Vintage Saturday: Assassination

Gavrilo Princip being arrested in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914.
Gavrilo Princip being arrested in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914.
Gavrilo Princip's FN 1910 used to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand
Gavrilo Princip’s FN 1910, used to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand (on display at the Military History Museum in Vienna)

Precisely 100 years ago today, Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip (through a rather intricate series of coincidences) managed to assassinate the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. From this localized (and botched, in many ways) event quickly grew one of the most ghastly wars in human history.

Princip was arrested on the spot, and eventually sentenced to 20 years in prison (not execution because he was under the age of 20), where he died of tuberculosis while incarcerated. No photographs exist of the assassination itself, and his pistol was initially reported as simply being a Browning. This led to news sources and artists making their own assumptions about its details. The Model 1900 was the most common Browning pistol in use at the time and many sources specified it as the specific model, creating the common believe that persists today that Princip used a 1900. In actual fact, it was a Model 1910, of which the conspirators acquired four. The one pictured above is one of the four, but it is not known which one was actually used by Princip.

Interestingly, part of the conspirators’ attempt to deflect blame from the Serbian government was to argue that the pistols were French army pistols (not commercial guns whose purchase could be tracked). This was apparently based on the fact that the slide markings were stamped in French. Not surprisingly, the argument fell flat.