King Boris of Bulgaria (1894-1943) began his reign prematurely when his father King Ferdinand I abdicated following a humiliating defeat during World War I that lost his nation territories and saddled Bulgaria with crippling reparation payments to neighbouring countries. He was nineteen-years-old when Bulgaria was crushed in the aftermath of the Second Balkan War in 1913 following defeat against the united forces of Serbia, Greece and Romania.
Prince Boris’s godfather Tsar Nicholas II of Russia; ironic considering that the Soviet Union effectively ended his reign. He was educated in the Palace Secondary School established by King Ferdinand to educate his royal sons. He enrolled in Sofia’s Military School and served in the Second Balkan War proving himself a model soldier. In the aftermath of Bulgaria’s defeat in the Great War, German general Erich Lundendorff proclaimed Prince Boris wise before his years and preferred to agree terms with him rather than King Ferdinand. Boris III was proclaimed king, or Tsar, in 1918.
Republicanism was rife in Bulgaria in the first years of King Boris’s reign. His Prime Minister, Aleksander Stamboliyski, was a member of the Bulgarian People’s Agrarian Union and, though popular with the proletariat, was despised by the Bulgarian military and royalists. Stamboliyski was deposed in 1923 and imprisoned in his village of birth, Slavovitsa, where he was tortured and murdered. The former Prime Minister’s hand was cut off and his head sent to Sofia in a box of biscuits. In 1925 anarchists attacked the cavalcade King Boris was travelling in but he escaped unharmed. Two days later, the assassins detonated a bomb in Sofia that killed 150 members of Bulgaria’s military and political class.
In 1930 King Boris married Princess Giovanna, daughter of King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy in a Catholic ceremony in Assisi attended by Benito Mussolini. Queen Giovanna gave birth to a daughter, Maria Louisa, and an heir, Simeon, in 1937. Controversially, King Boris insisted that Prince Simeon convert from Roman Catholicism to Eastern Orthodox Christianity; a decision that earned the enmity of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. King Boris was excommunicated by The Pope.
King Boris III was reduced to the role of puppet king in 1934 when a military dictatorship overthrew the government and abolished political parties. The King staged a counter-coup and regained his power as absolute monarch just like his late godfather Tsar Nicholas II who had been assassinated with his family in 1918 in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. Under the ‘King’s government’, Bulgaria prospered but the regime only lasted for five years. On the outbreak of World War II, Adolf Hitler attempted to win King Boris’s loyalty by demanding Romania give territories back to Bulgaria but the king chose to remain neutral. He appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1941 wearing full military uniform vowing not to send Bulgarian troops to fight side-by-side with the Germans against Russia.
Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Bogdan Filov was a Nazi sympathiser and passed laws in accordance with the Nuremberg Convention that were hostile to the nation’s Jews. In 1943, Hitler’s emissary Theodor Dannecker was sent to negotiate with King Boris demanding that the monarch deport 20,000 Jews from Bulgarian territories Thrace and Macedonia. Just over 11,000 Jews were deported but this did not meet the Nazi quota so Dannecker demanded King Boris deport Bulgarian Jews to make up the number. King Boris intervened personally to stop this monstrous proceeding. The secretary of Pope John XXIII said ‘with the help of King Boris of Bulgaria, thousands of Jews from Slovakia who had first been sent to Hungary and then to Bulgaria – and who were in danger of being sent to the Nazi concentration camps – obtained transit visas for Palestine signed by him’.
Though nominally neutral, Bulgaria was bombed by the US and UK forces in 1943. In the same year, it was announced that King Boris III had died of heart failure while visiting Adolf Hitler even though Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxis suspected poisoning. King Simeon II reigned under a Regency Council overseen by his uncle Prince Kyril of Bulgaria. In 1944 the Soviet Union declared war on Bulgaria and the Red Army invaded. Prince Kyril, Bogdan Filov and 100 cabinet ministers, royal advisers and MPs were executed. In 1946, the Soviet Army oversaw a referendum and 97% of Bulgarians voted to abolish the monarchy. But after years in exile, the ex-king was elected Prime Minister of Bulgaria in 2001. King Boris IIIs body was disinterred and has since disappeared. His heart was found buried in the courtyard of the Vrana Palace in Sofia.
Henry Poole & Co first served King Boris III in 1936 who was in London and invited to dine at Buckingham Palace. An order was placed in person for gentleman’s evening dress because the king’s valet had neglected to pack evening tails. The King went for a walk in Green Park and, within hours, the garments were ready. In recognition of Poole’s swift work, King Boris awarded the firm his Royal Warrant.