WWI ARGUS ARCHIVE: Archduke was a 'versatile prince'
Updated 11:40am Wednesday 9th July 2014 in News
A Versatile Prince
A MORGANATIC MARRIAGE
The Archduke Franz Ferdinand's early days were spent chiefly at Gratz, and his only companions were priests. On the rare occasions when the old Archduke Karl's sons were seen in Vienna it was always in the company of priests. "The citizens used to shrug their shoulders as Franz Ferdinand passed, and call him 'a chip of the old block,' for he looked for all the world like a little monk as he walked along gravely, solemnly, with his great dark eyes always fixed on the ground."
When 15 years of age the Archduke Franz entered the Army, and exchanging the society of priests for that of officers went, according to popular report, from one extreme to the other. For some years he lived a turbulent, dissipated life, but "ranged" himself when the death of Prince Rudolf made him heir to the crown.
At 26 he began to learn his duties as a potential monarch. He visited some of the Courts of Europe, and made a tour of the world, publishing an account of his travels on his return.
He was appointed Inspector-General of the Army, and began to represent the Emperor officially. The great anxiety was to get him married. Numerous Roman Catholic Princesses were indicated as suitable consorts, but in vain.
He refused proposals that were made to him, and at last it was noticed that he spent much of his time in the house of the Archduchess Frederick, who had a number of marriageable daughters.
Imagine the dismay of the Court when it was discovered that the heir-apparent had really fallen in love not with one of the six daughters, but with the Archduchess's lady-in-waiting, Countess Sophie Chotek.
The Countess was considerably older than the Archduke, but she was beautiful and accomplished, and had a singularly sweet voice. It was the first time in the chequered career of the Austrian Royal Family that the heir had proposed a morganatic marriage, though Kings of Hungary have more than once elevated to the throne Queens of non-royal birth.
The old Emperor would at first not give his consent, but ultimately finding the Archduke determined to pursue his course, even if it meant the sacrifice of the Austrian succession, he gave way. But it was only on condition that the lady was never to be Empress of Austria, and that her children should not claim the throne.
Three days later, on July 1st, 1900, the marriage took place, and the Emperor conferred on the bride the title of Duchess of Hobenburg.
The marriage proved to be a very happy one, for the Archduke was a devoted husband, and, detesting publicity, spent most of his time in quiet, domestic life. Two sons and a daughter were born to them, and the Archduke, until a couple of years ago, when he was appointed Inspector-General of the Austro-Hungarian Army and Navy, was wrapped in the education of his children and the life of a country gentleman.
He was never a familiar figure in Vienna, and had never courted popularity. During the winter months he generally went to the Island of Brioni, off the Istrian coast, where he took great interest in horticulture, and had an experimental ostrich farm.
Of recent years, however, the Archduke and his family have usually spent a portion of winter at St. Moritz, where the Duchess and her children were regularly seen on the ice. In late autumn and early spring Konopischt, a Bohemian residence where there are very beautiful grounds surrounding an ancient castle, was the home of the family.
The Archduke was one of the richest men in the world, having inherited the immense wealth of the Etse branch of the House of Austria.
He was a wonderful shot and an enthusiastic sportsman. The walls of his home in Bohemia are adorned with antlers of some 2,000 stags and chamois as well as the heads of tigers killed in India, the tusks of elephants, slain in Ceylon, and the pelts of bears shot in the Rockies. He was an adept in the science of zoology and natural history, and was a wonderfully gifted artist with the brush.