What lead to the Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, a possible heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and Franz Ferdinand’s wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, occurred on June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo when Gavrilo Princip mortally injured them. 


Following the 1878 Treaty of Berlin, Austria-Hungary accepted the mandate to occupy and administer the Ottoman Vilayet of Bosnia, while the Ottoman Empire held official sovereignty. Under this same treaty, the Great Powers (Austria-Hungary, the United Kingdom, France, the German Empire, Italy, and the Russian Empire) gave formal recognition to the Principality of Serbia as a fully sovereign state. Serbia’. At the time from the royal House of Obrenović, Serbia’s monarchs maintained close relations with Austria-Hungary and were happy to reign within the treaty’s borders.

This changed in May 1903, when Serbian military officers led by Dragutin Dimitrijević stormed the Serbian Royal Palace. After a fierce battle in the dark, the attackers seized General Laza Petrović, head of the Palace Guard, and forced him to reveal King Alexander I Obrenović and his wife, Queen Draga. The King and Queen opened the door from their hiding place. The King was shot thirty times; the Queen eighteen. MacKenzie writes that “the noble corpses were then peeled and brutally sabred.” The attackers threw the corpses of King Alexander and Queen Draga out of a palace window, ending any threat that loyalists would mount a counterattack.” General Petrović was then killed when Vojislav Tankosić organized the murders of Queen Draga’s brothers. The conspirators installed Peter I of the House of Karađorđević as the new King.

The new dynasty was more nationalist, friendlier to Russia, and less familiar to Austria-Hungary. Over the next decade, conflicts between Serbia and its neighbors erupted, as Serbia moved to build its power and gradually reclaim its 14th-century empire. These conflicts included a customs dispute with Austria-Hungary beginning in 1906 (commonly referred to as the “Pig War”); the Bosnian crisis of 1908–1909, in which Serbia assumed an attitude of protest over Austria-Hungary’s annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (ending in Serbian acquiescence without compensation in March 1909); and finally the two Balkan Wars of 1912–1913, in which Serbia acquired Macedonia and Kosovo from the Ottoman Empire and forced out Bulgaria.

Serbia’s military successes and Serbian outrage over the Austro-Hungarian annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina emboldened Serbian nationalists in Serbia and Serbs in Austria-Hungary who chafed under Austro-Hungarian rule and whose nationalist sentiments were stirred by Serb “cultural” organizations. One notable example was a Serbian nationalist society Narodna Odbrana, which was formed in Belgrade on October 8, 1908, under the initiative of Milovan Milovanović. Under the guise of cultural activities, it operated to undermine Serbs’ loyalty in Austria-Hungary to the Habsburg regime. In the five years leading up to 1914, lone assassins – mostly Serb citizens of Austria-Hungary – made a series of unsuccessful assassination attempts in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina against Austro-Hungarian officials. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, there existed a local revolutionary movement known as Young Bosnia, whose goal was Austria-Hungary’s dissolution.

On June 3, 1910, Bogdan Žerajić, a member of the Young Bosnia movement, tried to kill the Austrian governor of Bosnia-Herzegovina, General Marijan Varešanin. Žerajić was a 22-year-old Orthodox Serb from Nevesinje, Herzegovina, who was a student at the Faculty of Law at the University of Zagreb and made frequent trips to Belgrade. (General Verešanin went on to crush the last Bosnian peasant uprising in the second half of 1910). The five bullets Žerajić fired at Varešanin, and the fatal shot he put in his brain made Žerajić an inspiration to future assassins, including Princip and Princip’s accomplice Čabrinović. Princip said that Žerajić “was my first model. When I was seventeen, I passed whole nights at his grave, returning on our wretched condition and thinking of him. It is there that I made up my mind sooner or later to perpetrate an outrage.”

In May 1911, the Black Hand, a secret society dedicated to creating a Greater Serbia through “terrorist action,” was established by key members of the Narodna Odbrana, including Dimitrijević and Tankosić. Within Bosnia-Herzegovina, the networks of both the Black Hand and Narodna Odbrana penetrated local revolutionary movements such as Young Bosnia.

In 1913, Emperor Franz Joseph ordered Archduke Franz Ferdinand to follow the military maneuvers in Bosnia scheduled for June 1914. Following the procedures, Ferdinand and his wife planned to visit Sarajevo to open the state museum in its new bases there. Duchess Sophie, according to their eldest son, Duke Maximilian, accompanied her husband out of fear for his safety.

As Sophie, although of great aristocratic birth, was not from a dynastic family, her union with the Habsburg heir presumptive could only be a morganatic marriage. Emperor Franz Joseph had only consented to their wedding on the condition that their descendants would never scale the throne. The 14th anniversary of their marriage fell on June 28. As historian A. J. P. Taylor observes:

[Sophie] could never share [Franz Ferdinand’s] rank … He could never share his splendors and could never even sit by his side on any public occasion. There was one loophole … his wife could enjoy the recognition of his rank when he was acting in a military capacity. Hence, he decided, in 1914, to inspect the army in Bosnia. At its capital Sarajevo, the Archduke and his wife could ride in an open carriage side by side … Thus, for love, did the Archduke go to his death.

Franz Ferdinand was an advocate of increased federalism and widely believed to favor trialism, under which Austria-Hungary would be reorganized by combining the Slavic lands within the Austro-Hungarian empire into a third crown. A Slavic kingdom could have been a bulwark against Serb irredentism, and Franz Ferdinand was therefore perceived as a threat by those same irredentists. Princip later stated to the court that preventing Franz Ferdinand’s planned reforms was one of his motivations.

The day of the assassination, June 28 (June 15 in the Julian calendar), is the feast of St. Vitus. In Serbia, it is called Vidovdan and commemorates the 1389 Battle of Kosovo against the Ottomans, at which the Sultan was assassinated in his tent by a Serb.

Source:  Origins of the War of 1914. II. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Wikipedia,  The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War. New York: Grove Press.

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