"Much of Europe viewed the scattered Balkan provinces, states, and principalities as something of a perpetual menace. 'Some damn foolish thing in the"Much of Europe viewed the scattered Balkan provinces, states, and principalities as something of a perpetual menace. 'Some damn foolish thing in the Balkans,' German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck predicted, would sooner or later plunge all of Europe into a general war." On June 28, 1914, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife Sophie were assassinated by a Serbian terrorist in Sarajevo. This was the spark that set off a conflict between Austria and Serbia, drawing in the major countries of Europe due to their alliances, resulting in World War I.
This biography centers on the relationships between Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his family, especially Sophie. The reactionary Emperor of Austria-Hungary, Franz Josef, was not happy to have his nephew, Franz Ferdinand, as his heir. Franz Ferdinand was conservative, arrogant, and militaristic, but he wanted to reform the Austrian Empire by having the numerous states under federal control, similar to the system in the United States. But it was doubtful if the Hungarians would give up any power and agree to that plan. The archduke also did not have the personality of a popular leader, and looked down on the Hungarians and Slavs.
Emperor Franz Josef was even more upset when Franz Ferdinand chose Sophie Chotek as his wife. Sophie came from an aristocratic Bohemian family, but she was not a Habsburg or from one of the reigning European families. She was serving as a lady-in-waiting to a Habsburg archduchess. Eventually they were allowed to marry if Franz Ferdinand agreed to a morganatic marriage, where the archduke's titles and privileges would not pass on to his wife and children since they were of unequal rank. Sophie was made Princess (later Duchess) of Hohenberg, but was treated in a humiliating manner by the court because of her unequal status. Her serene disposition helped her to behave with grace and dignity.
The archduke and his beautiful wife were a romantic, loving couple, and affectionate parents to their three children. King George V and Queen Mary of Great Britain, and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany arranged several private meetings with the couple. The archduke enjoyed their friendships and appreciated their kind treatment of his wife.
The book has quite a bit of detail about the events leading up to that fateful day in Sarajevo. "June 28 was St Vitus's Day, or Vitovdan...the Serb national holiday marking the 1389 battle of Kosovo, when the Turkish army had reduced Serbia to vassals of the Ottoman Empire. It was a day on which every Serb vowed revenge against unwelcome foreign intruders, when every Serb nationalist would fight for Greater Serbia." The book raised the question of whether the Austrians played a role in setting up the archduke without adequate security. We'll never know the answer, but it could have been an opportunity to get rid of an unpopular heir to the throne.
The authors wrote a very readable biography of the archduke. They had access to unpublished letters provided by the archduke's grandchildren. The archduke's personal life as a husband and father is presented in a very favorable light. The book also chronicles the difficult lives of the children after their parents' deaths. Quite a bit of history is incorporated into the book, especially about Austria. But more scholarly books should be read by anyone wanting a more complete picture of the conflicts brewing, leading up to World War I. 3 1/2 stars, rounding up to 4 stars....more