Gavrilo Princip

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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 a number of 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[edit]

Gavrilo Princip in his youth.
Gavrilo Princip's parents.

Gavrilo Princip was born in the remote village of Obljaj near Bosansko Grahovo, at the time de jure part of Bosnia Vilayet within the Ottoman Empire, although the province had since 1878 been occupied by Austria-Hungary which governed it as its condominium, a de facto part of Austria-Hungary. His parents, Petar, a postman, and Marija (née Mićić) had nine children, six of whom died in infancy. His impoverished parents could not provide for him and sent him to live with an older brother in Sarajevo, now the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. During his life as a child, he excelled at school, although being dropped out after 'behavior issues'.

On 6 October 1908, Bosnia-Herzegovina, against the stipulations of the Berlin Treaty of 1878, was declared part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire by Emperor Franz Joseph. This created a stir among Serbs and other Slavic people of southern Europe and the Russian Tsar, who opposed the annexation.[citation needed]

In February 1912, Princip took part in protest demonstrations against the colonial behavior of Sarajevo authorities, for which he was expelled from school. Following his expulsion, he moved to Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. When he was in Belgrade in 1912 and 1913, preparing for his exams at the First Belgrade Gymnasium, Princip's sole friend was Momčilo Nastasijević, who grew up to become a prominent poet and dramatist.[citation needed]

In 1912, many Serbs were being mobilized for the First Balkan War. Princip planned to join the komite, an irregular Serbian guerrilla forces committee of the secret society Unification or Death (Ujedinjenje ili Smrt), also known as Black Hand. Princip, however, was rejected by the komite in Belgrade because of his small physical stature. He then went to Prokuplje in Southern Serbia where he sought a personal interview with Serbian major Vojislav Tankosić. Tankosić, however, rejected Princip as being "too small and too weak". Vladimir Dedijer argued that this rejection was "one of the primary personal motives which pushed him to do something exceptionally brave in order to prove to others that he was their equal".[citation needed]

After Tankosić's rejection, Princip returned to Belgrade where he met Živojin Rafajlović. Rafajlović, who was one of the founders of the Četnik movement, sent him (alongside 15 other Young Bosnia members) to a so-called Center for četnik training in Vranje. There they met with school manager Mihajlo Stevanović-Cupara. He lived in Cupara's house which is today located in Gavrilo Princip street in Vranje. Princip practiced pistol, bomb and knife management and after he completed training he returned to Belgrade.[9]

Assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand[edit]

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.[10]

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.[10]

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.[11]

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[12]), 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[edit]

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.[13] 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.[13]

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[edit]

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.[14]


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.[15]


  1. ^ Fabijancic, Tony (2010). Bosnia: In the footsteps of Gavrilo Princip. University of Atlanta Press. ISBN 987-0-88864-51-7 Check |isbn= value (help). 
  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. ^ Irić, Radoman (2 October 2013). "Ovde je Gavrilo Princip učio da puca". Blic (in Serbian) (Belgrade). p. 21. Retrieved 2 October 2013. 
  10. ^ a b Stokesbury, James (1981). A Short History of World War I. New York: HarperCollins. pp. 60–67. 
  11. ^ Dedijer, Vladimir (1966). "Chapter XIV". The Road to Sarajevo. New York: Simon and Schuster. footnote 21. OCLC 400010. 
  12. ^ Belfield, Richard (2011). A Brief History of Hitmen and Assassinations. Constable & Robinson, Ltd. p. 241. 
  13. ^ a b "The man who started the First World War". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 7 November 2013. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ Connolly, Kate (22 June 2004). "Found: the gun that shook the world". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 17 September 2010. 

Further reading[edit]

  • 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[edit]