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World War I

Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand

The assassination of Austria's Archduke Ferdinand set into motion a series of international events that led to World War I. This one event is widely considered the most important event in leading up to war.


Archduke Francis Ferdinand getting assassinated in his car
Gavrilo Princip killing Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo
by Achille Beltrame
The Archduke and his wife were shot while riding in their car

Who was Archduke Ferdinand?

Archduke Franz Ferdinand was born in the city of Graz on December 18, 1863. After his cousin and father died, he became the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary. His uncle, Franz Joseph, was the current emperor of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. He was married to Sophie, the Duchess of Hohenberg.

Leading up to the Assassination

In the southern portion of Austria-Hungary was a region called Bosnia. Many of the Bosnians wanted to have their own country and not be under the rule of Austria-Hungary. The country of Serbia, just south of the Austria-Hungary border also wanted the freedom of the Bosnians. Serbia was an ally with the powerful Russian Empire and Austria-Hungary was allied with Germany.

When Archduke Ferdinand announced his trip to Sarajevo, Bosnian nationalists (people who wanted Bosnia to be its own country) saw their opportunity to strike at the Austrian Empire. With help from the neighboring country of Serbia, assassins were recruited and trained to kill the Archduke as he traveled through the streets of Sarajevo. These assassins were members of a terrorist group called the Black Hand.

The Assassination

On June 28, 1914 Franz Ferdinand and his wife were in the third car of a motorcade traveling through Sarajevo to the Town Hall. The Black Hand had several assassins positioned along the route.

On the way to the Town Hall, the first assassination attempt occurred. A man named Nedeljko Cabrinovic threw a bomb into the car with the Archduke. However, the bomb bounced off the car and landed under the next car in the motorcade. The car with the Archduke was able to speed away and make it safely to the Town Hall.

The assassins did not give up, however. On the return trip, the motorcade took a wrong turn. When the driver began to back up, another assassin named Gavrilo Princip happened to be right next to the car. He took advantage of this opportunity and began firing at the Archduke. He fired twice, hitting the Archduke once and his wife Sophie.

The crowd jumped on Princip and he was arrested by the police. At the same time the car sped to the Governor's residence to get medical help. Unfortunately, Sophie was dead before they arrived and the Archduke died a few minutes later.

Results and Why it Started WW1

The Austria-Hungary government saw the assassination as a direct attack on the country. They believed that the Serbians had helped the Bosnian terrorists in the attack. They made harsh demands on the Serbians which the Serbians rejected. At the same time, Russia began to mobilize their army to help protect Serbia. When Serbia rejected the demands, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. A few days later, Germany declared war on Russia to help its ally Austria-Hungary. Then France began to mobilize to help its ally Russia, and Germany followed by declaring war on France. World War I had begun.

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