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The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Duchess Sophie

Updated on October 13, 2011

The assassination of ARCHDUKE Franz Ferdinand and Duchess Sophie

On 28thJune 1914 the heir to the Hapsburg throne the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Duchess Sophie were murdered in Sarajevo the capital of the Austrian province of Bosnia- Herzegovina. The couple had gone to Sarajevo as a wedding anniversary treat for the Duchess. She had married into a family which disapproved of her because of her low ranking birth and was rarely seen publicly in Vienna. In Sarajevo she would be publicly seen and accompany her husband to functions he attended in his title as Inspector General of the Austro-Hungarian armed forces.

Vladimer Dedijer a leading historian of the period has noted that Duchess Sophie had forebodings about the visit. She had been warmed by one of the leaders of the Bosnian Assembly that the visit should be cancelled owing to slav feelings within the province. The authorities decided that to cancel the visit would be harmful it would be an admission of Austrian nervousness. Despite the warnings the police protection afforded the couple was minimal and rather haphazard giving the assassin the opportunity to strike.

On the morning of the 28th June the royal train steamed into Sarajevo railway station to be greeted by the military governor of Bosnia. The welcome saw the first fault with security in that three of the four Royal family security detectives were left behind at the station having been replaced by local police officers.

The Archduke and Duchess travelled in an open topped spots car accompanied by the military governor. As the car entered the port area of Appel Quay the Archduke asked for the car to be driven slowly so that he could have a good look around; receiving some cheers from the thin crowds. As they approached the Central police station a young man Cabrinovic reached out of the now thickening crowds and threw a hand grenade directly at the car. Although the grenade hit its target it bounced off the folded roof of the sports car and rolled under the car which was following, subsequently exploding, wounding the occupants and several members of the watching crowd. The Archduke’s driver immediately increased his speed in order to get the archduke and duchess to the comparative safety of the Town Hall. The Archduke told him to stop whilst he checked on casualties despite the fact that the duchesses neck had been grazed and that it made the car a sitting target for further attacks.

The Archduke was understandably very angry when he arrived at the Town Hall and set off to visit one of the security officers who had been injured by the grenade. The itinerary of the visit included a visit to a new museum which was originally to be undertaken by the Archduke only. Such was the Duchesses concern for her husband that she insisted that she accompany him on his visit to the museum.

The Royal Security was slightly increased, in that the next visit was started with a high speed drive to the museum. However there were soon more mistakes and problems. The first car in the procession turned right at the corner of Appel Quay and Franz Josef Street and the second car followed. The military governor shouted to the driver of the third car that he was making a mistake and as a result the chauffeur braked sharply and stopped the car. At that point a young Bosnian Gavrilo Princip pulled out a revolver. This action was spotted by a policeman who tried to grab his arm but was himself knocked down. Princip was able to get within four of five paces of the Royal car and was able to fire into the car. His first shot mortally wounded the Archduke in the jugular and the second bullet entered the Duchesses abdomen and caused her to collapse to the floor of the car with her head resting on her husbands knees. It is recorded that the Archduke pleaded with his wife not to die “Soferl, Soferl, don’t die. Live for my children” and then himself became unconscious. The driver sensing the emergency but knowing the medical need for care sped towards the Governors residence but the road was bumpy and this may have contributed to their death being pronounced shortly after their arrival. The bells of Sarajevo tolled out the death of the Archduke and Duchess but perhaps no one at that time would have thought that this would be a preliminary to the First World War.

Investigations after their death showed that the assassinations at Sarajevo had been organised by the Black Hand, a Serbian secret society headed by Apis a shadowy figure who was also chief of the Serbian Military Intelligence. It appears that the Serbian government had been warned that there could be an attempt at the Archduke’s life but had made a poor attempt at alerting the government in Vienna of the plans. Although the involvement of the Serbian government was not proved the assignment of guilt was not done quickly or accurately enough to satisfy the Austrians. As Serbian territory was the base from which the assassinations were carried out , many Austrians felt that there was a case for strong measures against Serbia.

It is difficult to assess the reasons for the assassination. It is known that extreme Serbian nationalists regarded Franz Ferdinand with fear as he advocated that concessions be made to the South Slav majority of Austria Hungary. It was thought that the Black Hand felt that these concessions might lessen Serbia’s position as a rallying point for South Slav opposition and as the nucleus of a future South Slav state. Therefore the Black Hand felt that the Archduke had to be eliminated to protect their position. It is also argued that the Black Hand may have intended the killings to provoke war between Austria and Serbia hoping that Russia would ally with Serbia and by this force concessions from the Austrian state. At the time of the murders the Serbian press and public did not conceal their pleasure at the death of two of the members of the hated Austrian ruling family.

This assassination of the Archduke and Duchess in Sarajevo was the catalyst that ignited simmering causes throughout Europe and started a four year long World War in which many were killed and wounded and whole generations of young men wiped out.


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