Princess Maria Luisa of Bourbon-Parma (17 January 1870 – 31 January 1899) was the eldest daughter of Robert I, the last reigning Duke of Parma. She became Princess-consort of Bulgaria upon her marriage to Ferdinand of Bulgaria, the then prince-regnant (who became Tsar after her death). She was the mother of Tsar Boris III of Bulgaria.
Marie Louise was born in Rome in 1870 as Maria Luisa Pia Teresa Anna Ferdinanda Francesca Antonietta Margherita Giuseppina Carolina Bianca Lucia Apollonia di Borbone-Parma, the eldest daughter of Robert I, Duke of Parma and his first wife, Princess Maria Pia of Bourbon-Two Sicilies. The couple produced eleven more children before Maria Pia died in childbirth in 1882. Several of these twelve were born with severe mental retardation. Later, Duke Roberto re-married and had twelve more children. Marie Louise, who was twelve at the time of her mother's death, was brought up in Biarritz and Switzerland under the care of English governesses. Fluent in five languages, she liked painting and music. Her talents playing the guitar and the piano were judged to be well above the average. She was also well read and knew a lot of Dante and Leopardi by heart.
In 1892, her father arranged her marriage to the then reigning Prince of Bulgaria, Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The negotiations were conducted between Duke Robert and Ferdinand's mother, Princess Clémentine of Orléans.
The engagement was celebrated at the Castle of Schwartzau, the residence of the Bourbon-Parma family in Austria. Marie-Louise and Ferdinand had never met prior to that day. Princess Clémentine, who was present on that occasion, described her future daughter-in-law in a letter to Queen Victoria as "Unhappily not very pretty, it is the only thing which is lacking, since she is charming, good, very witty, intelligent and very likable". The wedding took place on 20 April 1893 at the Villa Pianore in Lucca, Italy, the residence of Duke Roberto in Italy. Marie Louise was twenty three, nine years younger than Ferdinand. The couple wasted no time producing an heir, with son Boris born nine months and ten days later.
Princess of Bulgaria
Marie Louise was not loved by her husband. However, he made sure that in order to secure his lineage on the Bulgarian throne, she would bear him children. Under pressure from his subjects and looking to be recognized as Bulgaria's sovereign by the Russian emperor, Ferdinand wanted to have their eldest son, Boris, converted to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in the summer of 1895. Marie Louise, pregnant, argued bitterly against her husband's actions, with the support of her father and her mother-in-law. The second child received baptism with Roman Catholic rites. However, unable to avoid Boris's conversion, Marie Louise, who had threatened to leave the country, left Sofia for Beaulieu in the south of France, the same day.
In May 1896 Marie Louise returned to Bulgaria. In the summer, she went to London with her husband for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, giving birth the following January to Princess Eudoxia. In July 1898 with her husband and their four year old, Boris, they visited St Petersburg at the invitation of Nicholas II of Russia, and Marie Louise made a success of the visit.
Disillusionment in her private life and bearing four children in five years affected her frail health. Suffering from pneumonia, Marie Louise died in Sofia, twenty four hours after giving birth to her fourth child. Aged just 29, she was buried in the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St Louis of France in Plovdiv.
Boris III, Tsar of Bulgaria (1894–1943)
Prince Kiril of Bulgaria (1895–1945)
Princess Eudoxia of Bulgaria (1898–1985)
Princess Nadezhda of Bulgaria (1899–1958), married Duke Albert of Württemberg