His assassination in Sarajevo in June 1914 by a Serbian nationalist kick-started a chain of events that led to the First World War.
The wife of Prince Franz Ferdinand, Duchess Sophie von Hohenberg, was also killed on that fateful day.
As the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne and a member of the House of Habsburg, Ferdinand’s remains and those of his wife were laid to rest in the crypt of the family’s former summer residence at Castle Artstetten in Austria, a couple of hours from Vienna.
The current owner of the castle is Princess Anita of Hohenberg, Ferdinand’s great-granddaughter, who is determined to paint an accurate picture of her ancestor.
“I was lucky to have a great-aunt who lived a long life and told me many stories. She told me that my great-grandfather used to get down on the floor to play with his children. They had a very happy childhood. We have a very positive picture of this man,” she said.
The castle houses a museum dedicated to the life and work of Ferdinand and attracts thousands of visitors each year.
The Crown Prince was deeply involved in state matters and had plans to redraw the map of Austria-Hungary, creating a number of semi-autonomous states which would all be part of a larger confederation.
“The interesting thing is that Franz Ferdinand, as the heir to the throne, was very well acquainted with the monarchy’s foreign and domestic problems. He had his own shadow cabinet. And he had very strong ideas on how to restructure the monarchy. It’s believed he favoured “trialism” – a triple monarchy in which the empire’s Slavs would have an equal voice,” explained Dr. Christian Ortner from the Military History Museum in Vienna.
The assassination of Ferdinand is considered the most immediate cause of World War I, which started a month after his death, with Austria-Hungary declaring war on Serbia.