Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Este, Archduke

   After the death of his cousin, Archduke Rudolph (1858–1889), Franz Ferdinand was generally accepted to be the heir apparent of his uncle, Franz Joseph, though his position was not officially confirmed. He and his uncle were never comfortable with one another— the archduke was willful, opinionated, and morose, and quite critical of the aging emperor’s management of the Habsburg Empire. Their relationship was also complicated by Franz Ferdinand’s misalliance with Countess Sophie Chotek in 1900. Though noble, the lineage of the Choteks was not distinguished enough to qualify them for marriage into the ruling house; Franz Joseph permitted the wedding to take place only after his nephew accepted morganatic status for his wife-to-be and their future offspring.
   Regardless of the tension between them, Franz Joseph left important responsibilities to his heir apparent. By the end of the 19th century, Franz Ferdinand was representing his uncle in all military affairs; he was especially influential in the development of the Habsburg navy and promoted the use of air power in combat. However, he worked to avoid engaging Habsburg forces in major conflict. He was particularly concerned not to provoke Russia and unsuccessfully opposed the Austrian annexation of Bosnia in 1908 on this ground. He was more persuasive in arguing against Austria–Hungary’s participation in the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913.
   Franz Ferdinand was no pacifist, but he believed that the empire was domestically too fractured to survive such a test. To soothe national resentments over the privileged position accorded the Hungarians in the 1867 Ausgleich, he and his advisors gave serious consideration to a scheme called Trialism that would have given the South Slavic peoples of the empire a similar status to the Germans and the Hungarians. These views won him few friends, especially among Hungarian politicians, but even among the South Slavs. The recently independent kingdom of Serbia vigorously promoted pan-Serbian nationalism in the Balkans, and opposed any plan that would keep their ethnic cohorts throughout the region from their reach. They also worried that Franz Ferdinand’s efforts to improve the Habsburg military infrastructure presaged some future attack from Vienna. Named inspector general of the army in 1913, the archduke was responsible for all its maneuvers and reported directly to his uncle, the emperor. It was in this capacity that he went to Sarajevo in 1914 where, on 28 June, he and his wife were assassinated by a student, Gavrilo Princip, a nationalist Bosnian Serb.
   See also Habsburg, House of.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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