10 Facts About Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Gabrielle Kramer

4 mins

28 Jun 2018

The causes of World War One are the subject of much debate. But every discussion on the topic undoubtedly includes one incident: the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

A member of the Habsburg family, Franz Ferdinand was the heir presumptive of the Austro-Hungarian Empire when he was killed on 28 June 1914 in Sarajevo. Here are 10 facts about him.

1. He began his military career aged just 12

It was standard for young Habsburg men to have military careers. Franz began his at the age of 12 when he entered the Austro-Hungarian Army. After becoming a major general in 1894, he was then appointed an admiral of the Austro-Hungarian Navy in 1902 and made inspector general of the Armed Forces in 1913.

It was this latter role that brought him to Bosnia in June 1914.

2. He came from an old European family

The Habsburg family originated in modern-day Switzerland. The earliest known ancestor of the Habsburgs is Guntram the Rich, who lived during the 10th century.

At the time of Franz Ferdinand, the Habsburgs were rulers of Austria-Hungary, the Holy Roman Empire, Spain and Mexico. And Franz was not the only one of his contemporaries to be assassinated: Empress Elizabeth of Austria-Hungary and Emperor Maximilian of Mexico were also killed.

3. He married for love

Sophie was not considered suitable to be a Habsburg bride.

Franz fell in love with Countess Sophie Chotek, a Czech noblewoman who was the lady-in-waiting to Archduchess Isabella. But the couple were not allowed to marry initially because of Sophie’s family; a proper Habsburg bride would be from a reigning – or formerly reigning – aristocratic European family, and Sophie wasn’t.

Upon learning of the relationship, the Austro-Hungarian emperor, Franz Joseph, refused to give his permission for the marriage. Franz and Sophie were eventually allowed to marry on 1 July 1900 but only after giving up their children’s rights to the throne.

The couple had three children: Sophie, Maximilian and Ernst.

4. He was not the original heir presumptive

Franz Ferdinand was only the nephew of Emperor Franz Joseph. But when Franz Ferdinand’s cousin Crown Prince Rudolf committed suicide in 1889, his father, Karl Ludwig, became heir to the empire. And when Karl died of typhoid fever in 1896, Franz was seen as next in line.

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5. He did not get along with his uncle

The two Franz’s did not agree on much. Tensions likely began with Franz Ferdinand’s marriage to Sophie, but their relationship became further strained when Franz Ferdinand proposed political reforms unpopular with his uncle and the court.

6. He wanted to restructure the empire

Once emperor, Franz intended to create a triple monarchy consisting of the Slavs, the Germans and the Magyars. This would give Slavs a voice in government which upset the political elite.

His second plan for reform was to create a federal government comprised of 16 states.

7. His assassination wasn’t entirely unexpected

Dr Leon von Bilinski. the Austrian minister of finance, had been warned of a plot to assassinate Franz by the Prime Minister of Serbia, Nikola Pašić. But no one took the warning seriously.

8. He was assassinated by a terrorist

Radical Yugoslavist and Pan-Serb nationalism were spreading throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina during the early 20th century. The Austro-Hungarian Empire had annexed the region from the Ottoman Empire in 1908 but many living there wanted independence.

One group calling for an end to Austro-Hungarian rule in Bosnia and Herzegovina was Youth Bosnia and it was a member of this group, Gavrilo Princip, who killed Franz Ferdinand and Sophie on 28 June 1914. When Princip and his accomplices were arrested they also implicated a secret Serbian military society called “Unification or Death”.

Popularly known as the “Black Hand”, this group was formed in 1911 by members of the Serbian army who wanted to unite all territories with a South Slavic majority that were not ruled by Serbia or Montenegro.

9. Two attempts to assassinate Franz were made on 28 June 1914

During the first attempt, one of Princip’s accomplices, a man named Nedeljko Čabrinović, threw a hand grenade at the archduke’s car. But the grenade bounced off the car and fell under the vehicle behind, injuring those inside.

After this first assassination attempt failed, plans were changed – both for the archduke and his assassins.

Instead of visiting a museum as scheduled, Franz decided to visit those injured in the first assassination attempt in hospital. But during the trip his driver took a wrong turn and the car had to be stopped and pushed back.

Princip, a 19-year-old student from Belgrade, happened to be sat at a cafe close to where the archduke’s car had taken a wrong turn.

Seeing his chance to kill Franz, he drew his pistol and fired two shots, hitting Sophie in the abdomen and Franz in the neck. He had intended to commit suicide following the assassination but was arrested and later sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Franz’s assassin served little of his sentence, however, dying of an illness just four years later.

10. His assassination was the catalyst for World War One

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Following Franz Ferdinand’s assassination, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. In turn, Russia, as Serbia’s ally, declared war against Austria-Hungary. Germany joined alongside Austria-Hungary to put pressure on Russia.

Then, Germany declared war against France before invading Belgium in early August, bringing Britain into the war to defend Belgium. The incident was clearly a catalyst for a war that, on the surface at least, seemed inevitable.