Profile: Franz Ferdinand

 Franz Ferdinand (18 December 1863-28 June 1914). Photograph: Universal History Archive/Getty Images

Franz Ferdinand (18 December 1863-28 June 1914). Photograph: Universal History Archive/Getty Images


The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in June 1914, ensured his name has been enshrined in the annals of European history. But the archduke himself was not a particularly popular figure in the years preceding his death.

Born in Graz in 1863, he was the son of Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria, and nephew of Emperor Franz Joseph, the head of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Franz Ferdinand became heir-apparent to the Austro-Hungarian crown after the emperor’s only son Crown Prince Rudolf committed suicide in his hunting lodge at January 1889.

Rudolph’s death had devastated the monarch and it was seven years after his death that the emperor finally appointed Archduke Franz Ferdinand as his successor , following the death of Franz Ferdinand’s own father.

The archduke’s marriage to Sophie Chotek, Duchess of Hohenberg, who died by his side in Sarajevo, was a constant source of tension at court. Despite her royal lineage, Emperor Franz Joseph strongly disapproved of the match. The archduke finally married the countess in July 1900 but she was forbidden to partake in many of the royal events and dinners, and the archduke signed an oath ensuring that any children born of the couple would not succeed to the Habsburg throne.

Sophie’s exclusion from royal life may be one of the reasons why she and her husband took so many security liberties on the fateful day in Sarajevo, as the visit – which coincided with their wedding anniversary – was one of the few time she was permitted to ride in the royal carriage in public.

Despite his reputation as a difficult character, the heir apparent made his mark on Viennese politics, particularly after his appointment as inspector-general of the army in 1906. Like many Austrian noblemen, Franz Ferdinand had trained in the army, becoming a major general in 1896.He, and his uncle the emperor, had a fractious relationship with General Conrad von Hötzendorf, the Austrian chief of Staff, who took a strongly interventionist view of Austrian foreign policy. Ironically, the untimely death of Franz Ferdinand, who himself saw the role of the army primarily in terms of defence rather than intervention, paved the way for Conrad to pursue military action against Serbia following the Sarajevo assassination.

Franz Ferdinand travelled to Sarajevo on June 28th, 1914, following an invitation from the Governor of Bosnia- Herzegovina, then an Austrian province, to inspect the troops. He and his wife were shot at point-black range by a Bosnian-Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip as they travelled through the streets of the Bosnian capital, having survived an earlier assassination attempt by an accomplice of Princip less than an hour earlier. Both died within minutes, leaving three children behind. The assassination triggered the series of events which sparked the beginning of the first World War, with hostilities commencing 37 days later.

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