Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, 1914
Episode #1 of the course “Most Important Historical Events of the 20th Century”
The killing of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife is often called the spark that set off World War I. In fact, five years to the day after he was killed, Germany and the Allied Powers ended the war by signing the Treaty of Versailles.
The archduke and his wife were visiting the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo on an official visit when they were both shot and killed by a Serb nationalist. The archduke was the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the purpose of his journey was to inspect the imperial armed forces in both Herzegovina and Bosnia. These areas were both annexed by Austria-Hungary in 1908. However, this annexation was against the wishes of Serbian nationalists, who believed that they should be part of Serbia instead.
Seven nationalists joined together to assassinate the archduke during his visit; in fact, they even failed once before the archduke and his wife were actually killed. One of the nationalists threw a bomb at the procession, but it bounced off of a car and exploded near a car behind it. Not letting that failure deter him, 19-year-old nationalist Gavrilo Princip shot the archduke and his wife as they traveled back from City Hall in their official procession (who used the same route as they had earlier, knowing that the bomb exploded there just hours before).
Austria-Hungary blamed the Serbian government for the attacks immediately. However, Serbia was supported by Russia, and Austria-Hungary was afraid that if they started any kind of conflict, then Russia would step in and end it quickly. Russia was also allied with France and Great Britain. Austria-Hungary enlisted Germany for support against Serbia, Russia, France, and Great Britain. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia approximately one month after the archduke was killed. This declaration destroyed the already-unstable peace that was in place in Europe and marked the beginning of World War I (or the Great War). Of course, it also triggered a chain of events that would lead to World War II and the Cold War.
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