In 1946 Simeon II, the last person to bear the title “tsar,” was deposed and exiled from Bulgaria. Fifty years later, he returned and was elected prime minister.
Today I was reading a list of living former monarchs and wondering just what you would get up to after abdicating, resigning, or being deposed. Wouldn’t everything else seem like a bit of a let-down in comparison? Anyway, I came across this guy Simeon Borisov von Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. He was the last tsar of Bulgaria, the last person to ever have that title in fact.
Although we associate the title “tsar” with the Russians, the first tsars were Bulgarian. Simeon I, formerly known as prince (Knyaz), picked up the title in 913 CE after essentially forcing the Patriarch of Constantinople to acknowledge him as emperor of the Bulgarians. (Simeon was laying siege to Constantinople at the time, which gave him some pretty good negotiating power.)
In the intervening millennium, quite a few people had the title “tsar” – at first the Bulgarian monarchs, then a couple of Serbian rulers in the 14th century, then the Russians got involved. But all of these other tsars were gone by the time of the last tsar: Simeon II.
Simeon was born in a rather tough situation: his father had joined the Axis powers in World War II, and then died under very mysterious circumstances. He had just gone to Germany to visit Hitler, came back home, and his heart failed. But it was the kind of heart failure that could have come from a slow-acting poison… maybe. To this day we don’t know if he was poisoned by British or Russian agents, or by the Third Reich itself, or he just died of natural causes. In any case, six-year-old Simeon became the tsar.
Just over one year later, Soviet troops entered Bulgaria and Simeon was kicked out. He spent the next fifty years in exile, studying in Egypt, Spain, and the United States and then working in Spain. Apparently pro-monarchy feeling never left Bulgaria, because after the fall of the Soviet Union there was talk of restoring him as tsar.
In 1996 Simeon returned to Bulgaria, and in 2001 he formed a political party and ran for office. And won! Simeon, formerly tsar, was Prime Minister of Bulgaria from 2001 to 2005. He’s one of only two hereditary monarchs to also be freely elected leader (the other, Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia, has had an extraordinarily bumpy ride that I’ll write about another time). Simeon, the final tsar, is still alive today.