The Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated on this date in 1914 and that started The War to End All Wars.
Like Queen Victoria, Ferdinand did not grow up expecting to rule. He was born in 1863 and trundled along being the eldest son of his archduke father, but nothing else loomed on the horizon until 1899, when Crown Prince Rudolph died in a suicide pact at his hunting lodge at Mayerling. (The photo is of Rudolph, but he and Ferdinand looked a lot alike.)
Mayerling is another story, one that became the theme of novels, operas and movies, but the upshot was that Ferdinand’s father renounced his right to succession and badda-bing, Ferdinand was the next Emperor in line.
He fell in love with a countess named Sophie, a lady-in-waiting who wasn’t quite blue-blooded enough for a Habsburg, so they carried on secretly for two years and he refused to consider anyone else. Finally Franz Joseph said okay, but it had to be a morganatic marriage. That meant any children would have no claim to the throne. Ferdinand agreed and he and Sophie were married in 1900. Morganatic also meant that Sophie could not share his rank – on any formal occasion Ferdinand would be right next to the Emperor, but Sophie had to stand at the end of the line.
Still, they were apparently very happy. They had four children – the eldest lived until 1990. Ferdinand was fairly liberal for an Austrian blueblood and believed that the various ethnic groups of the empire should have more autonomy and a chance to complain about things, and he believed in being very tactful with Serbia.
So of course he was the one that got shot. Gavrilo Princip, a 19-year-old Bosnian patriot, shot and killed both Ferdinand and Sophie. Princip was not a lone assassin – he was one of two dozen members of a secret society that were placed strategically along the royal couple’s route that day.
Immediately, the Emperor declared war on Serbia and everybody’s allies got drawn in. It was A-H, Germany, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria against pretty much everybody else and the reasons were much more subtle and complex than just the assassination – it had more to do with trade and borders. Like always.
The important things about WWI are a) it led inexorably to WWII and b) 15 million people died, making it one of the bloodiest wars ever.
The photo above is the car Ferdinand and Sophie were riding in on that fateful day; it is located at the Military Museum in Vienna.
After Ferdinand died, Emperor Franz Joseph designated his grandnephew, Karl, as heir. Emperor Karl reigned for two years, but went into exile with the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1918. It was all so long ago – except that, amazingly, we are only two steps away. Karl’s heir, Crown Prince Otto, 98, is still alive, though he has not appeared in public for nearly two decades.