Unfortunately, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary is a mere footnote in history. If you have heard of him at all, it is in the context of his and his wife’s assassination at Sarejevo on June 28, 1914, which sparked the outbreak of World War I. With this in mind, the historians Greg King and Sue Woolmans rescue the Archduke from obscurity, shedding new light on his life as a whole.
A nephew of the Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary, Franz Ferdinand never expected to inherit the kingdom. However, when the emperor’s son committed suicide, Franz Ferdinand became next in line to the throne. At this time, Franz Ferdinand was suffering from tuberculosis, so he was written off by courtiers, who took to fawning over his younger brother, the likely successor. But showing his tenacious will, Franz Ferdinand conquered his illness, and he was just as determined to marry Sophie Choteck, the woman he loved. Unfortunately, Sophie as a mere countess was not considered sufficiently royal enough for the Habsburg dynasty, but the determined Franz Ferdinand refused to renounce his rights to the throne. A compromise was finally reached when the archduke agreed that while Sophie may be his wife she could never be Empress and any children born of their union would be ineligible for the throne.
However, in his refusal to give in to all his uncle’s demands, Franz Ferdinand had forever earned the emperor’s animosity, and in his enmity, Franz Joseph allowed the court to deliberately demean and insult Sophie. Her husband was naturally upset by the slights she endured and consequently at court earned the reputation of being an ill-tempered man. While it is true Franz Ferdinand held grudges against his wife’s worst offenders, the authors’ meticulous research proves that above all the archduke was a dedicated family man, devoted to his wife and their three children.
In their biography of the archduke, the authors have chosen to primarily focus on his private life with just the necessary amount of coverage to the complex politics leading up to World War I. This makes for a very touching read, and a very fitting tribute to a loyal, loving man who has been so long neglected and misrepresented.