Monday, September 30, 2013

by Greg King and Sue Woolmans

They should never have gone to Sarajevo that day in the summer of 1914. June 28 was St. Vitus's Day, a Serb national holiday that commemorates the Battle of Kosovo. In 1389, the Ottoman Empire (an unwelcome foreign intruder), conquered the land and made the Serbs vassals.
Franz Ferdinand had no choice in the matter. His uncle, Emperor Franz Joseph, ordered him to go. The sad irony is that both Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, absolutely loved Sarajevo. Little did they know that their lives would be cut short by two bullets which would then precipitate World War I.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand was an enigma to the citizens of Austria. Although he came from the Habsburg dynasty, he didn't have much of an appeal outwardly. Those who supported him, though, knew that he could change the deteriorating Austro-Hungarian monarchy.
Ferdinand fell in love with Countess Sophie Chotek. Her background was a Bohemian aristocracy. Because she lacked the appropriate titles and ancestry, though, she could never share his titles or his throne when he became emperor. Their marriage would be morganatic (unequal) and their children would be barred from any imperial succession.
There have been plenty of books written about World War I and other authors have projected misinformation onto Franz Ferdinand and Sophie. He was misunderstood and she was devoted to her husband and their children. The love they had for each other was all encompassing. Through all of the insults that the imperial court showered on her, Sophie kept her head held high, never complained, and was happy with her life.
King and Woolmans have done a great job writing a dual biography of Archduke Ferdinand and Countess Sophie. They recreated their lives using unpublished letters and were helped tremendously by their descendants especially their  great-granddaughter HSH Princess Sophie von Hohenberg. (She wrote the Forward.)
The book is very readable, keeps your interest, and is a good history lesson on the Habsburg empire.
Think about this. If they didn't go to Sarajevo, would World War I have even occurred?
Very highly recommended.