100th Anniversary of the Assassination of HIH Archduke Franz-Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary
On this day, June 28, 1914 Archduke Franz-Ferdiand of Austria-Hungary and his wife, Sofie Duchess of Hohenberg, were assassinated in Sarajevo. This murder would, within weeks, spark a European war that became known as World War I. In its time it was known as either the Great War or the World War.
It is often said that this assassination caused World War I. I don’t think that is the entire truth. I view the assassination of Archduke Franz-Ferdinand as the initial spark that set off the war, however there were many issues that evolved over years, centuries even, that built up the tension to where War became almost inevitable. I don’t want this blog entry to be about the causes of the war nor a biography on the Archduke. I will write about some aspects of his life and what happened on that fateful day.
I have an affinity with Archduke Franz-Ferdinand. We were born about 100 years apart. I was born in October of 1963 and he was born in 1863, making him 50 years old at the time of his assassination. He held what were radical views at the time and it was his views that were his undoing. More on that in a moment.
He was the eldest son of Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria (a younger brother of Emperor Franz Joseph and Maximilian) and of his second wife, Princess Maria Annunciata of Bourbon-Two Sicilies. When he was only eleven years old, his cousin Duke Francis V of Modena died, naming Franz Ferdinand his heir on condition that he add the name Este to his own. Franz Ferdinand thus became one of the wealthiest men in Austria. In 1889 his cousin, Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria committed suicide (after murdering his mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera at his hunting lodge in Mayerling. This tragedy left Franz-Ferdinand’s father as hier to the throne. Emperor Franz Joseph had only one son and the throne had to pass to a male heir for women were barred from the throne. Karl Ludwig renounced the throne in favor of Franz Ferdinand almost immediately, and died of typhoid fever in 1896.
As hier to the throne he garnered controversy. Franz-Ferdinad was more liberal than his uncle the emperor. In 1894 Franz-Ferdinand met Countess Sophie Chotek at a ball in Prague. The down side to this meeting was that Countess Sophie was not of equal rank with Franz-Ferdinand so marriage was out of the question. 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. Countess Sophie was rejected by the emperor as a suitable mate for the Archduke despite being a descendant of the princes of Baden, tyhe Catholic branch of the House of Hohenzollern (Hohenzollern-Hechingen), and the Princes of Liechtenstein. One of Sophie’s direct ancestors was Albert IV, Count of Habsburg; she was descended from Elisabeth of Habsburg, a sister of King Rudolph I of Germany.
Franz-Ferdinand would not consider marrying another. Even with Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Czar Nicholas II of Russia tried to assist and spoke to Pope Leo XIII to presuade the Emperor. This took years to accomplish and in 1899 the emperor relented and allowed the couple to marry morganatically. This meant 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. The Emperor granted her the title Duchess of Hohenberg and it was by this title their children (and descendants) were known. Because of this morganatic marriage Sofie was treated coldly by many members of the Habsburg Dynasty.
One of the other things I admire about Franz-Ferdinand is that he seemed more progressive and liberal minded than the emperor. Austria was a conglomerate of ethnic groups. Germans, Hungarians and in an era where nationalism was desired many of these ethnic groups desired independence. In 1908 Austria had annexed the Bosnia-Herzegovina region where many ethnic Serbs lived. This action thwarted the desires of many in Serbia that wanted the Serbian regions of Bosnia to join Serbia in alarger kingdom. Franz-Ferdinand’s progressive ideas would have put an end to these desires.
In 1867 the Kingdom of Hungary (ruled by the Habsurgs since the Battle of Mohács in 1526) was granted an equal standing within the Austrian Empire (this changed the name of the Empire to Austria-Hungary). Franz-Ferdinad envisoned granting this same privilage to other ethnic groups creating a United States of Austria, with himself as Emperor. If Bosnian Serbs were granted such status within the Empire the chances of Bosnia becoming part of a larger Serbian Kingdom would be over. National groups such as the Black Hand viewed the assassination of the Archduke as essential to their plans of Serbian unity. One factor giving Serbia and the Black Hand confidence was knowing that Russia was on their side for greater Serbian independence.
June 28, 1914.
Generally, Sofie, Duchess of Hohenberg did not attend her husband on such official duties but she was there with him on this fateful day. In late 1913 Emperor Franz Joseph commanded Archduke Franz Ferdinand to observe the military maneuvers in Bosnia scheduled for June 1914. After the maneuvers Franz Ferdinand and his wife planned to visit Sarajevo to open the state museum in its new premises there. Generally such engagements are announced in the court circular months in advance so the assassins tagged him for murder months in advance.
There were six assassins ready for the Archduke that morning. When Franz-Ferdinand and Sofie arrived they were greeted by Governor Oskar Potiorek with six automobiles were waiting. Security was limited because many soldiers were on the military maneuvers that the Archduke witnessed the day before. The motorcade passed the first two assassins who failed to act. Nedeljko Čabrinović was on the opposite side of the street near the Miljacka River arming him with a bomb.
At 10:10 am Franz Ferdinand’s car approached and Čabrinović threw his bomb. The bomb bounced off the folded back convertible cover into the street and the timed detonator caused it to explode under the next car wounding 16–20 people. Čabrinović swallowed a cyanide pill and jumped into the Miljacka river. Čabrinović’s suicide attempt failed, as the cyanide only induced vomiting. Police dragged Čabrinović out of the river, and he was severely beaten by the crowd before being taken into custody.
A visably shaken Archduke arrived at his first destination which was Sarajevo’s Town Hall. He gave the speech he originally had written for the occasion but at the end added a few words about the bombing and the people of Sarajevo “as I see in them an expression of their joy at the failure of the attempt at assassination.” His entourage wanted to change plans fearing more assassination attempts would be made. Baron Rumerskirch proposed that the couple remain at the Town Hall until troops could be brought into the city to line the streets. Governor-General Oskar Potiorek vetoed this suggestion on the grounds that soldiers coming straight from maneuvers would not have the dress uniforms appropriate for such duties. The Royal couple did decide to postpone the rest of the schedualed activities and desired to visit the hospital to see those wounded in the morning’s bomb attack.
After hearing about the failed bomb attack one assassin, Gavrilo Princip, stood in front of a nearby food shop (Schiller’s delicatessen), on Appel Quay near the Latin Bridge waiting for the Archdukes return from the National Museum In the confusion the drivers of the motorcade were not told of the change in plans. When the motorcade was on Appel Quay, Governor Potiorek told the driver to turn off that road and take another route to the Hospital. The driver stopped the car and put it in reverse. As fate would have it they stopped directly in front of where Gavrilo Princip was standing.
Standing only 5 feet away (1.5 meters) Princip took two shots at the Archduke and Sofie. Franz-Ferdinand was shot in the jugular vein while Sofie was hit in the abdomen. Both The Archduke and Sofie remained sitting upright as they were taken to the Governor’s residence for medical treatment. Count Harrach reports that Franz Ferdinand’s last words were “Sophie, Sophie! Don’t die! Live for our children!” followed by six or seven utterances of “It is nothing.” These utterances were followed by a long death rattle. Sophie was dead on arrival at the Governor’s residence while Franz Ferdinand died 10 minutes later.
The death shocked all the crowned heads of Europe and Emperor Franz Joseph took the news very hard. Although in that moment it was not clear that this event would spark a global war, the assassination of the Archduke raised tentions between allied states within two days. Austria-Hungary and Germany advised Serbia that it should open an investigation, but Secretary General to the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Slavko Gruic, replied “Nothing had been done so far and the matter did not concern the Serbian Government.”
The beginning of the end had just happened.
Join me here this Friday for the aftermath and the start of the war.