Francesco Ferdinando Carlo Luigi Giuseppe d'Asburgo Este (Graz, 18 December 1863 - Sarajevo, 28 June 1914), was archduke of the Habsburg dynasty in Austria and heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne.
His assassination by Gavrilo Princip (member of the political-revolutionary organization of the black hand) on June 28, 1914 in Sarajevo, a city of Bosnia and Herzegovina annexed to Austria, is considered the triggering cause of the Austrian declaration of war to Serbia and therefore as the main cause of the outbreak of the First World War.
Francesco Ferdinando was the son of Carlo Ludovico d'Asburgo-Lorena and of Maria Annunziata di Borbone-Due Sicilie. In his veins the blood of 112 aristocratic families flowed and among his ancestors there are 2047 illustrious ancestors, among them Maria Teresa of Austria, Charles V, Philip II of Spain, Louis XIV of France, Ugo Capeto, Charlemagne, Henry I l'Uccellatore, Eleonora d'Aquitania, Federico II of Swabia, Maria Stuart and many others.
With the death of Francesco V d'Este, the last duke of Modena, in 1875, the male branch of the family that descended from his grandfather died out. The Duke had inherited a large part of his private property to Francesco Ferdinando, under certain conditions, including the adoption of the Este's name.
Like most of the sons of the Habsburg dynasty, he entered the Austrian army at a young age. Only for his membership of the high aristocracy was promoted very quickly, and, at the age of 14 years, he reached the rank of lieutenant, captain at 22, Colonel at 27 and major general at 31. Although he never attended a higher course of the General Staff, was considered suitable for the command and was given the command of the 9th regiment of Hungarian Hussars. In 1898 he received a commission "for His Majesty's special disposition" to carry out an investigation into all aspects of military service in some departments.
He thus had a strong influence on the army, creating his own military stationery (kleine Militärkanzlei), led by Alexander Brosch Edler von Aarenau, as opposed to that of the emperor (Militärkanzlei des Kaisers).
In 1913 Francesco Ferdinando, as heir of the elderly emperor, was appointed inspector general of all the armed forces of Austria-Hungary (Generalinspektor der gesamten bewaffneten Macht), a position even higher than that of his predecessor Archduke Albert of Hapsburg-Teschen since it also included the command of military operations in wartime.
Francesco Ferdinando was nephew (son of the brother) of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria and first in the line of succession to the crown after the suicide of his cousin Rodolfo in the context of the so-called Mayerling events (January 30, 1889) and after the death of his father Carlo Ludovico (May 19, 1896).
His marriage (July 1, 1900) with Countess Sophie Chotek von Chotkowa was authorized only after the couple had accepted that the bride would not enjoy royal status and that their children should not have any claim to the throne. Francesco Giuseppe did not take part in the marriage ceremony, just as the brother of the groom, Ferdinando Carlo, took part in it.
With marriage, the Countess became His Serene Highness Princess Sophie von Hohenberg, but in 1909 her title was elevated to Her Highness Duchess Sophie von Hohenberg, though her sons remained HShen Prince (ssa) of Hohenberg.
Francesco Ferdinando alienated the sympathy of much of the Austro-Hungarian political opinion: the Hungarian nationalists opposed his support for universal male suffrage, which would have undermined the Magyar predominance in the Hungarian kingdom. Both supporters and opponents of the existing dual structure of the Empire were suspicious of his idea of a third Slavic kingdom dominated by Croats, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, a possible bulwark against what was perceived in Vienna's Ballhausplatz (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) like Serbian irredentism. Non-Catholics and anticlericals were annoyed by his patronage (April 22, 1900) to the association of Catholic schools.
Francesco Ferdinando outside the German world was wrongly considered as the leader of the "war party" of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but it was a completely false perception. In fact, the archduke was one of the main supporters of peacekeeping within the Austro-Hungarian government, both during the Bosnian crisis of 1908-1909, and during the Balkan wars of 1912-1913.
Historians generally attribute to the government of Francesco Ferdinando, rather liberal ideas on the vision of the Empire at the time. For its part, it intended to grant great autonomy to the various ethnic groups present in the imperial territory, in particular to the Czechs in Bohemia, Yugoslavia in Croatia and Bosnia, ideally continuing what had been achieved with the creation, in 1867, of the Austrian monarchy -ungarica.
But his feelings towards the Hungarians proved to be less generous: in fact, he believed that over the centuries Hungarian nationalism had already been quite damaging to Austria, and even the archduke's great shots of rage were reported when the officers of the 9th Hussar Regiment, which he commanded, spoke in his presence in Hungarian (although this was in fact the official language of the regiment). He also believed that the Magyar team of the Austrian army could represent a threat within the army's ranks.
Finally he considered it necessary to have a prudent approach to Serbia, following the programmatic line of Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, who believed that this state, even to become independent, would even involve Austria in a war against Russia, causing ruin for both the empires.
Ferdinand had reasons for a split with the government, on the occasion of the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, when all European states (even "dwarf states like Belgium and Portugal" as the Archduke called them) had sent troops to China to quell the revolt, while Austria had not intervened.
In foreign policy Francesco Ferdinando was always very active, organizing trips and visits to foreign rulers with whom, in many cases, he had a close friendship, which in his view, would have been very useful once he ascended the throne. Great affinity had shown it with the Kaiser, William II of Germany, as well as with King Charles I of Romania, and even with the nizam Asif Jah VI of Hyderabad, princely state of India.
Francesco Ferdinando, moreover, was an influential supporter of the Austro-Hungarian navy, in an era in which the becoming a maritime power was not among the objectives of the empire, reason why it was little known. To honor his choice to prefer the navy, after his assassination in 1914, the body of Francesco Ferdinando and his wife were transported to the SMS Viribus Unitis.
On June 28, 1914, on the day of St. Vitus, also known as Vidovdan, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, and his wife Sofia, were shot dead in Sarajevo by gunshots fired by Gavrilo Princip , a member of the Mlada Bosna (Young Bosnia), a group that aimed at the unification of all the Yugoslavs (Southern Slavs).
The gun used by Gavrilo Princip to assassinate the archduke was a Browning FN M1910 semi-automatic of Belgian manufacture (serial number 19074, loader 32 ACP); the bullet exploded against the archduke is displayed as a museum piece in the Konopiště castle, near the town of Benešov, in the Czech Republic.
The assassination of Francesco Ferdinando would confirm a Salzburg legend that wants death for a killer of an albino chamois within a year. Francesco Ferdinando, in fact, had killed a specimen of this animal a few months before his death. For this event he had his shirt sewn on and popularly believed that this prevented the people who rescued him from saving him.
Francesco Ferdinando is now buried in the Castle of Artstetten in Lower Austria.