His last words were, “It is nothing.” But he was terribly wrong.
Even as badly maintained and pitted as it is, this FN M1910 Browning in .380 ACP has the classic lines John M. Browning designed into it over a century ago. It’s still a not-bad choice for a backup or concealed carry pistol, although most of them are in the hands of collectors. Not many collectors would want one in as terrible and pitted condition as this one, but then, this is not just “one.” It’s “the” pistol that fired the shots that ended the Age of Kings, mortally wounding Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg Dual Monarchy and his wife Sophie. That assassination, by a Bosnian Serb pan-Slavic nationalist named Gavrilo Princip, led Austria to threaten Serbia (which had sponsored the assassination, providing this gun and other arms) with invasion. The Austrian threat produced a Russian counterthreat, a German counter-counterthreat, and Franco-British agreement to stand by their treaty obligations to Russia — if it came to that.
In the end, as we all know, it did come to that, to the detriment of nations and of generations.
Franz Ferdinand was an important figure. For one thing, the Emperor and King, Franz Josef, was old and unwell, and FF was his designated heir (he himself came to the position through tragedy, when the then-heir, his cousin Rudolf, committed suicide in 1889). From then, Franz Ferdinand was ready to take the reins. No one in the Habsburg court had thought out the fate of the monarchy beyond that, except that Franz Ferdinand’s and Sophie’s children were not eligible — their marriage was a love match between unequals, and so morganatic, a dynastic term meaning the kids’ blood was permanently attainted with the non-royalness of Sophie. It was only after the murder of FF and Sophie that Franz Josef began preparing Franz Ferdinand’s nephew Charles, who had been enjoying himself as an Army officer, for national leadership. They didn’t have long, as Franz Josef passed away in 1916, catapulting Charles onto the dual throne. All these consequences from a few pistol shots!
The murder is described in a book called Sarajevo, quoted at length in Wikipedia:
One bullet pierced Franz Ferdinand’s neck while the other pierced Sophie’s abdomen. … As the car was reversing (to go back to the Governor’s residence because the entourage thought the Imperial couple were unhurt) a thin streak of blood shot from the Archduke’s mouth onto Count Harrach’s right cheek (he was standing on the car’s running board). Harrach drew out a handkerchief to still the gushing blood. The Duchess, seeing this, called: “For Heaven’s sake! What happened to you?” and sank from her seat, her face falling between her husband’s knees.
Harrach and Potoriek … thought she had fainted … only her husband seemed to have an instinct for what was happening. Turning to his wife despite the bullet in his neck, Franz Ferdinand pleaded: “Sopherl! Sopherl! Sterbe nicht! Bleibe am Leben für unsere Kinder! – Sophie dear! Don’t die! Stay alive for our children!” Having said this, he seemed to sag down himself. His plumed hat … fell off; many of its green feathers were found all over the car floor. Count Harrach seized the Archduke by the uniform collar to hold him up. He asked “Leiden Eure Kaiserliche Hoheit sehr? – Is Your Imperial Highness suffering very badly?” “Es ist nichts. – It is nothing.” said the Archduke in a weak but audible voice. He seemed to be losing consciousness during his last few minutes, but, his voice growing steadily weaker, he repeated the phrase perhaps six or seven times more.
A rattle began to issue from his throat, which subsided as the car drew in front of the Konak bersibin (Town Hall). Despite several doctors’ efforts, the Archduke died shortly after being carried into the building while his beloved wife was almost certainly dead from internal bleeding before the motorcade reached the Konak.
It took about a month of cabled threats and ultimata, and then it was game on. Game would stay on for the next four-plus years, ending with Northern France and Belgium in ruins, Russia in an unholy revolution that brought forth a new Dark Age across Eurasia, Britain and Germany spent, with the cream of their youth interred in distant fields — if their remains were found at all. The last unconstrained kings in Europe were gone, Nicholas II and his whole family shot down like dogs, and Wilhelm II and his whole family in comfortable, if bitter, exile. Accidental king Charles I of Austria-Hungary died shortly after his family’s exile to Portugal.
But hey, the Serbs got their Serbian-dominated pan-Slavic Balkan nation.
Princip didn’t live to see it. He died soon after being sentenced to 20 years (the enlightened Habsburg were soft on crime, especially when committed by yout’s — Princip was 20), of complications from TB.
In the end, of course, Yugoslavia was short-lived, as nations go. It would be torn apart by civil war started by another malignant Serb, but that’s another story. (And against those two monsters, the Serbs did give us Nikola Tesla, so their accounts balance, unless you ask Edison).
The murder weapon fell, with a collection of Franz Ferdinand and Sophia artifacts and ephemera, into the hands of a priest, who dreamed of helping Austria-Hungary establish a museum in the memory of the murdered royal. But he hadn’t reckoned on Austria-Hungary and the dual monarchy themselves falling to the continental cataclysm that would extinguish as many hopes as it did lives over the next years. On his death, it passed to his order, and a group of Catholic monks had no real use for it, and no idea of how to get rid of it, so they hung on to it until quite recently. They didn’t take care of it, and it rusted deeply and badly. In time, the religious order passed the old father’s Franz Ferdinand collection to a museum in Vienna, perhaps fulfilling some portion of the late priest’s earthly desire.
There is something that draws one’s eyes to this Browning. It’s just a gun, just a tool. But the unintended consequences of the few shots this old gun fired should remind all of us never to shoot without due consideration.
One wonders what Gavrilo Princip would say about that.
Hat tip, John Richardson, who said:
If you don’t think the .380 Auto aka 9mm Browning isn’t a powerful round, show me another pistol cartridge that was used to start a world war. For it was with a FN Model 1910 chambered in .380 Auto (or 9mm Browning to be more precise) that Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg 100 years ago today in Sarajevo.