Son of Duke Philip and Louise Elizabeth of France, at the death of his father in 1765 he assumed the ducal title under the regency of Leòn-Guillaume Du Tillot until he reached the major age. The marriage with the intemperate Maria Amalia, daughter of Maria Theresa of Austria, lavishly celebrated in 1769, marks the decline of the fortune of the skilled Du Tillot: disliked by the new duchess, opposed by the clerical party for his daring reforms, not much loved by the people for his pro-French tendencies, the minister was dismissed from any post and forced to abandon the duchy in 1771. In the following years Ferdinand I, was forced to face the consequences of the French revolution and above all the threats of the French armies: in 1796 Napoleon, now arbiter of European politics, despite the proclaimed neutrality of the duke, entered Piacenza, demanded and obtained a substantial compensation of war.
Subsequently in 1801 Ferdinand, under an agreement stipulated between Napoleon and Spain, renounced the Duchy in favor of the French Republic, receiving in exchange the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. He died the following year in the abbey of Fontevivo, probably poisoned.