Life looked sweet for 49-year-old Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Este in 1914. He had married for love and the starchy Austrian court was finally accepting his wife. Franz Ferdinand was also fabulously wealthy and heir to the mighty Austro-Hungarian Empire.
It all came to a violent end on June 28. Franz Ferdinand was in the Austro-Hungarian province of Bosnia and Herzegovina, accompanied by his beloved wife Sophie. The visit was not popular with everyone. Balkan politics were turbulent, and the neighboring Kingdom of Serbia coveted Bosnia. The Royal couple were travelling through Sarajevo in an open-topped car when a grenade was thrown and though Franz Ferdinand was unhurt, members of his entourage were injured and bystanders were peppered with shrapnel.
Franz Ferdinand and Sophie later insisted on visiting the victims in hospital. Returning to the palace, their open car took a wrong turn. As the driver maneuvered in a side street a young Austrian citizen named Gavrilo Princip seized his opportunity. Approaching the car, he shot both Franz Ferdinand and Sophie with a Browning pistol. Both died within moments.
Princip belonged to the Serb-supported Young Bosnia movement and the Black Hand. Both groups were dedicated to uniting territories seized by Austria-Hungary that contained South Slav peoples, by violent means if necessary. But Princip’s act had disastrous consequences that went far beyond the Balkans, contributing significantly to the outbreak of World War 1.
Deeply insulted by the assassination, Austria-Hungary declared war on the country behind the outrage, Serbia. This set the Triple Alliance (Austria-Hungary, Germany and Italy) against Serbia’s allies in the Triple Entente (Russia, France and Britain). Momentum became unstoppable and the deadliest conflict in history erupted. Two lives taken in Sarajevo thus led directly to the death of over 15 million combatants in the Great War.
When: June 28 1914
Where: Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Death toll: Two very important people
You should know: Gavrilo Princip tried to commit suicide after the attack. His cyanide capsule failed to work and the pistol was wrestled from his hand before he could use it on himself. He was too young to receive the death penalty, but was given a long prison sentence and kept in harsh conditions that contributed to his death from tuberculosis in 1918 – without seeing the creation of the united Yugoslavia of which he dreamed.