Today, the former monarch of Bulgaria and his bride celebrate 60 years of marriage. On their diamond wedding anniversary, let’s look at the wedding of Simeon and Margarita of Bulgaria, and the heirloom family tiara she wore for their religious wedding ceremony in 1962.
Simeon, the last Bulgarian monarch, was the son of Tsar Boris III of Bulgaria and his wife, Princess Giovanna of Italy. She was a daughter of King Vittorio Emanuele III and Queen Elena of Italy. He was born in 1937, four years after his elder sister, Princess Marie Louise. The family photograph above was taken in June 1939, just before the outbreak of World War II.
Bulgaria and its royal family occupied complicated political territory during the war. In 1943, after a meeting with officials in Berlin, Boris suddenly (and mysteriously) died. He was succeeded by six-year-old Simeon, whose uncle, Prince Kyril, served as regent.
Little Simeon, pictured here in a miniature military uniform, was Tsar of Bulgaria during an incredibly tumultuous period of history, and the experience must have been terrifying for a little boy. In 1944, the Soviets invaded Bulgaria, removing his uncle Kyril and executing him. Simeon was placed under house arrest with his mother and sister in their palace in Sofia, with the day-to-day work of governing handled by three new regents. In 1946, the Bulgarian people voted in a referendum to end the monarchy completely.
Giovanna, Marie Louise, and Simeon were given two days to pack their belongings and leave the country. Giovanna’s father had also lost his throne, and the former royals of Bulgaria joined the former royals of Italy in exile in Alexandria, Egypt. The three of them remained in Egypt until the early 1950s, when Franco offered them asylum in Spain.
The family settled in Madrid, where Simeon attended school. He moved to the United States for military school in the late 1950s before returning to Spain, where he studied business and law. He also met his future wife, Margarita Gómez-Acebo y Cejuela, daughter of the Marquess of Cortina.
Margarita was born in Madrid in 1935. Unfortunately, she was especially well-equipped to understand Simeon’s traumatic childhood. Her parents and her grandmother had all been executed in 1936, during the Spanish Civil War. Like Simeon, Margarita had been displaced during the war, living with various relatives in France and Spain. Eventually, she and her brother found a home with their uncle, Don Jaime Gómez-Acebo y Modet. The entire family was aristocratic, but this move would ultimately bring them quite close to the Spanish royal family. Uncle Jaime’s son, Luis, married Infanta Pilar, the sister of King Juan Carlos of Spain.
Simeon and Margarita announced their engagement in the summer of 1961. They posed for press cameras that October at Simeon’s home in Spain, sitting beneath a large portrait of his mother wearing the family’s antique fleur-de-lis tiara. (More on that jewel in just a minute.)
On January 20, 1962, Simeon and Margarita were wed in a civil ceremony at the town hall in Lausanne, Switzerland. Newspapers reported that the “24-year-old bearded ex-monarch and his petite 27-year-old bride walked arm-in-arm across the cobbled market place to the ceremony in the 300-year-old City Hall.” The marriage ceremony was actually the couple’s second—they had been married in a Catholic ceremony in Madrid shortly beforehand.
The following day, on January 21, 1962, the couple were married for a third time. This time, it was an orthodox ceremony, which was held at the Russian church in the Swiss resort town of Vevey. Several other royals attended, including ex-King Farouk of Egypt, who had provided Simeon and his family with a home in exile during his childhood. Prince Michael of Greece and Denmark was also present, as were Prince Nicholas of Romania (uncle of ex-King Michael) and Prince Tomislav of Yugoslavia (brother of ex-King Peter).
For the orthodox ceremony, Margarita wore a fur-trimmed wedding gown, a concession to the cold January weather. She also wore a very important jewel, the Bulgarian Fleur-de-Lis Tiara, to anchor her tulle veil.
The fleur-de-lis tiara was made by Köchert in 1893. It was a wedding gift to Princess Marie Louise of Bourbon-Parma, the new wife of Prince Ferdinand of Bulgaria, from the Bulgarian people. The tiara is set with diamonds, emeralds, and rubies, reflecting Bulgaria’s national colors. The fleur-de-lis design is a nod to Marie Louise’s own family heritage, as it’s the traditional symbol of the royal House of Bourbon.
The colors of the tiara come to life in Philip de László’s portrait of Princess Marie Louise, which was painted in 1894. Sadly, the painting was completed only five years before the princess’s untimely death in 1929, following the birth of her fourth child.
The late Princess Marie Louise’s eldest child was Simeon’s father, Boris III of Bulgaria. When he married Simeon’s mother, Giovanna, in 1930, she wore the fleur-de-lis tiara for their wedding luncheon in Assisi. The tiara is placed atop a wreath of flowers on her head and tilted back at an angle.
Simeon’s sister, Princess Marie Louise, wore the tiara for her wedding to Prince Karl of Leiningen in 1957. Margarita followed family tradition by wearing the tiara at their orthodox wedding ceremony as well. It’s one of the last times the tiara has been seen in public. Rumor has it that the family still owns the piece, but it’s in dire need of repairs and is too fragile to be worn in public. I’d love to know if that’s true.
After their wedding, Simeon and Margarita returned to Madrid, where he worked several years as an executive for a communications firm. In December 1962, their first child, a son named Kardam, was born. He was followed by four more siblings: Kyril (named for Simeon’s late uncle), Kubrat, Konstantin-Assen, and Kalina. All five of the couple’s children married Spaniards, and they provided Simeon and Margarita with a large crew of grandchildren. Sadly, Kardam passed away in 2015, after living for years in a coma caused by a car accident.
In 1996, fifty years after he was sent into exile, Simeon returned to Bulgaria for the first time. Five years later, he and Margarita relocated to Bulgaria for good, moving into the same palace in Sofia where he’d spent many years of his childhood. Above, the couple are pictured attending an Easter mass at Alexander Nevski Cathedral in Sofia in April 2001.
And then Simeon did something very interesting indeed. He formed a political party and, as Mr. Simeon Sakskoburggotski, was elected Prime Minister of the Bulgarian republic. He served in the role from July 2001 until August 2005.
Today, you’ll often see Simeon and Margarita attended major royal events in Europe. Above, they’re pictured at the royal wedding in Luxembourg in October 2012.
We also recently saw them at last autumn’s Romanov wedding in Russia. Sixty years is an impressive achievement for any married couple, let alone one that has been through so many challenging life events. They’ve certainly lived a long and truly fascinating life together.