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99 Years Ago Today: The Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and His Wife

On June 28th, 1914, the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire, fifty-year old Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated in Sarajevo by a 19-year-old Bosnian-Serb nationalist. The assassination began an at first slow-moving diplomatic crisis which would result a month later, July 28th, in Austria-Hungary declaring war on Serbia.

The assassination plot itself was so badly botched that its success is one of the surprising events of history. A group of Bosnian-Serb nationalists (half of them teenagers) — who wanted Bosnia-Herzegovina to be independent from Austria-Hungary and integrated into a pan-Slavic state — had received bombs, pistols and cyanide pills from officers in the Serbian army sympathetic to their cause. They planned an assassination attempt against the Archduke and his wife and stationed themselves along the route which their open car would travel through the city. Several of the assassins failed to make any move when the car passed and another threw a bomb at the car, however the bomb bounced off the folded convertible hood, fell behind the car, and exploded, disabling the next car in the motorcade and injuring a number of bystanders. The assassin who had thrown the bomb bit a cyanide capsule and jumped off a bridge, but the cyanide only made him sick and the fall wasn’t far and the river nearly dry, so he was quickly arrest by police (though not before members of the angry crowd beat him.)

Determined to show they were undaunted by the failed attack, Archduke Ferdinand and Sophie performed their visit to the city hall, where they were formally greeted by the major and the Archduke made a brief speech in which he mentioned the attack but thanked the people of Sarajevo for their supportive response to him.

The Archduke and his wife then decided to visit those wounded in the attack and got back into their motorcade to proceed to the hospital. The motorcade took a wrong turn, and one of the would-be-assassins, Gavrilo Princip, (who had repaired to a delicatessen when the assassination attempt failed) stepped out into the street and saw the Archduke’s car, which had taken a wrong turn, gone to reverse, and then stalled. Princip rushed the car and fired two shots at a distance of five feet, one of which pierced Franz Ferdinand’s jugular vein and the other of which wounded Sophie in the stomach. Both were dead by the time the car reached the governor’s residence where they were rushed for medical treatment. Franz Ferdinand’s last words were, “Sophie, Sophie! Don’t die! Live for our children!”

When Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, Russia mobilized its armies to potentially intervene in protection of Serbia. Germany demanded the Russia cease mobilizing, and when it failed to do so declared war on Russia on August 1st and France and Belgium on August 3nd. Thus began the First World War.

Princip was spared the death penalty because he was a month short of the legal age of 20 at the time of the assassination. He was sentenced to twenty years in prison, but died of illness in 1918.

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DarwinCatholic

Now an Ohio Catholic!

22 Comments

  1. As Bismarck predicted, when the great European war came it was over “some damned foolish thing in the Balkans”. Ironically Franz Ferdinand had always believed in a cautious approach to Serbia, fearing that harsh action against the Serbs would lead to war with Russia and the ruin of both empires.

  2. Both sons of the Archduke were sent to concentration camps during WWII. Their behavior was exemplary.

  3. How beautiful and noble is the family of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

    Ironically, the Emperor was staunchly opposed to the marriage of his heir and a virtual commoner, despite the depth of their devotion, and only relented after international pressure on condition that the marriage would be morganatic and that their descendants would not have succession rights to the throne. Sophie would not share her husband’s rank, title, precedence, or privileges; as such, she would not normally appear in public beside him…[and]… not be allowed to ride in the royal carriage or sit in the royal box in theaters”

    Ironically Franz Ferdinand had always believed in a cautious approach to Serbia…

    The same Serbian military clique tried unsuccessfully to assassinate the Emperor three years earlier. The Archduke was their Plan B. op cit

  4. There was more than enough blame to go around between Austria and Serbia. Field Marshal Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, Chief of Staff for the Austrian Army, had been calling for years for preventive war against Serbia. Idiots, and I mean that descriptively and not pejoratively, in positions of authority in both Serbia and Austria, merrily lit fuses against each for a very long time before they finally got their war and took most of Europe over the cliff with them.

  5. In a course back in college, a professor traced the decline of Christianity in the West to WWI. If I still have my notes – one never know what odds and ends can be found inthe filing cabinets around this place – I’ll sketch it out the way he did.

    If memory serves, he explored the losses of life, particularly men, in Europe during the War, connected it to the number of fatherless children after the war, and the vaccuum this created for socialism and communism.

  6. Everyone wanted war in 1914

    1. Ever since the Congress of Berlin in 1878, Austria and Germany had been determined to prevent Russian expansion in the Balkans.
    2. Austria knew that, if she allowed herself to be humiliated by Serbia, she could not keep control of her minorities.
    3. Germany saw war with Russia as inevitable and wanted it before Russia completed her rail network and gained the ability to mobilise reserves quickly.
    4. With her prestige already damaged by her defeat in the Russo-Japanese War, Russia knew if she allowed her ally, Serbia, to be humiliated, she could well face revolt in her Western provinces, particularly Poland and the Baltic states, from which the bulk of her tax revenue was derived.
    5. With her stagnant birth-rate and Germany’s growing one, France knew she could not wait another generation, if she were ever to recover the lost provinces of Alsace and Lorraine and avenge the defeat of 1870.
    6. Italy wanted to incorporate Austria’s Italian provinces (Italia Irredenta).
    7. Tirpitz’s naval expansion and the consequent arms race with Germany was ruinously expensive for Britain.

  7. Great post Darwin Catholic and excellent comments everyone. It is interesting to note as David points out that the Left saw the carnage as an opportunity (where have we recently heard those words–using crisis as an opportunity before) to push their Big Government anti -God system playing to the heartstrings of the suffering masses. The Church was viewed as too institutional by some and Modernism was already creeping into many seminaries (just as many pontiffs had warned.) What followed was the faithful looking to recent holy figures like St Therese of Lisieux and the mystical as in Fatima and numerous other apparitions (some approved by the Church, some not) to ease their sorrow.

  8. I have always tried to discern God’s will during the First World War. Here are some of my theories:

    1. After the war, Germany, Austria and Russia ceased being monarchies, so the war was an indictment of Europe’s crowned heads.
    2. Since Napoleon’s time, France and Germany had been on each other’s throats – Prussia became resentful at France because of the Napoleonic wars, the Franco-Prussian War was Bismarck’s revenge on France, and the First World War was France’s revenge on Germany. So the First World War was punishment for France and Germany’s hard-heartedness. (But even then, the cycle of violence would not end, as the Nazis intended the Second World War to be their revenge on France. Maybe Versailles really isn’t an auspicious place for signing treaties.)
    3. The war was punishment for every nation’s greed.

  9. There was more than enough blame to go around between Austria and Serbia.

    True, but then again, regicide instigated by the ruling circles of a neighboring power ups the ante by an order of magnitude, when it comes to the matter of blame games.

    Admittedly, the Serbian crown was not pleased with the assassination, and took measures to reign in the perpetrators, but without success. The history of Serbia and Royalist Yugoslavia is rife with examples of the crown being unable to control the crazy radicals in its midst (or else, getting deposed or assassinated themselves).

    Apparently, enduring and then ending centuries of Ottoman/Muslim occupation leaves deep scarring and trauma in a nation (assuming those scars were not there to begin with), as the Sicilians and Armenians have also learned. Come to think of it, the Irish (and a few people within America’s own borders) might have similar tales to tell.

  10. How much of a “world” war was it, though? Europe usually has a major war twice a century, during which non-Europeans (particularly the Turks) take whatever advantages come their way. I’ve always thought that the Napoleanic Wars were the world’s first worldwide war, with the War of 1812 and Latin American independence being being part of the whole. I don’t see WWI as having a bigger scope than that – although there are theatres I don’t know much about. It definitely wasn’t as big as World War Two.

  11. A lot of fighting in Africa, and the Middle East. Minor fighting in Asia. America sending millions of troops across the Atlantic. Clearly a world war but not as much of a world war as World War II. I would give the title of World War to the Napoleonic wars, the Seven Years War, the War of the Austrian Succession and the mammoth War of the Spanish Succession where Corporal John demonstrated a rare combination of superb military and diplomatic skills.

  12. very interesting post. Some interesting semi- questions occur to me– I say semi-questions because they are not really formed but just related ideas.
    about national-ism and what that actually means compared with national self responsibility, national interest. Also local control, one world government, Christendom

  13. World War 1 saw the end of the Age of Empire in Europe. The empires were doomed regardless of present day Catholic admiration for the Habsburgs.

    Prussia, Austria and Russia carved up Poland in the late 18th century and the Polish people revolted several times. The Poles were not the only people tired of the empires.

    I submit that the decline in Christianity in Europe began with the Protestant Reformation. the French Revolution advanced that decline and WWI added to it.

    As France was terribly wrecked by WW1, and they demanded reparations that Germany could not repay, all of the groundwork was laid for WWII. Germany assisted Lenin in getting Russia out of the war. I could go on, but it’s getting late and tomorrow is Monday.

  14. Anzlyne

    The fall of the Ottoman Empire saw an Arab revolt against Turkish rule and a Turkish repudiation of Arab influence, (including the adoption of the Roman alphabet and of the Swiss Civil Code and the Italian Penal Code). In other words, national identity on both sides trumped religious identity, as witness the abolition of the Caliphate.

    Again, the fall of the Dual Monarchy saw a great revival of Pan-Germanism in its German-speaking regions. The Balkans, too, were, well, Balkanized

  15. One way to look at Chistendom is as a fantasy of sorts, a necessary fairytale.

    Martin Luther ushered in a formal rebellion against authority already well underway. Christendom was already fracturing and, perhaps a better way to think of it, was always fractured. It was the external threat of rising Islam in Iberia and in the Balkans that made the idea of Christendom necessary. Once Europe was exhausted of the Crusades and successful in uniting Spain under a Christian monarch, her attention turned inward and outward, away from Islam.

    Christendom turned inward politically and outward, beyond North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia Minor. Without the external threat, nationalism replaced a general sense of Christianity as the binding force for society and the legitimate authority for the Church in Civil Society. Rebellion against Church authority grew, both within and outside of the Church.

    Reformation and war were the natural consequences. These, in turn, drove nationalism and the establishment of stronger and stronger centralized national governments. That drove war, which drove nationalism, which drove stronger centralized government, and on, and on.

    Lost in the conversation were the many millions of poor, impressed to fight on the one side, taxed into oblivion, most landless, most illiterate, with little prospect for advancement… Fertile ground for new ideas that would elevate their condition to reclaim something of the dignity enshrined in the magnificent palaces built all about them.

    The Church was politically weakened and only a shadow of the civil society authority that she had been. She was driven inward and wisely turned to theology to heal herself. The Counter-Reformation entirely re-cast Christianity as an individual conversation with God through the Body of Christ. The ideas had been perculating for hundreds of years but the Chruch gave them voice. Those ideas were, in turn, applied to the political sphere through Protestant philosophers, leading to 18th Century revolutions in Europe and the rise of Communism.

    Boney was the last hurrah, not og Monarchy-as-such, but og strong, centralized authority focussed outward. Napoleon completed the turn of civil society in on itself, the concerns of others being their concerns alone. Tyranny from an external force became a relic, one that should be resisted by the common man. Thus, the explosion of war in 1917, was entirely different, precisely because it was the common man fighting the common man for an ideology that was personal and seemingly clear.

    In that sense, it was the first World War, not because of where it was fought or by which combatents but because it was individualized across all strata of society, everywhere in Europe. Thus, the destruction it wrought was individualized too, personalized, if you will, ushering in the ages we have now.

    We live in a time of Man abandoning formal social structure because it has failed us, generation after generation. Each articulation seemd to present an answer, only to fail. Thing is, Man is a social animal and, try as we might, we can never be ourselves alone. A new articulation will emerge but, until it does, chaos must reign.

    The Church will articulate the next structure under which Man lives. The question is whether She will be articulating a structure established by others or will establish the structure by articulating it.

  16. David Spaulding

    The all-important fracture was not the Reformation, but the Great Schism. The emergence of Russia as the great Orthodox power and the natural guardian and protector of the Orthodox Slavs, convinced both Britain and France of the need to shore up, at all hazards, the decaying Ottoman power. For more than half a century before 1914, the great fear had been a Russian occupation of Constantinople and the emergence of Russian client states in the Balkans. This was also the reason for the protectorate in Egypt and the Sudan.

    Britain, in particular, anxious about her sea-route to India had actually welcomed the growing power of Prussia as a bastion against the Slav, only to realise, almost too late, that they had backed the wrong horse.

    Hence, too, the need to establish British and French spheres of influence in the Middle East after the collapse of the Ottoman power

  17. I think David’s right, in a way. Christendom was an ideal. Compared to what’s followed it, it was a pretty good ideal. It was a norm – remember those? like faithful hetero marriage? – that people didn’t necessarily achieve, but everyone looked to with an understanding that we should try to attain it.

    It’s a truism that the strongest argument against monarchy is the actual guy who becomes king. The great states of Christendom, France, the Holy Roman Empire, Venice, et cetera, were always a poisoned beverage away from having a lousy ruler. Along with internal struggles, there was always competition between the states, and rivalry between the state and the Church. Or between the Church thinking it was a state and a state thinking it was the Church. And the heresies – Luther’s was bigger than most, but the Church was constantly in battle against them.

    World War I marked the end of the powerful monarchs, but not the end of the internally and externally powerful ruler. There’s very little about Castro and Stalin that couldn’t be found in the average caliph or inbred royal.

  18. Pinky

    It is worth recalling Pascal’s defence of monarchy: “The most unreasonable things in the world become most reasonable, because of the unruliness of men. What is less reasonable than to choose the eldest son of a queen to rule a State? We do not choose as captain of a ship the passenger who is of the best family.

    This law would be absurd and unjust; but, because men are so themselves and always will be so, it becomes reasonable and just. For whom will men choose, as the most virtuous and able? We at once come to blows, as each claims to be the most virtuous and able. Let us then attach this quality to something indisputable. This is the king’s eldest son. That is clear, and there is no dispute. Reason can do no better, for civil war is the greatest of evils.”

  19. The twists and turns od these discussions makes The American Catholic enjoyable.

    I never heard a defense of monarchy before. What an interesting idea.

  20. “-national identity on both sides trumped religious identity-” seems like that would be true every time. it worked so well for Henry VIII.
    Although I would like to think religious sense precedes the geo political urge of a people, when National identity is formed around shared family/tribe/ and shared land or place It seems religion always gets subsumed into the state–

  21. Even with the caesar/pope idea eventually the Caesar wins. Didn’t that Schism have more to do with cultural identity than actually with dogma- and having a very real shared outside enemy was not enough to heal that fracture-

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