Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the nephew of the Emperor Franz Josef, was murdered by terrorists in Sarajevo on 28th June 1914. He became heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary after the first and second in line to the throne both died. His relationship with the Emperor was strained, largely as a result of his marriage to a ‘commoner’. His death in Sarajevo prompted Franz Josef to comment, ‘that’s one less problem to worry about’. Franz Ferdinand was not popular with high ranking government officials both because of his temper and his plans for the Empire. On the day of his murder Franz Ferdinand, a superstitious man, was dressed in a jacket he believed to be bulletproof and wore 7 lucky charms to ward off evil.
Also murdered in Sarajevo was Countess Sophie who was shot through the abdomen. She adored her husband and appears to have tried to put herself between him and the assassin. As she collapsed, she may have heard the last words of her husband, "Sophie dear, Sophie dear, don't die. Stay alive for our children."
On the day they died, Sophie and Franz Ferdinand were about to celebrate their 14th wedding anniversary. Their wedding met with royal disapproval and Emperor Franz Josef refused to attend as did the groom’s brothers. Sophie had been a mere lady-in-waiting when she met the Archduke and so the pair were pre-warned that Sophie would never hold a high title and their children would never inherit the throne. When the coffins lay in state, visitors were reminded of her low status by setting hers 18 inches lower than that of her husband. On the lid were placed her gloves -a badge of office for a lady-in-waiting. No member of the Austro-Hungarian ruling family attended the funeral and any foreign royalty who indicated a desire to be present were advised that they were not welcome.
Cabrinovic was one of 6 members of the Black Hand hoping to assassinate Franz Ferdinand during his visit to Sarajevo. When the royal motorcade came past, he threw a grenade at the car carrying Franz Ferdinand, forgetting that it had a 10 second fuse. The heir to the Austrian thrown was consequently unhurt. Not so fortunate were the occupants of the fourth car, two of whom were injured along with 9 onlookers. Cabrinovic sought to avoid capture and interrogation by swallowing a cyanide capsule but this was well beyond its ‘use by’ date and simply made him sick. He quickly improvised and threw himself into the adjacent River Miljacka. If he planned to drown himself then he again failed as the river was only a few inches deep. The 19 year old, who was terminally ill with tuberculosis, died in prison in January 1916.
Gavrilo Princip heard an explosion and learned that the assassination attempt by Cabrinovic had failed. With their plans now in disarray Princip headed off, no doubt wondering whether Cabrinovic would talk and, if so, when the police would come looking for him. Some time later he was standing chatting when the royal car stopped alongside him and he was able to fire two fatal shots before being over powered. Princip was a month short of his 20th birthday and so, like Cabrinovic he was too young to face the death penalty. Like his comrade he died of tuberculosis in prison before the Great War was over.
Count Leopold Berchtold
Count Berchtold believed that the Sarajevo assassinations gave Austria the ideal opportunity to smash Serbia without appearing to be the aggressor. Seizing the moment, the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minsister composed an ultimatum that would be “wholly impossible” for the Serbian government to accept. During the diplomatic crisis that followed, he deliberately blocked attempts to maintain peace. He died in 1942 having witnessed the dismembering of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1919, and the German annexation of Austria in 1938.
Had it not been for Admiral Tirpitz the Great War might have been known - not as the ‘14-18 War’ - but as the ‘12 – 14 War’. He secured a postponement when other leaders in Germany pressed for action following the Second Moroccan Crisis (1911). His clinching argument was that the navy would not be ready until the Kiel Canal was completed. By an amazing coincidence, work finished less than a week before the tragic demise of Franz Ferdinand. Tirpitz was known in Germany as "Tirpitz the Eternal,” due to his ability to hang onto his post. However he was sacked in 1916 at the age of 67.
Helmuth von Moltke
Helmuth von Moltke, Chief of the German General Staff, considered 1914 to be a good year for a war. He said, “The situation is from a military point of view, favourable to a degree which cannot occur again in the foreseeable future.”
His promotion to the top military job in 1906 had more to do with his friendship with the Kaiser and family connections rather than to his own abilities. Shortly after the outbreak of war he had a nervous breakdown and, when the Schlieffen Plan failed at the Battle of the Marne (September 1914), he announced to the Kaiser, “Your majesty, we have lost the war”. He was quickly replaced and died in 1916, a broken man.