Top 10 Facts about the Archduke Franz Ferdinand
World War I goes down in history as an unprecedented trail of carnage and destruction. More than 9 million soldiers lost their lives while 21 million more were injured. As with every war, there were many civilian casualties- close to 10 million civilians died. Germany and France were the most affected countries.
The war began in 1914 and went on until 1918. Before the war broke out, Europe had underlying tension, especially in South Eastern Europe, in the Balkan region.
World War 1 broke out after Archduke Franz Ferdinand who was the heir to the Austro- Hungarian Empire and his wife were shot dead, as they entered Sarajevo on a visit. The terrorist group Black Hand was responsible- agent Gavrilo Princip carried out the shooting.
This assassination was the last straw for an already troubled region; Austria- Hungary declared war against Serbia, which saw Russia declare war on Austria-Hungary, Germany against Russia, while France and Britain declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary. These wars were pegged on alliances.
An insight into top 10 facts about Archduke Franz Ferdinand might explain why his death kindled World War 1, and who the man was.
1. Ferdinand was born into a noble house
Ferdinand was born in 1863 in Graz, then part of the Austrian empire. He was a member of the House of Hapsburg, or House of Austria, one of the most illustrious and influential houses in Europe.
Descendants of the House of Hapsburg became kings and emperors of regions such as the Netherlands, Bohemia, Croatia, Portugal, Spain, and Galicia. The Holy Roman Empire was ruled for centuries by the Hapsburgs. Ferdinand was therefore destined to become a ruler as well but this was cut short by his assassination.
2. Ferdinand inherited the Duke of Modena’s estate
The Duke of Modena was Ferdinand’s cousin. When he passed on the willed his whole estate to Ferdinand who was only 11 at the time. Talk about young rich. Ferdinand only had to add “Este” to his already lengthy name, to become Archduke Franz Ferdinand Carl Ludwig Joseph Maria Este. Quite a mouthful but definitely worth the trouble.
3. Ferdinand was a 14 year old lieutenant
Ferdinand belonged in the ruling Hapsburg dynasty, which had males join the army at a very young age. He, therefore, joined the Austro- Hungarian Army at 12 years old. He rose the ranks quickly to become lieutenant at 14, a captain at 22, a colonel at 27 and major general at 31. Ferdinand was briefly appointed to take charge of the 9th Hussar Regiment. He, however, was not expected to command any troops in active combat.
4. Ferdinand was a romantic!
He fell in love at first sight with Sophie Chotek, a lady in waiting to Archduchess Isabella when he met her at Archduke Friedrich’s villa in Pressburg (Bratislava). As with any young lad in love, Ferdinand kept finding any reason to visit the villa. The lovebirds, however, kept their relationship a secret- it was an ‘illicit’ one. Ferdinand was royalty, Sophie was a commoner.
Ferdinand was to consider marrying someone else from one of the reigning or formerly reigning dynasties of Europe as per expectation, but he would not hear any of it. The two were eventually allowed to get married, but the cost would be that none of their descendants would have succession rights and Sophie would not share Ferdinand’s rank, title, precedence, or privileges. His family, however, did not attend the wedding- he only had his stepmother and her daughters attend.
The family wedding snub notwithstanding, Ferdinand expressed in writing that marrying Sophie was the best decision he ever made. He was devoted to his family spending as much time with them as possible. This sure does blur the burly macho exterior- Ferdinand was also warm and fuzzy, at least to his family.
5. Ferdinand’s name survives through pop culture
The name Franz Ferdinand does feature in Scotland and the world through the band named after him. Going by the name “Franz Ferdinand”, the multiple Grammy-nominated, Brit awarded band started in 2002 and is still active. The band definitely isn’t mediocre as it has scored many UK Top 20 hit songs to date, such as “Always Ascending” and “Take Me Out”.
Members of the band witnessed a racehorse christened Archduke Franz Ferdinand win- they decided to stick with this name after discussion because of the win, but also from the metaphor that the end of Ferdinand’s life was the catalyst for a whole World War 1!
There is also a Dutch children’s animated series, Alfred J.Kwak, with a character named Ferdinand. The character is a lion, just like the ones Ferdinand trophy hunted. Quite uncanny.
6. Ferdinand loved his gun
Ferdinand’s world tour in 1893 took him to India, where he went on a Tiger hunt and managed to kill one. It is reported that this kill, his first Tiger, made Ferdinand very happy. Ferdinand penned down in his diary more than 300,000 different games that he’d shot! Some of the animals were preserved and displayed at his castle in Bohemia. Emperor Franz Joseph I, Ferdinand’s uncle thought his nephew’s shooting over 300,000 different animals as “mass murder.”
Ferdinand had a taste for trophy hunting. He also hunted Kangaroos and Emus in Australia.
He was also described as a trigger happy by his royal and noble peers.
7. Ferdinand loved flowers!
For a trigger happy royalty, a love for flowers if far from what one would expect to pop up! Ferdinand had a serious interest in flowers and loved his roses. He had flowers pressed between the pages of his books and kept thousands of rose beds in various patterns on his expansive grounds. Ferdinand also studied flowers ardently, according to Sophie, his daughter.
8. Ferdinand could have avoided his own death
By simply cancelling his trip to Sarajevo, Ferdinand could have avoided his wife’s and his own assassination at that particular time. He had been warned that the terrorist group Black Hand would target him during this trip. His wife begged him to avoid the Balkans at the time but Ferdinand was insistent, not wanting to be intimidated. The tour went on, to his and his wife’s demise.
9. Ferdinand displayed bigotry
It is one thing to be a bigot, and quite another to be open about it. Ferdinand did display his bigot tendencies against Hungarians with seemingly no discomfiture. He saw the growing Hungarian nationalism as a threat to the family dynasty.
Ferdinand did put in writing that Hungarians were all rabble! This can’t have been a compliment.
He also forbids the use of Hungarian language in his presence- this, with a regiment that officially spoke Hungarian.
10. Ferdinand had a vision for democratic reform
Ferdinand was making plans for when he took overpower. He advocated for universal suffrage (one man, one vote) and democracy towards ethnic minorities. The latter was however for his own strategy and gains- by empowering minorities of the Austro- Hungarian Empire, the Hungarian side would be undermined.
The big downer on the push for universal suffrage, however, was that the vote would not be given to women!
Archduke Franz Ferdinand is a leader who died prematurely- he exhibited signs of great accomplishments, both positive and negative. His children were referred to as orphans of the First World War. His eldest, Sophie lived to her 89th birthday and died peacefully in 1990. His sons, however, had rather unbridled lives. They fled their home in 1919 and settled in Austria, where they actively pursued the restoration of the Monarchy in Austria. They became a target to the Nazi government, ended up in prison but survived the Second World War. It is not surprising that they, however, died ahead of their older sister.