Why did a war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia become a European war in 1914?
On June 28, 1914, Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria and heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was assassinated in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb student. The assassination sparked little initial concern in Europe. The Archduke himself was not terribly popular, least of all in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. While there were riots in Sarajevo following the Archduke's death these were largely aimed at the Serbian minority. Though this assassination has been linked as the direct trigger for World War I, the war's real origins lie further back, in the complex web of alliances and counterbalances that developed between the various European powers after the defeat of France and formation of the German state under the leadership of Otto von Bismarck in 1871. So why exactly did a war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia spiral out of control and become a European war in 1914?
Franz Ferdinand had limited political influence. He was Emperor Franz Joseph's nephew, and became the heir when Franz Joseph's son killed himself in 1889 (his sisters could not take the throne). This position conferred less power than one might think. Franz Ferdinand's wife, Sophie Chotek, was a Bohemian noblewoman, but not noble enough to be royal. She was scorned by many at court, and their children were out of the line of succession (Franz Ferdinand's brother Otto was next). Franz Ferdinand had strong opinions, a sharp tongue and many political enemies. He favored "trialism," adding a third Slavic component to the Dual Monarchy, in part to reduce the influence of the Hungarians. His relations with Budapest were so bad that gossips blamed the killing on Magyar politicians. So if Ferdinand was relatively unimportant politically speaking, why did his killing result in a war between Serbia and Austria-Hungary? As soon as Ferdinand's assassination unfolded, the Austrian police and the courts undertook a...
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