The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sophie Chotek is considered by many historians to be the single most important immediate cause of World War One. This article takes a look at the unlikely series of events that took place on the morning of June 28 1914 and asks why Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated.

So what actually took place on June 28 1914?

On the morning of the 28th June 1914, a team of seven assassins lined the Appel Quay, in Sarajevo; patiently lying in wait for their quarry, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand—heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne.

The archduke, who was visiting the Bosnian capital on a state visit from Vienna, was being accompanied for the first time by his wife, Sophie Chotek, the Duchess of Hohenberg. The royal couple drove through the city in an open top motorcar, waving enthusiastically to the cheering crowds, completely oblivious to the dangers that lay ahead.

Meanwhile, the assassins were spread out along the route of the archduke’s motorcade and were armed to the teeth with bombs and pistols, having been trained in Serbia earlier that summer by members of the secret military society, the Black Hand.

Target practice for the assassination had taken place in the Topčider Forest Park, an urban neighbourhood of Belgrade, where it was soon discovered that the top marksman among the would-be assassins was a certain, Gavrilo Princip. And, as fate would have it, it would be the nineteen year old Princip who would end up shooting and killing the archduke and his wife.

How did the assassination of Franz Ferdinand succeed?

The series of events leading up to the assassination really were quite remarkable and from the outset it appeared that the dastardly act was all set to fail.

The motorcade passed the first two assassins without either of them acting, but the third would-be assassin, a Bosnian Serb called Nedeljko Čabrinović, threw a bomb at the motorcar that Franz Ferdinand and Sophie were driving in. However, the bomb bounced off the folded back cover of the convertible sports car and exploded under the next car in the motorcade, injuring about 20 people in the process.

The rest of the cars then sped up, which meant that the remaining assassins, including Gavrilo Princip, each failed to act as the Archduke’s car passed them by.

Meanwhile, Čabrinović had swallowed a cyanide tablet and had then jumped into the Miljacka river, in order to avoid being captured. Incredibly, he did not die, as the cyanide tablet was past its sell-by date, only making him sick, and the river was not very deep during the summer months. Instead, he was arrested by the police, but not before being badly beaten by an angry crowd.

Having escaped the assassination attempt unscathed, Franz Ferdinand and Sophie continued on with their visit to the Town Hall, where the Archduke was scheduled to give a speech. Clearly shaken by the events, he began his speech by saying:

Mr. Mayor, I came here on a visit and I am greeted with bombs. It is outrageous

After the reception, the Archduke decided that rather than continuing with the planned itinerary, he and Sophie would instead go and visit the victims injured in the attack. For security reasons, a change in the route was decided by Oskar Potiorek, the Governor of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in order to avoid the busy city centre.

Unfortunately, the chauffeur driving Franz Ferdinand’s car did not know about the new route and made a wrong turn down Franz Josef Strasse, which was actually part of the original return route. As fate would have it, they had driven down the very same street that Gavrilo Princip happened to be waiting on.

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

There is much speculation as to whether it was a pure coincidence that Princip was stood outside of Moritz Schiller’s Delicatessen (which today houses the Museum of Sarajevo), some even claiming he had gotten peckish and had just finished eating a sandwich there, but most likely Princip was stationed along the Archduke’s original return route from the Town Hall and was lying in wait to carry out the plan to kill Franz Ferdinand.

Whatever the reason, Gavrilo Princip found himself in the right place at the right time. And when the chauffeur stopped the car, on the orders of Governor Potiorek, and then fumbled with the gears, Princip was able to walk up to the stranded car and fire two shots from less than six feet away; hitting Franz Ferdinand in the neck and Sophie in the stomach. They both died from their wounds, before receiving any medical assistance.

Who killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand?

Now, we all know Gavrilo Princip killed the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, but although it may have been the Bosnian Serb who pulled the trigger of his Browning FN Model 1910 pistol, he was by no means acting alone.

Princip was a member of the Pan-Serb revolutionary movement, Young Bosnia, as were the other six members of the team of assassins assembled in Sarajevo that day. The assassination had been coordinated by Danilo Ilić, who in addition to being a Young Bosnian was also a member of the Black Hand.

It was through Ilić’s contacts in the Serbian military society that the assassins were able to procure their weapons. Ilić also acted as a middle man between the Black Hand and the assassins, taking his orders right from the very top of the secret organisation. And one of the people at the very top was none other than Dragutin Dimitrijević, a Serbian army officer, who is perhaps better known by his nickname, Apis.

Apis, who’s day job was chief of the military intelligence section of the Serbian general staff, would later confess to a Serbian Court, in 1917 while on trial for treason, that it was he who had ordered the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Why Was Archduke Franz Ferdinand Assassinated?

As the most prominent member of the Black Hand, Apis had a bit of a history for ordering assassinations, beginning with his involvement in the assassination of Alexander I of Serbia and his wife, in 1903, for which the new regime of King Peter I of Serbia was forever grateful.

Less than a decade later and Apis was busy plotting another royal assassination, although his attempts to kill the Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary, in 1911, ultimately ended in failure. As did his plot to kill Oskar Potiorek, the aforementioned Governor of Bosnia, three years later, in January of 1914.

But why Apis then decided to turn his attention towards killing Franz Ferdinand, later that same year, is not really clear. Although heir-presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, the archduke was actually an outspoken exponent of peace in the Balkans, and on the face of it would seem a less obvious target for the Black Hand than his uncle, Franz Joseph. Perhaps Apis felt the archduke’s state visit to Sarajevo was just too good an opportunity to pass up.

Gavrilo Princip, on the other hand, was quite clear in his reasons for murdering Franz Ferdinand—he did it out of revenge:

I am the son of peasants and I know what is happening in the villages. That is why I wanted to take revenge, and I regret nothing.

Except that last part is not exactly true; at his trial, Gavrilo Princip confessed he deeply regretted the murder of Sophie Chotek, as he had not intended for her to die. Perhaps Princip’s second bullet was earmarked for Oskar Potiorek—and if it was, then the Governor of Bosnia was fortunate enough to survive a second attempt on his life by the Black Hand.

Get A Fictional Account of the Assassination

A great way to learn more about what happened on that fateful day in Sarajevo is by reading A Point In Time, a prequel novella to the Time Travel Historical Fiction series, Time Band. Indeed, the entire content of the History Just Got Interesting website is based upon the exhaustive research that was carried out for the novels and novellas which make up the Time Band series.

You are able to purchase a paperback or hardcover edition of the novella from the Books section of the website, but you are currently able to get the eBook edition for FREE.

Time Band - A Point in Time Novella: Hardcover
Time Band – A Point In Time

A Point In Time

While testing the time band, a new form of interactive time travel, Adam Amicus is transported back to Sarajevo, on the 28th June 1914. And as a sixth-form pupil at Time Immemorial High, Adam knows full well that a time historian cannot change the past—especially today of all days.

But the time band has changed all the rules, and as Adam soon discovers on his maiden trip, there will come a point in time when difficult choices must be made for the greater good.

How did the assassination of Ferdinand lead to WW1?

The assassination in Sarajevo sent shockwaves around the world. But as horrible as this murderous deed had been, no-one could possibly have envisaged the series of events that followed.

Austria-Hungary strongly believed the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand to be a direct attack on the country and they were also convinced that it was Serbia who had masterminded the Bosnian terrorists’ attack. As a result, Vienna presented Serbia with an ultimatum—a list of ten demands, which she believed Serbia could not possibly accept.

The July Crisis then followed, and exactly a month later, the whole of Europe found herself at war. Whether or not the assassination was just used as an excuse for war, which Germany in particular pounced upon, there is no doubting the fact that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Quiz, WebQuest Worksheet, Lesson Plan and Jigsaws

Below are links to a number of FREE fun and educational resources (and a premium lesson plan), which are intended to help students gain a better understanding of the causes of World War One.


Click on the link to play the Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Quiz

WebQuest Worksheet

Click on the link for the FREE Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand WebQuest Worksheet

Premium Lesson Plan

Click on the link to view the Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Worksheet and Activity Packs

Jigsaw Puzzles

Click on a link below to solve one of our Assassination Jigsaw Puzzles.