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Archduke Francis Ferdinand

The Archduke Francis Ferdinand was born in 1863, the eldest son of the Archduke Charles Louis, third brother of the Emperor Francis Joseph II. In January, 1889, Crown Prince Rudolph committed suicide in an Alpine shooting lodge, under circumstances which were never fully explained; and Francis Ferdinand became - after his father, living in complete retirement - the next heir to the Hapsburg throne.

Although the next heir to the throne would, in fact, have been the Emperor's brother, Archduke Karl Ludwig, it was taken for granted that the latter would resign his right to the throne in favour of his eldest son, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, especially since, in view of the Emperor's vigorous constitution, he would not have succeeded until he was well advanced in years. The public knew little of Franz Ferdinand, and that little was not calculated to excite sympathy for him or to cause any great hopes to be set on him.

By the death of the crown prince, Rudolph, a most difficult situation arose. The difficulties of this situation considerably increased since the presumptive heir to the empire, the Archduke Francis Ferdinand, made the morganatic love marriage in July 1900 with the Princess Hohenberg, formerly Countess Chotek. He thereby increased the difficulties of the critical situation arising from his successor-ship to the throne. The empire of Austria would on his accession receive an emperor, but no empress. Sophia Chotek was the daughter of Count Chotek of Chotkowa and Wognin and Countess Minzie Kinsky, consequently of ancient, impoverished Bohemian nobility but not of the blood royal, so she could not share the throne.

Neither the laws of the house of Hapsburg nor the Archduke's solemn renunciation of all claims to the crown by the children of his marriage with the Countess Chotek could prevent Hungary from acknowledging her as their lawful queen, and crowning her as such. The Princess Hohenberg was not only decidedly Clerical, but also a fervently patriotic Czech in her sentiments. The Emperor of Austria was, at the same time, King of Bohemia, although Francis Joseph, to the disappointment of the Czechs, had always declined to be crowned as such in Prague.

By his marriage with the Countess Chotek, which he finally achieved after a long and difficult struggle, in spite of the vehement opposition of the Emperor and the Court in general, the Archduke showed that he was capable of obstinacy not only in political matters but also in regard to his personal affairs, even when in conflict with the most powerful man in the Empire. Although this alliance was dangerous and regrettable from a political point of view, because it was calculated to render Austrian politics, already difficult and complicated enough, more confused than ever, yet, judged from the other, the human standpoint, it did great credit to the Archduke's constancy and will-power.

When it became known that he was suffering from tuberculosis, a disease which he had inherited from his mother [some evidently erroneous accounts say from his father], who had died while still in her youth, and that on this account he was obliged to go south, it was generally believed that there was no question of his succeeding, even if he survived the Emperor ; and his younger brother Otto, who was married and had sons, was regarded as the future sovereign. But this belief was, before long, seen to have been erroneous, for Franz Ferdinand soon let it be known that he was not prepared to renounce the throne to which, after the death of his father, he had become the immediate heir.

Francis Ferdinand was known to be oppressed by his illness and his almost senile religiosity. But one day Francis Ferdinand returned from a long journey round the world completely cured and hastened to assert his rights to the succession. He was always directed towards one object, a strong tendency towards political intrigue, and an innate dislike for everything anti-Catholic. His belief was fervent and he observed all the externals of religion very scrupulously from his childhood. He was opposed to all the liberal ideas which had arisen from the ashes of the little Austrian monarchies in Italy, and he was fiercely opposed to republican and anti-Catholic France as well.

He was forced to look on helplessly and see how the timid policy of the Emperor, who avoided the solution of all serious problems for fear of possible strife, was making it more and more difficult for him, when the time came to assume power, to straighten out the ever- increasing tangle of intricate political problems, and to find for them even a partially satisfactory solution. The Emperor was blind to the dangers with which he and his Empire were threatened by the inflammable material which had been accumulating for years, or at any rate he refused to see them ; but Franz Ferdinand saw them, and realised the enormous danger menacing the Monarchy if these explosives were not unloaded in time by an expert hand. But it was such aims as these that were obstructed by Franz Josef, who would not hear of these dangerous things being handled at all.

Of such a nature were the various national problems, the solution of which was growing more and more necessary ; the Southern-Slav question, in particular, was becoming urgent, and also the highly complicated Hungarian problem, so closely connected with it. Then there was the question of Italia Irredenta, which tended to exacerbate the relations of the Monarchy with Italy.

As regards Germany, Franz Ferdinand was certainly in favor of maintaining the alliance, but not on the terms of German supremacy. The object of the Pan-German school of thought was none other than to hurl the Habsburgs from the throne and to affiliate Austria to the German Empire as a vassal State. But this movement naturally roused the indignation of the heir-apparent and provoked him to severe condemnation of the Pan-German propaganda.

The Archduke placed himself at the head of a party of irreconcilables who would have liked to see Austria return to the times of Metternich. The Liberals, Social-Democrats, Jews, and - a strange medley - Pan-Germans all had fears for the future, which held no promise of good to them when Franz Ferdinand should come to the throne.

In foreign politics Franz Ferdinand turned his attention first of all to Italy. He was under no illusions as to what the Monarchy might expect from this ' ally,' and believed that the latter was only lying in wait for the moment when she could take the Monarchy unawares and attack it, of course with the help of another Power. Italy's expedition to Tripoli gave him, indeed, a foretaste of what awaited the Monarchy at Italy's hands under certain conditions, and must have strengthened him in his feeling of distrust and resentment. Those who shared these concerns were called the ' War Party ' in public, but in privately they were called the ' Belvedere Party,' recognising the Archduke to be their moving spirit. It was not surprising, therefore, that the official political attitude of the Monarchy in regard to Italy enraged him, for this attitude was in keeping with the Emperor's desire for peace at any price.

Above all, the Archduke, despite the frequent divergence of their political views, acquired the Emperor's confidence in military questions; and thus, by a natural process, as Francis Joseph advanced in years, most of his military duties and privileges devolved upon his nephew. Francis Ferdinand's influence was repeatedly noticeable in the background. Throughout the stormy decade (1903-1913), the Archduke, while keeping a jealous watch over military policy as a whole, was untiring in his efforts for the improvement of all arms of the service, the introduction of greater efficiency, the raising of the social status of the officers and the material comfort of the men.

Not less important was the Archduke's interest in the navy; indeed, the entry of Austria-Hungary upon the sphere of naval competition must be directly ascribed to his initiative. Franz Ferdinand, in spite of his energetic nature, was by no means of a warlike disposition. He gave proof of this at the time of the annexation crisis (1908) when, in spite of a favorable opportunity - Russia was still disabled by the Japanese war and Italy would not have dared to attack the Monarchy single-handed - he could not make up his mind to seize his advantage and settle the account with Serbia.

The heir presumptive was the Archduke Karl Franz Joseph, born Aug. 17, 1887, son of the late Archduke Otho Franz Joseph and nephew of the Emperor. The former heir presumptive was the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, son of the late Archduke Karl Ludwig and nephew of the Emperor; Franz Ferdinand and his wife, the Duchess of Hohenburg (Countess Chotek), were assassinated at Sarajevo, Bosnia, June 28, 1914.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:51:21 ZULU