Francis Ferdinand

views updated May 23 2018


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.

See alsoAustria-Hungary; Francis Joseph; Nationalism.


Hoffmann, Robert. Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand und der Fortschritt. Vienna, 1994.

Kann, Robert A. Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand Studien. Vienna, 1976.

Okey, Robin. The Habsburg Monarchy: From Enlightenment to Eclipse. New York, 2001.

Weissensteiner, Friedrich. Franz Ferdinand: Der verhinderte Herrscher. Vienna, 1983.

Steven Beller

Francis Ferdinand

views updated May 21 2018

Francis Ferdinand

Francis Ferdinand (1863-1914) was archduke of Austria and heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian throne. His assassination in 1914 was the immediate cause of World War I.

Born on Dec. 18, 1863, Francis Ferdinand (German, Franz Ferdinand) was the oldest son of Archduke Karl Ludwig, brother of Emperor Francis Joseph. He started a military career at the age of 15, serving in Hungary, Upper Austria, and Bohemia. The suicide of the crown prince Rudolf (1889) and his own father's death (1896) made him heir apparent.

Partly to cure a lung ailment and partly to enlarge his knowledge, Francis Ferdinand took several cruises during the 1890s, one of which brought him around the globe. Following his return he spent some time in Bohemia (1894-1895), but his illness soon forced him to spend several years on the Adriatic and the Mediterranean coasts. In the meantime he advanced in rank (becoming general of the cavalry in 1899), but this did not lessen his long-standing contempt for Viennese high society or his differences with the Emperor. He crowned his contempt by his morganatic marriage (July 1, 1900) to Countess Sophie Chotek.

Francis Ferdinand regarded the nationality question as the most serious problem of the empire. Initially he sought a solution in terms of "crownland federalism," with the historic borders more or less retained (except for Hungary). Later he favored the idea of the "United States of Greater Austria," which called for a thorough restructuring along ethnic lines. Simultaneously, Francis Ferdinand also toyed with the "trialistic" solution, which was to be achieved by granting the South Slavs an equal partnership with the Austrians and Hungarians in the empire. Finally, due largely to threatening Serbian irredentism, he returned to a modified dualism, calling for a special position for Bosnia-Herzegovina as the "Kingdom of Rama."

In foreign affairs Francis Ferdinand favored the pro-German orientation but also wished to restore understanding with Russia. This desire prevented him from advocating a policy of final solution against the growingly bellicose Serbia.

Francis Ferdinand's influence grew, and by 1913 he was inspector general of the combined armed forces. In this capacity on June 28, 1914, he visited Sarajevo and was assassinated by a group of Serbian conspirators. The fateful bullet, which unleashed the war, was fired by Gavrilo Princip.

Further Reading

The standard biography of Francis Ferdinand by Rudolf Kiszling, is available only in German. Fortunately there are also a number of good English-language works, most of which, however, place too much emphasis on the assassination and the "war guilt" questions. The best and most recent of these are Joachim Remak, Sarajevo: The Story of a Political Murder (1959); Hertha Pauli, The Secret of Sarajevo: The Story of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie (1965); and Vladimir Dedijer, The Road to Sarajevo (1966). □

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