The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand
- Sarajevo – June 28th1914 -
“I seized the Archduke by the collar of his uniform, to stop his head from dropping forward and asked if he was in great pain. He answered me quite distinctly, ‘It’s nothing.’” These words, spoken by the dying Archduke, reported by Count Franz von Harrach, one of his bodyguards, riding on the running board of the car, must lay claim to be one of the greatest misrepresentations in history. His death was the spark that led to World War One and over 17 million military and civilian deaths, making it one of the deadliest conflicts in human history.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand had been visiting Bosnia, a province annexed by the Austria Hungarian Empire. He was with his wife, Sophie, herself a member of the Czech aristocracy. They had been staying just outside Sarajevo for 3 days and had already visited the city to do some shopping. Sophie had been allowed by the Austrian Emperor, Franz Joseph, to accompany her husband on an official trip for the first time as she was considered of too low rank to be seen with him. She had been the lady-in-waiting to Archduchess Isabella, whose sister Franz was expected to marry. Their children had already been excluded from the succession. Although she had been made Duchess of Hohenberg she was still expected to enter all functions last.
The 28thJune was their wedding anniversary. It was also Serbia’s national day. There were many Serbians in Bosnia and they wanted to join with the rest of Serbia in being independent from the vast Austro-Hungarian Empire. Having arrived at 9:28am they were taken by car to the town hall where the Mayor would meet them. The local newspaper had published details of the route the day before and 7 Bosnian Serbs had planned to assassinate them by throwing bombs at the car. They had received their guns and bombs from the Black Hand, a gang of well known Serbian terrorists. As they toured in an open top Phaeton car down Appel Quay, the first assassin, Nedjelko Cabrinovic, threw his bomb but missed, hitting the support car behind. The main car roared off and Gavrilo Princip, another of the assassins felt it was moving too fast for him to hit the Archduke with his .22 Browning pistol. Sophie was also in his way and he had felt sorry for her, he later claimed. When they arrived at the town hall the Mayor started to greet them but was interrupted by Ferdinand who said, “I come her as your guest and you greet me with bombs!” The Mayor finished his speech and the Archduke praised the crowd for their cheering. However the rest of the visit, including a visit to the museum, was cancelled and the route back was changed.
Unfortunately no one had informed the driver of the new instructions and he turned down Franz Joseph street, part of the original route. He was quickly told of his error and stopped in order to turn the vehicle round. The car had no reverse gear and had to be pushed. The stopping point had come just opposite a surprised Princip. He fired a shot at the Archduke and hit him in the neck. There was then a struggle during which he tried to hit the Governor of Bosnia, Potiorek, but missed and hit Sophie, killing her instantly. Franz Ferdinand was rushed to hospital but had died by 11.30am from bleeding.
Gavrilo Princip was arrested. He had tried to swallow a cyanide pill but it was too old to have any effect. He had volunteered for the role as he was dying from tuberculosis and would die anyway. At 19 years old he was too young to face the death penalty and was imprisoned for life, dying from his illness 4 years later.
Franz Ferdinand and Sophie left 3 children; Sophie (1901-1990), Maximilian (1902-1962) and Ernst (1904-1954). Sophie grew up to be a beautiful woman. In the world of fiction she lived on in the film of Young Indiana Jones as his love interest. In one event Indiana’s life was saved when a bullet hit a locket in which her picture was stored. Later on the two sons were both taken to the concentration camp, Dachau, in World War 2, but, unlike many, both managed to survive.
The Austro-Hungarians saw this as a deliberate act by the Serbians, helped by the Bosnian terrorists, and made 10 unrealistic demands on them, knowing that they could and would not be accepted. They wanted war. These were quickly rejected. Russia mobilised her army in readiness to protect her ally Serbia and keep their influence in the Balkans. Austria-Hungary then declared war on Serbia on 28thJuly. On 1stAugust the Germans declared war on Russia to help their friends and following on from this France mobilised to help their ally Russia. As a result of this Germany declared war on France on 3rdAugust and Britain declared war on Germany on the 4th. World War One was born.