The Regency

A regency was now formed, in which the prominent figure was Stamboloff, the most remarkable man whom modern Bulgaria has produced. A series of attempts to throw the country into anarchy were firmly dealt with, and the Grand Sobranye was summoned to elect a new prince. The candidature of the prince of Mingrelia was now set up by Russia, and General Kaulbars was despatched to Bulgaria to make known to the people the wishes of the tsar. He vainly endeavoured to postpone the convocation of the Grand Sobranye in order to gain time for the restoration of Russian influence, and proceeded on an electoral tour through the country. The failure of his mission was followed by the withdrawal of the Russian representatives from Bulgaria. The Grand Sobranye, which assembled at Trnovo, offered the crown to Prince Valdemar of Denmark, brother-in-law of the tsar, but the honour was declined, and an anxious period ensued, during which a deputation visited the principal capitals of Europe with the twofold object of winning sympathy for the cause of Bulgarian independence and discovering a suitable candidate for the throne.

Prince Ferdinand

On the 7th of July 1887, the Grand Sobranye unanimously elected Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, a grandson, maternally, of King Louis Philippe. The new prince, who was twenty-six years of age, was at this time a lieutenant in the Austrian army. Undeterred by the difficulties of the international situation and the distracted condition of the country, he accepted the crown, and took over the government on the 14th of August at Trnovo. His arrival, which was welcomed with enthusiasm, put an end to a long and critical interregnum, but the dangers which menaced Bulgarian independence were far from disappearing. Russia declared the newly-elected sovereign a usurper; the other powers, in deference to her susceptibilities, declined to recognize him, and the grand vizier informed him that his presence in Bulgaria was illegal. Numerous efforts were made by the partisans of Russia to disturb internal tranquillity, and Stamboloff, who became prime minister on the 1st of September, found it necessary to govern with a strong hand.

A raid led by the Russian captain Nabokov was repulsed; brigandage, maintained for political purposes, was exterminated; the bishops of the Holy Synod, who, at the instigation of Clement, refused to pay homage to the prince, were forcibly removed from Sofia; a military conspiracy organized by Major Panitza was crushed, and its leader executed. An attempt to murder the energetic prime minister resulted in the death of his colleague, Beltcheff, and shortly afterwards Dr Vlkovitch, the Bulgarian representative at Constantinople, was assassinated. While contending with unscrupulous enemies at home, Stamboloff pursued a successful policy abroad. Excellent relations were established with Turkey and Rumania, valuable concessions were twice extracted from the Porte in regard to the Bulgarian episcopate in Macedonia, and loans were concluded with foreign financiers on comparatively favourable terms. His overbearing character, however, increased the number of his opponents, and alienated the goodwill of the prince.

In the spring of 1893 Prince Ferdinand married Princess Marie-Louise of Bourbon-Parma, whose family insisted on the condition that the issue of the marriage should be brought up in the Roman Catholic faith. In view of the importance of establishing a dynasty, Stamboloff resolved on the unpopular course of altering the clause of the constitution which required that the heir to the throne should belong to the Orthodox Church, and the Grand Sobranye, which was convoked at Trnovo in the summer, gave effect to this decision. The death of Prince Alexander, which took place in the autumn, and the birth of an heir, tended to strengthen the position of Prince Ferdinand, who now assumed a less compliant attitude towards the prime minister. In 1894 Stamboloff resigned office; a ministry was formed under Dr Stoïloff, and Prince Ferdinand inaugurated a policy of conciliation towards Russia with a view to obtaining his recognition by the powers. A Russophil reaction followed, large numbers of political refugees returned to Bulgaria, and Stamboloff, exposed to the vengeance of his enemies, was assassinated in the streets of Sofia (15th July 1895).

The prince's plans were favoured by the death of the tsar Alexander III. in November 1894, and the reconciliation was practically effected by the conversion of his eldest son, Prince Boris, to the Orthodox faith (14th February 1896). The powers having signified their assent, he was nominated by the sultan prince of Bulgaria and governor-general of Eastern Rumelia (14th March). Russian influence now became predominant in Bulgaria, but the cabinet of St Petersburg wisely abstained from interfering in the internal affairs of the principality. In February 1896 Russia proposed the reconciliation of the Greek and Bulgarian churches and the removal of the exarch to Sofia. The project, which involved a renunciation of the exarch's jurisdiction in Macedonia, excited strong opposition in Bulgaria, and was eventually dropped. The death of Princess Marie-Louise (30th January 1899), caused universal regret in the country. In the same month the Stoïloff government, which had weakly tampered with the Macedonian movement (see Macedonia) and had thrown the finances into disorder, resigned, and a ministry under Grekoff succeeded, which endeavoured to mend the economic situation by means of a foreign loan.

The loan, however, fell through, and in October a new government was formed under Ivanchoff and Radoslavoff. This, in its turn, was replaced by a cabinet d'affaires under General Petroff (January 1901).

In the following March Karaveloff for the third time became prime minister. His efforts to improve the financial situation, which now became alarming, proved abortive, and in January 1902 a Tzankovist cabinet was formed under Daneff, who succeeded in obtaining a foreign loan. Russian influence now became predominant, and in the autumn the grand-duke Nicholas, General Ignatiev, and a great number of Russian officers were present at the consecration of a Russian church and monastery in the Shipka pass. But the appointment of Mgr. Firmilian, a Servian prelate, to the important see of Uskub at the instance of Russia, the suspected designs of that power on the ports of Varna and Burgas, and her unsympathetic attitude in regard to the Macedonian Question, tended to diminish her popularity and that of the government. A cabinet crisis was brought about in May 1903, by the efforts of the Russian party to obtain control of the army, and the Stambolovists returned to power under General Petroff. A violent recrudescence of the Macedonian agitation took place in the autumn of 1902; at the suggestion of Russia the leaders were imprisoned, but the movement nevertheless gained force, and in August 1903 a revolt broke out in the vilayet of Monastir, subsequently spreading to the districts of northern Macedonia and Adrianople (see Macedonia). The barbarities committed by the Turks in repressing the insurrection caused great exasperation in the principality; the reserves were partially mobilized, and the country was brought to the brink of war.

In pursuance of the policy of Stamboloff, the Petroff government endeavoured to inaugurate friendly relations with Turkey, and a Turco-Bulgarian convention was signed (8th April 1904) which, however, proved of little practical value.

The outrages committed by numerous Greek bands in Macedonia led to reprisals on the Greek population in Bulgaria in the summer of 1906, and the town of Anchialo was partially destroyed. On the 6th of November in that year Petroff resigned, and Petkoff, the leader of the Stambolovist party, formed a ministry. The prime minister, a statesman of undoubted patriotism but of overbearing character, was assassinated on the 11th of March 1907 by a youth who had been dismissed from a post in one of the agricultural banks, and the cabinet was reconstituted under Gudeff, a member of the same party.