Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s Czech Connections: Part 2

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sophie Chotek before the assassination

In the second of our series looking at the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand on the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One, we follow the continuing Bohemian connections on the eve of the fateful Sarajevo assassination and afterwards. These include the fateful wrong turn in the city by the archduke’s driver, the sentence served by the assassin, and the bullet that soon caused so many deaths and injuries.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sophie Chotek before the assassination
Last week, we looked at the character and some of the Bohemian connections of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian whose assassination at Sarajevo sparked the First World War.

The Archduke’s location might have been Bohemian, but his mindset and that of his Czech wife were firmly conservative. They were devout Catholics and the Archduke was prone to conspiracies about Freemasons and other anti-Catholic groups.

This week we will look at the lead up to that fateful trip to Bosnia and the Bohemian links that continued in play out before and after south Slav nationalist Gavrilo Princip pulled the trigger twice on June 28.

The Archduke was due in Bosnia to inspect the army. His wife had also been given a rare invite to accompany him in spite of her lower born Bohemian status and the frequent snubs she received at official level.

Franz Ferdinand had been appointed army inspector-general by the emperor in1906 and had taken a keen interest in military affairs. Ironically though given Austria-Hungary’s profile as a land power, Franz Ferdinand himself was something of a naval expansionist, keen to see the empire exert its influence in the Mediterranean, in particular against Italy. Partly due to his influence, the dual monarchy had added modern Dreadnought battleships to its fleet by 1914, the heavy guns were made in Škoda’s Plzeň works.

Konopiště chateau,  photo: CzechTourism
Two weeks before the fateful trip to Sarajevo, Archduke Ferdinand played host to the German Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany at his country estate and shooting lodge at Konopiště not far from Prague. German’s naval mastermind Admiral Tirpitz was also in attendance.

The Kaiser was ostensibly visiting to view Konopiště’s grounds and famous gardens. The men two met frequently, often at hunting events and often exchanged letters, about the ongoing situation in Europe The Kaiser has been one of those who had led the international lobbying in favour of emperor Franz Joseph relenting on his opposition to Archduke Ferdinand marrying the Bohemian countess Sophie Chotek.

Germany’s ruler is believed to have been seeking to cement a firm relationship for the not too distant day when Franz Ferdinand would be emperor. Emperor Franz Joseph had suffered a serious bout of bronchitis in the winter and had been believed close to death. The Archduke is reported to have been seeking firmer assurances of German backing if Austria-Hungary’s hand would be forced in the Balkans, in particular by Serbia.

But Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s great grandson, Nikolaus Hohenberg, says that the Konopiště meeting should not be regarded as a preparation for war, rather the opposite, and that the Archduke was resolutely opposed to the demands of top general Franz Conrad for a pre-emptive war against Serbia: “Yes, there was this meeting and there was a toast made by my great grandfather saying that it is definitely not on the cards starting a war with Serbia because it is just politically useless. It does not make sense. And he was very much against this military activism. And Conrad, yes Conrad was someone who he had supported in his career but he was very much against his pre-emptive war ideas. That is definitely something he did not want to have and he had numerous clashes with Conrad on that. He supported him in high office because he said he was thinking out of the box. But when he started having these ideas of pre-emptive wars he said ‘No, that’s not going to happen.’

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sophie Chotek before the assassination
“So there was a big dissenting view on that. He was saying ‘It’s completely useless starting a war. If we start a war we will have a front in the east and a front in the west. ’ That is exactly what happened afterwards. ‘ it’s useless. It doesn’t make sense.’ So he was not supportive of this idea. The fact that this war started, one gets the impression that the political system had a death wish.”

The next day, the Archduke played host to Austro-Hungary’s foreign minister, Leopold Berchtold. One of Berchtold’s family estates was at the Buchlovice stately home, not far from today’s Zlín, in south-eastern Moravia. It was there that Berchtold, then ambassador in St Petersburg, hosted a meeting between the Russian and Austro-Hungarian foreign ministers that won Russia’s agreement to the Austrian annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908. It was a move which created much resentment in Serbian nationalist circles and was one of the main factors motivating the assassin Princip and his Serbian co-conspirators.

The events in Sarajevo played out on June 28 with fate and some Czechs playing major supporting roles. The Archduke’s bodyguard on a trip which neglected many basic security precautions in spite of warnings that an assassination was being planned was Count Franz Harrach, who came from an illustrious Austro-Bohemian noble family. One of the family’s main seats was the stately home at Velke Meziříčí It was there during military exercises in 1909 that Count Harrach’s recruited the Czech Leopold Lojka after he had risked life and limb restraining some startled horses. In the count’s employ, Lojka was converted to become chauffeur of motorized horsepower and in particular the Graf und Stift limousine that he was tasked with driving the archduke and his wife in Sarajevo.

Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand
The tale of the assassination is well known. A bomb thrown by one of the Black Hand conspirators missed the main target but injured some of the delegation and bystanders. Franz Ferdinand completed his journey but then decided to turn back and visit the injured. Instead of turning down the main quay road, Lojka took a wrong turn down a side street with Count Harrach now placed on the wrong side of the car. The imposing open top had no reverse and was difficult to turnaround. Back up gunman Princip could hardly believe the target that he was presented with. His first shot hit and mortally wounded Sophie Chotek, the second hit the Archduke in the neck. His last audible words were a call for his wife to stay alive for the sake of the children. In the mourning that followed, the archduke’s finer points were highlighted and his faults were temporarily buried with him.

Karel Lojka, the brother of driver Leopold Lojka, has little doubt that Europe would have been a better place if he had not taken the fateful wrong turn. He spoke at a Prague discussion at the end of June: “One hundred percent. As they said here, he spoke already to people who could manage the future. He entertained with [T.G] Masaryk for instance. He saw what was happening more or less and he had a very clear idea. I think that his problem was that he was very tough and very severe and that is why [Emperor] Franz Joseph did not like him because of that. But he made a bit mistake because that man knew a lot.”

Leopold Lojka was haunted by his mistake for the rest of the life, though is still reported to have proudly showed off some of his souvenirs such as the Archduke’s bloodstained braces and a piece from Sophie Chotek’s golden bracelet. The driver’s marriage ended in divorce, and he ran up huge debts at the pub he ran in city of Brno. Leopold Lojka died early at the age of 41 in 1926.

Gavrilo Princip,  photo: CC BY-SA 3.0
An already sickly looking Princip was put on trial and given the fact that he was under 20 was not sentenced to death but to 20 years in prison. He was held in a cramped cell in the Terezín fortress in central Bohemia and died of tuberculosis there in April 1918.

The second bullet from Princip’s Browning pistol which killed the Archduke is on show at the museum at Konopiště. The war which followed the Archduke’s death is estimated to have killed 16 million, left over 20 million wounded, and changed the map and destiny of Europe and the world.