Gavrilo Princip

Gavrilo Princip

Gavrilo Princip, the son of a postman, was born in Bosnia-Herzegovina in July, 1894. Gavrilo was one of nine children, six of whom died in infancy. His health was poor and from an early age suffered from tuberculosis.

Princip attended schools in Sarajevo and Tuzla, but in May 1912, left Bosnia for Belgrade to continue his education. While in Serbia Princip joined the Black Hand secret society. For the next two years he spent most of his spare time with other nationalists who also favoured a union between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia.

When it was announced that Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of Austro-Hungarian Empire, was going to visit Bosnia-Herzegovina in June 1914, Dragutin Dimitrijevic, the chief of the Intelligence Department in the Serbian Army and head of the Black Hand, sent three men, Princip, Nedjelko Cabrinovic, and Trifko Grabez to Sarajevo to assassinate him.

Each man was given a revolver, two bombs and small vial of cyanide. They were instructed to commit suicide after Archduke Franz Ferdinand had been killed. It was important to Dragutin Dimitrijevic that the men did not have the opportunity to confess who had organised the assassination.

Princip, Nedjelko Cabrinovic and Trifko Grabez were suffering from tuberculosis and knew they would not live long. They were therefore willing to give their life for what they believed was a great cause, Bosnia-Herzegovina achieving independence from Austro-Hungary.

Nikola Pasic, the prime minister of Serbia, heard about the plot and gave instructions for Princip and the other two men, Nedjelko Cabrinovic and Trifko Grabez to be arrested when they attempted to leave the country. However, his orders were not implemented and the three man arrived in Bosnia-Herzegovina where they joined forces with fellow conspirators, Muhamed Mehmedbasic, Danilo Ilic, Vaso Cubrilovic, Cvijetko Popovic, Misko Jovanovic and Veljko Cubrilovic.

On Sunday, 28th June, 1914, Franz Ferdinand and Sophie von Chotkovato arrived in Sarajevo by train. General Oskar Potiorek, Governor of the Austrian provinces of Bosnia-Herzegovina, was waiting to take the royal party to the City Hall for the official reception.

In the front car was Fehim Curcic, the Mayor of Sarajevo and Dr. Gerde, the city's Commissioner of Police. Franz Ferdinand and Sophie von Chotkovato were in the second car with Oskar Potiorek and Count von Harrach. The car's top was rolled back in order to allow the crowds a good view of its occupants.

Seven members of the Black Hand group lined the route. They were spaced out along the Appel Quay, each one had been instructed to try and kill Franz Ferdinand when the royal car reached his position. The first conspirator on the route to see the royal car was Muhamed Mehmedbasic. Standing by the Austro-Hungarian Bank, Mehmedbasic lost his nerve and allowed the car pass without taking action. Mehmedbasic later said that a policeman was standing behind him and feared he would be arrested before he had a chance to throw his bomb.

The next man on the route was Nedjelko Cabrinovic. At 10.15. Cabrinovic stepped forward and hurled his bomb at the archduke's car. The driver accelerated when he saw the object flying towards him and the bomb 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 throwing his bomb, Nedjelko Cabrinovic swallowed the cyanide he was carrying and jumped into the River Miljacka. Four men, including two detectives, followed him in and managed to arrest him. The poison failed to kill him and he was taken to the local police station.

Franz Ferdinand's driver, Franz Urban, drove on extremely fast and other members of the Black Hand group on the route decided that it was useless to try and kill the archduke when the car was going at this speed.

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 Duchess 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, Urban took a right turn into Franz Joseph Street. Princip happened to be 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 Princip. He 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 von Chotkovato in the abdomen. Princip's bullet had pierced the archduke's jugular vein but before losing consciousness, he pleaded "Sophie dear! Sophie dear! Don't die! Stay alive for our children!" Franz Urban drove the royal couple to Konak, the governor's residence, but although both were still alive when they arrived, they died from their wounds soon afterwards.

After shooting Franz Ferdinand and Sophie von Chotkovato, Princip, following instructions, turned his gun on himself. A man behind him saw what he was doing, and seized Princip's right arm. A couple of policeman joined the struggle and Princip was arrested.

Princip and Nedjelko Cabrinovic were both interrogated by the police. They eventually gave the names of their fellow conspirators. Muhamed Mehmedbasic managed to escape to Serbia but Trifko Grabez, Danilo Ilic, Vaso Cubrilovic, Cvijetko Popovic, Misko Jovanovic and Veljko Cubrilovic were arrested and charged with treason and murder.

Eight of the men charged with treason and the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand were found guilty. Under Austro-Hungarian law, capital punishment could not be imposed on someone who was under the age of twenty when they had committed the crime. Princip therefore received the maximum penalty of twenty years. Gavrilo Princip died of tuberculosis on 28th April 1918.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Borijove Jevtic, was a member of the Black Hand group and was in Sarajevo during the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

The road to the maneuvers was shaped like the letter V, making a sharp turn at the bridge over the River Nilgacka. Franz Ferdinand's car could go fast enough until it reached this spot but here it was forced to slow down for the turn. Here Princip had taken his stand. As the car came abreast he stepped forward from the curb, drew his automatic pistol from his coat and fired two shots. The first struck the wife of the Archduke, the Archduchess Sophie, in the abdomen. She was an expectant mother. She died instantly. The second bullet struck the Archduke close to the heart.

The next day they put chains on Princip's feet, which he wore till his death. His only sign of regret was the statement that he was sorry he had killed the wife of the Archduke. He had aimed only at her husband and would have preferred that any other bullet should have struck General Potiorek.

(2) Gavrilo Princip, interviewed by investigating judge (28th June, 1914)

I aimed at the Archduke. I do not remember what I thought at that moment. I only know that I fired twice, or perhaps several times, without knowing whether I had hit or missed.

(3) Gavrilo Princip, reply when interviewed in court (October, 1914)

I am the son of peasants and I know what is happening in the villages. That is why I wanted to take revenge, and I regret nothing.