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Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Archduke Franz Ferdinand


Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. His assassination on 28 June 1914 began the diplomatic crisis that triggered the First World War.


Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives! A World Without World War I by Richard Ned Lebow – review

T he "what-if" historical genre rewrites the past as fantasy. Philip Roth, in his 2004 novel, The Plot Against America, imagined a pro-Nazi United States after aviation hero and antisemite Charles Lindbergh had won the 1940 presidential election. The novel tapped into post-9/11 fears of death and dominance by an alien power. Forty years earlier, in 1964, the British film It Happened Here envisaged the wartime occupation of the British Isles by Nazi Germany. Had Hitler won the war, all Europe might now be a vast German colony living space (Lebensraum) for Hitlerite Germany would be dying space for others.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives!, a work of counterfactual history, envisages a world in which the assassination of the archduke at Sarajevo in 1914 never happened. The first world war may not have broken out as a consequence and the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires would have been left standing. Without Sarajevo, moreover, German aggression might not have been punished at Versailles, and Hitler would have had no cause for grievance. Without Hitler, in turn, European Jewry was allowed to prosper and grow numerous Israel may not have come into being, however, as Jewry had no need of a salvation abroad.

In Richard Ned Lebow's alternative history, Franz Ferdinand is crowned emperor in 1916 following the death of his uncle, Franz Josef. The Habsburg empire under Ferdinand would have continued to unite Serbs, Croatians, Greeks, Bulgars and Transylvanians, Jews and non-Jews alike, in the cosmopolitan lands of Mitteleuropa (Middle Europe). The double-headed eagle was seen to fly over the Habsburg capital of Vienna as a symbol of monarchical tolerance in the real "historical world", of course, the tolerance was crushed by Nazi and Soviet intolerance.

Soviet Europe, with its grey, monocultural states cleansed of human variety, would have been unrecognisable to Franz Ferdinand and his walrus-moustached officials. By his murderous ideology, Stalin put an end to the region's ethnic diversity of Jews, Muslims and Magyars. Lebow contends that the Bolshevik revolution itself might not have erupted in 1917 without Sarajevo and the conflict that ensued. Russia in 1914 was probably ripe for revolution, but Lebow wants us to reflect on an alternative, when Stalin was absent.

Two world wars would not be enough to repair the damage done at Sarajevo in 1914, when the equilibrium of Europe was shattered overnight. Looked at one way, Franz Ferdinand's was the most successful assassination in modern history, as it resulted in a vastly expanded Serb-ruled state that was only finally dismantled in the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. In Lebow's alternative, Franz Ferdinand's survival at Sarajevo forestalled the conflict in unforeseen ways. For one thing, it deprived the war party in Vienna of the pretext it needed to open hostilities with Serbia, so peace in Europe was maintained.

Throughout, Lebow stresses that minor events can have huge consequences, and huge events do not necessarily have huge causes. Thus at Sarajevo the Serbian assassin Gavrilo Princip set in motion an "unintended chain of events" that culminated in carnage such as the world had never seen and Princip himself could not have imagined. The first world war, in Lebow's view the "defining event of the 20th century", killed and wounded more than 35 million people, both military and civilian, through poison gas, starvation, shell fire and machine-gun. Few had reckoned on such a long, drawn-out saga of futility and wasted human lives. The conflict was thick with forebodings of the second world war. The "ethnic cleansing" of Armenians in present-day Turkey during and after the first world war foreshadowed a new age of atrocity and diminished individual responsibility for it, says Lebow. Once people have been deprived of their humanity, it is much easier to kill them all future dictatorships were to understand this.

Lebow has written a sharp if at times cliche-ridden work ("heated debate", "stiff competition") that many with an interest in the first world war will enjoy. As well as providing a "what-if" analysis of a world without the conflict, Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives! invites us to reflect in new and unexpected ways on the connectedness of things – and on the unpredictability of history.


Did Franz Ferdinand’s Assassination Cause World War I?

The causes of World War I, also known as the Great War, have been debated since it ended. Officially, Germany shouldered much of the blame for the conflict, which caused four years of unprecedented slaughter. But a series of complicated factors caused the war, including a brutal assassination that propelled Europe into the greatest conflict the continent had ever known.

The murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand outraged Austria-Hungary.
In June 1914, Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie traveled to Bosnia—which had been annexed by Austria-Hungary𠅏or a state visit.

On June 28, the couple went to the capital city of Sarajevo to inspect imperial troops stationed there. As they headed toward their destination, they narrowly escaped death when Serbian terrorists threw a bomb at their open-topped car.

Franz Ferdinand, archduke of Austria, and his wife Sophie riding in an open carriage at Sarajevo shortly before their assassination. (Credit: Henry Guttmann/Getty Images)

Their luck ran out later that day, however, when their driver inadvertently drove them past 19-year-old Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip who shot and killed Franz Ferdinand and his wife at point-blank range. Austria-Hungary was furious and, with Germany’s support, declared war on Serbia on July 28.

Within days, Germany declared war on Russia—Serbia’s ally𠅊nd invaded France via Belgium, which then caused Britain to declare war on Germany.

Limited industrial resources fueled imperialist expansion.
A state’s desire to expand its empire was nothing new in European history, but by the early 20th century the Industrial Revolution was in full force.

New industrial and manufacturing technologies created the need to dominate new territories and their natural resources, including oil, rubber, coal, iron and other raw materials.

With the British Empire extending to five continents and France controlling many the African colonies, Germany wanted a larger slice of the territorial pie. As countries vied for position, tensions rose, and they formed alliances to position themselves for European dominance.

The rise of nationalism undermined diplomacy.
During the 19th century, rising nationalism swept through Europe. As people took more pride in country and culture, their desire to rid themselves of imperial rule increased. In some cases, however, imperialism fed nationalism as some groups claimed superiority over others.

This widespread nationalism is thought to be a general cause of World War I. For instance, after Germany dominated France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, France lost money and land to Germany, which then fueled French nationalism and a desire for revenge.

Nationalism played a specific role in World War I when Archduke Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated by Princip, a member of a Serbian nationalist terrorist group fighting against Austria-Hungary’s rule over Bosnia.

Kings William I, Franz Josef and Umberto I, on the occasion of the signing of the Triple Alliance, Treaty between the German Empire, Austria-Hungary and the Kingdom of Italy, 1882. (Credit: DeAgostini/Getty Images)

Entangled alliances created two competing groups.
In 1879, Germany and Austria-Hungary allied against Russia. In 1882, Italy joined their alliance (The Triple Alliance) and Russia responded in 1894 by allying with France.

In 1907, Great Britain, Russia and France formed the Triple Entente to protect themselves against Germany’s growing threat. Soon, Europe was divided into two groups: The Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy and the Allies, which included Russia, France and Britain.

As war was declared, the allied countries emboldened each other to enter the fray and defend their treaties, although not every coalition was set in stone—Italy later changed sides. By the end of August 1914, the so-called 𠇎ntangled alliances” had caused what should have been a regional conflict to expand to all of Europe’s powerful states.

Militarism sparked an arms race.
In the early 1900s, many European countries increased their military might and were ready and willing put it to use. Most of the European powers had a military draft system and were in an arms race, methodically increasing their war chests and fine-tuning their defense strategies.

Between 1910 and 1914, France, Russia, Britain and Germany significantly increased their defense budgets. But Germany was by far the most militaristic country in Europe at the time. By July 1914, it had increased its military budget by a massive 79 percent.

Germany was also in an unofficial war with Britain for naval superiority. They doubled their naval battle fleet as Britain’s Royal Navy produced the first Dreadnought battleship which could outgun and outrun any other battleship in existence. Not to be outdone, Germany built its own fleet of Dreadnoughts.

By the start of World War I, the European powers were not just prepared for war, they expected it and some even counted on it to increase their world standing.

Although the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand was the spark that caused Austria-Hungary to strike the first blow, all the European powers quickly fell in line to defend their alliances, preserve or expand their empires and display their military might and patriotism.


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.

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.


Life until 1914

Franz Ferdinand was the eldest son of the archduke Charles Louis, who was the brother of the emperor Franz Joseph. The death of the heir apparent, Archduke Rudolf, in 1889 made Franz Ferdinand next in succession to the Austro-Hungarian throne after his father, who died in 1896. But because of Franz Ferdinand’s ill health in the 1890s, his younger brother Otto was regarded as more likely to succeed, a possibility that deeply embittered Franz Ferdinand. His desire to marry Sophie, countess of Chotek, a lady-in-waiting, brought him into sharp conflict with the emperor and the court. Only after renouncing his future children’s rights to the throne was the morganatic marriage allowed in 1900.

In foreign affairs he tried to restore Austro-Russian understanding without endangering the alliance with Germany. At home he thought of political reforms that would have strengthened the position of the crown and weakened that of the Magyars against the other nationalities in Hungary. His plans were based on the realization that any nationalistic policy pursued by one section of the population would endanger the multinational Habsburg empire. His relationship with Franz Joseph was exacerbated by his continuous pressure on the emperor, who in his later years left affairs to take care of themselves but sharply resented any interference with his prerogative. From 1906 onward Franz Ferdinand’s influence in military matters grew, and in 1913 he became inspector general of the army.


The second assassination attempt

The outraged archduke proceeded to a town hall meeting before setting off to visit the hospitalised victims of Čabrinović’s attack. En route to the hospital, his driver took a wrong turn into Franz Josef Street where another of the plotters, Gavrilo Princip, happened to be sitting in a café.

Gavrilo Princip was just 19 when he killed Franz Ferdinand and his wife.

Princip, a 19-year-old Croat previously rejected from joining Serbian guerrilla bands in the First Balkan War due to his small stature, was determined to prove himself. As the archduke’s car backed out of the street, he seized his chance and opened fire.

Sophie, who was shot first, was struck in the abdomen, while Franz was hit in the neck. As his crying wife lay dying, the archduke cried out to her, “Don’t die darling, live for our children” – but shortly after they were both dead.


10. His assassination was the catalyst for World War One

Following Franz Ferdinand’s assassination, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. In turn, Russia, as Serbia’s ally, declared war against Austria-Hungary. Germany joined alongside Austria-Hungary to put pressure on Russia.

Then, Germany declared war against France before invading Belgium in early August, bringing Britain into the war to defend Belgium. The incident was clearly a catalyst for a war that, on the surface at least, seemed inevitable.


Franz and Sophie’s Last Days

Although the Third World is used now as a derogatory term, the phrase was actually coined to describe the nations of the world who refused to follow the narrative of the Cold War refusing to be subservient client states to either the Soviet Union in the East or the United States in the West. It was the history of these Third World nations that gave them the strength to refuse to be governed by outside powers, and few moments changed the trajectory of history so completely as the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Duchess Sophie in Sarajevo.

Duchess Sophie greeting guests Photo: PR

Written by: Anita Bajraktarević

The events of 28 June 1914 are seared into the conscious of the entire world as put by the historian Vladimir Dedijer, “… no other political murder in modern history has had such momentous consequences as the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand…” And yet, for all that the names Gavrilo Princip and The Black Hand easily spring to people’s lips, very little is known about the week the Archduke and his wife spent in Bosnia and Herzegovina before they were killed.

It is a remarkable oversight, particularly given the abundance of tourism potential that stretches far beyond the square in front of the Latin Bridge and the former deli that is now a museum.

Hotel Austria

The morganatic marriage of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie Chotek remains at the very center of the assassination story. Targeted by most of the nobility in Vienna for daring to marry “above herself”, the Duchess took her treatment in the Imperial Court with equanimity and calm, even through such petty treatment as having the Grand Master of the Imperial Court, Count Montenuovo, alter her official photographs to make her look uglier and older.

Restrictions on Sophie had been gradually lifted through the years, however, and by 1914 she was allowed to appear with her husband during military engagements if not during royal ones. The visit to Sarajevo was a military visit, where Franz Ferdinand was to observe troop exercises on Mount Igman. Sophie could appear in public with him – but she could not be seated next to him at official dinners.

The Imperial couple arrived in Sarajevo separately. Sophie traveled the entire way by train, arriving in Ilidža early on 25 June and taking up her suite at what is now the Hotel Austria and Bosna. Franz Ferdinand traveled down the Adriatic coast on the dreadnought Virus Unitis, disembarking in Croatia and traveling up the Neretva River before disembarking at Metković and boarding a train that would take him to meet his wife. Before reaching Sarajevo, however, the Archduke had a stop in Mostar, where he was met by the Mayor and did a small tour. The Archduke, who had tremendous trouble with languages that were not German, even spoke a few words of the local language.

Hotel Bosna Photo: PR

When Franz Ferdinand’s train arrived in Ilidža, trumpets and cheers greeted him. One journalist of the time reported the Archduke’s reaction to the cheering people who watched him drive along the street, saying he appeared, “… deeply moved with emotion, and saluted the gathered people, smiling and thanking them.”

Sophie waited on the steps of the hotel, rushing to greet her husband with a hug when he arrived. The suite of rooms that the Imperial Family used at the Hotel Bosna was on the first floor. Little remains today of the old decor of the hotel or of that suite (which was badly damaged in the 1990s), but the bannister on the stairs is the same bannister the Archduke and the Duchess gripped when they made their way down to the main areas of the hotel, and the long terrace from which they took in the views and clean air of the resort is still standing and has been beautifully restored.

The suite was decorated by a local Sephardic Jewish merchant, Elias Kabiljo. Kabiljo spared no expense creating luxurious Ottoman-style quarters for the Archduke and Duchess, with carpets, embroideries, wall hangings, and even an Ottoman-style suit of armor. The decor was arranged and overseen by his wife and Franz Ferdinand and Sophie were enchanted with it. “We have delightful quarters,” the Archduke sent in a telegram to his children. “The weather is beautiful.”

Following Them in Secret

Archduke and Duchess sitting room Photo: PR

The evening of their arrival, the Imperial couple decided to make a last-minute visit to Sarajevo’s Baščaršija. While there they made a specific stop at Kabiljo’s shop and purchased even more rugs, porcelain, needlework, and jewelry, making a specific effort to praise the beauty and quality of the shopkeeper’s offerings. The couple had no visible security, and were nearly mobbed in several places by crowds shouting, “Živio!”

Most likely because of the lack of security, a gaunt looking student with an intense expression was not noticed. But Gavrilo Princip followed the Archduke and Duchess as they made their way through Baščaršija, a gun in his pocket remaining unfired on that day.

It was not the Imperial couple’s only encounter with one of their future assassins: while they walked in the hotel park Nedeljko Čabrinović was seen skulking around the couple, but because his father was known to be a spy for the Austro-Hungarian government, the police did not detain him.

Franz Ferdinand bedroom

While Franz Ferdinand observed the maneuvers of the 2nd Battalion of the 92 KuK Infantry Regiment on Igman, Sophie returned to Sarajevo on the 26 and 27 of June. She visited Catholic and Orthodox cathedrals along with their associated orphanages as well as a weaving mill where she purchased even more carpets. All along the way she donated funds from her private accounts to Catholic, Muslim, and Orthodox organizations. Sarajevski List newspaper reported, “… people gathered in great numbers, cheering her all the time.”

For fourteen years, Archduke Franz Ferdinand had been enraged by the treatment of his wife at the hands of the Imperial Court, but her popularity and warm welcome in Sarajevo greatly moved him.

Decorated terrace Franz Ferdinand

He had fought against visiting the city before the journey commenced, but during the banquet at the hotel on the evening of 27 June, his gratitude to the city for its traditional Gostoprimstvo had him raise a toast saying, “I’m beginning to fall in love with Bosnia. If I still had prejudices, they are gone now.”

The safety of the Archduke was a major discussion point amongst the 41 guests of the banquet (which featured nine courses). The vice-president of the Bosnian delegation attempted to appeal to the Duchess, who responded to his concern by saying, “Things don’t always turn out the way you say they will. Everywhere we have gone here we have been greeted with so much friendliness, and by every last Serb, too, with so much cordiality and spontaneous warmth.”

Franz Ferdinand, however, seemed swayed by the arguments of safety until Bosnia’s Governor-General Oskar Potiorek broke in and nearly accused the Archduke of cowardice, claiming that cancelling the visit to Vijećnica on the 28 would cause incalculable insight and very well might lead to open rebellion against the Habsburg rule. The Archduke acquiesced, the meeting the next morning would go on as planned.

A small chapel had been prepared for the Imperial couple’s private worship within the hotel (its location has been lost to history), and as was their habit they prayed in the morning before attending breakfast and their daily schedule. It was the last prayer service the two would attend.

The rest of the story is well known. The Archduke and his wife were driven from Sarajevo’s train station and narrowly escaped a bomb thrown at them near the Ćumurja Bridge. The Archduke gave his speech at Vijećnica from bloody notepaper. The Muslim wives of Sarajevo’s elite met Sophie for a reception. All of Franz Ferdinand’s group, with the exception of Oskar Potiorek, argued for a change to the day’s schedule in the wake of the assassination attempt, but Potiorek again used shame as a tactic against the Archduke, “What, do you think all of Sarajevo is filled with assassins?” he shouted.

As we now know, Sarajevo was. The Archduke and his wife were murdered on the now-iconic intersection at the Latin Bridge. Their bodies were taken to the Konak where they were laid out and autopsies performed, and the local sculptor Ljudmila Valić was called to make death masks of the two. A Sarajlije undertaker provided his best coffins.

When the coffins were taken to the Bistrik Train Station, Archbishop Josip Štadler gave a final benediction. As reported by Sarajevski List , “All present had tears in their eyes and the deadly silence spoke louder than any words.”

As the coffins pulled out of the train station, the staff of the Imperial couple gave the Sarajevo Youth Center 1000 crowns, which the Duchess had planned to donate before her death. Her last act in Sarajevo was not her death, but her bequest to a charitable organization.


Primary Sources

(1) Archduke Franz Ferdinand, letter to his stepmother Maria Theresia a week after his marriage to Sophie von Chotkova (July, 1900)

Soph is a treasure, I am indescribably happy. She looks after me so much, I am doing wonderfully. I am so healthy and much less nervous. I feel as though I had been born again.

(2) Archduke Franz Ferdinand, letter to Maria Theresia (1904)

The most intelligent thing I've ever done in my life has been the marriage to my Soph. She is everything to me: my wife, my adviser, my doctor, my warner, in a word: my entire happiness. Now, after four years, we love each other as on our first year of marriage, and our happiness has not been marred for a single second.

(3) Fehim Curcic, the Mayor of Sarajevo, reception speech at the City Hall (28th June, 1914)

Our hearts are full of happiness over the most gracious visit with which Your Highnesses are pleased to honour our capital city of Sarajevo, and I consider myself happy that Your Highnesses can read in our faces the feelings of our love and devotion, of our unshakable loyalty, and of our obedience to His Majesty our Emperor and King, and to the Most Serene Dynasty of Hapsburg-Lorraine.

All the citizens of the capital city of Sarajevo find that their souls are filled with happiness, and they most enthusiastically greet Your Highnesses' most illustrious visit with the most cordial of welcomes, deeply convinced that this stay in our beloved city of Sarajevo will ever increase Your Highnesses' most gracious interest in our progress and well-being, and ever fortify our own most profound gratitude and loyalty, a loyalty that shall dwell immutably in our hearts, and that shall grow forever.

(4) Archduke Franz Ferdinand, speech at the official reception at the Sarajevo City Hall (28th June, 1914)

It gives me special pleasure to accept the assurances of your unshakable loyalty and affection for His Majesty, our Most Gracious Emperor and King. I thank you cordially for the resounding ovations with which the population received me and my wife, the more so since in them an expression of pleasure over the failure of the assassination attempt.

(5) Count von Harrach was in Archduke's car when he was killed.

As I was drawing out my handkerchief to wipe away the blood from the Archduke's lips, her Highness cried out: "For God's sake! What happened to you?" Then she sank down from her seat with her face between the Archduke's knees. I had no idea that she had been hit and thought that she had fainted from shock. His Royal Highness said "Sophie, Sophie, don't die. Live for my children." I seized the Archduke by the coat collar to prevent his head from sinking forward and asking him: "Is your highness in great pain?" To which he clearly answered: "It is nothing." His face was slightly distorted, and he repeated six or seven times, every time losing more consciousness and with a fading voice: "It is nothing." Then came a brief pause followed by a convulsive rattle in his throat, caused by a loss of blood. This ceased on arrival at the governor's residence. The two unconscious bodies were carried into the building where their death was soon established.

(6) Manchester Guardian (29th June, 1914)

The Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria, nephew of the aged Emperor and heir to the throne, was assassinated in the streets of Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, yesterday afternoon. His wife, the Duchess of Hohenberg, was killed by the same assassin. Some reports say the Duchess was deliberately shielding her husband from the second shot when she was killed. One victim was struck in the body and the other in the face the telegrams are contradictory about which wound the Archduke suffered and which his wife.

Two attempts were made on the Archduke's life during the day. He was in Bosnia inspecting the manoeuvres of the Austrian Army Corps stationed in the province, and had devoted yesterday to a procession through the capital. During the morning a bomb was thrown at the Imperial motor car, but its occupants escaped unhurt. In the afternoon in another part of the town a Serb student fired a revolver at the car, killing both the Archduke and the Duchess.

(7) Nedjelko Cabrinovic, statement in court (23rd October, 1914)

We thought that only people of noble character were capable of committing political assassinations. We heard it said that he (Archduke Franz Ferdinand) was an enemy of the Slavs. Nobody directly told us "kill him" but in this environment, we arrived at the idea ourselves.

I would like to add something else. Although Princip is playing the hero, and although we all wanted to appear as heroes, we still have profound regrets. In the first place, we did not know that they late Franz Ferdinand was a father. We were greatly touched by the words he addressed to his wife: "Sophie, stay alive for our children."

We are anything you want, except criminals. In my name and in the name of my comrades, I ask the children of the late successor to the throne to forgive us. As for you, punish us according to your understanding. We are not criminals. We are honest people, animated by noble sentiments we are idealists we wanted to do good we have loved our people and we shall die for our ideals.


FRANCIS FERDINAND

FRANCIS FERDINAND (1863–1914), archduke of Austria.

Francis Ferdinand was born 18 December 1863 in Graz. His assassination in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 led to World War I.

Francis Ferdinand received a strict, Catholic, and conservative upbringing and pursued a career in the military. He unexpectedly became heir apparent to the Habsburg Monarchy on the death of his cousin, Crown Prince Rudolf, in 1889. After a world trip in 1892 and 1893, Francis Ferdinand was laid low for several years by tuberculosis, from which he recovered only in 1898. In the same year he was made deputy in military affairs to his uncle, Emperor Francis Joseph I (r. 1848–1916).

Relations between the emperor and his heir apparent were never all that good, however, and they worsened exponentially over Francis Ferdinand's determination to marry Countess Sophie Chotek. Chotek, though a noblewoman, was not regarded by Francis Joseph as of sufficiently high status to be an appropriate spouse for a future Austrian emperor. A compromise was reached whereby on 28 June 1900 Francis Ferdinand formally renounced the rights of any children from the prospective, morganatic marriage. On 1 July he married Chotek.

From 1906 Francis Ferdinand was allowed to play a role in the politics of the Monarchy. His advisors, grouped around his military chancery in the Belvedere Palace, and known collectively as the Belvedere Circle, achieved a level of influence over Habsburg policy. They usually only did so, however, once they had become the emperor's ministers, and this often meant opposing the wishes of their former patron. Max Vladimir Beck, for instance, became Austrian prime minister and achieved passage of the electoral reform of 1907. Yet his policies came to be opposed by Francis Ferdinand, and the heir apparent intrigued to arrange Beck's dismissal in 1908. Francis Ferdinand had allies within the regime, such as the chief of the general staff, Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, but his attempts to increase his influence over policy were persistently resisted by Francis Joseph.

This may have been just as well. Francis Ferdinand was ideologically a radical conservative and shared the authoritarian sentiments of William II (emperor of Germany and king of Prussia r. 1888–1918) and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia (r. 1894–1917). An archconservative Catholic, he held anti-Semitic views and combined contempt for the Magyars with a general dislike for liberalism. His plan for the Monarchy was to reduce Hungarian autonomy and counter Magyar power in Hungary by increasing the rights of the minority nationalities in the kingdom. This approach brought him the sympathy of many minority nationalists, who supported some form of federalism, or, in the South Slav case, trialism (the uniting of the South Slav provinces in the Austrian and Hungarian halves of the Monarchy, as well as Bosnia, in a new, third South Slav "kingdom" under the Habsburg monarch). Francis Ferdinand's reputed sympathy for trialism made him hated by many Serb nationalists, for trialism threatened the dream of an independent Greater Serbia. Ironically, Francis Ferdinand had little time for real trialism (at most he wanted to reorganize the South Slav lands to reduce Hungarian power), nor was he for federalism. Instead, he envisaged recentralizing power in Vienna and subordinating all of the Monarchy's peoples once more to the emperor's rule. His succession was looked on by trepidation by many in the German and Magyar middle classes and the liberal intelligentsia, and especially by Habsburg Jews.

He was seen, moreover, due to his military involvements and his links with Conrad von Hötzendorf as a militarist and warmonger. Public opinion was quite wrong in this. Francis Ferdinand was a believer in authoritarianism, but this also made him a supporter of peace between the Habsburg Monarchy, Germany, and Russia, as a guarantor of authoritarian conservatism. He was hence against an aggressive policy in the Balkans, and constantly counseled staying out of the Balkan Wars of 1912–1913. Nevertheless, as the representative of the Habsburg military, especially after his appointment as general inspector of the army in 1913, with his reputation as a warmonger and with his supposed support of anti-Serb trialism, Francis Ferdinand became a target for Bosnian Serb nationalist terrorists. On 28 June 1914, while on a trip to inspect the military maneuvers, he and his wife were gunned down in their car in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip. The assassination of the heir apparent was then used by Francis Joseph and his advisors as the excuse for launching a "preventive" war against Serbia, exactly what Francis Ferdinand had counseled against, that in days led to World War I and eventually the collapse of the Monarchy.