Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg

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Sophie, the Duchess of Hohenberg


Her Highness Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, born Sophie Maria Josephine Albina Chotek, Countess of Chotkova and Wognin (March 1, 1868 - June 28, 1914) was the morganatic wife of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. Their assassination sparked World War I. (de: Sophie Maria Josephine Albina Chotek Gräfin von Chotkova und Wognin, later the Fürstin von Hohenberg, since 1909 Herzogin von Hohenberg, cs: Žofie Marie Josefína Albína hraběnka Chotková z Chotkova a Vojnína, later the kněžna z Hohenbergu, since 1909 vévodkyně z Hohenbergu)

Early relationship with Franz Ferdinand

Sophie was born in Stuttgart to a prominent Bohemian aristocratic family. She was the fourth daughter of Count Bohuslaw Chotek von Chotkova und Wognin and of his wife, Countess Wilhelmine Kinsky von Wchinitz und Tettau. As a young woman, Sophie became lady-in-waiting to the Archduchess Isabella, wife of Archduke Friedrich, Duke of Teschen. It is unknown where Sophie first met Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, though many claim a ball in Prague.

Sophie and Franz Ferdinand kept their relationship a secret for years. When Franz Ferdinand began to make regular visits to the home of Archduke Friedrich, it was assumed that he had fallen in love with his eldest daughter, Marie Christine. When the relationship was discovered by Archduchess Isabella a public scandal was created.

Emperor Franz Joseph made it clear to Franz Ferdinand that he could not marry Sophie. To be an eligible partner for a member of the Austro-Hungarian imperial family, one must be a member of one of the reigning or formerly reigning dynasties of Europe. The Choteks were not one of these families, although they did include among their ancestors in the female line princes of Baden, Hohenzollern-Hechingen, and Liechtenstein.

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 Joseph on Franz Ferdinand's behalf arguing that the disagreement was undermining the stability of the monarchy.

Marriage with Franz Ferdinand

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The Duchess of Hohenberg with family.
In 1899, Emperor Franz Josef agreed to a deal with Franz Ferdinand for a morganatic marriage. Franz Ferdinand was allowed to marry Sophie but it was stipulated that her descendants would not be allowed to succeed to the throne. Sophie would not share her husband's rank, title, or precedence.

Sophie and Franz Ferdinand were married July 1, 1900 at Reichstadt (now Zákupy) in Bohemia. The Emperor Franz Joseph did not attend the affair, nor did any archduke including Franz Ferdinand's brothers. The only members of the imperial family who were present were Franz Ferdinand's stepmother, Maria Theresia, and her two daughters.

Upon the marriage, Sophie was given the title Princess of Hohenberg (Fürstin von Hohenberg) with the style Her Serene Highness (Ihre Durchlaucht). In 1909 she was given the more senior title Duchess of Hohenberg (Herzogin von Hohenberg) with the style Her Highness (Ihre Hoheit). This raised her status considerably, but she still took precedence at court after all the archduchesses.

The couple had four children: The rumour that at the time of her assassination in 1914, Sophie was pregnant with her fifth child, is not true. After the birth of her stillborn son in 1908, doctors advised her not to become pregnant again.

The Assassination

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. 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.

Sophie was usually not allowed to accompany her husband on official visits, but on this occasion Franz Ferdinand arranged for her to come as an anniversary gift. She was ecstatic.

At 10.10, when the procession passed the central police station, Nedjelko Cabrinovic hurled a hand grenade at the archduke's car. The driver accelerated when he saw the object flying towards the car 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.

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, by the Latin Bridge, Urban took a right turn into Franz Joseph Street. One of the conspirators, Gavrilo Princip, 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. Sophie said to her husband, "For God's sake what happened to you", then she fell bleeding. Before losing consciousness, he pleaded "Sophie dear ! Sophie dear ! Don't die ! Stay alive for our children !" They were both dead within an hour.

Sophie and Franz Ferdinand had a joint funeral mass, but, according to a television report on World War I her plinth was placed 18 inches below her husband's in light of her lower social station. They were buried in the crypt of their country home, Schloss Artstetten. Today the castle houses a museum in their memory.

Titles

  • Countess Sophie Chotek
  • Her Serene Highness The Princess of Hohenberg
  • Her Highness The Duchess of Hohenberg

Notes

Note regarding personal names: Gräfin is a title, translated as Countess, not a first or middle name. The male form is Graf.

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