Sophie Chotek’s Romance and Tragedy Culminated in the World War
The Woman Who Wrecked the World
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Sophie Chotek’s Romance and Tragedy Culminated in the World War
THE tragic romance of Sophie Chotek, “the woman who wrecked the world,” the wife who went to her death with Franz Ferdinand of Austria, at Sarajevo in June, 1914, is told in the Forum. The “little lady of Bohemia” won the heart of the Austrian Emperor’s heir, and finally won her way from a mere lady-in-waiting to the heart of the most exclusive court in the world.
Through the assassin’s smoke at Sarajevo one discerns the face of a dainty, petite, high-cheeked woman, with rounded chin and fragile nose, intangibly attractive, yet not unlike many of the women of Bohemia. She possessed wondrous eyes, demure, yet deep, vague yet welling with ambition, a vast ambition that was to bring her and the man she loved to Sarajevo—to their doom—and the world to war.
You have never heard of the Little Lady of Bohemia, Sophie Chotek? ....
She, an obscure little countess of Bohemia, daughter of an impoverished household, a mere lady-in-waiting at the court of Vienna, won the heart of Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne. And, in her persuasive way, she awakened in him a desire to do justice to those dragooned peoples of Hapsburg domains, conspicuous among
them the Czechs of Bohemia, the land she loved. So did the oppressors at Vienna come to fear the ascension of her husband to the throne. So came it that they struck him down, and she with him. So from that assassination war burst over Europe.
There burned in her that fierce patriotism common to the suppressed little nationality of Central Europe. Through her girlhood in the little poverty-stricken castle of the Choteks she had heard of the wrongs done the Bohemians. She knew that they were numerically a power. Once Bohemia was placed upon the same political footing in the empire as Hungary they would be a decided political power. She thought if she could induce Franz Ferdinand, when he came to the throne, to revive the old kingdom of Bohemia, and, in the south, to form a “Triune” kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia-Dalmatia, this would make him extremely popular with the Slavish elements in the monarchy. It would strengthen her position, and that of their heir, whom she was determined to put upon the throne. And she knew that, secure in her husband’s love, she could appeal to his sense of justice to grant these little people the political advancement which was their due.
She knew also, what Vienna did not
know, that she was the lady to do the driving. Yet, she was not a schemer who had married him, merely to make him the instrument for her ambitions. A clever, far-seeing woman, she was looking into the future and she knew that unless justice were done the small peoples, that upon the death of the old Emperor, “the crazy-quilt Empire” would be torn apart and thrown into the ragbag of European powers. And in the castle of Konopischt she dreamed and bided her time.
There came a day when she was only half happy; it was not in her heart to be unhappy. Her Franz Ferdinand was sent to the tropics. He was gone on Imperial business, many, many months; indeed so long was he away that Sophie began to grow uneasy. Had the old Emperor learned of their love? What if something had happened to Franz Ferdinand? She felt that only disaster could keep her from him. She was confident of that. Then from over the seas came letters, wonderful letters, the thoughts in them softened by the tropics where he worked. And he followed the letters home.
He went first to his distant home at Konopischt, to Sophie and his baby girl; then to his official home, the palace of the Emperor. Franz Ferdinand had worked strenuously on his foreign mission, and so delighted w-as old Franz Joseph that he named him Inspector General of the Army and hailed him as the heir to the throne. Of course, Franz Ferdinand's father, the swollen spider, Karl Ludwig, “Blue Beard of the Hapsburg,” was first heir. The spider though had not long to live, nor did the old Emperor wish him to live. Franz Ferdinand was his choice. The young man was high in favor. He had been in Vienna but a few days when the Emperor made known a wish. He wanted Franz Ferdinand to marry. He wanted to see an Emperor and Empress in embryo ready to ascend the throne. Old Franz Joseph knew the Hapsburg blood. He wanted Franz Ferdinand out of trouble, happily, “safely” married.
Meanwhile, Sophie remained in the forest castle of her husband. Even the little Bohemian village nearby had heard the rumors drifting up from Vienna. “The Crown Prince has returned from the tropics,” it was said; “the old Emperor is forcing wives upon him.”
A less clever woman would have gone straight to Vienna and shrilled in the aged ear of the Emperor that Franz Ferdinand was already married and she was his wife, the mother of his children —for other children had been born in the castle at Konopischt. But Sophie had more sense than that. She had sense enough to grasp fully the fact that her husband was overwhelmingly in love with her and the old Emperor could arrange for him to meet twenty princesses and that her big Crown Prince would be polite, and nothing more, to them all. She knew that all the emperors in Europe would never make Franz Ferdinand give her up. So when she heard the rumors, she merely smiled.
Meanwhile, the old Emperor’ had driven Franz Ferdinand into a corner, so the young man hurled a bomb. When it burst there came out of the smoke the fact that he already had a wife, a charming, brainy woman, and that he was very happy. But in the eyes of the Emperor, Sophie was merely a low-born Countess of Bohemia, a former ladyin-waiting, a morganatic, unknown wife, moreover of despised Czech blood. They were joined fast by the Church, and she was the mother of a boy ; but the old Emperor smiled. Such things had been arranged before, indeed, very often in the house of Hapsburg. Why not again?
“I will settle a great sum of money on her,” he told Franz Ferdinand. “I will make a great donation to the Church. It will be discovered that you were never properly married,” but Franz Ferdinand shook his head. “She is my wife. She will come to the throne with me.”
Morosely the old Empeioc shook his head. He sighed as he yielded to the inevitable. “You, too, Ferdinand. Í thought you were different; strong. I
thought that some day you would he an Emperor with a will of iron. But you are like the rest of us—a woman’s face.”
Melancholy days dawned for the Emperor, but he would not admit defeat. He called for his counsellors and had them refresh his mind on the statutes. He saw that the law of the Austrian Empire forbade any but a princess of royal blood to come to the rank of empress. He smiled grimly as he read this safeguard against the children of any woman trapping royalty from ascending the throne. He laughed as he thought of Franz Ferdinand with a wife who could never reign in Austria; with a child who could never come to the Imperial throne. But he scowled as he reflected that curiously enough this same law did not apply in Hungary and in the other dominions of the Dual Monarchy. In these then, this obscure Countess could in time become Queen and her son, in time, King. Perhaps it were better to placate Sophie Chctek. Two days later the old Emperor changed Countess Sophie into the Princess of Hohenberg, and gave to her the title of Serene Highness. This would make her forget her ambitions for the Bohemians, so he thought.
Franz Ferdinand was a strong man; he crossed the Emperor’s wishes, jeopardizing his future throne. In a sour mood the Emperor might have banished him then and there. Anthony of Rome, and our own Andrew Jackson were strong men and they laid their power in women’s hands. But Franz Ferdinand, when he yielded to Sophie, became a toy in her hands. Vienna said, “She carries him in her pocket.” He was honest and he was blunt, quite without the shrewd gift for diplomacy that belonged to the Hapsburgs. Sophie had her enormous ambition to right the wrongs of the Czechs. He did this not idealistically, possessing no passion for justice, no desire to see down-trodden people uplifted. He did it merely because a dainty hand stroked his chin and a sweet voice said: “Franz, won’t
you do this for me?” Sugar-fed, spurpricked, the good steed went prancing into the arena of world politics. Blind to what it would mean, never thinking of the power of the forces in the Dual Monarchy, and in Germany, that he would antagonize by espousing the cause of the Czechs, Franz Ferdinand led their fight. For him, personally, it was bad; for the former maid-in-waiting it was good. At the worst, she would be able to tear out the kingdom of Bohemia from the Austrian “crazyquilt” for her son.
Time went on, and her power became more great. The old Emperor grew to know her wisdom and took her into his counsel. When Austria cynically tore up the treaty of Berlin and annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina, the diplomats wondered. It was a bold, ruthless act. Being wise men, many of the diplomats gave the credit to Franz Ferdinand. He was young, ambitious, strong. There were others who looked behind the figure of the Crown Prince r.nd saw that stronger woman with the firm chin and the round eyes which at times could be as innocent as a baby’s. And they decided that it was she who had inspired the tearing up of the treaty of Berlin—she who had made herself ducal wife, who would carve out a great empire for her son, who would make herself supreme in that empire, or pull down the pillars of Europe.
Nothing was beyond her ambition. She schemed across the borders of Austria. She caused herself to be invited to Berlin by the Kaiser; she pretended to agree with him in his schemes. He did her many honors, all of which helped her in Vienna. The old Emperor raised her to the rank of Archduchess and bestowed upon her the title of Imperial Highness. This cleared her path to the throne; it was the first step toward the removal of the barrier between her son and the throne; it made it possible for that boy of unprincely blood to some day become Austrian Emperor.
In Vienna there formed a strong party opposed to the “Chotek woman,” as they called her. They pinned their hopes upon the gallant Otto—he who sought to jump his horse over a hearse in the streets of Vienna. A notorious
man, he was married to a Princess of Saxony without beauty. One night, at a time when he was Colonel commanding a regiment jf dragoons, he drank deep at Sachers and marched his drunkards home wita him to the Imperial Palace in the Ausgarten. They boisterously trooped through the park and fell up the Palace stairs. The mad Otto decided he would introduce his boon fellows to the Archduchess, his Saxon wife, without beauty. An aged retainer who had accompanied her from her home barred the Archduke’s path. Straightening his old spine, he said: “Your Royal Highness shall not enter except over my dead body.” Otto drew his sabre and in his alcoholic fury slashed open the ancient man. Then with his carousers he crossed the threshold. . . . This was the man who was the hope of the conspiiators in Vienna.
The spring of 1914 sped along. Franz Joseph was growing very feeble. The day was not far off when he would die, when Franz Ferdinand would come to the throne, there to be ruled by her whose policies ran counter to those of the Austrian nobility, counter to the Hungarian nobles—to Berlin. With increasing power, she became bold. One day she said that there would soon be a kingdom of Bohemia. The German Kaiser sent for Franz Ferdinand and verified his suspicions. Sophie Chotek had made a fool of him. He had blundered in giving her the prestige of an invitation to his court. Bitterly he realized how adroitly she had used it to further her own position in Vienna.
The Kaiser’s talk with Franz Ferdinand showed him that the Austrian heir was as soft clay in Sophie Chotek’s hands. The heir was opposed to the ascendency of Germany in Austrian affairs. He was cool toward the plans of Berlin. He could see no point in making war to acquire all the land down to Turkey. He said 't would antagonize the English. The Kaiser discei'ned that it was his wife speaking through the Austrian heir—she who had cleverly read the designs of Germany, that Teutonic scheme to use Austria as a catspaw and then to dominate Austria and to create a Teutonic empire from the Baltic to the Persian gulf. She knew that were these things to come to pass, that the German Kaiser would rule all, that her dreams for an independent Bohemia—all her other dreams—would be snuffed out. So to the Kaiser’s policies her husband said no. Sophie Chotek and Franz Ferdinand had incurred the wrath of Berlin.
The story concludes with the luring of the Archduke and Archduchess to Sarajevo, as part of a deep-laid plot of the Kaiser’s, and their murdei' there— a part of the tale which all the world now knows.
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