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Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Updated on June 27, 2017

Franz Ferdinand - Soldier and Heir to the Throne

Franz Ferdinand was born on 18 December 1863 into the family of Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria, younger brother of the emperor of Austrian-Hungarian Empire, Franz Joseph I. Although he was inside the inner circle of the highest level of Austrian society, he was not meant to reach the absolute top - it was Prince Rudolf, emperor´s son and Franz Ferdinand´s cousin, who was supposed to take the throne when time comes. But the situation suddenly changed when Rudolf committed suicide in 1889. This tragedy made Franz Ferdinand second in a row for the throne, right after his father. Archduke Karl Ludwig has died in 1896 and Franz Ferdinand started to get ready for his future duties.

As most members of the Austrian nobility, Franz Ferdinand served in the military for most of his life and in 1913, he held the position of the general inspector of the Austrian-Hungarian army and navy. Of course, he was supposed to take high command in the time of war. In June 1914, he left for Sarajevo to inspect maneuvers...

Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Archduke Franz Ferdinand, photo taken around 1914, public domain picture
Archduke Franz Ferdinand, photo taken around 1914, public domain picture | Source

Marriage Against Emperor´s Will

Franz Ferdinand´s life was never the same after he attended a ball in Prague in 1894. He met a girl there and helplessly fell in love with her. The object of his interest was Countess Sophie Chotkova. The Archduke began to visit her regularly and later he decided to marry her. However, there was one major problem. Sophie´s family was among the high nobility but not very rich and top of that, there was a rule that only members of families that reign or reigned somewhere in Europe in the past were good enough to join the House of Habsburg. And Sophie did not meet this condition...

The battle Franz Ferdinand fought with his conservative uncle over this issue, tells us quite a lot about Archduke´s character. His stubbornness finally convinced the Emperor to give him his permission but only under draconian conditions:

  • Their children will not have the right to take the throne
  • Sophie will not have the right to use her husband´s titles and privileges (she was forbidden even to sit in the royal balcony in theaters or sit with her husband in the royal carriage!!)
  • Sophie will not attend most of the public events with her husband

They got married on 1 July 1900 and despite the obstacles they had to withstand, their deep love made their marriage happy. They had two sons and one daughter (their third son was stillborn).

The marriage with Sophie was not the only thing that led to the conflict with Franz Joseph I. While the old Emperor was conservative and traditionalist, Franz Ferdinand was opened to significant reforms in all areas of the life in the monarchy. That´s why many historians and history enthusiasts discuss "what if" theories. But the history cannot be changed, and Franz Ferdinand has never got a chance to realize his vision...

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his family

Archduke Franz Ferdinand, his wife Sophie Chotkova and two of their children, public domain picture
Archduke Franz Ferdinand, his wife Sophie Chotkova and two of their children, public domain picture | Source

Assasination in Sarajevo

In June of 1914, Archduke´s family spent several days at their summer house in Chlum u Třeboně, the small village in the southern part of today´s Czech Republic. When Franz Ferdinand and Sophie were departing to Sarajevo, they probably promised their children to return soon. But they were not able to fulfill their promise and three small children had never seen their parents again...

When the couple arrived in Sarajevo, they soon realized that the Bosnian city does not like them very much. The situation in the area was very tight as the southern Slav provinces were demanding independence and there were many groups who wanted to harm the prominent representative of hated monarchy. At first, a man named Nedeljko Čabrinović threw a grenade at the motorcade but Archduke was not harmed. After this incident, Franz Ferdinand entered the residence of the Governor and shouted his famous words:

"This is how you welcome your guests, with bombs?!"

But despite the fact that he knew how tense the situation in the city is, Archduke decided to continue with his program and once again, he boarded his car. This time, the motorcade crossed the path of 19 years old Gavrilo Princip. He was a member of the revolutionary organization "Young Bosnia" with ties to the terrorist organization "Black Hand". When he saw the motorcade, Princip knew that it is now or never.

Gavrilo Princip took his gun out and started to shoot and hit both the Archduke and his wife. Franz Ferdinand was first to die with the last words to his beloved wife:

"Don´t die, darling, live for our children."

Sophie Chotkova died on the way to the hospital. With these shots, two people died and three children became orphans. But these shots also triggered something much, much bigger. Austria-Hungary declared war to Bosnia and many other countries joined the war afterward. At the end of the conflict which was started with Princip´s shots in Sarajevo, 17 million people have died and the world was changed. Empires collapsed and new countries emerged.

Gavrilo Princip´s trial

Gavrilo Princip (in the centre of the first row) during his trial, December 1914. Public domain picture
Gavrilo Princip (in the centre of the first row) during his trial, December 1914. Public domain picture | Source

Further reading

The assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand is the event of paramount importance and everyone interested in 20th-century history, history of World War I or history in general should give an attention to it. These are the suggestions for the detailed study of this subject (only the titles with 4 or 5 star rating are listed):

One Morning In Sarajevo: 28 June 1914

The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War


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