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Archduke Franz Ferdinand d'Este
Fighting From An Early Age

Archduke Franz Ferdinand Karl Ludwig Joseph Maria von Habsburg-Lothringen was born at Graz on 18 July 1863, son of Karl Ludwig, Kaiser Franz Josef's second brother.  The most difficult part of his life was his youth, during which time he suffered a terrible illness, and most everyone expected him to die.  However, Archduke was far stronger than anyone gave him credit for, and he fought back to good health.  By his thirtieth birthday, symptoms of the disease were a memory, and the Archduke was becoming a playboy.  Added to that was his ascension to be heir to the thrones of Austria and Hungary, following the death of Crown Prince Rudolf in 1889.  The handsome if stern Archduke had much to offer a proper young lady.

Franz Ferdinand used to be the frequent guest of the
Archduke Friedrich and his  wife, Isabella.  Now Isabella admired Franz Ferdinand and expected that his many visits to her husband's villa in Pressburg during 1898 concealed an interest in one of her daughters.  But one day a servant found the Archduke's gold watch lying on a tennis court.  Isabella opened the watch, anticipating a photo of one of her daughters.  Instead, she was stunned to see the photo of one of her two ladies-in-waiting.  That one was Sophie Chotek, a Czech countess, and constant attendant whenever Franz Ferdinand visited.  For this, Isabella expelled Sophie from her house after many years of faithful, flawless service. 

From then, Franz Ferdinand remembered the poor treatment of his love by Isabella, and he and the Archduke Friedrich were henceforth bitter enemies.  Not that Sophie's expulsion alone fueled his hatred of the Third Duke of Teschen.  Friedrich was the eldest Archduke and therefore his behaviour dictated that of his lesser cousins.  As
Kaiser Franz Josef was opposed to the union and was coldly bitter toward his successor for many years thereafter, so Friedrich took the same line and urged the other Archdukes to behave in a similar cold manner toward Franz Ferdinand. 

The Marriage and the Disinheritance

It was at Friedrich's urging, not the Kaiser's,  that none of the other Archdukes attended the wedding of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie.  Thus, bad feelings from the hot-tempered Franz Ferdinand was not unexpected.  No members of the Habsburg family attended the ceremony on 1 July 1900, where Archduke Franz Ferdinand married Sophie Maria Albina, Gräfin Chotek von Chotkowa und Wognin.  Even Franz Ferdinand's father and brothers steered clear of the ceremony, and Friedrich's possible wrath.  Furthermore, the Imperial Hofmeister
Graf von Montenuovo presented Franz Ferdinand with the papers declaring that none of Franz Ferdinand's children would be part of the Habsburg family, nor would they become rulers or claimants to any domains or properties or inheritances or allowances rightfully due an Archduke or Archduchess.  On the morning  before the wedding day, Franz Ferdinand must have been quaking with rage as his opponent, the sly Hofmeister, read each line of the papers declaring his marriage morganatic.  Kasier Franz Josef and Archduke Friedrich witnessed this ceremony, and the Archduke's signature. 

But the Kaiser made a personal display of kindness toward his heir's new bride by conferring upon her the title "Princess of Hohenberg," one of the most ancient titles of the Habsburgs, that had lapsed centuries before.  This title elevated Sophie considerably from her former status, but she was still far behind her contemporary Archduchesses and, whenever a royal function required the couple to gather with the other Habsburgs, Sophie was forced by protocol to stand far down the line of importance, separated from her husband and surrounded by hostile people. 

Together they had two sons and one daughter before his assassination.  The official proclamation by the Kaiser sanctioning the morganatic marriage precluded Franz Ferdinand's heirs from succeeding him.  The
Archduke Karl, son of Franz Ferdinand's younger brother Otto, was designated his successor at the time of this proclamation.  While the ascension of his son, Archduke Maximilian, to the throne of Austria was prevented, Franz Ferdinand's heir was not prevented from ascending the throne of Hungary, whose royal laws did  not hinge on Habsburg family law.  

Franz Josef's own legitimacy had long been questioned in Hungary until the formal coronation took place in Budapest in 1867.  From his ascension to the throne on 2 December 1848 until that time, most Hungarians regarded the ex-Kaiser, Ferdinand, as the true King of Hungary, while Franz Josef was "the pretender."  Thus, the integrity of the empire was in jeopardy should Hungarian nationals raise Archduke Maximilian d'Este to the throne while Archduke Karl was ascending the throne of Austria. 

Saving Something for His Children

Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany approached Franz Ferdinand and his wife on the idea that his son should become the Grand Duke of Lotharingia (Lorraine) in Germany.  This would be reactivate a dead title in the Habsburg-Lothringen list of claims, all while solving the problem of ascension.  The couple approved heartily of the plan.  However, the assassination of the couple at Sarajevo precluded any coronation of Archduke Maximilian as the new Grand Duke of Lotharingia. 

One of Franz Ferdinand's sisters attempted to ensure Maximilian's ascension to this throne by visiting Kaiser Wilhelm as late as 1917.  But by this time, Kaiser Wilhelm was not interested in entertaining such suggestions.  There was no need, and Lotharingia was destined for incorporation into Prussia with Wilhelm himself taking the title of Grand Duke; the armistice of 1918 prevented that, and Lotharingia was returned to France along with Alsace. 

Considering the challenges he faced from his relatives, Franz Ferdinand gained an important title, one that would have ensured his future family's well-being would not rely on anything "Habsburg."  The last Grand Duke of Modena, Franz V, had died on 20 November 1875.  His daughter, Anna Beatrix, was the only survivor of the ducal line.  Grand Duke Franz's will bequeathed his title and predicate (d'Este) to Franz Ferdinand.  After Franz Ferdinand's death, Anna Beatrix became guardian of the ducal title.  Finally, on 16 April 1917, she imparted the title to the Duchy of Modena and the surname d'Este on Robert, the second son of Kaiser Karl.

Preparing to Rule

Franz Ferdinand's relations with the Kaiser and the other Archdukes was at times hostile, but often merely formal.  However, contrary to popular belief, the bitterness eventually subsided and Franz Ferdinand took part in the government, with the Kaiser's blessings.  Franz Josef may have disliked Franz Ferdinand's marriage, his associates, and his political ideas, but he also realised that the Archduke was a survivor, made strong by his childhood illness, and needed some experience before ascending the thrones of the Dual Monarchy.

Franz Ferdinand's first majour job concerned his appointment as an Inspector of the Army.  He witnessed a mock marine landing on the Dalmatian Coastline in 1903, along with the Chief of Staff, General
Friedrich von Beck-Rzikowsky. The performance of the army was so disappointing that the Archduke immediately drew up a long report to the Kaiser condemning the poor condition of the armed forces.  The army was the Kaiser's beloved, but reality dictated that reforms be introduced.  Thus, Franz Ferdinand was given the opportunity to rebuild the Kaiser's army.  He first secured the dismissal of General Beck, who had maintained his position ever since the Kaiser's uncle, Archduke Albrecht, had died in 1875.  Beck was replaced by Franz Ferdinand's friend, General Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf.

As the new Chief of Staff poured new regulations upon the K.u.K. Armee at an unprecedented level and the Imperial Foreign Ministry waded through diplomatic crises, Franz Ferdinand considered what changes needed to be made in the Empire itself.  Whereas the late Kaiserin Elisabeth was known as the greatest friend of the Magyars and the Kaiser himself was known to be a sympathetic King of Hungary (in spite of his violent crushing of the Hungarian State during the revolution in 1849), Franz Ferdinand was an open and vocal enemy of the Magyars.  He strongly believed in the concept of a federal Empire with the so-called Delegations (the combined Austrian and Hungarian parliaments who debate the customs union every ten years) as the parliamentary authority in the country. 

To make this happen, Hungary's strong, centralised Magyar government would have to be either radically reformed or totally destroyed.  Franz Ferdinand and General Conrad even devised a civil war scenario in which the Army would march on Budapest and divide Hungary into five regions.  After the Archduke was assassinated, the Serbs and other Entente sources claimed that the deed was perpetrated by either the Kaiser's secret police in retaliation for his morganatic marriage or by the Magyars themselves, who feared the Archdule's plans for their Kingdom.

Franz Ferdinand actually planned to hold off his coronation as King of Hungary until the Parliament at Budapest had passed reforms—chief of these being universal manhood sufferage as had been passed in Austria in 1907  (the Kaiser's threats to force this on the Magyars caused them to give in to the customs union in that year).  If the Kingdom refused, then Franz Ferdinand could use force against Hungary without violating the Hungarian Constitution, as he would not yet be King.

During the Balkan Wars, Franz Ferdinand supported a strong stance against Serbia.  He was sympathetic to the South Slav cause, but he dreaded the idea of Serbia becoming their champion.  The Archduke therefore supported Hungarian Premier
Istvan Tisza's scheme of adding Bulgaria to the Triple Alliance and forcing Roumania to publicise its secret alliance to Austria-Hungary and Germany.  No doubt, that was the main topic of discussion between Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and the Archduke met at Konopischt only two weeks before the fateful Sarajevo morning. 

His Greatest Friend

Kaiser Wilhelm was perhaps the Archduke's greatest friend.  They were of a similar age, held similar political views, and enjoyed the same kinds of hobbies.  Wilhelm always extended the best hospitality and friendship to Sophie whenever they met, and this greatly impressed Franz Ferdinand, who was getting used to being snubbed in Vienna.  News of the couple's assassination was a terrible blow to Wilhelm.

Franz Ferdinand was assassinated along with his wife, the Princess Hohenberg, at  Sarajevo on 28 June 1914.

GWS, 10/01 [rev. 1/05]
Princess Hohenberg:  Innocent Victim of Terrorism
Princess Sophie von Hohenberg was the beloved wife of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.  She had three children by him, and was both a loving mother and supporting wife.  She was murdered by the Bosniak terrorist Gavrilo Princip along with her husband.  Her death outraged the people of Austria perhaps even more than the Archduke's—whereas he was something of a target, she was an innocent woman.  During the trial of the conspirators, Princip was asked by each judge as to why he killed the Princess.  He replied that it was an accident that he was truly sorry for.  He apologised to the orphaned children, but he did not apologise for murdering Archduke Franz Ferdinand. 

The other conspirators were also asked why they involved themselves in a plot that killed Sophie, to which they also expressed regret.  The Austrian media used the death of innocent Sophie as their chief propaganda in western countries during the July Crisis.  They likened the murder of the princess to that of Queen Draga of Serbia in 1903, who was hacked to pieces and shot by Serbian officers.  The man who gleefully chopped into Draga's leg with his sabre while she screamed for mercy and then shot her dead, finally throwing her mangled body out of the palace window onto the square where people trampled it to pieces, was none other than Colonel Dragutin "Apis" Dmitrijevic.  It was he who later directed and armed Princip and his fellow conspirators to seek out and kill the Archduke by bomb or gun, without regard for anyone else's safety, and whose mad violence was finally ended with a volley from the Serbian army's execution squad in 1917.

GWS, 1/01 [rev. 1/05]