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Annotated Memoirs of Admiral Milklós Horthy, Regent of Hungary, The

4: Archduke Francis Ferdinand


<< 3: Aide-de-Camp to Emperor Francis Joseph I at the Court of Vienna, 1909-1914 || 5: Naval Warfare in the Adriatic. The coronation of King Charles IV >>
Archduke Francis Ferdinand

My intention is not to attempt to draw a picture of the life of the heir to the throne, but to limit myself to giving an account of him as I knew him during my years of service at Court and to relate what I then heard about him.

The Archduke Francis Ferdinand(1) of Austria-Este, at the age of twelve he had taken the name of Este upon inheriting the large fortune of the deceased Duke of Modena, was the eldest son of the Archduke Charles Louis, the only brother of the Emperor to have progeny. Archduke Maximilian, the Emperor of Mexico, had been killed; Archduke Louis Victor had remained a bachelor. The mother of the heir to the throne was Princess Maria Annunciata, daughter of Ferdinand II, the Bourbon King of the Two Sicilies. The marriage had been solemnized in 1862 in the chapel of the Imperial Palace in Venice. The Archduchess was a beautiful woman, but a sufferer from tuberculosis. Her lifelong invalidism merely lent wings to her soaring ambition. She longed for a son who, one day, should occupy the Imperial throne. When Francis Ferdinand was born in 1863, it was at first thought that he would not survive. Owing to careful nursing and to a prolonged stay at Schloss Wartholz at the foot of the Raxalpe in Austria, he grew up to healthy manhood, though for many years he was very delicate.

Against the advice of her doctors, the Archduchess bore three more children, two boys, Otto and Ferdinand, and one girl, before she died nine years after her marriage at the age of twenty-eight. She was aware of the nature of her malady and had her children kept away from her. The lack of motherly love, which was only partly compensated later by the affection lavished on the children by their stepmother, the eighteen-year-old daughter of the widowed Duchess of Braganza, Maria Theresa, showed itself in the later development of Francis Ferdinand. As a boy, he often displayed symptoms of the unreasoning jealousy of the sickly towards his robust younger brother Otto(2), a jolly, healthy child, generally beloved as the "beautiful Otto". The elder boy's relations with his stepmother were, however, very close.

At the age of fourteen, the Archduke was appointed a second lieutenant, though this involved no change in his way of life. Only when he was appointed a first lieutenant was he taken away from his home and sent to Enns to join the Dragoons. Conditions there were strange to him and he was not on good terms with his fellow officers; his promotion to the rank of major in 1888 and his transference to the 102nd Infantry Regiment in Prague came as a relief to him. He expected to lead a different life in the city from that of the dull little town of Enns. He lived in the Hradzhin(3), and he looked forward to enjoying music, life, company as did other officers. But again he did not succeed; his presence had a paralysing effect. On January 30th, 1889, on returning from duty to his house, he was met with the shattering news that Crown Prince Rudolph had died at Meyerling in mysterious circumstances. His mother's ambitions for him seemed likely to be realized, for Rudolph's death meant that Francis Ferdinand's father was next in succession to the throne of Austria-Hungary. However, in view of his advanced age, Francis Ferdinand himself could be regarded as the heir to the throne.

Francis Ferdinand was a young man of strong and energetic personality, intelligent, very religious, but by temperament he was excitable. He was self-contained, had few intimate friends, and was little known to the people. To prepare himself for his future high position, which among other things demanded a thorough grounding in political science and in the several languages of the dual monarchy, the Archduke thought that he should know something of the world. To that end decided to undertake a long sea voyage which would also be beneficial for his health. But such a journey needed thorough diplomatic preparation, even though the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne travelled incognito as the Count of Hohenberg. Couriers, in those days, took a long time to reach distant parts of the world and return with answers. Moreover, His Majesty had to be persuaded to give his consent to the project; this was achieved through the mediation of the Empress Elizabeth. On December 15th, 1892, Francis Ferdinand left Trieste in the armoured cruiser Kaiserin Elisabeth.

The Archduke Leopold, a schoolmate of mine at the Naval Academy with whom I had remained on friendly terms, asked me to join the expedition, saying that he himself was going as a lieutenant. I rejected the proposal, and even went so far as to advise him against going. The two Archdukes were temperamentally so different that I could foresee nothing but trouble. Events proved me right. They quarrelled, and at Sydney Archduke Leopold had to leave the ship and return to Europe on his own. He was dismissed from the Navy and transferred to an Infantry Regiment at Brunn. Later, as a result of his marriage to a woman not of equal birth, he lost his rank and emigrated to Switzerland, where he lived under the name of Leopold Wölfling, dying there after the First World War.

To members of the British Royal Family, world tours and visits to distant parts of their Empire are almost a matter of course. But what other country had ever sent its heir to the throne on a world tour? The return voyage from Yokohama was made in a luxury liner and a visit was paid to the United States. It was a sign that the Austro-Hungarian dynasty, in allowing the heir to the throne to acquaint himself with other parts of the world, was not so hidebound as it was sometimes declared to be.

The Archduke, by making his voyage out in one of the ships of the Austro-Hungarian Navy, had, of course, gained a liking for her; it also drew him closer to Kaiser Wilhelm II, who later insisted on Austria-Hungary expanding her fleet. This demand met with little understanding from the Austro-Hungarian Parliaments, an obstructionist and shortsighted attitude with which I myself was only too familiar.

When, after the return of Francis Ferdinand, the question of his marriage became paramount, His Majesty advised him to bring some fresh blood into the family. He was even prepared to consider an alliance with a non-Catholic dynasty. The Archduke, however, followed this advice in an unexpected fashion. He had secretly fallen in love with the Countess Sophie Chotek(4), whom he had met at a ball given by the Statthalter, the representative of the Crown in Prague. As Francis Ferdinand was a frequent guest of the Archduke Frederick at Pressburg, it was conjectured that his choice would fall on one of his host's seven daughters, until it was noticed that the magnet that drew him was the Archduchess's lady-in-waiting, the Countess Sophie Chotek. It was no passing infatuation. Nothing could move him from his determination to marry the Countess, although he knew that by the laws of his dynasty a marriage to a person not of equal birth would deprive him of all claim to the succession and that his wife could never be admitted to the Imperial family. The most powerful advocate of this ruling was the Lord Steward of the Household, Prince Montenuovo, who, himself a descendant of the Imperial House, had considerable influence: he was a nephew of Archduchess Marie Louise, who, after her first marriage with Napoleon, had married Count Neipperg.

Vienna rang with talk, chiefly rumours of the Emperor's despair over his nephew's obstinacy. In Society, there were two parties, one of them criticizing the 'antiquated dynastic laws', the other the heir to the throne. But in actual fact, after all the sorrows he had experienced, the Emperor had mellowed, especially where matters of the heart were concerned. He merely asked for a year in which to come to a decision and he instructed the father confessor of the Archducal family, Bishop Marschall, to do what he could to influence the Archduke.

It was all in vain. Francis Ferdinand was ready to relinquish the throne rather than his life's happiness. In vain also was the attempt to compel the Countess, who had retired to a convent to await the final decision, to give up the Archduke and take the veil. She remained adamant and rejected Bishop Marschall's assurances that His Majesty, and the Pope, would be everlastingly grateful to her if she would make the sacrifice.

The year passed, and His Majesty had to pronounce judgment. After he had discussed the matter with the aged Archdukes, who agreed with his views, he called Francis Ferdinand before him. He informed him that he could enter into a morganatic marriage without endangering his own right to the succession; his wife and children, however, could not be admitted into the Imperial family. The heir apparent would thus be Archduke Charles, the first-born son of Francis Ferdinand's brother, Archduke Otto. Archduke Francis Ferdinand declared himself willing to agree to these conditions. In the year 1900, on June 28th, a fateful day: fourteen years later June 28th saw the murder at Sarajevo, he swore a solemn oath to that effect. In the Privy Council Chamber of the Imperial Palace, the Archdukes, the high dignitaries of the realm and the Speakers of the Lower and Upper Houses were called together. His Majesty stood before the throne; the Prince Cardinal the Archbishop of Vienna offered the Archduke the Book of the Gospels, upon which he placed his hand as he read out the form of oath handed him by the Hungarian Prince Primate, the concluding sentence of which ran, "That we shall never attempt to revoke our present declaration or to put our hand to anything aiming at weakening or lifting its binding power."

After His Majesty had left the Council Chamber, the two candles, between which stood the famous crucifix of Emperor Ferdinand II(5), were extinguished. For centuries, every oath sworn by a member of the Habsburg family had been witnessed by that crucifix. Shortly afterwards, in the chapel of the Reichstadt Castle in Bohemia, the marriage was solemnized. The consort of the Archduke was handed a congratulatory telegram from His Majesty, addressed to the Princess Hohenberg.

Even as a Princess, however, the position of the former Countess gave rise to many disagreements and difficulties. On all official occasions, a Court Ball, for instance, the order of precedence, as the couples went in under the supervision of the Lord Steward of the Household, separated her from her husband. The Princess, on a Chamberlain's arm, had to follow after the long line of the immediate Imperial families, followed by the ladies-in-waiting. Once a Court Ball had to be cancelled owing to uncertainty about the order of precedence, which impelled a number of ladies to declare their intention of staying away. In later years, the Archduke preferred, in general, to spend the pre-carnival days with his wife far from Vienna until His Majesty, in 1910, raised the Princess to the rank of Duchess of Hohenberg with the title 'Highness', which meant that she could henceforth make her entrance immediately after the youngest Archduchess at the Ball.

The Archduke, who held the rank of Admiral, had been appointed the Emperor's deputy as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Advised by Conrad von Hötzendorf(6), the Chief of the General Staff, he wielded a strong influence over military affairs while finding it difficult to assert himself politically. His Majesty, in spite of his advanced age, was not the man to submit to external pressure, even if it were brought to bear by a close relative. He listened to the views of his advisers, but it was understandable that, after occupying the throne for more than six decades, he preferred making as few changes as possible in the affairs of state and government. That the heir to the throne had views entirely opposed to his uncle's on certain topics was well known. It was becoming increasingly clear that he disapproved of the Austro-Hungarian dualism. Francis Ferdinand had in mind a reorganization of the state in a threefold, federative form. In this matter, he came into progressive conflict with Hungary and this conflict found expression in his personal dislike of the Magyar nobility. He was perhaps influenced in this by his wife's family and circle, as also by other considerations, the existence of which was widely rumoured.

Even as commanding officer of the 9th Hussars at Sopron (Ödenburg), the Archduke had been involved in a marked clash of opinions when he had complained to the Colonel that he had found his men all speaking Hungarian. The Colonel replied that officer would certainly not speak Hungarian in the presence of people ignorant of that language, but that among themselves they would certainly continue to use their mother tongue.

It was a known fact that the Archduke had frequent conferences with the leaders of the national minorities in the Budapest Parliament such as the Slovak, Hodza(7), and the Rumanians, Vajda Vojvod(8) and Julius Maniu(9).

In my official capacity, I rarely encountered Archduke Francis Ferdinand. At social functions, I frequently met both him and his wife. Our common interest in the Navy gave us much to discuss. We never touched on political questions.

The Archduke's plan to unite into a confederacy all the South Slav territory, i.e. Slovenia and Dalmatia, which belonged to Austria, Croatia, the land of the Crown of St. Stephen, and the State lands of Bosnia-Herzegovina, roused fierce antagonism in the Serbian nationalists, who were aiming at acquiring an outlet to the sea and a South-Slav realm with Belgrade as its capital. Had the plan of the heir to the throne materialized, this Yugo-Slavia would have exerted an irresistible attraction on the Serbs by reason of its great political and economic advantages. And this the shrewd Serbian Prime Minister Pasic(10) knew full well. So did St. Petersburg. The secret organization of the Serbian nationalists, the Crna Ruka or Black Hand, instigated the murder at Sarajevo, thus setting in motion the avalanche that engulfed the heir to the throne as the first victim in its fatal path.

On Sunday, June 28th, 1914, we had taken our children in our car from Vienna to Székesfehérvár to visit my brother(11), who was the officer in command of the 13th Hussars in that town. We were met by my brother and his wife in the courtyard, both looking extremely preoccupied. On our enquiring what the matter was, they replied that a friend of theirs, a journalist, had just told them that the heir to the throne and his wife had been assassinated at Sarajevo.

At first we refused to believe the news. We could not credit that on the occasion of the official entry of the heir to the throne into Sarajevo the necessary security measures had not been taken to guard against an attempt at assassination. I had, admittedly, wondered why Archduke Francis Ferdinand had chosen for his visit to a town so near the border Vidovdan, St. Vitus's Day, the Serbian national day, on which the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 was commemorated and on which national passions were always liable to flare up.

We soon learned that the rumour was indeed true. We realized that this political murder was bound to have international repercussions. It seemed out of the question that it had been the unaided act of a single individual; it is now a historical fact that Belgrade had a hand in it and that the plotters had the assurance of Russian support.

The murder at Sarajevo has often been described in full detail. The Archduke was the victim of his noble and humane altruism, which caused him to disregard the customary safety precautions. As the cars had set out for the Town Hall, a bomb had been thrown at them, severely injuring the Archduke's aide-de-camp. On leaving the Town Hall, the Archduke had ordered his car to be driven to the hospital to which his aide-de-camp had been taken.

As the car turned slowly into a side street out of the well-guarded main street, the grammar school boy, Gavrilo Princip(12), took advantage of the confusion arising from the approach of the Archducal car to fire two pistol-shots. The dying Duchess of Hohenberg sank on to the shoulder of her mortally wounded husband. Both were taken to the Konak, the residence of Potiorek(13), the general in command, and the Archduke expired shortly afterwards without regaining consciousness.

Those two shots fired by the young fanatic ended an era of which we, who lived in it, can say, as Talleyrand said after the French Revolution, that those who have not known it have not known life. Those two shots at Sarajevo were the first shots of the First World War, from which sprang the yet more murderous Second World War. The peace of which they robbed us has not yet returned.

Gavrilo Princip, being a minor, could not be condemned to death. He was sentenced to thirty years' imprisonment in a fortress, and there he died of tuberculosis after a few years. This reckless young murderer claimed a hecatomb of human sacrifice, the like of which the world had not known before. After 1919, a commemorative plaque was placed on the site of the murder.

To the Navy was assigned the sad task of conveying the coffins containing the bodies of the two victims to Trieste. They had been taken by train to Metkovic. Solemnly they were carried on board the flagship Viribus Unitis, surrounded by the ships of the squadron anchored at the mouth of the Narenta. In line ahead, the battleships proceeded along the coast, close inshore, and as they passed the people bared their heads; many fell on their knees to pray and the priests blessed the coffins as the ships steamed slowly by.

In Vienna, the final absolutions over the coffins were given in the Castle Chapel and then removed to Artstetten to be placed in the crypt built by the Archduke.

That Russia should give Serbia her active support was to be expected. The Russian Ambassador, von Hartwig, who was rumoured to know all the intrigues, had a fatal heart attack during his visit of condolence to our Ambassador, Baron Giesl(14), so great was his agitation. That the murder at Sarajevo would have to be avenged was manifest. Indignation at the plot instigated by the Serbians was intense and unanimous throughout Europe. I am still of the opinion that this general reaction could have been utilized to avoid a world war without loss of prestige. Had the representatives of the Courts of the Great Powers, as was customary, been invited to Vienna for the appropriate obsequies, the work of the diplomats would have been made easier and might have met with success. The Prince of Wales(15) and the Russian Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolayevich(16) expressed their willingness to undertake the journey. Kaiser Wilhelm II had announced his intention and that of the Princes of the German States to be present. But owing to the influence of the Lord Steward of the Household, Prince Montenuovo, Spanish etiquette and dynastic rules were adhered to, because of the morganatic nature of the Archduke's marriage which forbade royal mourning ceremonies. The formal excuse given to the world was the advanced age of the sovereign, and every offer to attend the obsequies was met with refusal.

On July 23rd, Baron Giesl handed an ultimatum to the Belgrade Government. Two days later, Pasic gave his reply, which was considered unsatisfactory. When Baron Giesl telephoned Count Tisza in Budapest from Semlin, the then Hungarian frontier town facing Belgrade on the other bank of the Sava, to announce his departure, the Prime Minister exclaimed, "Did it have to be then?"

That question was one that we have put to Fate, and the answer has not yet been vouchsafed to us. After the breaking off of diplomatic relations between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, His Majesty ordered partial mobilization. In 1912, the last occasion on which partial mobilization had been ordered, it had not led to Russian mobilization. In 1914, it did, and this in turn caused Germany to mobilize.

On July 27th, while I was still at home on leave, I received my calling-up papers as captain of a ship of the line, a rank to which I had been raised on November 1st, 1913. That document brought to an end the five interesting and happy years of my service as aide-de-camp at Court.

I am grateful to Providence for having granted me those years in the immediate entourage of His Majesty Emperor Francis Joseph I. What I then learned and experienced enabled me to see my way clearly when I was called to the leadership of the Hungarian nation, a task that was not of my own seeking. The example of the most noble, courtly and kindly man I have ever met in my life was before me throughout my later years. The values that had been put to the test in Vienna throughout the centuries, and had proved their worth, I was able to take with me to Hungary.

Those five years were assuredly the finest of my life.


1. Francis Ferdinand (1863-1914).

2. Archduke Otto Francis Joseph Habsburg (1865-1906), father of Emperor Charles IV.

3. Prague's royal palace.

4. Sophie Chotek (1868-1914).

5. Ferdinand I of Habsburg (1503-1564), first Habsburg king of Hungary.

6. Major General Conrad Francis von Hötzendorf (1852-1925).

7. Milan Hoda (1878-1944), Slovak politician, MP in the Hungarian parliament.

8. Alexander Vajda-Voievod (1872-1950), politician, member of the Romanian Nationalist party, MP in the Hungarian parliament.

9. Julius Maniu (1873-1953) MP in the Hungarian Parliament, later became prime minister of Rumania.

10. Nikola Pasic (1845-1926).

11. István Horthy.

12. Gavrilo Princip was a Bosnian Serb (1895-1918).

13. General Oscar Potiorek (1852-1933).

14. General Wladimir Giesl von Gisslingen (1860-1936)

15. Prince of Wales Eduard Albert, who later became King Eduard VIII (1894-1972).

16. Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolayevich (1856-1929), was the war-time Commander of the Russian Army.



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