― Otto von Bismarck
St. Vitus' Dance
The first Battle of Kosovo, "the battle of the blackbird's field", was on June 15th (old style; now the 28th) of 1389. In the Church, this date is celebrated as St. Vitus Day. The battle, a story of half mythical proportions, involved betrayal, intrigue, and a bloodletting that virtually ended true Serbian independence for half a millennium. But in the end, the Serbs got a Pyrrhic victory- Milos Obilic, a Serb knight, pretended to desert to the Turks. But when presented to Sultan Murad I, Obilic "slashed him from belly to neck." Murad would not live to celebrate his victory, nor Obilic his assassination.
The day was a sacred day for Serb patriots, and Franz Ferdinand knew it. It was his day to show he wasn't afraid of Serb terrorism. Unfortunately, not afraid didn't translate to invulnerable.
The first attempt at his murder, made by the second man who was supposed to do it, was a grenade that was deflected by the alert Archduke, bounced off the trunk of the Royal Car, rolled under the next in the procession, exploding and injuring dozens. Far from being intimidated, Franz Ferdinand showed steel that hadn't been seen in the Hapsburg family for years. They arrived at the town hall where the mayor nervously went into his pre-prepared welcoming speech- a speech rendered nonsense by the attack. Franz Ferdinand strode forward.
"What is the good of your speeches? I come to Sarajevo on a visit, and I get bombs thrown at me. It is outrageous! But, go on."
Modern legend tries to tell us that Gavrilo Princep, despairing of a shot at the forewarned Archduke, was eating a sandwich at a nearby café when the driver of the Royal Car took a wrong turn onto the (ironically named) Franz Josef Avenue. A writer online looked into that story, because it didn't seem right that sandwiches should be a commonly found meal at that place and era. Unable to find any first sources, he traced it to a History Channel documentary, whose director claimed he couldn't remember where he got it from. Undeterred, the writer traced to a historical-fiction novel whose main character was a "Forest Gump of terrorists." Stumbling into key events, the character had "run into" Princep, with a sandwich in one hand and the Browning pistol in the other. So, much like the legend of the Kosovo battle, fictitious elements enter the story and find a home.
The ill-fated turn onto Franz Josef Avenue- yet another part of the story of WWI that has a supernatural feel of "coincidence" to it- landed the car five feet from the assassin- with the bodyguard on the wrong side of the vehicle. Even as poor a shot as Princep was by all accounts, he couldn't have missed with his eyes closed.
As the car sped across the Lateiner Bridge, a stream of blood shot from Franz Ferdinand's mouth. He had been shot in the neck. Sophie, seeing this, exclaimed: "For Heaven's sake! What happened to you?" She sank from her seat. Potoirek and Harrach thought whe had fainted and were trying to help her up. Franz Ferdinand, knowing his wife better, suspected the truth. Sophie had been shot in the abdomen and was bleeding internally.
"Sopherl! Sopherl! " he pleaded. "Sterbe nicht! Bleibe am Leben für unsere Kinder! " (Sophie dear! Sophie dear! Don't die! Stay alive for our children!) The cars rushed to the Governor's residence. Sophie may have died before they arrived. Franz Ferdinand died shortly afterward. (From the BYU WWI page)
What happened to the kinder? Their was one daughter, who shared her mother's name. Family friend Prince Jaroslav von Thun und Hohenstein took them in, and they were moved from their homes in what is now Czechoslovakia to Vienna after all Hapsburg possessions were seized by the new Austrian government. Sophie married Count Friedrich von Nostitz-Rieneck in 1920, and died in 1990, aged 89. Her oldest son was captured by the Russians during the war, and died in a Soviet gulag in 1949, and another son died on the Russian Front in 1945.
Her brothers were not so fortunate. Duke Maximilian was an outspoken opponent of the Nazi absorption of his country, and for his trouble was tortured for six months in Dachau. He married in 1926, and died 5 months before I was born in 1962. Younger brother Price Ernst shared in the torture, and as a result his health failed earlier, and he died aged 49 in 1954.
It Is Nothing...
So said the Archduke as they rushed him to the hospital in vain. But the book I just finished, July 1914 by Sean McMeekin, makes several salient points about how the fate of Europe might have changed had the Archduke lived. Certainly the war with Serbia wouldn't have happened; he had kept War Minister Conrad from attacking Serbia 25 times in 1913 alone! His problem would have been increasing tension with the Hungarian half of the empire. Austrian treatment of the many minorities was bound to become more even-handed under a reformer such as himself, and he was already fighting with Hungarian president Count Tisza over their treatment of Romanians- which was handicapping his ability to negotiate an alliance with Romania before the Tsar did.
With the August date of the war removed, McMeekin postulates that war in the Balkans would not have Austria as a major player, but Turkey. He speculates that the two British warships being built for Turkey (Which Churchill seized for England) would cause a naval race and a Russo-Turkish War by the next year at the latest. He also saw reason to believe that a Greco-Turkish war was in the offing (that waited till 1920 as it was). He foresaw a socialist victory in France that might well have led to Franco-German rapprochement, given that the Austrians might have been in a civil war at some point in the future- a possibility that also haunted the UK over Irish Home Rule, and was months from erupting prior to the war.
I found it curious that he didn't mention Italy in all this. An aggressive Italy would have certainly taken advantage of an Austro-Hungarian civil war- and Mussolini would have been a force by then. And what of the Russian revolution? Would it have been fundamentally changed by delay, or merely postponed? And without a defeated-but-unconquered Germany and a harsh Versailles Treaty, there would have been little chance of an Adolph Hitler. WWII might have been merely a Pacific War, potentially, had FF lived.
A Superior Power...
When he heard the news of the assassination, Franz Joseph said that "one has not to defy the Almighty. In this manner a superior power has restored that order which I unfortunately was unable to maintain." (wiki)
Franz Josef little mourned the loss of his heir; his own son had committed suicide with a lover in 1889. Rudolf had chafed in his Father's world, and listened to voices more radical than FJ or FF would have believed. FJ's beloved wife Elisibeth was killed by an Italian anarchist in 1898. And his best female friend, he could not even acknowledge in the regimented court society. This all probably went into his intense resentment of his heir after FF did what the old man could not- thumb his nose to tradition and "marry beneath his station." But as we spend the next month watching a parade of what I have to call "stupid men doing stupid things" that led to this first war- and directly to the next- I have to consider that while it may have been a "superior power" pulling the strings, I have my doubts that the plan was originated by "the Almighty."