of the Bulgarians," The Daily Telegraph. London, February 28, 2000. OCLC 49632006
  • Dimitroff, Pashanko. Boris III of Bulgaria 1894-1943. Lewes, Sussex, England: Book Guild, 1986. ISBN 978-0863321405
  • Gregory Lauder-Frost. The Betrayal of Bulgaria. Monarchist League Policy Paper, London, 1989.
  • Groueff, Stephane. Crown of Thorns. Lanham, MD: Madison Books, 1987. ISBN 0819157783
  • Lampe, John R. Balkans into Southeastern Europe. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2006. ISBN 978-0333793473
  • Miller, Marshall Lee. Bulgaria in the Second World War. Stanford University Press, 1975. ISBN 978-0804708708

External links

All links retrieved November 20, 2023.

House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
Cadet Branch of the House of Wettin
Born: January 30, 1894; Died: August 28, 1943
Regnal Titles

Preceded by:
Ferdinand I
Tsar of Bulgaria
October 3, 1918 – August 28, 1943
Succeeded by: Simeon II


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