100 Years Ago Today

On June 24, 1914 the future emperor of Austria-Hungary, Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg part ways in a Vienna train station. The day before they’d kissed their children–whom the Archduke adored to the point where some in the Austrian court wondered if the heir went simpleminded in their presence–and set off for the capital from their chateau.

They were headed for a working vacation of sorts, to the Austrian province of Bosnia. They planned to spend the balance of the week in the spa town of Bad Ilidze in the Sarajevo suburbs. In a sign of the messed up political idiocy that would soon doom the empire, there were no direct rail lines running from the capital to Sarajevo, despite those two cities being very prominent and important. It seems as if the Magyars–the Hungarians in the dual monarchy–forbade such a thing, and thus all rail lines south required a train east to Budapest and then a connection to Sarajevo.

The Archduke would have none of that nonsense. He likely harbored deep-seated antipathy towards the Hungarian side of the monarchy, an equal in every way by an 1848 treaty. For Franz Ferdinand, the Hungarians were the creators of obstacles and constant problems in governing. The rail line nonsense was symbolic of that to him. He’d protest by taking a ship down the Adriatic coast from Tyrol and then head up a river on a yacht in Herzegovina, eventually arriving at the Spa Hotel in Bad Ilidze after some 38 hours total, nearly a half day after Sophie would get there.

It was a big week for them, though. Sophie was considered unfit for marriage to the Archduke when he’d proposed 15 years earlier. She was “barely” royalty, to the Austrian court’s thinking. The Emperor, Franz Josef, had forbidden their marriage altogether. It wasn’t until the Archduke swore an oath in front of the gathered royal court that neither Sophie or their children would ever be granted the throne upon his death, and would relinquish any such claims, that the Emperor finally consented. (He really didn’t have a choice. Being the heir apparent to the Emperor was a big game of “Not it” in Austria. First, the Emperor’s son had killed himself and his teenaged mistress in a murder-suicide; days later, the next in line, the Emperor’s younger brother said “No way in hell” to being Emperor. Thus the succession fell to the emperor’s nephew, Franz Ferdinand.) Considered nearly a commoner at court, Sophie was not allowed to even sit at the same table as her husband at state dinners. She couldn’t accompany him on official business within the country. Remarkably, she and the Archduke were madly in love and had a strong marriage and family despite that.

And Bosnia would be different. Here in the provinces, Sophie could be next to her husband at all times. No one here particularly cared about her status. It was to be something of a couple’s retreat. Franz Ferdinand had only two things to do: on Saturday the 27th he’d inspect and observe troops in a war game. On Sunday the 28th, he’d give a speech. Then they’d return home for a family reunion, as their eldest son was finishing grammar school exams and headed home when his parents were arriving in Sarajevo.

Tomorrow: Paris has their own version of the OJ Trial going about to start…

I’m jumping ahead hear (spoiler alert!) but the BBC had an interesting piece about the anniversary doings in Sarajevo this week. Tourists are flocking there for the centennial. There used to be a stone with footprints set into it, marking where Princip stood, but it was damaged in the civil war and never replaced. The museum, which used to be named for the Young Bosnia movement that spawned the assassins, has also been renamed something anodyne, but the tomb where the conspirators are buried still has the Cyrillic Serbian inscription saying something to the effect that people who do great things had a reason for being born–gives you some idea of the sentiments of the folks in the Balkans towards the Hapsburgs, I guess!

We’re still living with the consequences of that one shot, though. The map of the Middle East, for one thing…

Meanwhile, Gavirlo Princip was…


Interesting things about him. He apparently wasn’t a Serbian at all; he was a serf, a Slav nationalist, most of whose brothers and sisters had died due to their wretched conditions. He was one of a group of assassins that included Catholic Croats and Muslim Bosnians.

'Great post Triggercut. I’m eagerly awaiting tomorrow’s installment.

Yeah… as someone who could never stomache their history books through any bit of education, I’m woefully undereducated about the goings on in our world from a historical bent.

I suspect if I knew where to find a nice spanning volume told in Trigger’s engaging style I could remedy that!

I’m hanging on the edge of my seat! What’s going to happen next!?!? This is like a text version of Game of Thrones!

Seriously though, great thread Triggercut!

Wow, so great. I can’t wait 'til tomorrow!

Hint: Bad things happen.

Where’s the no-spoilers thread?!?

Franz Ferdinand is my favorite character! I can’t wait to find out what happens to him!

Seriously, well done triggercut. I’m looking forward to your future posts.

Real bad, but this is a great read about a period that fascinates me. The effects of WWI are still very much with us. As Wombat said, today’s Iraq crisis had its origins in the Versailles treaty, but borders were just one consequence. The optimism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries died in the trenches. Technological progress, which had been viewed as the answer to all human ills, also gave us unparalleled tools for slaughter. Human capabilities were growing exponentially, but human nature hadn’t changed.

The beardy-man wargaming thread recommended me John Keegan’s The First World War to fill a similar gap in my own education. It’s a pretty readable account, if not as conversational as triggercut’s.

Franz Ferdinand makes bitchin’ music.

I guess what I’ll try to do here in the thread–my goal anyway–is to show how the world went from “Oh, hey, another semi-important guy got assassinated, but seriously ho-hum” to “hell on earth” in 40 days. It’s like a choose-your-own adventure story in which not just a bad choice is made at each fork in the road, but actually the absolute, positively WORST thing possible happens at every turn.

Starting tomorrow, in fact…;)

So while we wait for Franz and Sophie to hook up (hopefully literally, since they’ve got 72 hours to live) in Bosnia, I thought we’d take a little interlude. Paris in the Spring is so lovely. (Today’s installment will be long-ish, so apologies in advance; I thought about splitting it up, but it’s a good enough and complicated, Game Of Thrones-ish type story enough to go the full hand here.)

Sometime before noon on Monday, March the 16, 1914, Lady Henriette of Paris regally called out her driver to take her to an address on the outskirts of the city. The destination was a rather tony antique gun collector’s boutique. It’s likely the proprietor recognized Lady Henriette immediately, and certainly did when she identified herself. She was interested in buying a gun for some sort of sporting thing. She wanted to surprise her husband, she said. The store owner steered her to a .32 Browning automatic, mostly because it had only a light kick to it. He then escorted Lady Henriette to the basement shooting range and taught her to fire it. She thanked him, bought some ammunition, and put the cost on her own good credit.

She then had her driver take her downtown, to the offices of the popular and influential newspaper, Le Figaro. She presented herself at reception, and asked to speak for a moment with the paper’s editor, Gaston Calmette. He was gone, she was told by a nervous receptionist who knew that Lady Henriette had reason to be a bit miffed at the paper and its editor. Calmette would be back in an hour or two. Could he call her? Our Lady said she’d wait, thanks.

Calmette did get in to the office at 6pm after a late lunch ran well into the afternoon. He was told that Lady Henriette would like a word with him. His lunch companion, noted French novelist Paul Bourget, told him to refuse to see the visitor. He and Calmette both knew she had an axe to grind with the paper. Calmette would have none of it. Saying that if he refused to see a lady, his reputation as a gentleman would be damaged, he agreed to meet her privately in his office.

She entered, smiling. “Do you know who I am?” she asked.

Calmette answered affirmatively, also smiling. He offered her a seat.

Lady Henriette withdrew the .32 Browning she’d bought that afternoon, aimed it at Calmette, and pulled the trigger until it went click. Calmette was killed instantly. When the police arrived, Lady Henriette made no attempt to escape, and insisted they not touch her (“I’m a proper lady, after all”) and insisted she be allowed to have her own driver take her to police headquarters. The gendarmes assented, and one of the greatest scandals in French society in decades was underway.

As July 25th arrived, and Franz Ferdinand was headed to Bad Ilidze to meet his wife, Lady Henriette was awaiting a July trial for the murder of Calmette in Paris. Free on bond, the incident was nonetheless filling unprecedented column inches in French newspapers, almost giddy over the exciting society scandal.

We’ll circle back to this in a bit.

Next post with Part two of today’s bit!

(Our plucky lass with the gun, Lady Henriette)

Part 2 (deux?)

What’s sort of been lost to history is that World War I came within a Kaiser’s eyelash from starting almost exactly 3 summers earlier, in 1911. Seems that the French and Gemans got themselves into a nasty diplomatic tussle over Morocco. The North African country had been sort of independent for a while, but had always been regarded by the French as their own little protectorate. The Germans decided to push that issue with some gunboat diplomacy after a minor rebellion in the country. The idea was some harebrained notion by the Kaiser’s ministers to try to drive a wedge between the French and English, who’d entered recently into an uneasy entente (at this point in history, it should be noted that the English still pretty much hated the French and everything they stood for…but they made a convenient ally against a frightening Germany who was building a navy and catching the Brits in an arms race.)

If they could, the Germans also wanted to use the lever of threat in Morocco to get the French to cede them some of their colonial possessions in the heart of Africa.

The two countries walked right up to the brink of war that summer. The Germans and French were both thisclose to mobilizing, which would’ve caused the Russians to mobilize, which would’ve caused Austria Hungary and Italy to join Germany in mobilizing, and grab your ankles and kiss your ass goodbye, Europe.

It didn’t happen, though.

France was blessed with one of the most politically adept Prime Ministers since becoming a full-fledged parliamentary republic. Prime Minister Joseph Caillaux was a waspish, bespectacled and button-down sort who was actually an accountant who’d made his name in the Ministry of Finance. Caillaux quickly deduced that the Germans were bluffing, and refused the calls by his General staff to declare war and mobilize. Instead, he pulled off some seriously Cold War style diplomatic magic. He negotiated a settlement that gave Germany nothing it wanted, and got France to come out ahead. He offered to not contest German claims on the African state of Kamerun (World Cup fans, that’s Cameroon to you). He also tossed in some middle Congolese lands, which he’d already figured out were never going to be useful to France. Enjoy that jungle marshland, Fritz.

He also got Germany to agree to a renewed French claim once again establishing Morocco as a colony and protectorate of France. (Score!) It also turned out that England was pretty pissed with Der Kaiser, and this nonsense only strengthened the the alliance between Britain and France. (Score again!)

For all that, Caillaux was excoriated in the press, dominated by conservative, war-mongering voices. He’d capitulated to the Germans, in their view.

It was nonsense, but Caillaux had made himself no friends with the conservatives who still held sway in French government and dominated the press (especially in the paper, Le Figaro).

(Joseph Caillaux)

See, even though he had a conservative, accountant’s upbringing, Joseph Caillaux was a pragmatist. He’d taken a look at the French economy when he was Finance Minister, and realized that his country was headed for some serious feudalism, creating a permanent majority of an impoverished population. The only way out of this horrible outcome he decided, was to do what was working so well for the Americans across the pond. France needed an income tax.

Caillaux’s fellow conservatives were horrified. Instantly the Finance Minister was branded a socialist (sound familiar?) However, in early 20th century France, that wasn’t such a bad thing. Socialism was a movement on the come, gaining wider and wider influence in French politics, faster and faster. At the head of the movement was an affable, bearded movement leader named Jean Jaures.

(Jean Jaures)

It’s tough to find an analogous modern character for Jaures. Imagine, I guess, if Jon Stewart was even more influential, ran his own newspaper, and was generally loved even by those who hated his politics. That’s Jean Jaures. Everyone loved the dude. He was also considered the best public speaker in all of Europe and perhaps the world. He was a socialist and stern pacifist.

Caillaux was forced from office after the conclusion of the Moroccan affair, and switched party allegiance. Jaures realized that Caillaux wasn’t a perfect socialist, but he was better than anyone else who might someday be Prime Minister again. A little bit of politics and strange bedfellows, a little bit of the enemy of my enemy is my friend going on. Jaures threw his socialist weight behind Caillaux. And then, to the surprise of many, the socialists started winning more and more seats in parliament. Caillaux began a gradual re-ascension to power heading towards 1914.

In the winter of 1914, the socialists and a coalition of other so-called radicals seized a plurality of the house of Parliament that got to choose a Prime Minister. Joseph Caillaux was once again in his familar position as Minister Of Finance. It seemed a certain deal that he would once again be Prime Minister.

That would work out so well for the troubled times coming. The pragmatic Caillaux would’ve almost certainly told Tsar Nicholas to check himself, because France had no intention of supporting him if he dared to mobilize his army. Caillaux would’ve likely told the Serbian nationalist terrorists who thought they could count on French financial and military support that they were out of their freaking minds, and would’ve denounced them. He’d have been on the phone to German diplomats, and together they’d have calmed the Austrians the hell down.

There was one problem with all that, though.

Joseph Caillaux, for all his political effectiveness, had a weakness for the ladies. Bigtime. He’d carried on an affair with a married woman who’d divorced and then married him. As soon as they married, Old Joe decided he needed a new mistress, and took up with another married woman. After a few years, both Caillaux and his new mistress divorced their first spouses (SCANDAL!) and married. That wasn’t enough of a scandal to keep him from being Prime Minister, though.

However, the first Mrs. Caillaux (who’d also divorced to take up with the womanizing accountant politician) was understandably bitter. The conservative enemies of Caillaux sought to exploit that, and she was happy to oblige. She sent some love letters Caillaux had written her when she was still married, at the start of their affair that led to his first marriage, to Le Figaro. The conservative paper published the “juiciest” letter of the lot, which ended up being dull as dirt. (The biggest scandal was Caillaux’s usage of the pronoun “ton”, which was a bit overfamiliar for the time; the rest of the letter was him prattling on boringly about land tax policy. No, really.)

When that letter failed to arouse much interest, Le Figaro’s editor, one Gaston Calmette ('member him?) let it be known that perhaps there were more letters.


The newest Mrs. Caillaux was having NONE of that. She was headstrong and proud, and hated to think what might be in those unreleased letters. It would damage her husband’s political career, and it would certainly damage her already frayed social standing.

So…yeah. You’ve probably guessed that the Lady Henriette’s last name was Caillaux, and she was the second wife of the likely next Prime Minister of France, Joseph Caillaux.

And yes, she did indeed assassinate the editor of the paper, and all of Paris was abuzz in late June of 1914, awaiting the start of the trial.

For his part, Joseph Caillaux decided his political career was over and resigned as Finance Minister. The conservative French President, Raymond Poincare, helped pick a “socialist” replacement, Rene Viviani, who rapidly turned into a puppet of the conservatives, much to the outrage of Jaures.

And, thus and so, one of the persons who likely could’ve hit the brakes and prevented the onset of war was removed from the picture over a romantic scandal and a crazy wife.

It happens.

Tomorrow: You say terrorist, they say secret society.

This is great. Thanks a lot for posting this. Can’t wait for part trois.

triggercut, this is outstanding. When it’s all done, you should collect this and publish it someplace.

Now that’s a serious dedication to the job!

Outstanding. All the likes.

Great work triggercut, truly outstanding. My WWI (and lead-up events) knowledge is very lax, so this is entertaining and educational!