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Plotters Decide to Kill the Archduke

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Wikimedia Commons

beThe First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that killed millions and set the continent of Europe on the path to further calamity two decades later. But it didn’t come out of nowhere. With the centennial of the outbreak of hostilities coming up in August, Erik Sass will be looking back at the lead-up to the war, when seemingly minor moments of friction accumulated until the situation was ready to explode. He'll be covering those events 100 years after they occurred. This is the 110th installment in the series. 

March 26 - 27, 1914: Plotters Decide to Kill the Archduke

In March 1914, the Balkan cauldron was simmering away, as Austria-Hungary faced fresh difficulties in Albania and Serbia and Montenegro threatened to merge, promising further instability. But it was a plot unfolding behind the scenes that lit the fuse for the greatest conflict in history. 

At first glance March 7, 1914 marked a diplomatic success for Austria-Hungary, as a German aristocrat, Prince Wilhelm Friedrich Heinrich of Wied, arrived in the Albanian city of Durazzo to take the throne of the new nation. This was supposed to be the culmination of several years of diplomacy and saber rattling by Austria-Hungary’s foreign minister Count Berchtold, who persuaded the other Great Powers to create a new, independent Albania to deny Serbia access to the sea after the First Balkan War (the Austrians feared Russia might use a Serbian port as a naval base). The only problem with the scheme was that it completely ignored reality: The Prince of Wied commanded neither troops nor loyalty in Albania, and his “authority” was confined to Durazzo, propped up by a small Dutch-Austrian force. It wasn’t long before a powerful tribal leader, Esad Pasha Toptani, began plotting rebellion in the hopes of grabbing the crown.

Meanwhile, Montenegro and Serbia were in talks to create a customs union as a precursor to a full political union. This was another nightmare scenario for Austria-Hungary, as it would give Serbia its long-coveted access to the sea and set the stage for the final struggle to liberate the Dual Monarchy’s Southern Slavic peoples. Montenegro’s King Nikola wasn’t necessarily thrilled about the idea of Serbia absorbing his tiny kingdom but the great Slavic patron, Russia, supported the merger. So on March 15, Nikola tried to put the best face on things by inviting Serbia’s King Peter to negotiations for an eventual union that would, the Montenegrin king wrote, “give joy not only to the peoples of Serbia and Montenegro but also to the brother Serbs not yet liberated [and] all Southern Slavism…” On April 2, Serbia’s King Peter responded with a letter expressing “tremendous joy” over the idea, as “such fraternal agreement would form the best foundation for the future of Serbia…”

Although negotiations were put on hold by the outbreak of hostilities a few months later, contemporaries recognized that the Serbian-Montenegrin union was itself a possible flashpoint for a continent-wide war. Following a visit to Vienna, on April 5 Kaiser Wilhelm II reported an alarming rumor to the German foreign office: “King Nikita is secretly to sell his land to Serbia, Russia would in the event advance the sum and thereby acquire a claim to compensation on the coast… If it later comes to light and Austria wants to put up an opposition and call the Serbs to account, Russia would at once go to their help and world war would be upon us.”

The Conspirators Target Franz Ferdinand 

In March 1914, a ragtag group of part-time high school students, pamphleteers, and coffeehouse intellectuals began plotting a murder that would shake the world to its foundations—although at the time none of them had any idea what its real impact would be. While many details remain murky due to conflicting accounts, historians have pieced together the rough outline and timing of the plot, including the role played by members of Unity or Death, an ultranationalist cabal directed by Serbian military officers in Belgrade also known as the Black Hand, and Young Bosnia, an underground organization in Austrian Bosnia.

For several years, a Bosnian Serb teenager and member of Young Bosnia, Gavrilo Princip (above, top row, left), had been drifting back and forth between Sarajevo, the provincial capital of Austrian-controlled Bosnia, and the Serbian capital Belgrade, where he was supposedly attending high school but actually spent most of his time talking politics with other radical Serbian nationalists in grimy cafés. On March 13, 1914, after a visit home to Bosnia Princip returned to Belgrade, where he was soon to be found in his usual haunts.

In late March, one of Princip’s café colleagues, Nedjelko Čabrinović (above, top row, right), supposedly received an envelope with no return address, containing a clipping from a Bosnian or Croatian newspaper about Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s planned visit to Sarajevo on June 28—known to Serbs as Vidovdan, the anniversary of the Serbian defeat by the Turks at the Field of Blackbirds in 1389. In this version of events, Čabrinović showed the clipping to Princip, who shared his indignation at the apparent insult in the visit’s timing, and on March 27 the friends swore a secret oath to assassinate the heir to the Austrian and Hungarian thrones.

Meanwhile Princip’s best friend in Sarajevo, a nationalist newspaper editor named Danilo Ilić (who had recently joined Unity or Death, also known as the Black Hand—above, top row, center) also received word about the Archduke’s planned visit around this time—again, supposedly from a newspaper clipping sent to him anonymously. However he learned about it, Ilić was thinking along the same lines as Princip by late March, when he met his friend Muhamed Mehmedbašić (not pictured), a Bosnian Muslim and fellow member of Young Bosnia, who was still hoping to carry out an earlier plot to assassinate Oskar Potiorek, the Austrian governor of Bosnia.

On March 26, 1914, Ilić told Mehmedbašić that the plan to kill Potiorek had been canceled by the Black Hand’s shadowy leadership—but added that a new plot was being organized against the life of the Archduke. Princip later claimed that he wrote to Ilić around Easter (April 12, 1914) to recruit him into the conspiracy, only to find that Ilić was already considering a similar plan. In the following weeks the conspiracy grew as Princip and Čabrinović recruited their friend Trifun Grabež in Belgrade (above, bottom row, left), while Ilić enlisted Vaso Čubrilović (bottom row, center) and Cvjetko Popović (bottom row, right), both living in Sarajevo.

Some of the conspirators later denied that they had any outside help organizing the “outrage” (as terrorist attacks were termed): At their trial, Čabrinović claimed, “In the company we frequented the conversations always turned on outrages… Nobody told us straight out: ‘kill him,’ but in those circles we came round to the idea by ourselves,” and Princip insisted, “The idea of it originated with us and it is we who carried it out.” But they were almost certainly inspired and directed by members of the Black Hand, led by the chief of Serbian military intelligence, Dragutin Dimitrijević, codename Apis (below, left).

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For one thing, the plotters needed weapons; thus Princip got in touch with a middle-aged nationalist radical named Milan Ciganović (below, right), an employee of the Serbian national railway who’d fought in the Balkan Wars and belonged to the Black Hand. Ciganović sometimes worked for Major Vojislav Tankosić (below, center), who was in turn the right-hand man to Dimitrijević. Ciganović obtained four pistols and several small bombs from a Serbian military armory, which Princip claimed he sent to Ilić sometime in April, and it seems impossible that Ciganović would have done this without the knowledge and approval of Dimitrijević.

Furthermore, the whole story of anonymous newspaper clippings seems rather suspicious, as does the coincidence of Princip and Ilić spontaneously arriving at the same idea; while the clippings may have played some role in advancing the conspiracy (perhaps as a previously agreed signal) it seems more likely the entire plan was coordinated from an earlier date, following the failure of the plot against Potiorek. Through his spy network Dimitrijević likely heard of Franz Ferdinand’s visit to Sarajevo shortly after the Archduke agreed to the trip in mid-February, and well before it was publicized in the newspapers. According to several other accounts, Princip was in contact with Tankosić and Ilić as early as January, and Tankosić told him that the Black Hand had decided to kill the Archduke soon after.

Serbia’s civilian government smelled a rat: On March 18, Serbian Prime Minister Nikola Pašić ordered an investigation of the Black Hand, which he rightly suspected of plotting a military coup against him because of his moderate stance towards Austria-Hungary. Eventually Pasic got wind of the plot against the Archduke from Ciganović, who was apparently an informer for the government inside the Black Hand. But it was all too little, too late.

Meanwhile on March 16, 1914, the bellicose Austrian chief of the general staff, Conrad von Hötzendorf, once again called for war in a conversation with the German ambassador to Vienna, Baron Heinrich von Tschirschky. But Tschirschky politely reminded Conrad that a key figure stood in the way—Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who opposed any suggestion of preemptive war.

See the previous installment or all entries.

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10 Fab Facts About George Harrison
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Keystone/Getty Images

You probably know George Harrison as a Beatle, the lead guitarist of the most famous band in the world. We’re guessing that there’s a lot you don’t know about the youngest of The Fab Four, who was born on this day in 1943.

1. HE WAS ONLY 27 WHEN THE BEATLES BROKE UP.


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George Harrison turned 27 on February 25, 1970, less than two months before Paul McCartney told the world he had no future plans to work with the Beatles. It had been 12 years since Harrison had joined John Lennon’s band, The Quarrymen—shortly after McCartney, his Liverpool schoolmate—in 1958.

2. HE INVENTED THE MEGASTAR ROCK BENEFIT CONCERT.

Before Harrison organized the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh, there were performances for charity, of course. But when his friend, the great Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar, told him about the plight of Bangladeshi refugees, victims of both war and a devastating cyclone who now faced starvation, Harrison felt compelled to devote himself to the cause. He recruited stars like Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, Badfinger, and Leon Russell, and together they played two sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden on August 1, 1971. Harrison then arranged for the release of a concert album and film. The ventures had raised more than $12 million by 1985, and profits from sales of the movie and soundtrack continue to benefit the George Harrison Fund for UNICEF.

3. HE WROTE “CRACKERBOX PALACE” ABOUT HIS QUIRKY MANSION.

Harrison nicknamed his 120-room Friar Park mansion “Crackerbox Palace” after a friend’s description of Lord Buckley’s tiny Los Angeles home. The 66-acre property, about 37 miles west of London, was first owned by Sir Frank Crisp, a lawyer who lived there from 1889 to 1919. Harrison bought the estate in 1970—and quickly penned “The Ballad Of Sir Frankie Crisp,” which appeared on his first solo album, All Things Must Pass, also in 1970.

Friar Park was a strange place, with gnomes, grottos, a miniature Matterhorn, and lavish gardens, which Harrison loved to tend. According to the Victoria County History website, the house itself “is an architectural fantasy in red brick, stone, and terracotta, mixing English, French and Flemish motifs in lavish, undisciplined profusion.”

4. HE LOVED HANGING OUT WITH BOB DYLAN AND THE BAND.

All four Beatles were Dylan fans, and first met him in 1964. But Harrison felt a special bond with him, and spent weeks at Dylan’s Woodstock, New York home in the fall of 1968. The Band was there, too, and Harrison loved the collaborative atmosphere. During this time Dylan and Harrison co-wrote “I’d Have You Anytime,” which appeared on 1970's All Things Must Pass. The two would become bandmates in the Traveling Wilburys, and maintained a close, lifelong friendship.

5. THE "QUIET BEATLE" WASN’T SO QUIET.

"He never shut up," friend and fellow Traveling Wilbury Tom Petty once said of Harrison. "He was the best hang you could imagine."

6. WHEN HE LOST HIS VIRGINITY, THE OTHER BEATLES CHEERED.

The Beatles at the EMI studios in Abbey Road, as they prepare for 'Our World', a world-wide live television show broadcasting to 24 countries with a potential audience of 400 million.
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During the band’s early years, they had extended runs as a house band in Hamburg, Germany, and were paid so poorly (and had to be on stage for so many hours) that they shared a small room in the club’s basement. Hence the witnesses to George’s deflowering, at age 17. "We were in bunkbeds," Harrison recalled. "They couldn't really see anything because I was under the covers, but after I'd finished they all applauded and cheered. At least they kept quiet whilst I was doing it."

7. WITHOUT HIM, THERE MAY NOT HAVE BEEN A MONTY PYTHON'S LIFE OF BRIAN.

EMI Films, Life of Brian’s original backer, withdrew funding for the Monty Python comedy classic just before filming began, scared that the religious subject matter would be too controversial. Harrison, a big fan and friend of the Pythons, set up his own production company—Handmade Films—to fund the project. Why? "Because I liked the script and I wanted to see the movie,” he explained. Harrison not only saw the film, he appeared in it, as Mr. Papadopolous, "owner of the Mount.” Monty Python’s Life of Brian, released in 1979, was a huge hit in both the UK and U.S., and was ranked as the 10th best comedy film of all time in 2010 by The Guardian.

8. HE WAS THE FIRST EX-BEATLE TO SIMULTANEOUSLY TOP BOTH THE SINGLES AND ALBUMS CHARTS.

Harrison began recording the songs that would comprise All Things Must Pass at Abbey Road on May 26, 1970, just weeks after the Beatles broke up. The triple album was released in late November, along with “My Sweet Lord,” the first single from the album. Both the record and the single spent weeks at the top of the Billboard and Melody Maker charts in early 1971, while receiving rave reviews.

9. THE FIRST SONG HE WROTE WAS INSPIRED BY A DESIRE TO TELL PEOPLE TO GET LOST.

Harrison wrote “Don’t Bother Me,” his first first solo composition, while sick in bed at the Palace Court Hotel in Bournemouth, England, in the summer of 1963. It “was an exercise to see if I could write a song,” Harrison said. “I don't think it's a particularly good song ... It mightn't even be a song at all, but at least it showed me that all I needed to do was keep on writing, and then maybe eventually I would write something good." “Don’t Bother Me” appeared on With The Beatles, their second studio album.

10. HE WAS THE FIRST BEATLE TO VISIT, AND PLAY IN, THE U.S.

In the fall of 1963, Harrison traveled to Benton, Illinois to visit his sister, Louise, and her husband, George Caldwell. During his 18-day stay, Harrison also became the first Beatle to play in the U.S.—appearing on stage with The Four Vests at the VFW Hall in Eldorado. He played the second set with the band, taking over lead guitar and singing "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Your Cheatin' Heart."

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The Origins of 36 Marvel Characters, Illustrated
Pop Chart Lab
Pop Chart Lab

No matter what their powers, every super hero has an origin story, from Spider-Man’s radioactive bite to Iron Man’s life-threatening chest shrapnel. In their latest poster, the designers at Pop Chart Lab have taken their infographic savvy to the Marvel Universe, charting the heroic origins of 36 different Marvel characters through miniature, minimalist comics.

Without using any words, they’ve managed to illustrate Bucky Barnes's plane explosion and subsequent transformation into the Winter Soldier, Jessica Jones’s car crash, the death of the Punisher’s family, and other classic stories from the major Marvel canon while paying tribute to the comic book form.

Explore the poster below, and see a zoomable version on Pop Chart Lab’s website.

A poster featuring 36 minimalist illustrations of superhero origin stories.
Pop Chart Lab

Keep your eyes open for future Marvel-Pop Chart crossovers. The Marvel Origins: A Sequential Compendium poster is “the first release of what we hope to be a marvelous partnership,” as Pop Chart Lab’s Galvin Chow puts it. Prints are available for pre-order starting at $37 and are scheduled to start shipping on March 8.

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