We can imagine that most of you know that the First World War kicked off with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The ensuing shockwaves from that single act of violence created a conflict where the most powerful nations of the world lined up on opposite sides and turned to violence, until it became the most devastating war in human history up to that point. But what about the man who was actually killed? Franz Ferdinand’s life has been completely overshadowed by his assassination. Here are 42 facts about Franz Ferdinand.
1. Impossible to Remember
As with any member of a European royal family, “Franz Ferdinand” had a long and complicated name. Ferdinand had been christened Franz Ferdinand Karl Ludwig Joseph Maria. We can see why history books only stuck to the first two names.
2. The Fated Man is Born
Ferdinand was born on December 18, 1863, in the city of Graz, which was then a part of the Austrian Empire.
3. A Silver Spoon Encrusted with Diamonds
Ferdinand was the eldest son of Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria and Princess Maria Annunciata of Bourbon-Two Sicilies. Ferdinand’s father was the younger brother of Franz Joseph I, who became the monarch of Austria, Hungary, and Bohemia. This vast territory was known, of course, as the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
4. Shaping History
In case you forgot that part of history class, Ferdinand’s assassination in Sarajevo was the spark which lit the powder keg that was Europe in the early 20th century. The Austro-Hungarian Empire declared vengeance on Serbia, since it was a Serbian who had shot Ferdinand. This vindictiveness brought Russia into the mix, even as Germany and Italy joined the Austro-Hungarians.
Meanwhile, Russia was supported by Britain and France. In a very brief summary, this was how the First World War began.
5. The Heir
Franz Ferdinand was only 11 years old when a tragic death left him one of the wealthiest people in Austria. His cousin, the Duke of Modena, passed away and willed everything that he had to young Ferdinand. The only condition to this massive inheritance was that Ferdinand add “Este” to his already overly long list of names.
We can’t imagine that Ferdinand’s family wasted time to arrange this so they could get their hands on that windfall.
6. Noble House
Ferdinand was a member of the House of Hapsburg. This was an ancient family that had produced more rulers than almost any other house in Europe. The Holy Roman Empire was ruled by the Hapsburgs for centuries, and members of the house were also kings of such regions as the Netherlands, Bohemia, Croatia, Portugal, Spain, and Galicia.
It’s worth pointing out that the Hapsburgs went extinct in the male line during the 18th century, but descendants of that house continued to reign as kings and emperors. Ferdinand would have been one of those people if he had lived long enough to inherit his position.
7. Start Young, Climb Fast
As was the tradition within the Hapsburg dynasty, Franz Ferdinand joined the Austro-Hungarian Army at the young age of 12. If you think that’s a rather young age to start in the military, you’ll be more surprised to know that he became a lieutenant at age 14, a captain at 22, and colonel at 27. Of course, being a member of the royal family might have played a part in his promotions.
8. For the Sake of Conventionalism
Despite Ferdinand’s ranks in the Austro-Hungarian Army, he wasn’t expected to command troops in active combat. His military ranks were more of a formality. The closest he came to direct military authority was briefly being in charge of the 9th Hussar Regiment.
9. Rock On!
One of the more unlikely aspects of Ferdinand’s legacy is one of the most successful post-punk revival bands in British music. In 2002, the Scottish band Franz Ferdinand began a career which has continued to this day. The band has received multiple Grammy nominations and have scored many UK Top 20 hit songs over the course of their career.
However, we dread to think of what the real Ferdinand would have thought of their music.
10. Moving Ahead in Life
Once again, Ferdinand’s lot in life greatly improved due to an unexpected death. In 1889, Ferdinand’s first cousin, Rudolf, tragically took his own life. This wasn’t just a personal tragedy, however, but it also left a gap in the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s ruling class. Rudolf had been the Crown Prince and heir apparent to his father, Franz Joseph I.
This left Ferdinand’s father as the heir to his elder brother, with Ferdinand as the third in line.
11. Serious Sickness
During his 20s and early 30s, Ferdinand suffered from repeated bouts of tuberculosis. This was especially concerning because his own mother, Princess Maria Annunciata, had died young due to that same condition. Ferdinand spent much of his adult life traveling (more on that later) and one reason behind all that travel was to visit regions of the world whose climate allowed him to recover successfully.
12. From Third to Second
In 1896, Ferdinand’s father succumbed to typhoid fever. This left Ferdinand as the heir to his uncle. From then on until his death, Ferdinand underwent lessons for his future role as emperor of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
13. Together in Life and Death
In the wake of their deaths, Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were commemorated on Austrian postage stamps. In 2004, the couple also appeared on a commemorative coin.
14. Eat Your Heart Out, Phileas Fogg!
From 1892–1893, Ferdinand devoted his time to an epic world tour. Given that this was just before planes really took off as a means of transportation (forgive the pun), Ferdinand used boats and other means to circumnavigate the globe. It’s safe to say that he devoted more than 80 days to go around the world.
15. Family Guy
Despite his reputation for having a very cold and ill-tempered disposition, Franz Ferdinand was an utterly devoted husband and father. He regularly gushed over his family in his personal diaries—which means he wasn’t trying to prove it to anyone but himself—declaring that marrying Sophie was the smartest decision he ever made.
Reportedly, Ferdinand spent as much time with his wife and kids as possible.
16. Take a Moment to Smell Them!
One of Ferdinand’s gentler hobbies was his interest in flowers. According to his daughter, Ferdinand actually made flowers a subject which he studied enthusiastically. He also kept a collection of flowers pressed between the pages of his books. Ferdinand’s favorite kind of flower was roses. He kept literal thousands of rose beds in various patterns on his estate’s expansive grounds.
17. Like the Worst Thanksgiving You Ever Had
Despite being the heir to Franz Joseph I of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, things weren’t so peachy between the two men. One of Franz Joseph I’s servants later wrote that “thunder and lightning always raged when [Ferdinand and Franz Joseph I] had their discussions.” To be fair, though, that could mean that Ferdinand only ever visited his uncle on rainy days…
18. Gone, but not Forgotten
In 1908, Ferdinand and Sophie welcomed their fourth child into the world. However, the infant was stillborn. The bereaved parents had the boy buried in Arstetten Castle. Ferdinand and Sophie were later laid to rest close to their stillborn son.
19. My Body Lies Over the Ocean
Ferdinand was a diehard supporter of the Austro-Hungarian Navy. Unfortunately for Ferdinand, the empire wasn’t particularly concerned with competing for sea power against the British and German fleets. However, Ferdinand’s enthusiasm was ultimately rewarded. After their deaths, Ferdinand and his wife were given a lying in state on the navy ship SMS Viribius Unitis.
20. R.I.P. Cecil the Tiger
In 1893, during his world tour, Ferdinand took the time to visit India. As was the custom for rich Europeans traveling to exotic lands, Ferdinand went on a big game hunt, specifically for tigers. Ferdinand later wrote that he had no words to describe the joy he felt while killing his first tiger. In fact, one of the surviving pictures of Ferdinand that we have featured him proudly posing over the corpse of the tiger that he shot.
21. The Literal Lion King
Aside from the band named after him, Franz Ferdinand’s name has also been used in the Dutch animated children’s series Alfred J. Kwak. The character in the series is depicted as a lion. Funny, considering Ferdinand’s penchant for trophy hunting.
22. Age Difference
When Ferdinand was assassinated by Gavrilo Princip, he was just six months shy of his 51st birthday. Princip, for comparison, was only 19 years old when he assassinated the Archduke.
One of the great passions of Ferdinand’s life was trophy hunting. Indeed, it was more of an obsession than a passion for the Archduke. His diaries noted more than 300,000 different game that he’d shot! A full third of those dead animals were preserved and displayed at Ferdinand’s castle in Bohemia.
24. Nobody Tell Steve Irwin…
Among the place that Ferdinand visited during his 1892–1893 world tour was Australia. While visiting, Ferdinand embarked on several hunting expeditions against kangaroos and emus. Luckily for Ferdinand, this was long before Twitter could web-shame him for indulging in blood sports.
25. They That Live by the Gun
If you think that Ferdinand’s mania for hunting was distasteful, you’d have been in good company, even during Ferdinand’s own lifetime. He was described as being “ready to shoot” anything that he could get away with shooting. Even his royal and noble peers felt that Ferdinand was way too trigger-happy to be comfortable about it.
Emperor Franz Joseph I went one further and described his nephew’s shooting over 300,000 different animals as “mass murder.” Suddenly, the idea of Ferdinand dying by gunshot seems like poetic justice…
26. Unexpected Prophecy
One of the great ironies of Ferdinand’s life was his opinion that the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s policy towards Serbia should be cautious. He was adamant that harsh treatment of the Serbians wouldn’t just fuel their desire for independence, but it would also bring the Austro-Hungarians into a war with Russia that would be their downfall.
He never got to see just how accurate he’d been.
27. The Calm Before the Storm
In 1913, Ferdinand and his wife took a trip to England. As befitting their station in life, they spent a week at Windsor Castle as guests of King George V and Queen Mary of the British Empire. Little did any of them know that their respective lands would be at each other’s throats just a year later.
28. Don’t Tell Me What to Do!
Ferdinand wasn’t blindsided by his assassination. Prior to his visit to Sarajevo, Ferdinand was warned that he would be targeted by the terrorist group known as the Black Hand. Even Ferdinand’s wife, Sophie, begged Ferdinand to avoid the Balkans. However, Ferdinand didn’t want to be intimidated by the Black Hand, so he continued on his tour as planned.
29. For the People?
Ferdinand advocated most strongly for democratic reform within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He wrote that once he became emperor, he would push universal suffrage into existence. However, don’t go thinking that he was a progressive man (he wasn’t). For one thing, Ferdinand had no intention of giving the vote to women. And even his democratic push towards the ethnic minorities within the empire wasn’t done for selfless reasons.
Ferdinand was hoping that empowering the various people of the Austro-Hungarian empire would undermine the Hungarian portion of said empire.
30. Great… More Bigotry…
Oh, did we forget to mention that Ferdinand hated the Hungarians? Ferdinand took issue with growing Hungarian nationalism, viewing it as a threat to his family’s dynasty. However, Ferdinand also just plain hated the Hungarians for what they were. Despite commanding a regiment which officially spoke Hungarian, Ferdinand forbade the Hungarian language to be spoken in his presence.
In 1904, Ferdinand wrote that the “Hungarians are all rabble.” We can only assume that “rabble” used to be far ruder back then.
31. What Might Have Been
Speaking of that 1913 trip to England, Ferdinand also spent a week as a guest of the Duke of Portland. During that stay, something shocking very nearly occurred. Ferdinand and Portland were game shooting (because of course Ferdinand was shooting something) when one of the servants loading their guns accidentally fell.
This caused the loaded gun to fire, with the shot only barely missing Ferdinand. Years later, Portland wrote in his memoirs that he always wondered how much history would have changed and how many lives wouldn’t have been lost if Ferdinand had died accidentally in England rather than being assassinated in Sarajevo a year later.
32. Hoisted by my Own Petard
One of the reasons why Ferdinand died was his own vanity regarding his choice of clothing. Prior to arriving in Sarajevo, the Archduke arranged for his coat’s outer lapel to be sewn to his jacket’s inner front because it gave his outfit a smoother look. As a result, Ferdinand’s servants couldn’t easily remove Ferdinand’s clothing to treat his bullet wound.
33. Passage of Time
Ferdinand’s daughter was named Sophie after her mother. She and her brothers were referred to as the first orphans of the First World War, given that they lost both their parents in an act which triggered the war into existence. Despite being the oldest of her siblings, Sophie outlived them by decades, dying peacefully at the ripe old age of 89 in 1990.
Weird to think that one of Ferdinand’s children died at the same time as the Millenial generation was being born.
34. Love of My Life
In 1894, Franz Ferdinand visited the home of Archduke Friedrich, Duke of Teschen. It was there that he became acquainted with Sophie Chotek, who was serving Friedrich’s wife as a lady-in-waiting. Ferdinand fell completely head over heels for Sophie, finding any excuse to be a guest of Friedrich just so he could see Sophie again.
35. Showdown Over Love
In case the story of Ferdinand and Sophie wasn’t quite romantic enough, they had to keep their love a secret. Naturally, this failed, and Ferdinand was ordered by his uncle to put Sophie aside. The laws of inheritance forbade a Hapsburg monarch from marrying anyone who wasn’t a member of a reigning dynasty. Ferdinand refused to obey, insisting that he would marry Sophie or nobody.
After literal years of being at loggerheads over the subject, Franz Joseph I and Ferdinand reached a compromise where Ferdinand and Sophie could marry, but their children wouldn’t be able to inherit the royal titles.
36. Dick Move, Guys…
Despite this compromise, Ferdinand’s family remained bitter over his choice to marry Sophie. None of Ferdinand’s family attended the wedding, not even Ferdinand’s brothers. Additionally, Sophie was given no titles or privileges, and on formal occasions, she wasn’t even allowed to sit with her husband or anyone else in the royal family.
37. Near Miss
What many people don’t remember is that the original assassination attempt on Ferdinand’s life was a failure. On June 28, 1914, Ferdinand’s car was targeted by a grenade thrown by Black hand member Nedeljko Cabinovic. However, the grenade bounced off the car and rolled under another vehicle, injuring his occupants with its explosion.
Certain he would be caught, Čabrinović took a cyanide capsule and jumped into a nearby river. However, not only did the outdated capsule fail to kill Čabrinović, but a recent heatwave left the river to shallow to conceal him, and he was taken into custody.
38. What a Coincidence!
In a rare moment of empathy, Ferdinand insisted on going to the hospital to visit those who were injured by the grenade meant for Ferdinand. This led to his car making an unplanned reroute, which eventually resulted in the car getting stuck in a narrow city street. By sheer coincidence, there was a café nearby in which sat a despondent Gavrilo Princip, eating a sandwich as he lamented his group’s failure to kill Ferdinand.
The rest, of course, is history.
39. Dying Side by Side
When Gavilo Princip opened fire on the Archduke, he and his wife were both struck by bullets. Ferdinand lived long enough to comfort Sophie as she lay dying from her injuries. Reportedly, Ferdinand’s last words to his wife were “Don’t die, darling, live for our children.”
40. My Boys
Ferdinand’s sons, Maximilian and Ernst, had rather tumultuous lives. Orphaned at 12 and 10 years old, they were forced to flee their home in 1919 when the world was remade in the aftermath of World War I. Settling in Austria, the brothers became prominent figures in a movement to restore the monarchy in Austria.
Their pro-monarchist stance, as well as their ancestry, resulted in them being targeted by the Nazi government in the late 1930s. They were both imprisoned in Dachau’s concentration camp. Both brothers survived the Second World War, with Maximilian even serving as the mayor of Artstetten.
Maximilian, Duke of Hohenberg
41. In Another Timeline, Maybe
You might be wondering what happened to Gavrilo Princip, the man who assassinated Ferdinand. After shooting the Archduke and his wife, Princip attempted suicide but was seized and taken into custody. Because of his youth, he was not given the death penalty but instead received 20 years’ imprisonment. Princip endured draconian conditions during his imprisonment at Terezin, including being chained to the wall and being deprived of nourishment.
This ill treatment led him to contract tuberculosis, which only worsened his condition. Princip died on April 28, 1918, at the age of 23. By the time of his death, he weighed an appalling 88 pounds and had had an arm amputated due to his disease. He went to his grave refusing to believe that the war had been a direct result of his actions, allegedly stating that the war would have happened regardless of whether Ferdinand had lived or died.
Whether he was right or not in believing that will never be known for sure.
42. Any Last Statements?
Ferdinand’s final words before he died were repeated denials of his failing mortality. As he was slumped over, dying, he was asked if he was in great pain. Rather than responding with savage sarcasm, Ferdinand instead whispered: “It is nothing.” He spoke that phrase at least half a dozen more times as he lay dying.