The Shishman Dynasty ruled Bulgaria from the ascension of Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371 AD) to the throne in 1331 AD to the demise of his sons – Tsar Ivan Shishman (r. 1371-1395) and Tsar Ivan Sratsimir (r. 1371-1396) in the hands of the Ottoman Turks. Tsar Ivan Alexander was one of the most notable but also most controversial rulers of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396).He had one of the longest reigns in Bulgaria’s medieval history which is known as a Second Golden Age for medieval Bulgarian culture, literature, and education (the First Golden Age being during the reign of Tsar Simeon I the Great – 893-927 AD). A prominent example of the achievements of the Second Golden Age is the so called London Gospel Book – an illuminated manuscript Gospel Book written and illustrated for Tsar Ivan Alexander in 1355-1356 which is kept today in the British Library in London.
Politically and militarily, however, Tsar Ivan Alexander’s reign eventually proved to be disastrous for Bulgaria after he lost major Bulgarian-populated territories to Serbia and the Byzantine Empire, which at the time was using Ottoman Turkish mercenaries who later became invaders in their own right. Tsar Ivan Alexander lost his two eldest sons – Ivan in 1349 AD and Mihail in 1355 AD – in battles with the Ottoman Turks. What is more, he failed to prevent a number of Bulgarian feudal lords seceding, and on top of that divided the remainder of the Bulgarian Tsardom between his two surviving sons. His third son Ivan Sratsimir (r. 1371-1396) received the smaller so called Vidin Tsardom, with the Danube city of Vidin as its capital, and his fourth son Ivan Shishman (r. 1371-1395) received the rest, the so called Tarnovo Tsardom, with the capital proper of Tarnovgrad (today’s Veliko Tarnovo). Just two decades later all Bulgarian lands, disunited and even warring among themselves, fell prey to the invading Ottoman Turks, ushering Bulgaria into five centuries of Ottoman yoke and signifying a practically irreversible loss of its former great power status.