1. Franz Ferdinand was born on December 18, 1863, the eldest son of Karl Ludwig of the House of Habsburg.
2. He was a nephew of Franz Josef I, the Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire since 1848.
3. The Habsburgs prided themselves on being ‘Good Habsburgs, Good Catholics and Good Austrians’ in that order. Nothing else mattered, and all decisions were made with that credo in mind.
4. Crown Prince Rudolf, Franz Josef’s eldest son and heir to the throne, committed suicide with his 17-year-old mistress at his Mayerling hunting lodge in 1889.
5. Karl Ludwig, Ferdinand’s father, became heir to the throne upon Rudolf’s death. In turn, he passed the rights to his eldest son, making Franz Ferdinand heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne.
6. Ferdinand was often very sick in his younger years, traveling extensively to warmer climates to look for remedies and cures for his somewhat mysterious illnesses.
7. As a result of his travels, Ferdinand spent little time in Vienna growing up, a city dominated by gossip and fashion and scandal. The city would show him no favors as he grew older.
8. He toured extensively throughout the United States in 1893, spanning from San Francisco to Niagara Falls.
9. Ferdinand instead preferred the outdoors, evidenced by his extensive collection of trophy castles and properties dotting the countryside throughout Eastern Europe.
10. He took great care and personal pride in the landscaping of his properties. He had an affinity for nature, and seldom allowed a tree to be cut down.
11. Ferdinand attended the second annual Chelsea Flower Show in London in May 1914, one month before his death.
12. But even with his fondness for the outdoors and his enjoyment of landscaping, interior design was another passion for Ferdinand.
13. He liked finding run down properties, those in need of extensive repair that would require a delicate touch.
14. They served as great museums for his extensive collection of antiques and fine arts, purchased from the antique houses of London, the bazaars of India and everywhere in between.
15. Ferdinand was considered one of the premier antique collectors of the time, regularly frequently bazaars in search of anything from rare watches to dining room tables.
16. He loved a great bargain, in spite of his enormous personal wealth that was of very few constraints. But with his bargaining came increased frugality, to the point that many considered him cheap.
17. Ferdinand had a provincial taste in art. While most of his contemporaries were obsessed with Klimt and the other Viennese artists of the early 1900s…
18. Ferdinand was taken with images and iconography of St. George and the Dragon.
19. He had over 3750 pieces of artwork and sculptures of St. George and the Dragon, scattered throughout his various properties.
20. The somewhat violent imagery of St. George and the Dragon reminded Ferdinand of his favorite endeavor: hunting.
21. Ferdinand was considered one of the better shots throughout Europe, frequently challenging sharpshooters to a game of their choice. More often than not, Ferdinand would come away victorious.
22. Whenever Ferdinand was asked to travel on behalf of the Empire (a rare occurrence), he would schedule at least one hunting trip as part of his official excursion.
23. He preferred using a Mannlicher rifle, as Mannlicher was the armsmaker that supplied most of the weaponry for the Austro-Hungarian armies in the early twentieth century.
24. No matter how big or small, Ferdinand recorded all of his kills in a notebook. It was rumored he killed 2140 birds in one day.
25. But there was only one thing that could keep him away from his hunting: his wife Sophie.
26. From a well-known yet less prestigious family, Sophie served as a lady-in-waiting for Lady Isabella, Duchess of Taschen.
27. When Franz Ferdinand began visiting more frequently in the late 1890s, most observers thought he was in pursuit of one of Lady Isabella’s daughters.
28. It wasn’t until a chambermaid found a locket near the tennis courts containing a picture of Sophie that Ferdinand’s true love had been revealed.
29. Upon learning of his nephew’s courting of a woman from a much lower social class, Emperor Franz Josef made it be known that he would not consent to a marriage.
30. But Ferdinand never relented, and the Emperor finally conceded to allow a ‘morganatic’ marriage. Sophie would never assume a full royal title and she would never travel in an official capacity. Their children would have no claims to the throne.
31. Ferdinand’s relationship with his uncle, while previously strained, was increasingly fraught after the terse negotiations regarding the marriage. Both hard-headed, they never fully reconciled.
32. Ferdinand and Sophie were married on June 28, 1900.
33. Ferdinand’s step-mother was the only member of the royal family in attendance.
34. The Belvedere Castle in Vienna became their official residence upon their marriage. Because of Ferdinand’s misgivings for the city, and its misgivings for him, they seldom stayed there.
35. Ferdinand and Sophie had three children: Sophie (the oldest), Maximilian (the middle child) and Ernst (the youngest).
36. With time, Ferdinand was given new titles, including Inspector General of the Army. It was a largely ceremonial role, but it allowed him to feel as if he were participating in the future of the Empire.
37. Because of the amount of time he spent away from Vienna, (and as a result, the status quo) Ferdinand adopted a different way of looking at things in his role as an outsider.
38. He was greatly concerned with the plight of those living in Bosnia and Herezgovina, an annexed and marginalized territory filled with a mix of ethnicities that had no voice in the central government.
39. Ferdinand was interested in pursuing a ‘tri-state’ solution, where Vienna, Budapest and Sarajevo would be equal seats of power in the government.
40. But his plan was dismissed outright in Catholic Vienna, much like the city had dismissed him. There was little tolerance and little desire to give the predominantly Slavic people an equal say in the affairs of the Empire.
41. So when Ferdinand announced that he would visit Bosnia to inspect the 15th and 16th Army corps in June 1914, it was met with a degree of ambivalence among the political class in Vienna.
42. That was of no concern to Ferdinand though, as he was able to exact a major concession out of the aging Emperor: that Sophie be allowed to accompany him on the trip in an official capacity for the first time.
43. They would stay in a grand hotel in Ildize while Ferdinand took part in the maneuvers. Once he had completed his duties, they would travel by train to Sarajevo for a grand parade throughout the city before returning home.
44. They would arrive in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914.
45. It would be their fourteenth wedding anniversary. Ferdinand carefully orchestrated the trip so their anniversary would coincide with the end of their first official state visit together.
It would be perfect.
Nothing could go wrong..
..or so it seemed.
46. June 28 is also St. Vitus Day, an important day on the Serbian religious calendar.
47. It commemorates the Battle of Kosovo at Blackbird Field in 1389, when the Ottomans invaded Serbia and took Serbia’s independence.
48. But more importantly, it commemorates those who gave their lives to defend Serbia, most notably Milos Obilic, who crept into the Sultan’s tent and killed him before he was killed himself.
49. Serbian secular culture held high the example of men like Milos Obilic, men who sacrificed themselves for the betterment of the Serbian cause and the Serbian people.
50. So when it was announced that Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne (the new oppressor, replacing the Ottomans), would be in Sarajevo on June 28, it was used as a call to arms to find a new generation of Milos Obilics to fight a new enemy.
51. But Ferdinand’s trip was not the first seed of discontent to be sown. Trouble had been brewing in the Balkans for over five years up to this point.
52. At the Congress of Berlin in 1878, Emperor Franz Josef ensured that after 30 years, Bosnia and Herzegovina would be granted a degree of full autonomy outside of Austro-Hungarian control.
53. So when the Emperor changed his mind in 1908 and decided to unilaterally annex the territories, there was a growing animosity against Austria-Hungary’s presence in the region as a result.
54. Austria-Hungary was viewed as an oppressor, much like the Ottomans before it.
55. And it led to the growth of a number of secret societies across Bosnia and Serbia, motivated to unite the Slavic people across the Balkans into one nation so they could forever rid themselves of foreign occupiers and oppressors.
56. The first secret society, Young Bosnia, was formed by Vladimir Gacinovic, a young Serbian writer who believed that anarchy was the only means to changing the relationship with Austria-Hungary.
57. His writing was influential across the region, used to inspire young men to join his organization to work for change.
58. But no pamphlet had a greater impact on influencing the masses than ‘The Death of a Hero,’ his eulogy of Bogdan Zerajic.
59. Zerajic attempted to assassinate Marian Varešanin, the Austro-Hungarian general in charge of Bosnia in 1910. After his attempt failed, he committed suicide in the street.
60. Zerajic’s action took on somewhat mythic status after Gacinovic’s pamphlet was distributed from Sarajevo to Belgrade and everywhere in between.
61. And he was revered as a modern day Milos Obilic, one willing to sacrifice for the betterment of the Greater Serbia. He was a tangible role model for all of the disenfranchised youth of Serbia and Bosnia that wanted to act for change.
62. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was becomingly increasingly aware of the role that secret societies were having in political life in Bosnia and Serbia. It pushed hard for Serbia to shut down the activity in Belgrade.
63. Nikola Pasic, the prime minister of Serbia, complied for the most part with Austria-Hungary’s request. Young Bosnia was shut down, reorganized, and became a social outreach club.
64. But Pasic turned a blind eye when the more radical elements of the group attempted to reorganize. And reorganize they did. The remnants of Young Bosnia reformed in 1911 to become known as the Black Hand. The group’s motto was ‘In Union or in Death.’
65. The Black Hand operated clandestinely, broken down into cells of three members each. Cells never interacted with one another, and they were each controlled by the operating board in Belgrade.
66. All initiates into the Black Hand had to kneel before a table with cloaks covering their heads, reciting an inscription read to them by the committee leader. They promised obedience to the cause of building a Greater Serbia before all else.
67. The Black Hand was led by Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijevic (nicknamed Apis), the head of Serbia’s Intelligence Services and one of the most powerful men in Serbia at the time.
(NOTE: Yes, the head of Serbia’s intelligence services / army was also essentially running a rogue terrorist network. Helping to connect the dots on that one.)
68. Dimitrijevic was considered one of the most vicious killers of his time, staging and leading a brutal coup in 1903 that led to the assassination of King Alexander I and Queen Draga while they lie in bed.
69. And he was operating with supreme confidence, as Serbia had just been incredibly successful in the two Balkan Wars that saw its presence and profile expand in the region.
70. Courted by Russia, somewhat feared by Austria-Hungary and Germany, Serbia was quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with in the Balkans.
71. So Dimitrijevic rationalized that the timing was right to push for one united Slavic nation. And there would be no better way to pick a fight with Austria-Hungary than to assassinate Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne.
72. Gavrilo Princip was the first to join the plot. He was from Sarajevo, but had drifted to Belgrade with most other young men his age dissatisfied with Austria-Hungary’s annexation of Bosnia.
73. Princip was small for his age and had very poor health. He grew up poor, and his brother paid for his schooling. He applied to the army, hoping to make something of himself, but was laughed off the training field. Like Ferdinand, he was an outsider.
74. That’s when Danilo Ilic called to recruit Princip to join the Black Hand. Ilic, a teacher, recruited all of the men for the plot to assassinate Ferdinand. He was persuasive, and Princip agreed to join.
75. Princip was part of a cell that included his two friends, Trifko Grabez and Nedeljko Cabrinovic. They were chosen because of their familiarity with Sarajevo, all having come from there.
76. All three were trained in the relatively remote Morava Valley by Milan Ciganovic, the weapons man for the Black Hand. They learned how to fire a gun, bomb throwing, bridge destruction and much more.
77. And all three agreed to take cyanide once the assassination was complete, ensuring that they would die for the Greater Serbian cause. They were very familiar with ‘The Death of a Hero’ and Gacinovic’s other literature calling for a generation of martyrs.
78. The assassins left a month before Ferdinand’s arrival to ensure that they made it into Sarajevo before the borders closed. They each took separate routes along the way, hoping to cover their tracks.
79. They each stayed with a number of families along the way, many of whom had no idea who the assassins were or had any knowledge of their intentions. Nevertheless, almost everyone who housed them along the route was rounded up after June 28.
80. Upon arrival into Sarajevo, the assassins tried to assimilate back into their former lives as best they could. Nedeljko Cabrinovic moved back in with his parents for the time being.
81. Danilo Ilic invited the assassins to dinner the night before the assassination. They were each given their weapons and a vial of cyanide.
82. He introduced them to three other men who would also be part of the assassination attempt. They were two high schoolers from Sarajevo and a Muslim man in his late 20s.
83. Muhamed Mehmedbašić, the only Muslim of the group, was chosen so that the group appeared diversified in the event the attempt was foiled. He had failed at an assassination attempt in 1912.
84. After dinner, the assassins went out drinking for the first (and final) time in their lives.
85. But Princip didn’t stay long. He went to visit Bogdan Zerajic’s grave at the back of Sarajevo’s cemetery. He brought dirt from free Serbia, promising that the following day would be the day of liberation.
JUNE 28, 1914
86. Ferdinand and Sophie attended mass in the morning before boarding the train into Sarajevo. It had been a very good trip on all fronts, and everyone was eager for the ceremony.
87. Nedlejko Cabrinovic was overcome with emotion throughout the morning. He wore his best clothes, and visited an apothecary beforehand to have his picture taken. He arranged to have the photos sent to his grandmother in Croatia so she could remember him.
88. Before positioning themselves along the parade route, the assassins met with Danilo Ilic one final time. His final words to them: ‘Be strong, be brave.’
89. Six vehicles of dignitaries made up the procession that traveled along the parade route. Ferdinand and Sophie rode in the fourth automobile.
90. The first two assassins along the route, one of the high schoolers and Muhamed Mehmedbašić, were paralyzed with fear when Ferdinand’s car passed. They didn’t act.
91. But Nedlejko Cabrinovic, overcome with emotions throughout the morning, was composed when his time came. He threw his bomb, it bouncing off the rear of Ferdinand’s car before landing ten feet behind it upon detonation.
92. The car behind Ferdinand’s bore the brunt of the explosion. Ferdinand was unharmed, but two of his aides were seriously injured. Cabrinovic was apprehended before he could swallow his cyanide.
93. Ferdinand and others were doubtful over whether the trip should proceed further. But General Oskar Potiorek, the regional governor of Bosnia, had no reservations. “What, do you think my city is full of assassins,” he said. “We will continue.”
94. The procession sped back to the City Hall along the Appel Quay, Sarajevo’s widest avenue that ran parallel to the Miljacka River. Princip, unable to get off a shot, retreated dejectedly to a side street in shame.
95. At City Hall, Ferdinand mustered his resolve to continue the trip, but with one concession. Only major thoroughfares would be used, no more side streets. But not everyone got the message.
96. Upon disembarking, Ferdinand’s driver was never informed of the changed route. So when the first scheduled turn came, he took it.
97. And somewhat happenstancely, there sat a dejected Gavrilo Princip, unable to believe Ferdinand’s car was turning around right in front of him. It was an opportunity he would not waste.
98. The first shot went into Ferdinand’s neck. The second into Sophie’s stomach. That’s all Princip could get off, but both proved fatal. ‘Don’t die! Don’t die! Stay alive for our children,’ were his final words to her. They both died on their anniversary.
99. Princip was apprehended before he could swallow his cyanide or take his own life. After the Great War had begun, he was put on trial and convicted of murder.
Princip died alone in his jail cell in 1918, not as the hero he intended to be.
100. Bonus: I will post again in a few weeks with the fallout from Ferdinand’s death and the political events that led to the Great War. Stay tuned.
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