The weirdness history contains (WWI edition)

For history class this year, I’m taking European history. In August, we started at the Black Plague, and now we’re talking about the Cold War. Over those seven hundred-ish years span of time, there have been three specific times in class that I remember when we learned about huge stories in history that either happened or didn’t happen because of the nearest misses/collisions of events. One of them was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand-also known as the spark for World War I.

(Sources I used: The man who started WWI: 7 things you didn’t know, World War I: 100 Years Later, A Shot that Changed the World, How a Wrong Turn Started World War I)


It was 1914 and two important things had happened in Austria-Hungary. The first one was that the king of Austria-Hungary, Franz Joseph I, decided to step off the throne and give it to his nephew Franz Ferdinand because he was getting old, and I guess simply tired of being king. I mean, considering how hard being president is, being king must be even harder since it’s for an indefinite amount of time.

The second was that Austria-Hungary had just annexed Bosnia, this tiny country that didn’t have a say in the matter. The annexation made people mad-not just in Bosnia, but outside of it too-especially Serbia.

Okay, I’m going to take a short historical detour to explain why people were mad. If you picture in your head the big piece of land that you think of when I say Europe, then Austria-Hungary was in the middle-ish right, to the right of Italy, and Bosnia was to the south of Austria-Hungary. Then you have the Ottoman Empire, which was even more to the right and south of both of those countries. Basically, it was a sandwich with Bosnia inbetween Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire.

Bosnia had originally been part of the Ottoman Empire (which I only had the vaguest idea about before this year), but the Ottoman Empire had slowly been growing weaker and lost land that split into a bunch of little countries, including Bosnia and Serbia. Serbia was the strongest out of those little countries and wanted to unify all of them and become the leader. That’s why when Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia, people in Serbia got mad. Austria-Hungary was making a mess of their plans.

Some people, like this one Serbian group called the Black Hand, got mad enough to turn to violence. After Bosnia was annexed, Franz Joseph I sent his nephew and about-to-be king Franz Ferdinand to go visit the capital of Bosnia, Saravejo, as a some sort of nice “You just got annexed!” welcome. When Black Hand heard that he was coming, they planned an assassination.

The Crazy Part

The Austrian government and even Franz Ferdinand knew that the visit was potentially dangerous and that there could be assassination attempts. When Franz Ferdinand was travelling to Saravejo his car overheated and he was quoted to having said this: “Our journey starts with an extremely promising omen. Here our car burns and down there they will throw bombs at us.”

Then when they arrived, a Bosnian was again like, guys you’re in danger, cancel this trip. And then, Franz Ferdinand’s wife, Sophia, said: “Things do not always turn out the way you say they will. Wherever we have been, everyone, down to the last Serb, has greeted us with such great friendliness, politeness, and true warmth, that we are very happy with our visit.” Then the guy said back: “Your Highness, I pray to God that when I have the honor of meeting you again tomorrow night you can repeat those words.”

The next day-which was also their fourteenth wedding anniversary-Franz Ferdinand and Sophia went out into the city in their motorcar-which was open. During the drive, one of the several Black Hand members stationed along the way threw a bomb at the car, but it failed.

One video I watched about this said that it hit the car and bounced off before exploding while the other one said that the driver saw it out of the corner of his eye and slammed on the gas and avoided it. No matter what, the only people injured were people that were not Franz Ferdinand.

But Franz Ferdinand still didn’t cancel his plans. He and his wife continued on and went to a political event and listened to speeches. Afterwards, that’s when Franz Ferdinand decided to change plans and went to visit the people that got hurt in the bombing. The driver didn’t exactly know the route and accidentally made a wrong turn.

He had to stop for a second to reverse-and in that moment, Gavrilo Princip, another member of the Black Hand assassination plan, walked out of a store onto that exact street. From a mere few feet away, Princip shot at Franz Ferdinand as the archduke sat in a stopped car. 

I learned in school all about the consequences of this assassination (generally: WWI, specifically: Austria-Hungary declaring war on Serbia, Serbia declaring war on Austria-Hungary, Germany declaring war on Russia, Germany declaring war on France, Britian declaring war on Germany, Austria-Hungary declaring war on Russia, Serbia declaring war on Germany, France declaring war on Austria-Hungary, Britain declaring war on Austria-Hungary), but we didn’t learn what actually happened to Princip.

In an article, it said that Princip on the day of the assassination was 19 years, 11 months, and 15 days old. Austria-Hungarian law said that capital punishment-the death penalty-was only legal for people twenty years old and older. If he had been fifteen days older, he would’ve been hung. Instead, he was sentenced to twenty years in prison.

Do you know of any other crazy near miss/collision stories from history?
What history class are you taking in school?
What time period do you think is most interesting to learn about?

2 thoughts on “The weirdness history contains (WWI edition)”

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