Biography of Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria

Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie
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Franz Ferdinand (December 18, 1863–June 28, 1914) was a member of the royal Habsburg dynasty, which ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After his father died in 1896, Ferdinand became next in line for the throne. His assassination in 1914 at the hands of a Bosnian revolutionary led to the outbreak of World War I.

Fast Facts: Franz Ferdinand

  • Known For: Ferdinand was the heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian throne; his assassination led to the outbreak of World War I.
  • Also Known As: Franz Ferdinand Carl Ludwig Joseph Maria
  • Born: December 18, 1863 in Graz, Austrian Empire
  • Parents: Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria and Princess Maria Annunciata of Bourbon-Two Sicilies
  • Died: June 28, 1914 in Sarajevo, Austria-Hungary
  • Spouse: Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg (m. 1900–1914)
  • Children: Princess Sophie of Hohenberg; Maximilian, Duke of Hohenberg; Prince Ernst of Hohenberg

Early Life

Franz Ferdinand was born Franz Ferdinand Karl Ludwig Joseph on December 18, 1863, in Graz, Austria. He was the eldest son of Archduke Carl Ludwig and the nephew of Emperor Franz Josef. He was educated by private tutors throughout his youth.

Military Career

Ferdinand was destined to join the Austro-Hungarian army and quickly rose through the ranks. He was promoted five times until he was made a major general in 1896. He had served in both Prague and Hungary. It was no surprise when later, as heir to the throne, he was appointed to be the inspector general of the Austro-Hungarian army. It was while serving in this capacity that he would eventually be assassinated.

As a leader of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Ferdinand worked to preserve the power of the Habsburg dynasty. The empire was made up of multiple ethnic groups, and for some of them, Ferdinand supported greater freedom for self-determination. He argued for better treatment of Serbia in particular, fearing that suffering among the Slavs might lead to conflict in the region. At the same time, Ferdinand opposed outright nationalist movements that might threaten to undermine the empire.

On political matters, it was reported that Ferdinand frequently disagreed with Emperor Franz Joseph; the two had bitter arguments when they discussed the future of the empire.

Heir to the Throne

In 1889, the son of Emperor Franz Josef, Crown Prince Rudolf, committed suicide. Franz Ferdinand's father Karl Ludwig became next in line to the throne. Upon Karl Ludwig's death in 1896, Franz Ferdinand became the heir apparent to the throne. As a result, he took on new responsibilities and was trained to eventually become the emperor.

Marriage and Family

Ferdinand first met Countess Sophie Maria Josephine Albina Chotek von Chotkova und Wognin in 1894 and soon fell in love with her. However, she was not considered a suitable spouse since she was not a member of the House of Habsburg. It took a few years and the intervention of other heads of state before Emperor Franz Josef would agree to the marriage in 1899. Their marriage was only allowed on the condition that Sophie would agree to not allow any of her husband's titles, privileges, or inherited property to pass to either her or her children. This is known as a morganatic marriage. Together, the couple had three children: Princess Sophie of Hohenberg; Maximilian, Duke of Hohenberg; and Prince Ernst of Hohenberg. In 1909, Sophie was given the title Duchess of Hohenberg, though her royal privileges were still limited.

Trip to Sarajevo

In 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was invited to Sarajevo to inspect the troops by General Oskar Potiorek, the governor of Bosnia-Herzegovina, one of the Austrian provinces. Part of the appeal of the trip was that his wife, Sophie, would be not only welcomed but also allowed to ride in the same car with him. This was otherwise not allowed due to the rules of their marriage. The couple arrived in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914.​

Unbeknownst to Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, a Serbian revolutionary group called the Black Hand had planned to assassinate the archduke on his trip to Sarajevo. At 10:10 a.m. on June 28, 1914, on the way from the train station to City Hall, a grenade was launched at them by a member of the Black Hand. However, the driver saw something racing through the air and sped up, causing the grenade to hit the car behind them, seriously wounding two occupants.


After meeting with Potiorek at City Hall, Franz Ferdinand and Sophie decided to visit those wounded from the grenade in the hospital. However, their driver made a wrong turn and drove right past a Black Hand conspirator named Gavrilo Princip. When the driver slowly backed up out of the street, Princip pulled a gun and fired several shots into the car, hitting Sophie in the stomach and Franz Ferdinand in the neck. They both died before they could be taken to the hospital.

Ferdinand was buried alongside his wife in Artstetten Castle, a royal property in Austria. The car in which they were killed is on display at the Museum of Military History in Vienna, Austria, along with Ferdinand's bloodied uniform.


The Black Hand attacked Franz Ferdinand as a call for independence for Serbians who lived in Bosnia, part of former Yugoslavia. When Austro-Hungary retaliated against Serbia, Russia—which was then allied with Serbia—joined the war against Austria-Hungary. This started a series of conflicts that eventually led to World War I. Germany declared war on Russia, and France was then drawn in against Germany and Austro-Hungary. When Germany attacked France through Belgium, Britain was brought into the war as well. Japan entered the war on Germany's side. Later, Italy and the United States would enter on the side of the allies.


  • Brook-Shepherd, Gordon. "Archduke of Sarajevo: the Romance and Tragedy of Franz Ferdinand of Austria." Little, Brown, 1984.
  • Clark, Christopher M. "The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914." Harper Perennial, 2014.
  • King, Greg, and Sue Woolmans. "The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance That Changed the World." St. Martin's Griffin, 2014.
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Kelly, Martin. "Biography of Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Kelly, Martin. (2023, April 5). Biography of Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria. Retrieved from Kelly, Martin. "Biography of Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).