The Life and Death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie
Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie are pictured here, one hour before they would be shot and killed by Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip as they drove through the streets of Sarajevo. Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images

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

Franz Ferdinand's Military Career

Franz 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 serving in this capacity that he would eventually be assassinated.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand - 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.

Marriage and Family

Franz Ferdinand first met Countess Sophie Maria Josephine Albina Chotek von Chotkova und Wognin and soon fell in love with her. However, the marriage was considered beneath him since she was not a member of the House of Hapsburg. 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 if 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, they had three children.

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 not allowed due to the rules of their marriage. They arrived in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914.‚Äč

A Near Miss at 10:10

Unbeknownst to Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, a terrorist group called the Black Hand had planned to assassinate the Archduke on his trip to Sarajevo. At 10:10 AM 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, avoiding a hit by the grenade. The next car was not so lucky and two occupants were seriously wounded.

The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his Wife

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 right by a Black Hand conspirator named Gavrilo Princip. When the driver slowly backed up out of the street, Princip pulled his 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.

Aftereffects of the Assassination

The Black Hand had attacked Franz Ferdinand as a call for independence for Serbians who lived in Bosnia, part of former Yugoslavia. When Austria-Hungary retaliated against Serbia, Russia who was allied with Serbia joined the war against Austria-Hungary. This started a downward spiral that became known as World War I. Germany declared war on Russia, and France was then drawn in against Germany and Austria-Hungary. When Germany attacked France through Belgium, Britain was brought into war. Japan entered the war on Germany's side. Later, Italy and the United States would enter on the side of the allies. Learn more about the Causes of World War I.