The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Published: 27th June 2014

On Saturday 28th of June it will be 100 years since the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated with his wife Sophie in Sarajevo. As everyone knows or will know after this summer that assassination led to the start of the First World War.

The young man who fired the shot Gavrilo Princip was part of the Young Bosnia movement, a group of nationalists set on a united Yugoslavia away from Austro-Hungarian control. He and his six co-conspirators could have had no idea that a hundred years later their plan would still be discussed as one of the turning points of history.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand was heir to the Hapsburg Empire who controlled Sarajevo in Bosnia. He was on a visit to the city to inspect the army. The Austro-Hungarian Empire controlled a large section of the Balkans and had continued despite wars of independence in that region.

The initial plan to assassinate the Archduke was by bomb which some members of the group threw at the car but missed. Following that the Archduke's party planned on returning to their base but on the way a mistake was made about the route by the driver and it provided Princip with his opportunity. When the car stopped right in front of him he fired the revolver he had and was able with his two shots to kill Ferdinand and his wife.

What happens next is that Austria blames Serbia for fostering and supporting terrorist groups that oppose an Austro-Hungarian presence in the Balkans and issues an ultimatum. The ultimatum is impossible for Serbia to accept and steps proceed to war between the two countries. How does this lead to a World War? Well the two sides have important allies who will come to their aid in a war, and they in turn have important allies etc. etc.

Is it really as simple as a World War that results in the death of millions is started by a small group of nationalists in the Balkans? Well yes and no - the causes and origins of the conflict have long been debated with blame attributed and discussed. At an HA event on the 8th July Professor Sir Richard Evans will explore the origins of the First World War and the lecture will be podcasted on this site.  Over the next few years others will examine issues and events that led to the First World War. It will be interesting to watch the discussions develop. How much blame can be placed on the actions of a group of Balkan nationalists will be interesting as for many the assassination was only the catalyst for a war waiting to happen, whilst others will argue that nothing was inevitable.

Whatever the outcome of the discussions the simple facts remain, the assassination led to a diplomatic crisis. Princip was arrested and charged with the murder of the Archduke and his wife, as he was only 19 he was sentenced to imprisonment rather than executed (the legal age for which was 20).  He died in 1918 in a prison in what is now the Czech Republic, and he was fully aware of what his actions that day in June 1914 had led to and for the next four and a half years so will we.