Franz Ferdinand (18 December
1863 – 28 June 1914) was an Archduke of
Austria-Este, Austro-Hungarian and
Royal Prince of Hungary and of
Bohemia, and from 1889 until his death,
heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne. His assassination in Sarajevo precipitated
Austria-Hungary's declaration of
war against Serbia.
caused countries allied
Austria-Hungary (the Triple
) and countries allied with Serbia (the Triple Entente Powers
) to declare war
on each other, starting World War
born in Graz, Austria,
the oldest son of Archduke Karl Ludwig of
Austria (younger brother of Franz Joseph and Maximilian) and of his second wife,
Annunciata of Bourbon-Two Sicilies.
When he was only
twelve years old, his cousin Duke Francis V of Modena
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, Franz Ferdinand's life changed dramatically. His cousin
Crown Prince Rudolf
at his hunting lodge in
, leaving Franz
Ferdinand's father, Archduke Karl Ludwig, as first in line to the
throne. However, his father renounced his succession rights a few
days after the Crown Prince's death. Henceforth, Franz Ferdinand
was groomed to succeed. Despite this burden, he did manage to find
time for travel and personal pursuits - for example, the time he
spent hunting kangaroos and emus in Australia in 1893, and the return trip to
Austria sailing across the Pacific on the RMS Empress of China
from Yokohama to Vancouver.
Marriage and family
Franz Ferdinand met Countess Sophie Chotek at a ball in
To be an eligible marriage
partner for 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,
although they did include among their ancestors, in the female line, princes of Baden,
Hohenzollern-Hechingen, and Liechtenstein.
One of Sophie's direct ancestors was
Count Albrecht IV of
; he was descended from Elisabeth of Habsburg, a sister
of King Rudolph I of Germany
Franz Ferdinand was a descendant of King Rudolph I. Sophie was a
to Archduchess Isabella
of Archduke Friedrich, Duke of
. Franz Ferdinand began to visit Archduke
Friedrich's villa in Pressburg (now Bratislava). Sophie wrote to Franz Ferdinand during his
convalescence from tuberculosis on the
island of Lošinj in the
They kept their relationship a secret for
more than two years.
Deeply in love, Franz Ferdinand refused to consider marrying anyone
else. Pope Leo XIII
, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia
, and the
German Emperor Wilhelm II
made representations on his behalf to Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria
that the disagreement between Franz Joseph and Franz Ferdinand was
undermining the stability of the monarchy.
Finally, in 1899, Emperor Franz Joseph agreed to permit Franz
Ferdinand to marry Sophie, on condition that the marriage would be
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
The wedding took place on 1 July 1900, at Reichstadt (now Zákupy
) in Bohemia
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, Maria Theresa
, and her
two daughters. Upon the marriage, Sophie was given the title
"Princess of Hohenberg" (Fürstin von Hohenberg
) with the
style "Her Serene Highness" (Ihre Durchlaucht
). In 1909,
she was given the more senior title "Duchess of Hohenberg"
(Herzogin von 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 gather with the other
members of royalty, Sophie was forced to stand far down the line of
importance, separated from her husband.
Franz Ferdinand's children were:
Politically, Franz Ferdinand was a proponent
of granting greater autonomy to all ethnic groups in the Empire and
of addressing their grievances, especially the Czechs in Bohemia and the Yugoslavic peoples in Croatia and Bosnia, who had
been left out of the Austro-Hungarian compromise of 1867.
advocated a careful approach towards Serbia - repeatedly locking
horns with Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf,
Vienna's hard-line Chief of the General Staff, warning that harsh
treatment of Serbia would bring
Austria-Hungary into open conflict with Russia, to the ruin of both
Franz Ferdinand was a prominent and influential supporter of the
time when sea power was not a priority in Austrian foreign policy
and the Navy was relatively little known and supported by the
public. After his assassination in 1914, the Navy honoured Franz
Ferdinand and his wife with a lying in
aboard the SMS Viribus
The Latin Bridge near the
Franz Ferdinand's blood-stained
Sunday, 28 June 1914, at approximately 1:15 pm, Franz Ferdinand and
his wife were killed in Sarajevo, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian province of
Herzegovina, by Gavrilo Princip,
19 at the time, a member of Young
Bosnia and one of a group of assassins organized by the
Austria-Hungary commemorative postage
The event led to a
chain of events that eventually triggered World War I
The couple had previously been attacked when a grenade was thrown
at their car. Ferdinand deflected the grenade and it detonated far
behind them. He is known to have shouted in anger to local
officials, So you welcome your guests with bombs.
The royal couple insisted on seeing all those injured at the
hospital. After travelling there, Franz and Sophie decided to go to
the palace, but their driver took a wrong turn onto a side street,
where Princip spotted them. As the car was backing up, Princip
approached and shot Sophie in the abdomen and Franz Ferdinand in
the jugular. He was still alive when witnesses arrived to render
aid. His dying words to Sophie were, 'Don't die darling, live for
my children.' Princip had used the Browning .380 ACP
cartridge, a relatively low-power round, and a pocket-sized
FN model 1910
pistol. The archduke's
aides attempted to undo his coat but realized they needed scissors
to cut it open. It was too late; he died within minutes. Sophie
also died en route to the hospital.
A detailed account of the shooting can be found in
by Joachim Remak:
...one bullet pierced Franz Ferdinand's neck while the
other pierced Sophie's abdomen....
As the car was reversing (to go back to the Governor's
residence because the entourage thought the Imperial couple were
unhurt) a thin streak of blood shot from the Archduke's mouth onto
Count Harrach's right cheek (he was standing on the car's running
Harrach drew out a handkerchief to still the gushing
The Duchess, seeing this,
called: "For Heaven's sake!
What happened to you?" and sank from her seat, her face
falling between her husband's knees.
Harrach and Potoriek... thought she had fainted... only
her husband seemed to have an instinct for what was happening.
Turning to his wife despite the bullet in his neck, Franz Ferdinand
pleaded: "Sopherl! Sopherl! Sterbe
nicht! Bleibe am Leben für unsere Kinder! - Sophie
dear! Don't die! Stay alive for our children!". Having said this,
he seemed to sag down himself. His plumed hat... fell off; many of
its green feathers were found all over the car floor. Count Harrach
seized the Archduke by the uniform collar to hold him up. He asked
"Leiden Eure Kaiserliche Hoheit sehr? - Is Your Imperial Highness suffering very badly?" "Es ist nichts - It
is nothing" said the Archduke in a weak but audible voice. He
seemed to be losing consciousness, but, his voice growing steadily
weaker, he repeated the phrase perhaps six or seven times more. He
was losing consciousness during his last few minutes.
A rattle began to issue from his throat, which subsided
as the car drew in front of the Konak bersibin (Town Hall).Despite
several doctors' efforts, the Archduke died
shortly after being carried into the building while his beloved
wife was almost certainly dead from internal bleeding before the
motorcade reached the Konak.
The assassinations, along with the arms
race, nationalism, imperialism, militarism, and the alliance system all
contributed to the beginning of World War I, which began less than
two months after Franz Ferdinand's death, with Austria-Hungary's
declaration of war against Serbia.
Ferdinand is interred with his wife Sophie in Artstetten
The start of World War I
reaction to the assassination was muted. Franz Ferdinand was
not popular at court or among the people, and his death posed no
threat to the continuation of the Habsburg dynasty. After all, two
other monarchs had already been assassinated in the region:
Alexander I of Serbia in
Belgrade in 1903 by members of Black Hand and King George I of Greece in 1913,
just the year before.
Prussia and the other Great Powers agreed
that Vienna would have to deal with this affront in some way, but
Hötzendorf chose to declare war on Serbia. A strong ultimatum, intended to be unacceptable,
was delivered to Belgrade on 23 July. Serbia acceded to all demands
but one: that Austro-Hungarian police be allowed to operate on
Serbian territory to apprehend and interrogate conspirators. Vienna
was not interested in compromise, and declared war on 28 July, just
one month after the assassination.
This started the chain of events that led to the outbreak of World
War I. The Kaiser and the Czar initially made strenuous efforts to
contain the crisis, but once it became clear mobilisation could not
be stopped, the Kaiser's position hardened significantly. France
and Germany mobilised simultaneously. Within a week all major
powers had declared war. Fighting began on 4 August when German
troops crossed the Belgian frontier.
From today's perspective it would appear that in 1914 all European
nations were developing into modern, progressive nations whose
social and political problems could be resolved through compromise
and legislation. Many, such as Karl
Kraus, a Viennese political commentator, warned about the
massive social upheavals the war would create.
Frederick Morton argues the assassination was the trigger for a
sociological phenomenon that had been brewing for decades, perhaps
since the French Revolution.
Beneath Europe's apparent prosperity lay a
population seething with discontent. With rising productivity many
European workers felt the fruits of their labors were unfairly
going to new capitalists and old aristocracy. People whose families
had lived off the land for generations felt their agrarian way of
life being threatened by industrialisation. Many seemed to share
the view that war would remove barriers between men and make them
brothers in arms. According to Morton, once it became clear that
war was imminent, many socialists and even pacifists abandoned
their antiwar stance and joined the conflict with enthusiasm. It
may be that the Great War was an event whose time had come whether
Franz Ferdinand had been killed or not.
Franz Ferdinand and his Castle of Artstetten were selected as a main motif for the Austrian 10
Castle of Artstetten commemorative coin, minted on 13 October
2004. The reverse shows the entrance to the crypt of the
Hohenberg family. There are two portraits to the left, showing
Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, Duchess of
- Accessed 22 May 2009.
- Katalog Land in Sicht!: Österreich auf weiter
Fahrt (Catalogue Land Ahoy!: Austria on the Seven
Seas). (in PDF and in German language) p.
8. Exhibition by the Austrian Mint, 17 August - 3 February 2006.
Münze Österreich (Austrian Mint). Accessed 22 May
- Beyer, Rick, The Greatest Stories Never Told, A&E
Television Networks / The History Channel, ISBN 0-06-001401-6. p.
- (ASIN B001L4NB5U)
- Johnson. p. 56
- Morton, p. 191.
- Morton, p. 136.