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Franz Ferdinand (18 December 1863 – 28 June 1914) was an Archduke of Austria-Este, Austro-Hungarian and Royal Prince of Hungarymarker and of Bohemia, and from 1889 until his death, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne. His assassinationmarker in Sarajevomarker precipitated Austria-Hungary's declaration of war against Serbiamarker. This caused countries allied with Austria-Hungary (the Triple Alliance) and countries allied with Serbia (the Triple Entente Powers) to declare war on each other, starting World War I.

He was born in Grazmarker, Austria, the oldest son of Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria (younger brother of Franz Joseph and Maximilian) and of his second wife, Princess Maria Annunciata of Bourbon-Two Sicilies. When he was only twelve 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.

Heir presumptive

In 1889, Franz Ferdinand's life changed dramatically. His cousin Crown Prince Rudolf committed suicide at his hunting lodge in Mayerling, 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 Vancouvermarker.

Marriage and family

In 1895 Franz Ferdinand met Countess Sophie Chotek at a ball in Praguemarker. 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-Hechingenmarker, and Liechtensteinmarker. One of Sophie's direct ancestors was Count Albrecht IV of Habsburg; 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 lady-in-waiting to Archduchess Isabella, wife of Archduke Friedrich, Duke of Teschen. Franz Ferdinand began to visit Archduke Friedrich's villa in Pressburg (now Bratislavamarker). Sophie wrote to Franz Ferdinand during his convalescence from tuberculosis on the island of Lošinjmarker in the Adriaticmarker. 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 all made representations on his behalf to Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, arguing 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 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.

The wedding took place on 1 July 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, 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" (Ihre Hoheit). 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:

Political views

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 Croatiamarker and Bosniamarker, who had been left out of the Austro-Hungarian compromise of 1867. He also 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 Serbiamarker would bring Austria-Hungary into open conflict with Russia, to the ruin of both Empires.

Franz Ferdinand was a prominent and influential supporter of the Austro-Hungarian Navy in a 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 state aboard the SMS Viribus Unitis.


The Latin Bridge near the assassination site.
Franz Ferdinand's blood-stained uniform
Austria-Hungary commemorative postage stamp.
On Sunday, 28 June 1914, at approximately 1:15 pm, Franz Ferdinand and his wife were killed in Sarajevomarker, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian province of Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker, by Gavrilo Princip, 19 at the time, a member of Young Bosnia and one of a group of assassins organized by the Black Hand. 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 Sarajevo by Joachim Remak: 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 board).
Harrach drew out a handkerchief to still the gushing blood.
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.

Franz Ferdinand is interred with his wife Sophie in Artstetten Castlemarker, Austria.

The start of World War I

Viennamarker's initial 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 Belgrademarker 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.

Present-day commemorations

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his Castle of Artstettenmarker were selected as a main motif for the Austrian 10 euro The 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 Hohenberg.


  1. Accessed 22 May 2009.
  2. 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 2009.
  3. Beyer, Rick, The Greatest Stories Never Told, A&E Television Networks / The History Channel, ISBN 0-06-001401-6. p. 146-147
  4. (ASIN B001L4NB5U)
  5. Johnson. p. 56
  6. Morton, p. 191.
  7. Morton, p. 136.

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