On This Day

archduke ferdinand, franz ferdinand
The Associated Press
Archduke Franz Ferdinand

On This Day: Archduke Franz Ferdinand Assassinated

June 28, 2009 02:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On June 28, 1914, Gavrilo Princip of Bosnia shot and killed Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, igniting a conflict that led to World War I.

The Origins of WWI

Princip, an 18-year-old Bosnian nationalist, was part of a conspiracy by Serbian nationalists hoping to inspire Bosnia to revolt against rule by Austria-Hungary. Bosnia had been annexed six years prior, in an attempt to prevent Turkish occupation, noted the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Princip gunned down Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, The Duchess of Hohenburg, in Sarajevo just hours after the couple was nearly killed by a bomb thrown at their motorcade by fellow Serbian conspirator Nedeljko Cabrinovic. Ferdinand had deflected Cabrinovic’s bomb off his arm and into the next vehicle in his motorcade, where the bomb detonated and severely injured the occupants, reported a New York Times article published one year later.

The bomb assassination attempt came while Ferdinand’s motorcade was on its way to Sarajevo City Hall. According to the site FirstWorldWar.com, upon reaching the city, Ferdinand interrupted the mayor’s welcome speech saying, “What is the good of your speeches? I come to Sarajevo on a visit, and I get bombs thrown at me. It is outrageous!”

Ironically, Princip assassinated Ferdinand and his wife while they were driving to a nearby hospital to visit those wounded in the bomb blast, noted FirstWorldWar.com. It was a matter of chance that the Bosnian radical later saw the archduke traveling in his motorcade to the hospital.

As one of the conspirators in the morning’s assassination attempt, Princip saw that the bomb had failed, and made the split-second decision to fire on the motorcade. He struck the archduke in the neck, and the duchess in the abdomen. Both died shortly thereafter.

Europe was already a powder-keg of tension between rival nations, and the assassination was the spark that caused it to explode, leading to World War I.

The New York Times reported, “The world had taken fire from the flash of Princip’s revolver, and the flame spread far and fast, in lands at first untouched.”

Background: The Bosnian Crisis of 1908

In 1908, Austrian foreign minister Graf Lexa von Aehrenthal decided to annex Bosnia creating a rift between supporters (Germany and Austria-Hungary) and opponents (Serbia, Russia and France), according to Encyclopaedia Britannica. After being annexed Bosnia began to develop a strong nationalist movement against Austria-Hungary. This political environment of imperialism and “entangling alliances” would eventually lead to a massive international conflict.

Key Players: Franz Ferdinand, Gavrilo Princip

Franz Ferdinand was born on Dec. 18, 1863, in Graz, Austria. He was the nephew of the Emperor Franz Josef, and third in line for the throne, according to Biography Base. The deaths of his father Karl Ludwig and his cousin Prince Rudolph left him next in line for the throne. He was a largely controversial figure for his advocacy of universal male suffrage, his idea of establishing a third Croat-Slavic kingdom, and his support for Catholics. Much personal controversy surrounded his marriage to Sophie Chotek, as her background was inferior in status, and his uncle, Emperor Franz Josef, did not attend the wedding.

Gavrilo Princip was born in early summer 1894 in Bosnia‎-Herzegovinia. Six of his eight siblings died in infancy, according to FirstWorldWar.com. He was raised by his father, a postman. After finishing his schooling, he moved to Belgrade at age 18. In Serbia, he discovered the Black Hand Society, a nationalist organization that aspired to unite Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia. He died in 1918 from tuberculosis.

Later Developments: Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia; the Great War

Austria-Hungary delivered an ultimatum to Serbia in response to Franz Ferdinand’s assassination, with 10 demands of the Serbian government, reported FirstWorldWar.com. Serbia complied with all the demands, with the exception of the sixth request. That request was, “To take judicial proceedings against accessories to the plot of the 28th of June who are on Serbian territory; delegates of the Austro-Hungarian Government will take part in the investigation relating thereto.” Austria-Hungary then declared war on Serbia for refusal to accept the sixth demand.

Austria declared war on Serbia on Tuesday, July 28, 1914.
The assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife was the premise for Austria’s ultimatum to Serbia, according to The New York Times. When Serbia was unable to comply with all 10 demands, Austria declared war. Germany, France, Russia, Britain, Italy, Japan, Turkey, and countless other countries declared war in the following months, beginning one of the most destructive wars in world history.

As a result of Ferdinand’s assassination, the world found itself at war for the first time. PBS explained: this conflict, dubbed, “The Great War,” was “without precedent … never had so many nations taken up arms at a single time. Never had the battlefield been so vast … never had the fighting been so gruesome.”

Historical Context: The real causes of World War I

A New York Times article published about two months after the shooting noted, “It is rather difficult for the average American to understand the real causes that have led to this struggle of nations.”

While Ferdinand’s assassination triggered the war, the true catalyst was the latent tension felt throughout middle Europe and Russia: Austria-Hungary was eager to dominate the Balkans; Germany hungered for “greater power and international influence”; France hoped to avenge it’s defeat in 1871 by Germany; and Russia yearned to save face after losing in battle to the Japanese in 1905, reported FirstWorldWar.com.

Reference: Guide to World War I


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