Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and the Assassination that Caused a War

Archduke Franz Ferdinand Car Ludwig Joseph Maria was the heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne from 1896 until his assassination in 1914 in Sarajevo. When he was assassinated, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, starting World War I.



On December 18, 1863, Franz Ferdinand was born to Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria and Princess Maria Annunciata of Bourbon-Two Sicilies, his second wife, in Graz, Austria. When he was eleven, his cousin Duke Francis V of Modena died in 1875 and Franz Ferdinand was therefore made his heir. The only condition was that he added the name Este onto his. In 1871, his mother died. He had two brothers (Archduke Otto Franz of Austria and Archduke Ferdinand Karl of Austria) and a sister (Archduchess Margarete Sophie of Austria). When his father remarried Infanta Maria Theresa of Portugal, she had two daughters with him, (Archduchess Maria Annunziata of Austria and Archduchess Elisabeth Amalie of Austria).

Franz Ferdinand’s life changed even more in 1889 when his cousin Crown Prince Rudolf committed suicide while in Mayerling staying at his hunting lodge and his father Karl Ludwig was made first in line to the throne. In 1896, Karl Ludwig died of typhoid fever and Franz Ferdinand became the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne.

In 1894, Franz Ferdinand first met his future wife Countess Sophie Chotek as the two were attending a ball in Prague. However to marry into the House of Habsburg, you were required to be a member of a current or former reigning European house, and Sophie was not royalty, though many of their ancestors had been royalty, including Albert IV, Count of Habsburg. Sophie was also Archduchess Isabella’s lady-in-waiting. Franz Ferdinand began visiting Isabella’s husband’s (Archduke Friedrich, Duke of Teschen) villa located in Pressburg, today’s Bratislava. The two wrote to each other often, but their relationship was kept secret.

Franz Ferdinand was so deeply in love with Sophie that he refused to marry anyone else. He was finally able to get Emperor Franz Joseph’s permission to wed Sophie in 1899 under the condition that the marriage was morganatic and any of Franz Ferdinand’s would have no rights to the throne. Sophie as well would not be given her husband’s title and did not normally appear with im in public nor would she be allowed in royal carriages or the royal boxes at the theater.

Franz Ferdinand with his wife Sophie and their three children from left to right, Prince Ernst von Hohenberg, Princess Sophie, and Maximilian, Duke of Hohenberg.

Franz Ferdinand with his wife Sophie and their three children from left to right, Prince Ernst von Hohenberg, Princess Sophie, and Maximilian, Duke of Hohenberg.

On July 1, 1900, Franz Ferdinand wed Sophie Chotek at Reichstadt, Bohemia, modern day Zákupy. The emperor did not attend the wedding and neither did any of the other archdukes, including Franz Ferdinand’s brothers. Princess Maria Theresa of Braganza, his stepmother, was the only royal present with her two daughters. Sophie was given the title of Princess of Hohenberg, styled as Her Serene Highness. Nine years later, her title was changed to the more senior one of Duchess of Hohenberg, styles as Her Highness. While this did raise her status, but she was considered lower than the other Archduchesses at court and still did not have many royal rights. She was always forced to stand at the end of the line and far from her husband when the family was required to assemble. Together they had three children who lived to adulthood, and one stillbirth in 1908. Princess Sophie of Hohenberg was born in 1901, followed by Maximilian, Duke of Hohenberg in 1902, and finally in 1904, Prince Ernst of Hohenberg.

The Archduke travelled often when he was not busy fulfilling his duties as heir to the throne. In 1892, he embarked on a trip around the world, visiting India and hunting kangaroos in Australia. From there he went to Nouméa, New Hebrides, New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Sarawak, Hong Kong, and Japan. He sailed on the RMS Empress of China to Vancouver, Canada from Yokohama, Japan then crossed the United States and made his way back home.

Sophie accompanied her husband to England in the fall of 1913. They spent a week at Windsor Castle in the company of George V and Queen Mary then went to Nottinghamshire to stay with the Duke of Portland.  The two men went shooting after a service at the local church on the Duke’s Welbeck estate.

Franz Ferdinand was a passionate trophy hunting. In his diaries, he recorded 300,000 game kills, 5,000 of them dear. At his castle in Bohemia, Knopiště, he kept 100,000 trophies on display.

At a young age, Franz Ferdinand followed in the footsteps of most males in the Habsburg line and joined the Austro-Hungarian Army. He was quickly promoted to a lieutenant at fourteen and at twenty-two, a captain. From there he was given the rank of colonel when he was twenty-seven, and finally a major general at thirty-one. The Archduke was never given formal staff training, though he was still considered eligible for command. He briefly led the Hungarian 9th Hussar Regiment at one point. He was very influential on the army and in 1907, his authority was reinforced when he was able to secure Friedrich von Beck-Rzikowsky, the Emperor’s confidant and Chief of the General Staff, to retire. Franz Ferdinand personally selected his successor, and chose Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf. In 1913, he was appointed inspector general of all of Austria-Hungary’s armed forces as the Emperor’s heir.

On the fateful day of June 28, 1914, Franz Ferdinand proceeded to to Sarajevo from Ilidža Spa and was met at Sarajevo with six automobiles. In the third car, rode Franz Ferdinand with his wife, Governor Potiorek, and Lieutenant Colonel Count Franz von Harrach.

Nedeljko Cabrinovic threw a grenade at them, but it went off once the car had passed, though those in the fourth car were harmed.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie shortly before they died. Source:

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie shortly before they died. Source:

Franz Ferdinand and Sophie spent a short while of time at the Governor’s residence then insisted on visiting the hospital to see all of those who had been injured in the bomb attack. As the cars were attempting to turn around, nineteen year old Gavrilo Princip saw his chance and shot Sophie in the abdomen then Franz Ferdinand in the neck. He fell onto his crying wife and lived to see witnesses trying to help them. The Archduke’s final words were to Sophie, saying, “Don’t die darling, live for our children.” before he died at the age of fifty. She died not long after her husband. The couple were interred in Austria at Artstetten Castle.

His assassination is one of many causes to the first World War. Other causes include the arms race, nationalism, imperialism, militarism, and the alliance system. A month after the death of Franz Ferdinand, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia and from there, the war started as Serbia’s allies declared war on its enemies.