Archduke Franz Ferdinand Carl Ludwig Joseph Maria of Austria (December 18, 1863 – June 28, 1914) was the heir presumptive to the throne of Austria-Hungary. His assassination in Sarajevo is considered the most immediate cause of World War I.
Franz Ferdinand was born in Graz, Austria, the eldest son of Archduke Charles Ludwig of Austria (the younger brother of Franz Joseph and Maximilian) and of his second wife, Princess Maria Annunciata of Bourbon-Two Sicilies.
Maria Annunciata of Bourbon-Two Sicilies, was born in Caserta, the daughter of King Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies and his wife Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria, the eldest daughter of Archduke Charles, Duke of Teschen and Princess Henrietta of Nassau-Weilburg.
In 1875, when he was eleven years old, his cousin Francisco V, Duke of Modena died, naming Franz Ferdinand his heir on condition that he add the name “Este” to his own.
In 1889, Franz Ferdinand’s life changed dramatically. His cousin Crown Prince Rudolf committed suicide at his hunting lodge in Mayerling. This left Franz Ferdinand’s father, Archduke Charles Ludwig, as first in line to the throne. Charles Ludwig died of typhoid fever in 1896. Henceforth, Franz Ferdinand became next in line to succeed to the imperial and royal thrones.
In 1894, Franz Ferdinand met Countess Sophie Chotek, a lady-in-waiting to Archduchess Isabella, wife of Archduke Friedrich, Duke of Teschen. Franz began to visit Archduke Friedrich’s villa in Pressburg (now Bratislava), and in turn Sophie wrote to Franz Ferdinand during his convalescence from tuberculosis on the island of Lošinj in the Adriatic. They kept their relationship a secret, until it was discovered by Isabella herself.
To be eligible to marry a member of the imperial House of Habsburg, one had to be a member of one of the reigning or formerly reigning dynasties of Europe. The Choteks were not one of these families.
Deeply in love, Franz Ferdinand refused to consider marrying anyone else. Finally, in 1899, Emperor Franz Joseph agreed to permit Franz Ferdinand to marry Sophie, on the condition that the marriage would be morganatic and that their descendants would not have succession rights to the throne.
Sophie would not share her husband’s rank, title, precedence, or privileges; as such, she would not normally appear in public beside him. She would not be allowed to ride in the royal carriage or sit in the royal box in theaters.
The wedding took place on July 1, 1900, at Reichstadt (now Zákupy) in Bohemia; Franz Joseph did not attend the affair, nor did any archduke including Franz Ferdinand’s brothers. The only members of the imperial family who were present were Franz Ferdinand’s stepmother, Princess Maria Theresa of Braganza; and her two daughters.
Upon the marriage, Sophie was given the title “Princess of Hohenberg” with the style “Her Serene Highness.” In 1909, she was given the more senior title “Duchess of Hohenberg” with the style “Her Highness.” This raised her status considerably, but she still yielded precedence at court to all the archduchesses. Whenever a function required the couple to assemble with the other members of the imperial family, Sophie was forced to stand far down the line, separated from her husband
The Archduke and his wife visited England in the autumn of 1913, spending a week with George V and Queen Mary at Windsor Castle before going to stay for another week with the Duke of Portland at Welbeck Abbey, Nottinghamshire, where they arrived on November 22. He attended a service at the local Catholic church in Worksop
Franz Ferdinand, like most males in the ruling Habsburg line, entered the Austro-Hungarian Army at a young age. He was frequently and rapidly promoted, given the rank of lieutenant at age fourteen, captain at twenty-two, colonel at twenty-seven, and major general at thirty-one. While never receiving formal staff training, he was considered eligible for command and at one point briefly led the primarily Hungarian 9th Hussar Regiment. In 1898 he was given a commission “at the special disposition of His Majesty” to make inquiries into all aspects of the military services and military agencies were commanded to share their papers with him.
Franz Ferdinand held significant influence over the military, and in 1913 he was appointed inspector general of the Austro-Hungarian armed forces.
On Sunday, June 28, 1914, at about 10:45 am, Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian province of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The perpetrator was 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip, a member of Young Bosnia and one of a group of assassins organized and armed by the Black Hand.
Earlier in the day, the couple had been attacked by Nedeljko Čabrinović, who had thrown a grenade at their car. However, the bomb detonated behind them, injuring the occupants in the following car. On arriving at the Governor’s residence, Franz angrily shouted, “So this is how you welcome your guests – with bombs!”
The assassinations, along with the arms race, nationalism, imperialism, militarism of Imperial Germany and the alliance system all contributed to the origins of World War I, which began a month after Franz Ferdinand’s death, with Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war against Serbia. The assassination of Ferdinand is considered the most immediate cause of World War I.
After his death, Archduke Charles became the Heir presumptive Austria-Hungary.
Franz Ferdinand is interred with his wife Sophie in Artstetten Castle, Austria.