Love and an Assassination that Changed History
Franz Ferdinand d’Este, the last private owner of the Konopiště Castle lying in Central Bohemia, has indelibly impacted European history. He died along with his wife Sophie Chotek on June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo. That tragic event was one of the causes of the First World War, which this year will be over 100 years old.
Franz Ferdinand d’Este (1863-1914), belonged to the highest level of the European nobility in his time, was one of the richest men in Europe, traveled around the world and devoted himself to his greatest passion, hunting. A turning point came in 1896, when his father died and Franz Ferdinand, from that moment on, found himself under great scrutiny: he became the heir to the Austro-Hungarian and Czech throne.
Don't stick your nose into other people’s medallions!
Successors to the throne usually can’t just do whatever they want, but Franz Ferdinand showed the Emperor more than once that he was his own man and threw the commands from the Imperial Palace to the wayside. A perfect example of his willfulness, which drove the Emperor mad up until his death, was the choice of his wife.
Although Sophie Chotek was a member of the Czech aristocracy and her family tree extended all the way back to the 13th century, the heir to the throne was expected to marry a daughter of a king or prince, most definitely not a Countess. It is not surprising then that the two anxiously guarded their relationship. Scandal erupted in 1898, when Sophie was the lady-in-waiting for the Archduchess Isabella. She explained her frequent visits to the heir of the throne in the only way possible: Franz Ferdinand was interested in one of her daughters. One day, she found the heir’s medallion, and could not resist her curiosity — and inside she found a portrait of the ordinary Lady-in-waiting Sophie. All hell broke loose on the Imperial Court: The Archduchess immediately released Sophie, and the Emperor threatened that if those two happened to be serious, he would exclude their children from the right to the throne. Franz Ferdinand agreed with that. The surprised Emperor gave him a year to think it over, but nothing changed. The wedding took place in 1900 in North Bohemia at the castle in Zákupy, however the only member of the imperial family, who attended the celebration, was Ferdinand's stepmother and her daughters.
From Konopiště to Sarajevo
After many years of intrigue and troubles, Franz and Sophie and their three children lived happily on a few estates, in particular at the Konopiště Castle, which after renovation was transformed into one of the most elegant and most modern castles of the monarchy in that period. The Archduke furnished his residence with magnificent, antique furniture, a collection of Italian paintings, hunting trophies and an arsenal, which has no equivalent in Europe. In the surrounding area he had a park and ornamental gardens built.
Although the Emperor later softened up a bit and elevated Sophie Chotek to the level of a Duchess, it still wasn’t enough for her equalization. The Imperial Court pompously ignored her and in public she was never allowed to sit next to her husband nor did she accompany him on foreign trips. Ironically, the first official state trip, on which they were allowed to ride together, was precisely that fateful journey to Sarajevo in 1914, which ended in the assassination on June 28.
They weren't even equal at the Vienna funeral: the insignia of a Duchess wasn’t put on Sophie’s coffin, but only a fan and gloves, the emblem of a lady-in-waiting, and stood lower than her husband's coffin. They are buried in the family tomb at the Austrian Castle of Artstetten.
Throughout this year at the Konopiště Castle and nearby Benešov, commemorative events of this remarkable couple are taking place. One of the highlights will be an international gathering of military history clubs "My peoples 1914 – Benešov 2014", which will take place from May 30 to June 1 in Benešov and its surrounding area. The arrival of about 250 soldiers from 40 military-historical clubs from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Slovenia and Germany is expected.