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Gavrilo Princip

Gavrilo Princip
Gavrilo Princip cropped.jpg

Gavrilo Princip in his prison cell at the Terezín fortress
Born (1894-07-25)25 July 1894
Obljaj, Condominium of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Austria-Hungary
Died 28 April 1918(1918-04-28) (aged 23)
Terezín, Bohemia, Austria-Hungary
Cause of death
Resting place
Saint Mark Cemetery, Sarajevo
Nationality Austria-Hungary
Ethnicity Serb[1]
Religion None (atheist)[2]

Gavrilo Princip (Serbian Cyrillic: Гаврило Принцип, pronounced [ɡǎʋrilɔ prǐntsip]; 25 July [O.S. 13 July] 1894[3] – 28 April 1918) was a Bosnian Serb who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914.[4]

Princip and his accomplices were arrested and implicated by several members of the Serbian military, leading Austria-Hungary to issue a démarche to Serbia known as the July Ultimatum.[5] This was used as pretext for Austria-Hungary’s invasion of Serbia, which then led to World War I.[6]

Princip was a Yugoslav nationalist associated with the movement Mlada Bosna (Young Bosnia) which predominantly consisted of Serbs, but also Bosniaks and Croats.[7] During his trial he stated “I am a Yugoslav nationalist, aiming for the unification of all Yugoslavs, and I do not care what form of state, but it must be freed from Austria.”[8]

Early life

Gavrilo Princip in his youth

Gavrilo Princip was born in the remote hamlet of Obljaj, near Bosansko Grahovo, on 25 July [O.S. 13 July] 1894.[9] He was one of nine children, six of whom died in infancy.[10] He was named Gavrilo at the insistance of a local Serbian Orthodox priest, who claimed that naming the sickly infant after the Archangel Gabriel would help him survive.[11]

A Serb family, the Princips had lived in northwestern Bosnia for many centuries[12] and adhered to the Serbian Orthodox Christian faith.[13] Princip’s parents, Petar and Marija (née Mičić), were poor farmers who lived off the little land that they owned.[14] They belonged to a class of Christian peasants known as kmets, who were often oppressed by their Muslim landlords.[15] Petar, who insisted on “strict correctness”, never drank or swore and was ridiculed by his neighbours as a result.[14] In his youth, he fought in the Herzegovina Uprising against the Ottoman Empire.[11] Following the revolt, he returned to being a farmer in the Grahovo valley, where he worked approximately 4 acres (1.6 ha; 0.0063 sq mi) of land and was forced to give one-third of his income away to his Muslim landlord. As he could not grow enough grain to feed his family, he resorted to transporting mail and passengers across the mountains separating northwestern Bosnia from Dalmatia in order to supplement his income.[10]

Gavrilo Princip’s parents.

Despite his father’s opposition, Princip first began attending primary school in 1903, aged nine. He overcame a difficult first year and became very successful in his studies, for which he was awarded a collection of Serbian epic poetry by his headmaster.[11] At the age of 13, Princip moved to Sarajevo, where his older brother Jovan intended to enroll him into an Austro-Hungarian military school.[11] By the time Princip reached Sarajevo, Jovan changed his mind after a friend advised him not to make Gavrilo “an executioner of his own people”. Princip was enrolled into a merchant school instead.[16] Jovan paid for his tuition with the money he had earned performing manual labour, carrying logs from the forests surrounding Sarajevo to mills within the city.[17] After three years of study, Gavrilo transferred to a local gymnasium. There, he evolved into an ardent Serbian nationalist.[16] In 1910, he came to revere Bogdan Žerajić, a Bosnian Serb revolutionary who attempted to assassinate Marijan Varešanin, the Austro-Hungarian Governor of Bosnia and Herzegovina, before taking his own life.[17] In 1911, Princip joined Young Bosnia (Serbian: Mlada Bosna), a society that wanted to separate Bosnia from Austria-Hungary and unite it with the neighbouring Kingdom of Serbia.[16] Because the local authorities had forbidden students from forming organizations and clubs, Princip and other members of Young Bosnia met in secret. During their meetings, they discussed literature, ethics and politics.[17]

In 1912, Princip was expelled from school for being involved in a demonstration against Austro-Hungarian authorities.[11] A student who witnessed the incident recalled: “Princip went from class to class, threatening with his knuckle-duster all the boys who wavered in coming to the new demonstrations.”[18] Princip left Sarajevo shortly after being expelled and made the 80 kilometres (50 mi) journey to Belgrade on foot. According to one account, he fell to his knees and kissed the ground upon crossing the border into Serbia. In Belgrade, Princip volunteered to join the komitadjis, bands of Serbian guerrillas fighting the Ottoman Turks, under the leadership of Major Vojin Tankosić.[19] Tankosić was a member of the Black Hand, the foremost conspiratorial society in Serbia at the time.[16] At first, Princip was rejected at a komitadji recruitment office in Belgrade because of his small stature. Enraged, he tracked down Tankosić himself, who told him that he was too small and weak. Humiliated, Princip returned to Bosnia and lodged with his brother in Sarajevo. He spent the next several months moving back and forth between Sarajevo and Belgrade. In 1913, while he was staying in Sarajevo, Austro-Hungarian officials declared a state of emergency, implemented martial law, seized control of all schools and prohibited the formation of Serb societies.[19]

Assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand

A map depicting the assassination route.

The Latin Bridge

On 28 June 1914, Gavrilo Princip participated in the assassination in Sarajevo of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. The governor of the Austrian provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, General Oskar Potiorek, had invited the Archduke and Duchess Sophie to the opening of a hospital. Franz Ferdinand knew that the visit would be dangerous; his uncle, Emperor Franz Joseph, had been the subject of an assassination attempt by the Black Hand in 1911.[20]

Just before 10 a.m. on Sunday, the royal couple arrived in Sarajevo by train. The royal couple were then to take an automobile into the city. In the front car was Fehim Čurčić, the mayor of Sarajevo and Dr. Gerde, the city’s Commissioner of Police. Franz Ferdinand and Sophie were in the second car with Oskar Potiorek and Lieutenant Colonel Count Franz von Harrach. The car’s top was rolled back in order to allow the crowds a good view of its occupants.

The six conspirators lined the route. They were spaced out along the Appel Quay, each one with instructions to try to kill Franz Ferdinand when the royal car reached his position. The first conspirator on the route to see the royal car was Muhamed Mehmedbašić. Standing by the Austro-Hungarian Bank, Mehmedbašić lost his nerve and allowed the car to pass without taking action. Mehmedbašić later said that a policeman was standing behind him and feared he would be arrested before he had a chance to throw his bomb.[20]

At 10:15, when the six-car procession passed the central police station, nineteen-year-old student Nedeljko Čabrinović hurled a hand grenade at the Archduke’s car. The driver accelerated when he saw the object flying towards him, but the bomb had a 10-second delay and exploded under the wheel of the fourth car. Two of the occupants, Eric von Merizzi and Count Alexander von Boos-Waldeck, were seriously wounded. About a dozen spectators were also hit by bomb shrapnel.[21]

After Čabrinović’s bomb missed the Archduke’s car, four other conspirators, including Princip, lost an opportunity to attack because of the heavy crowds and the high speed of the Archduke’s car. To avoid capture, Čabrinović swallowed a cyanide capsule and jumped into the River Miljacka to make sure he died. The cyanide pill was expired and made him sick, but failed to kill him and the River Miljacka was only 10 centimetres (4 in) deep. A few seconds later he was hauled out and detained by police.

Franz Ferdinand later decided to go to the hospital and visit the victims of Čabrinović’s failed bombing attempt. 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 inform the driver, Leopold Loyka, about this decision. On the way to the hospital, Loyka took a right turn into Franz Josef Street.

Princip was standing near Moritz Schiller’s cafe, when he spotted Franz Ferdinand’s car as it drove past, having taken the wrong turn. After realizing the mistake, the driver put his foot on the brake, and began to reverse the car. In doing so the engine of the car stalled and the gears locked, giving Princip his opportunity. Princip stepped forward, drew his pistol (a .380 caliber FN Model 1910[22]), and at a distance of about 1.5 m (five feet), fired twice into the car. Franz Ferdinand was hit in the neck and Sophie (who instinctively covered Franz’s body with her own after the first shot) in the abdomen. They both died before 11:00 am.

Imprisonment and death

Gavrilo Princip, seated centre of the first row, on trial on 5 December 1914

Princip attempted suicide first with cyanide, then with his pistol, but he vomited the past-date poison (as did Čabrinović, leading the police to believe the group had been deceived and bought a much weaker poison). The pistol was wrested from his hand before he had a chance to fire another shot.

Princip was too young to receive the death penalty, being only twenty-seven days short of the 20-year age limit required by Habsburg law for the death sentence.[23] Instead, he received the maximum sentence of twenty years in prison. He was held in harsh conditions which were worsened by the war. He contracted tuberculosis.[4] He died on 28 April 1918 at Terezín 3 years and 10 months after he assassinated the Archduke and Duchess. At the time of his death, Princip, weakened by malnutrition and disease, weighed around 40 kilograms (88 lb; 6 st 4 lb). His body had become racked by skeletal tuberculosis that ate away his bones so badly that his right arm had to be amputated.[23]

Fearing his bones might become relics for Slav nationalists, Princip’s jailers took the body in secret to an unmarked grave, but a Czech soldier assigned to the burial remembered the location, and in 1920 Princip and the other “Heroes of Vidovdan” were disinterred and brought to Sarajevo, where they were buried together beneath a chapel “built to commemorate for eternity our Serb Heroes” at St. Mark’s Cemetery.

The cell where Gavrilo Princip was kept

Sites of interest

The house where Gavrilo Princip lived in Sarajevo was destroyed during World War I. After the war, it was rebuilt as a museum in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia was conquered by Germany in 1941 and Sarajevo became part of Independent State of Croatia. The Croatian Ustaše destroyed the house again. After the establishment of Communist Yugoslavia in 1944, the house of Gavrilo Princip became a museum again and there was another museum dedicated to him within the city of Sarajevo. During the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, the house of Gavrilo Princip was destroyed a third time; no attempts to rebuild it have yet been announced. Prior to 1992 the site on the pavement on which Princip stood to fire the fatal shots was marked by embossed footprints. These were destroyed as a consequence of the 1992–95 war in Bosnia. There is still a plaque in front of the museum at the spot where Gavrilo Princip stood when he fired the shots. Bosansko Grahovo municipality has announced a plan to reconstruct Princip’s birth house in Obljaj before the centenary of the assassination in Sarajevo.[24]


Princip’s pistol was confiscated by the authorities, and eventually given, along with the Archduke’s bloody undershirt, to Anton Puntigam, a Jesuit priest who was a close friend of the Archduke and had given the Archduke and his wife the last rites. The pistol and shirt remained in the possession of the Austrian Jesuits until they were offered on long-term loan to the Museum of Military History in Vienna in 2004. The pistol is now part of the permanent exhibition there.[25]


  1. ^ Fabijancic, Tony (2010). Bosnia: In the footsteps of Gavrilo Princip. University of Atlanta Press. ISBN 978-0-88864-519-7. 
  2. ^ Owings, W.A. Dolph (1984). The Sarajevo Trial. Documentary Publications. p. 86. ISBN 0-89712-122-8. “Premuzic: Do you believe in God, or are you more an atheist? Princip: Atheist.” 
  3. ^ Vladimir Dedijer, The Road to Sarajevo, Simon and Schuster, 1966, pp. 187–188.
  4. ^ a b Johnson, Lonnie (1989). Introducing Austria: A short history. pp. 52–54. ISBN 0-929497-03-1. 
  5. ^ Gilbert, Martin (1995). First World War. HarperCollins. pp. 20–24. ISBN 0-00-637666-5. 
  6. ^ Strachan, Hew (1998). The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War. Oxford University Press. p. 9. ISBN 0-19-820614-3. 
  7. ^ Dejan Djokić. Yugoslavism: histories of a failed idea, 1918–1992. London, England, UK: C. Hurst & Co. Ltd, 2003. Pp. 24.
  8. ^ Malcolm, Noel (1996). Bosnia: A Short History. New York University Press. p. 153. ISBN 0-8147-5561-5. 
  9. ^ Fromkin 2007, p. 121.
  10. ^ a b Schlesser 2005, p. 95.
  11. ^ a b c d e Kidner et al. 2013, p. 756.
  12. ^ Fromkin 2007, pp. 121–122.
  13. ^ Roider 2005, p. 935.
  14. ^ a b Fabijančić 2010, p. xxii.
  15. ^ Schlesser 2005, p. 93.
  16. ^ a b c d Roider 2005, p. 936.
  17. ^ a b c Schlesser 2005, p. 96.
  18. ^ Malcolm 1994, p. 154.
  19. ^ a b Schlesser 2005, p. 97.
  20. ^ a b Stokesbury, James (1981). A Short History of World War I. New York: HarperCollins. pp. 60–67. 
  21. ^ Dedijer, Vladimir (1966). “Chapter XIV”. The Road to Sarajevo. New York: Simon and Schuster. footnote 21. OCLC 400010. 
  22. ^ Belfield, Richard (2011). A Brief History of Hitmen and Assassinations. Constable & Robinson, Ltd. p. 241. 
  23. ^ a b “The man who started the First World War”. Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 7 November 2013. 
  24. ^
  25. ^ Connolly, Kate (22 June 2004). “Found: the gun that shook the world”. Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 17 September 2010. 


Further reading

  • Wolfson, Robert; Laver, John (2001-12-30). Years of Change, European History 1890–1990 (3 ed.). Hodder Murray. p. 117. ISBN 0-340-77526-2. 
  • Vladimir Dedijer, Road to Sarajevo, Simon and Schuster, New York 1966.
  • Dragoslav Ljubibratić (1959). Gavrilo Princip. Nolit. 
    • 1969
  • Michèle Savary, La vie et mort de Gavrilo Princip, L’Age d’Homme 2004.
  • Dušan T. Bataković (dir.), Histoire du peuple serbe, Lausanne, L’Age d’Homme 2005.
  • Pappenheim, Martin. Gavrilo Princips Bekenntnisse: ein geschichtlicher Beitrag zur Vorgeschichte des Attentates von Sarajevo. Wien: Lechner & Son, 1926.

External links

This article uses material from the Wikipedia article Gavrilo Princip, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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