The eldest son of Emperor Franz Joseph's younger brother Carl Ludwig, Franz Ferdinand became the hier-apparent following the death of Crown Prince Rudolf in 1889, and his own father in 1896.
Not an especially cultured man, at times prideful and mistrusting, F.F. lacked the charisma to make him socially and politically popular. His short temper and suspicious nature ensured that truly talented advisors did not last long in his cabinet-in-waiting. He became more reclusive following his morganatic marriage to Sophie Chotek von Chotkova in 1900. Contrary to his public persona, he was a very happy husband and devoted father.
Another source of F.F.'s lack of popularity was the reforms he intended to enact when he became Emperor. Recognizing growing the strains and pressures of nationalism among the many ethnic groups within Austria-Hungary, F.F. proposed to replace Austro-Hungarian dualism with 'Trialism,' a triple monarchy in which the empire's slavs would have an equal voice in government with the Germans and Magyars. Another possible variation F.F. was exploring was a form of federalism made up of 16 states. While such radical reforms might have saved the empire, they were not popular among those with vested interests in the existing structure. Serbia was as uncomfortable with F.F.'s potential reforms as any group within the empire. Contented slavs living within the empire would not be likely to agitate for separation and to join with Serbia.
As Inspector General of the Army, F.F. accepted an invitation to visit the provincial capital of Bosnia -- Sarajevo -- to inspect army manoeuvres. The trip also provided an opportunity for both himself and Sophie to be seen as 'imperial.'
The provinces of Bosnia and Herzogovina had been under Austro-Hungarian administration and protection by international agreement, since 1878. In 1908, Austria annexed the provinces outright. Some European governments were upset at the annexation, but Greater-Serbia proponents were outraged. They wanted the provinces to be part of a Serbian led pan-slav state, not part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. A Serbian secret terrorist group, the Black Hand, decided to assassinate somebody in protest. F.F. was eventually selected when his trip to Saravejo was made public. By killing him, the threat of his reforms would be removed.
On June 28th, 1914, while riding in the motorcade through the streets of Sarajevo, Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were shot and killed by Gavrilo Princip -- one of seven young Bosnians and Black Hand recruits. The assassination provided 'justification' for Austria to take hard action against Serbia. Throughout the month of July, 1914, the Austro-Serbian situation quickly escalated to include the Eruopean world powers -- resulting in world war.
Franz Ferdinand was buried in a crypt beneath the chapel of his castle, Artstetten, instead of the customary burial place of the Hapsburgs, Capuchin Crypt, in Vienna.