Alexander Joseph of Battenburg (April 5, 1857 - November 17, 1893) was the first prince of Bulgaria, from April 29, 1879 to September 7, 1886)
He was the second son of Prince Alexander of Hesse and the Rhine by his morganatic marriage with Julia, countess von Hauke. The title of princess of Battenberg, derived from an old residence of the grand-dukes of Hesse, was conferred, with the style Durchlaucht or "Serene Highness," on the countess and her descendants in 1858. Prince Alexander was a nephew of Russia's tsar Alexander II, who had married a sister of Prince Alexander of Hesse; his mother, a daughter of Count Moritz von Hauke, had been lady-in-waiting to the tsaritsa.
In his boyhood and early youth he was frequently at St Petersburg, and he accompanied his uncle, who was much attached to him, during the Bulgarian campaign of 1877. When, under the Treaty of Berlin, Bulgaria was made an autonomous principality under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire, the tsar recommended his nephew to the Bulgarians as a candidate for the newly created throne, and Prince Alexander was elected prince of Bulgaria by the unanimous vote of the Grand Sobranye (April 29, 1879). He was at that time serving as a lieutenant in the Prussian life-guards at Potsdam. Before proceeding to Bulgaria, Prince Alexander paid visits to the tsar at Livadia, to the courts of the great powers and to the sultan; he was then conveyed on a Russian warship to Varna, and after taking the oath to the new constitution at Tirnova (July 8, 1879) he went to Sofia, being everywhere greeted with immense enthusiasm by the people. (For the political history of Prince Alexander's reign, see Bulgaria.)
Without any previous training in the art of government, the young prince from the outset found himself confronted with difficulties which would have tried the sagacity of an experienced ruler. On the one hand he was exposed to numberless humiliations on the part of the representatives of official Russia, who made it clear to him that he was expected to play the part of a roi faineant; on the other he was compelled to make terms with the Bulgarian politicians, who, intoxicated with newly won liberty, prosecuted their quarrels with a crude violence which threatened to subvert his authority and to plunge the nation in anarchy.
After attempting to govern under these conditions for nearly two years, the prince, with the consent of the tsar Alexander III., assumed absolute power (May 9, 1881), and a suspension of the ultra-democratic constitution for a period of seven years was voted by a specially convened assembly (July 13). The experiment, however, proved unsuccessful; the Bulgarian Liberal and Radical politicians were infuriated, and the real power fell into the hands of two Russian generals, Sobolev and Kaulbars, who had been specially despatched from St Petersburg. The prince, after vainly endeavouring to obtain the recall of the generals, restored the constitution with the concurrence of all the Bulgarian political parties (September 18, 1883). A serious breach with Russia followed, which was widened by the part which the prince subsequently played in encouraging the national aspirations of the Bulgarians.
The revolution of Philippopolis (September 18, 1885), which brought about the union of Eastern Rumelia with Bulgaria, was carried out with his consent, and he at once assumed the government of the revolted province. In the anxious year which followed, the prince gave evidence of considerable military and diplomatic ability. He rallied the Bulgarian army, now deprived of its Russian officers, to resist the Serbian invasion, and after a brilliant victory at Slivnitza (November 19) pursued King Milan into Servian territory as far as Pirot, which he captured (November 27). Although Serbia was protected from the consequences of defeat by the intervention of Austria, Prince Alexander's success sealed the union with Eastern Rumelia, and after long negotiations he was nominated governor-general of that province for five years by the sultan (April 5, 1886).
This arrangement, however, cost him much of his popularity in Bulgaria, while discontent prevailed among a certain number of his officers, who considered themselves slighted in the distribution of rewards at the close of the campaign. A military conspiracy was formed, and on the night of August 20 the prince was seized in the palace at Sofia, and compelled to sign his abdication; he was then hurried to the Danube at Rakhovo, transported on his yacht to Reni, and handed over to Russian authorities, by whom he was allowed to proceed to Lemberg. However he soon returned to Bulgaria, owing to the success of the counter-revolution led by Stamboloff, which overthrew the provisional government set up by the Russian party at Sofia. But his position had become untenable, partly owing to an ill-considered telegram which he addressed to the tsar on his return; partly in consequence of the attitude of Prince Bismarck, who, in conjunction with the Russian and Austrian governments, forbade him to punish the leaders of the military conspiracy. He therefore issued a manifesto resigning the throne, and left Bulgaria on September 8, 1886.
He now retired into private life. A few years later he married Fraulein Loisinger, an actress, and assumed the style of Count Hartenau (February 6, 1889). The last years of his life were spent principally at Gratz, where he held a local command in the Austrian army. Here, after a short illness, he died on October 23 1893. His remains were brought to Sofia, where they received a public funeral, and were eventually deposited in a mausoleum erected in his memory.
Prince Alexander possessed much charm and amiability of manner; he was tall, dignified and strikingly handsome. His capabilities as a soldier have been generally recognized by competent authorities. As a ruler he committed some errors, but his youth and inexperience and the extreme difficulty of his position must be taken into consideration. He was not without aptitude for diplomacy, and his intuitive insight and perception of character sometimes enabled him to outwit the crafty politicians by whom he was surrounded. His principal fault was a want of tenacity and resolution; his tendency to unguarded language undoubtedly increased the number of his enemies.
See Drandar, Le Prince Alexandre de Battenberg en Bulgarie (Paris, 1884); Koch, Furst Alexander von Bulgarien (Darmstadt, 1887); Matveyev, Bulgarien nach dem Berliner Congress (Petersburg, 1887); Bourchier, "Prince Alexander of Battenberg," in Fortnightly Review, January 1894. (J. D. B.)