On This Day: Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

  June 28, 2014 at 6:00 am by

Today marks the 100th anniversary of an assassination that changed the course of world history: the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. Political, ethnic and religious differences emanating out of a diverse Empire led to boiling tensions which came to a head in mid-1914.

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The Archduke was scheduled by Emperor Franz Joseph to visit military manoeuvres in Bosnia in June 1914, and Franz Ferdinand decided to include a visit to the capital, Sarajevo. He took with him his wife, the Duchess of Hohenberg, as they were due to celebrate their wedding anniversary shortly after. The couple arrived in the city in the morning of June 28 by train, before driving in an open-top motorcade to inspect military barracks and head into the city centre.

Before the motorcade could arrive at its destination, Nedeljko Čabrinović, a member of the Young Bosnia movement and one of six assassins arranged by the Serbian Bland Hand terrorist group, threw a grenade at the cars in an attempt to achieve the group’s objective of killing Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who stood out from the others in his sky-blue military uniform of a cavalry general with a helmet bearing green peacock feathers. However, the grenade exploded underneath the fourth car of the procession, the car behind the royal couple, injuring its occupants and several bystanders.

Franz Ferdinand and Sophie in Sarajevo

The driver of the royal car sped towards the town hall, where an official reception was due to take place, hosted by the Mayor of Sarajevo, Fehim Curčić. “I came here on a visit and I get bombs thrown at me. It is outrageous,”[1] the Archduke shouted at the Mayor. The rest of the official schedule – which had been pre-announced, including routes, thus giving the Young Bosnians exact locations as to where the Archduke would be and when – was abandoned, as Franz Ferdinand and Sophie decided to visit the wounded in hospital.

Miscommunication led to the driver of their car not being told of the change in plans, and he followed the original route that was meant to take the party to the national museum. He turned into Franz Joseph Street, before being told of the error and stopping the car to return to the main road. It was here that Gavrilo Princip, one of the assassination group, was miraculously given a prime opportunity.

Princip quickly drew his pistol and fired two shots at the car from a distance of about 1.5metres. One bullet hit Archduke Franz Ferdinand in the neck, the other Duchess Sophie in the abdomen. The driver, under the instruction of Governor Oskar Potiorek, immediately drove towards the Governor’s residence, all the while the Archduke was telling the Potiorek, “It is nothing,” when asked if he was injured. The Archduke begged his wife, “Sopherl! Sopherl! Sterbe nicht! Bleibe am Leben für unsere Kinder!” (“Sophie, Sophie! Don’t die! Stay alive for our children!”)[2], but she died from internally bleeding before the car could reach medical assistance.

An artistic depiction of the assassination

Franz Ferdinand died himself shortly after arriving at the Governor’s residence. The assassination plot had succeeded.

Stemming from their own inquiry into the assassination, the Austro-Hungarian government presented the Serbians with a list of demands as an ultimatum on July 23 – if the demands were not agreed to within 48 hours, war would be declared. And it was on July 28, sparking a chain of further war declarations as European alliances were brought to the forefront (Germany, Russia, France and the United Kingdom were all at war by early August). Europe was now involved in a war which would last four long years.

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand had severe and lasting consequences on Europe. To mark the hundredth anniversary of the Great War, a number of events of the war with a royal link will be highlighted by the TRF Blog.

[1] Origins of the War of 1914; Luigi Albertini (1953)

[2] Sarajevo: The Story of a Political Murder; Joachim Remak (1959)

Filed under Austria-Hungary, Historical Royals
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One Response to On This Day: Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

  1. Allen A. Baumann says:

    The Assassin was a Muslim, a member of the Black Hand, an anarchic secret organization funded by the Communists of Russia.
    Austria had just been provided, by treaty, Bosnia from the Ottoman Empire which had contested Bosnia and other surrounding countries. They were a remnant of the defeated Ottoman/Turk Empire but Russia opposed Austria being awarded them. England was staunchly for Austria having control as a way to stop the Russification of that area.
    The heir apparent had visited the other countries and even the Bosnians held the Archduke in high esteem. He and his morganic wife were on a ‘good will’ tour.
    France was aligned with Russia as a hedge against Germany.
    Austria learned of this and sought its German brothers’ help should war ensue.
    The Austrian Army Chief of Staff was a staunch Darwinian and was quick to take military action against the Slavic Bosnians believing in the superiority of the Germans.

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