Sophie Chotek von Chotkova was the daughter of the chief equerry at the Imperial Court in Vienna. When a young woman, Sophie became lady in waiting to the Archduchess Isabella of Pressburg. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, first met Sophie at a dance in Prague in 1888. The couple fell in love but although Sophie came from a prominent Bohemian family, Franz Ferdinand knew that she would not be accepted as the wife of the future emperor.
Sophie and Franz Ferdinand kept their relationship a secret for over two years. When Franz Ferdinand began to make regular visits to the home of Archduke Friedrich of Pressburg, it was assumed he had fallen in love with his eldest daughter, Marie Christine.
One evening, after Franz Ferdinand had been staying at the home of Archduke Friedrich, a servant found a watch and locket he had left behind. When the Archduchess opened the locket, she found it contained a photograph. She expected it to be a picture of her daughter, Marie Christine, and was shocked and angry to discover it was of Sophie, her lady in waiting. Sophie was immediately dismissed and the knowledge of her relationship with Franz Ferdinand created a public scandal.
Emperor Franz Josef immediately made it clear to Archduke Franz that he would not be allowed to marry Sophie. To be an eligible partner for a member of the Austro-Hungarian royal family, you had to be descended from the House of Hapsburg or from one of the ruling dynasties of Europe.
Franz Ferdinand insisted he would not marry anyone else. Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and Pope Leo XIII all made representations to Franz Josef on Franz Ferdinand's behalf arguing that the the disagreement was undermining the stability of the monarchy.
In 1899 Emperor Franz Josef agreed a deal with Franz Ferdinand. He was allowed to marry Sophie but it was stipulated that her descendants would not be allowed to succeed to the throne. It was also pointed out that Sophie would not be allowed to accompany her husband in the royal carriage nor could she sit by his side in the royal box.
Franz Josef did not attend the wedding. Nor did his brothers or their families. The only people of the royal family who went to the ceremony was Franz Ferdinand's stepmother, Maria Theresia, and her two daughters. Over the next few years the couple had three children: Sophie (1901), Maximilian (1902) and Ernst (1904).
In 1914 General Oskar Potiorek, Governor of the Austrian provinces of Bosnia-Herzegovina, invited Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sophie to watch his troops on maneuvers in June, 1914. Franz Ferdinand knew that the visit would be dangerous. A large number of people living in Bosnia-Herzegovina were unhappy with Austrian rule and favoured union with Serbia.
Just before 10 o'clock on Sunday, 28th June, 1914, the royal couple arrived in Sarajevo by train. General Oskar Potiorek, Governor of the Austrian provinces of Bosnia-Herzegovina, was waiting to take the royal party to the City Hall for the official reception. In the front car was Fehim Curcic, the Mayor of Sarajevo and Dr. Gerde, the city's Commissioner of Police. Franz Ferdinand and Sophie were in the second car with Oskar Potiorek and Count von Harrach. The car's top was rolled back in order to allow the crowds a good view of its occupants.
At 10.10, when the six car possession passed the central police station, Nedjelko Cabrinovic hurled a hand grenade station at the archduke's car. The driver accelerated when he saw the object flying towards him and the grenade exploded under the wheel of the next car. Two of the occupants, Eric von Merizzi and Count Boos-Waldeck were seriously wounded. About a dozen spectators were also hit by bomb splinters.
Franz Ferdinand's driver, Franz Urban, drove on extremely fast and other members of the Black Hand group on the route, Cvijetko Popovic, Gavrilo Princip, Danilo Ilic and Trifko Grabez, decided that it was useless to try and kill the archduke when the car was going at this speed.
After attending the official reception at the City Hall, Franz Ferdinand asked about the members of his party that had been wounded by the bomb. When the archduke was told they were badly injured in hospital, he insisted on being taken to see them. A member of the archduke's staff, Baron Morsey, suggested this might be dangerous, but Oskar Potiorek, who was responsible for the safety of the royal party, replied, "Do you think Sarajevo is full of assassins?" However, Potiorek did accept it would be better if Sophie remained behind in the City Hall. When Baron Morsey told Sophie about the revised plans, she refused to stay arguing: "As long as the Archduke shows himself in public today I will not leave him."
In order to avoid the city centre, General Oskar Potiorek decided that the royal car should travel straight along the Appel Quay to the Sarajevo Hospital. However, Potiorek forgot to tell the driver, Franz Urban, about this decision. On the way to the hospital, Urban took a right turn into Franz Joseph Street. One of the conspirators, Gavrilo Princip, happened to be was standing on the corner at the time. Oskar Potiorek immediately realised the driver had taken the wrong route and shouted "What is this? This is the wrong way! We're supposed to take the Appel Quay!".
The driver put his foot on the brake, and began to back up. In doing so he moved slowly past the waiting Gavrilo Princip. The assassin stepped forward, drew his gun, and at a distance of about five feet, fired several times into the car. Franz Ferdinand was hit in the neck and Sophie in the abdomen. Princip's bullet had pierced the archduke's jugular vein but before losing consciousness, he pleaded "Sophie dear! Sophie dear! Don't die! Stay alive for our children!" Franz Urban drove the royal couple to Konak, the governor's residence, but although both were still alive when they arrived, they died from their wounds soon afterwards.
Our marriage with the Countess Chotek is not an eligible but a morganatic marriage, and is to be considered as such for now and all time; in consequence whereof neither our wife nor the issue to be hoped for with God's blessing from this our marriage, nor their descendants, will possess or be entitled to claim those rights, titles, armorial bearings, privileges, etc., that belong to the eligible wives and to the issue of Archdukes for eligible marriages. And in particular we again recognize and declare that inasmuch as the issue from our aforesaid marriage and their descendants are not members of the most high Archhouse, they possess no right to succeed to the Throne.
Soph is a treasure, I am indescribably happy. She looks after me so much, I am doing wonderfully. I am so healthy and much less nervous. I feel as though I had been born again.
The most intelligent thing I've ever done in my life has been the marriage to my Soph. She is everything to me: my wife, my adviser, my doctor, my warner, in a word: my entire happiness. Now, after four years, we love each other as on our first year of marriage, and our happiness has not been marred for a single second.
As I was drawing out my handkerchief to wipe away the blood from the Archduke's lips, her Highness cried out: "For God's sake! What happened to you?" Then she sank down from her seat with her face between the Archduke's knees. I had no idea that she had been hit and thought that she had fainted from shock. His Royal Highness said "Sophie, Sophie, don't die. Live for my children." I seized the Archduke by the coat collar to prevent his head from sinking forward and asking him: "Is your highness in great pain?" To which he clearly answered: "It is nothing." His face was slightly distorted, and he repeated six or seven times, every time losing more consciousness and with a fading voice: "It is nothing." Then came a brief pause followed by a convulsive rattle in his throat, caused by a loss of blood. This ceased on arrival at the governor's residence. The two unconscious bodies were carried into the building where their death was soon established.
The Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria, nephew of the aged Emperor and heir to the throne, was assassinated in the streets of Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, yesterday afternoon. His wife, the Duchess of Hohenberg, was killed by the same assassin. Some reports say the Duchess was deliberately shielding her husband from the second shot when she was killed. One victim was struck in the body and the other in the face; the telegrams are contradictory about which wound the Archduke suffered and which his wife.
Two attempts were made on the Archduke's life during the day. He was in Bosnia inspecting the manoeuvres of the Austrian Army Corps stationed in the province, and had devoted yesterday to a procession through the capital. During the morning a bomb was thrown at the Imperial motor car, but its occupants escaped unhurt. In the afternoon in another part of the town a Serb student fired a revolver at the car, killing both the Archduke and the Duchess.
We thought that only people of noble character were capable of committing political assassinations. We heard it said that he (Archduke Franz Ferdinand) was an enemy of the Slavs. Nobody directly told us "kill him"; but in this environment, we arrived at the idea ourselves.
I would like to add something else. Although Princip is playing the hero, and although we all wanted to appear as heroes, we still have profound regrets. In the first place, we did not know that they late Franz Ferdinand was a father. We were greatly touched by the words he addressed to his wife: "Sophie, stay alive for our children."
We are anything you want, except criminals. In my name and in the name of my comrades, I ask the children of the late successor to the throne to forgive us. As for you, punish us according to your understanding. We are not criminals. We are honest people, animated by noble sentiments; we are idealists; we wanted to do good; we have loved our people; and we shall die for our ideals.