Author: Greg King and Sue Woolmans
Publication Information: New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013
Library of Congress Classification: DB89.F7
Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria, 1863-1914—Assassination
Sophie, Archduchess of Austria, 1866-1914
Austria—History–Franz Joseph I, 1848-1916
World War, 1914-1918—Causes
This was a very good book.
I bought it from Amazon on what was basically a whim. The Hapsburg monarchy was something that I had taken an interest in years ago, and even took a class in the empire as an undergrad. I’ve dabbled in the history, but I knew little, if anything, about Franz Ferdinand, the assassinated heir to the throne whose death set off the First World War. And what did I learn?
It seems that most historians never really took the time to know the man behind the facade. History books dismissed Franz Ferdinand as a reactionary, morose, stubborn, unenlightened man whose death started a century of wars. In reality, Franz Ferdinand was a well-educated, intelligent individual who may well have saved the monarchy had he succeeded to the throne. He knew that there was no way the empire could continue under its present organization. Surprisingly, he thought that the federal structure of the United States was the perfect model for a restructured Austria-Hungary. A federated empire of ten states with some self-autonomy and under the rule of a Hapsburg emperor. Ironically, after his death and World War I, many expressed the idea that Franz Ferdinand could have saved the empire had he succeeded to the throne.
Franz Joseph, the reigning monarch since 1848, does not appear in any sympathetic light. His wife had been assassinated, and his son, Crown Prince Rudolph, had committed suicide. He saw his nephew, Franz Ferdinand, as a dangerous element; he wasn’t sorry to see him removed from the succession. He did not like his relatives in general, and tried to keep everything as it had always was; protocol was everything, and the emperor occupied his time with trivial matters. His chamberlain, Prince Alfred de Montenuovo, was also responsible for protocol and Montenuovo used his position to tyrannize the aristocracy. However, it is made quite clear that Franz Joseph was always in charge and allowed Montenuovo his excesses. This included attempting to stop Franz Ferdinand’s marriage to Countess Sophie Chotek, since she came from a family that was not good enough to marry into the Hapsburgs.
Sophie’s family had served the Hapsburgs for at least three centuries; they were never recognized as one of the families that was “equal” to the Hapsburgs and therefore able to marry into the ruling family. The only way Franz Ferdinand could marry Sophie was to remove his children from the succession, which he did. Their morganatic marriage (a marriage of unequals) was used by Montenuovo to humiliate Franz Ferdinand by placing restrictions on how Sophie could appear and accompany him. For example, she could not sit in any of the imperial boxes at the theater and had to be seated alone, far from her husband. She could not be on the arm of her husband in any processions, and had to enter last after every Hapsburg of every rank had already processed; she was escorted into functions by one of the court’s minor officials. Twice no one was there to escort her into the function; the first time Sophie fled in shame, but the second time she walked in alone, her head held high. In horror, one of the Hapsburg archdukes rushed forward and offered her his arm–and created a scandal. But this was typical court life for Franz Ferdinand and Sophie, which is why they eventually shunned it. (Ironically, Montenuovo was the descendant of a morganatic marriage himself, but unlike Sophie Chotek, he was elevated.)
Franz Ferdinand and Sophie were devoted parents, spending far more time with their children than most aristocrats. Instead of only seeing them for a short time daily, they would spend hours with their children at a time when aristocrats allowed their nannies to raise the children. The sons, Max and Ernst, were the first aristocrats to be sent to concentration camps for their anti-Nazi, pro-Hapsburg feelings. The wars robbed the children of their inheritance; to add insult to injury, the new Austrian republican government recognized them as Hapsburgs just to confiscate their landholdings.
The assassination and how lax Austrian security was suggests that there was some conspiracy from Vienna, but there’s no evidence. What is evident is how Franz Ferdinand and Sophie loved each other and their children. He was loyal to an uncle who did not like him, and would have made a good emperor who might have saved the monarchy from ruin.