Archduke Franz Ferdinand Karl Ludwig Joseph Maria von Habsburg-d'Este

The heir to the Habsburg throne, whose assassination on June 28, 1914 set off the diplomatic crisis which became World War I. In life, the Archduke espoused radical reforms to the complicated structure of the Monarchy and had shocked the dynasty with his marriage to a Czech countess.

Franz Ferdinand was born in 1863 in the Austrian city of Graz, the eldest son of Emperor Franz Josef who had come to power as a young man in 1848. In 1888, he met his future wife Sophie Chotek at a dance in Prague, when she was lady in waiting to Archduchess Isabella.

For Want Of A Glass Slipper...

Although a countess, Sophie was still the social inferior of the Habsburgs, who were expected only to marry members of other royal houses. Franz Ferdinand began to assiduously visit Isabella and her husband, who assumed he had his sights set on their own daughter Marie Christine.

Isabella discovered her error when she opened a gold watch that the Archduke had thoughtlessly left lying around on their tennis court and found a photograph of Sophie instead of the anticipated likeness of Marie Christine. Isabella dismissed Sophie from her service at once, and her husband Friedrich, the senior Archduke, ensured that the rest of the family did not attend Franz Ferdinand's wedding in 1900.

The disapproving family insisted that the marriage was morganatic, so that the couple's children could not inherit the throne. Although Franz Josef softened somewhat and revived a long-defunct title for Sophie, naming her Princess of Hohenberg, royal protocol still separated her from her husband at official functions and many of the Habsburgs remained hostile to her until her death.

All the same, Franz Ferdinand himself was not prevented from helping to run the country, and became an Inspector of the Army in 1903. What he saw when he observed amphibious exercises on the Dalmatian coast convinced him that the Austro-Hungarian army was in dire need of reform, and he convinced Franz Josef to sack his chief of staff in favour of one of his own associates, General Conrad von Hotzendorff.

Franz Ferdinand The Federalist

Franz Ferdinand's circle also espoused various projects to reform the monarchy, which then took the form of a federation between Austria and Hungary. Only the army, diplomacy and taxation were directed by central government, but the terms of the arrangement, known as the Ausgleich, which had been worked out in 1867 allowed the stronger partner to exert undue influence on the affairs of the Monarchy as a whole when its financial provisions were re-negotiated every ten years.

At first, the Archduke seemed to favour trialism, which would create a third unit from the Monarchy's South Slav lands, a policy that understandably appealed to the right-wing Croat nationalist Josip Frank. Later, he believed that the entire Monarchy should be reorganised into a federation, cutting across historical boundaries, and with a strong central government in Vienna.

Either strategy would bring him into conflict with the Magyar elite in Hungary, who guarded their privileges jealously. The Magyars duly took against the man who would one day be their King, and the feeling was undoubtedly mutual: Franz Ferdinand and Conrad appear even to have had a worst case scenario up their sleeve in which the Imperial and Royal Army would march on Budapest, take over Hungary and divide it into the five envisaged regions.

In June 1914, Franz Ferdinand and his wife were invited by General Oskar Potiorek to watch military manoeuvres taking place in Bosnia and Hercegovina, which the Monarchy had taken over in 1878 and formally annexed in 1908, requiring some nifty brinkmanship with Russia.

As well as extricating the couple from Viennese formalities and allowing them to travel together, the walkabout was supposed to shore up support for the dynasty in the newly acquired provinces, where South Slavs - many Croats as well as Serbs - looked sympathetically towards Serbia to liberate them from the Monarchy, described by nationalists of all persuasions as a prison of peoples.

The Serbian threat was a new one to Austria-Hungary, which had kept her as a compliant satellite until a bloody palace coup in 1903 had re-installed the Karađorđević dynasty, far less sympathetic to the Habsburgs. After Serbia had doubled her size in the Balkan Wars in 1912 and 1913, she became an even more attractive alternative, a prospect of which Conrad was especially aware: his war plans against Serbia had become almost an annual event, replaced from time to time with potential offensives against the traditional enemy Italy.

June 28, 1914

The couple visited Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, coinciding with the Serbian national day of Vidovdan which commemmorated the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. A band of Bosnian Serb students, members of the pan-Serb group Mlada Bosna, had been assisted by the Black Hand, a network of conspiratorial Serbian officers led by Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijević, had stationed themselves along the Miljacka river to bomb the archducal motorcade.

The bomb, thrown by Nedjeljko Čabrinović, in fact missed the couple - it may even have glanced off the Archduke's arm - but slightly injured a colonel in the car behind. Understanding his mistake, Čabrinović swallowed the cyanide with which he had been supplied and dived into the Miljacka, but the poison failed to act and loyal Sarajevans dragged him out and had him arrested.

Franz Ferdinand proceeded to his official reception unharmed, but insisted on visiting the colonel before he left Sarajevo, requiring another outing for the motorcade which took a wrong turn on the way to the hospital and drove, this time, past Čabrinović's comrade Gavrilo Princip, whose several shots hit Franz Ferdinand in the neck and Sophie in the stomach. Before losing consciousness, the Archduke is supposed to have implored Sophie to 'Stay alive for the children!'.

The two coffins were returned to Vienna, drawing curious crowds all the way. Nonetheless, the Court Chamberlain, Prince Alfred Montenuovo, one of many courtiers who had taken against Sophie, organised as low-key a funeral as he could get away with, to the annoyance of Viennese diplomats at the Ballhausplatz who would have liked as many foreign royals as possible invited to the service. Eight decades later, the House of Windsor could have shown them a thing or two.

Sophie's lower birth dictated that her coffin had to be placed at a lower level to Franz Ferdinand's in the Hofburg chapel, and only diplomats and her children were allowed to place flowers on it. Neither were they allowed to be buried with the Archduke's forebears in the Capuchin Church, but had to be quickly transferred to the parish church at Artstetten: Franz Josef had even had to put his foot down over a suggestion that the couple should be laid to rest in separate places of burial.

As the bodies were transported through Vienna, a number of nobles and army oficers - led by Karl, the Archduke's brother and now the heir apparent - defied the diktats of protocol to give the coffins a final guard of honour.

Conspiracy Theories

Almost from the moment the Archduke died, a multitude of conspiracy theories have circulated concerning who might have ordered his death and why. The official Austro-Hungarian line, which became the Vienna hawks' pretext for war against Serbia, was that the assassination had occurred with the full knowledge of the Serbian prime minister Nikola Pašić and that Black Hand connections reached to the highest level.

In fact, Pašić was very unlikely to have been a Black Hand member; his disagreements with them had plagued Serbian politics throughout 1914. On the other hand, the cabinet probably knew that the plot existed, and the Serbian ambassador to Vienna, Jovan Jovanović, had issued an extremely vague warning to the Habsburg authorities in early June.

The English journalist Henry Wickham Steed, on the other hand, blamed General Potiorek and the army for not providing the couple with sufficient security for their procession, even wondering whether Sophie's antagonistic in-laws had had a hand in the decision.

In articles he wrote during World War I, when he was agitating for Austria-Hungary to be broken up, Steed further alleged that the assassination was related to the Archduke's conversation with Kaiser Wilhelm II at Konopišt two days before he died; perhaps, Steed suggested, they had agreed a plan in which Franz Ferdinand would rule Hungary, Bohemia and parts of Poland under an extended German Empire.

The outrage provided Conrad and his supporters with the perfect opportunity to start the war to crush Serbia. Economic sanctions applied in the previous decade and defensive diplomacy during the Balkan Wars had only enriched Serbia in the end; in contrast, the threat of military action had made Montenegro back down from occupying the port of Scutari in June 1913.

Waverers such as Leopold von Berchtold, the Foreign Minister and another friend of the Archduke's, also became convinced after Franz Ferdinand had been killed, and the Hungarian premier István Tisza stood alone among major politicians that July in opposing any action that might lead to the inclusion of more disruptive Slavs in his half of the Monarchy.

Read more:
Arthur J. May, The Passing of the Habsburg Monarchy
Henry Wickham Steed, Through Thirty Years
Samuel J. Williamson Jr., Austria-Hungary and the Origins of the First World War, if you still can't get enough of Viennese diplomacy...

Pseudo_Intellectual says: I have heard (but not seen here) that his gun wounds would have been easily treatable if they were more accessible to doctors, but as he had been sewn into his clothing to ensure a fashionable fit they were unable to reach the wounds in time.

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