Bulgaria's exiled king scores a palace coup

Click to follow
IN AN extraordinary ruling - that will have Europe's other ex- royals salivating with envy - Bulgaria's High Court yesterday handed back to the exiled heir to the throne all the former dynasty's property.

Simeon II, who was 10 when the Communists seized the royal estates in 1947 and has spent most of his adult life as a businessman in Spain, was transformed at the stroke of a judge's pen to one of Europe's greatest landowners and the proud possessor of palaces at Vranya, near the capital Sofia, and Czarska (Emperor's) Bistritsa, in the Rila mountains, 50 miles south of Sofia.

Also thrown in are three hunting lodges in the hills and two humble farm houses near the city of Plovdiv.

It is an astonishing turn of fortune for the Bulgarian branch of the Coburg family and one not repeated in any other former people's republics in Eastern Europe, none of which has returned to their former royals significant amounts of their former estates.

The Bulgarian royals had an eccentric reputation - a good thing, perhaps, in the Balkans. The first Bulgarian Coburg, "Foxy" Ferdinand, who abdicated after the First World War, often embarrassed his fellow royals with his bizarrely feminine manner and dress sense.

But he was a great diplomat and was famous, too, for his unrivalled collection of rare butterflies. His son, Boris, Simeon's late father, is still remembered by some for his love of driving steam trains.

Simeon himself reigned briefly in Sofia before the Communists forced him out in 1946. But absence - clearly - has only made the heart grow fonder.

For while most Romanians, Serbs and Russians seem to have put the monarchy well behind them, Simeon won a tumultuous ovation from the crowds during two brief returns to his homeland in 1996 and 1997.