Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg

Unknown Artist  Pastel  pre-1910

My original intention for the post today was to be about Archduke Ferdinand, who was assassinated on this day in 1914.  But when I found this beautiful pastel portrait of his wife, Sophia, Duchess of Hohenberg, who also lost her life at the hands of the assassin on that day, I knew I would need to rethink my plan.

Sophie was born a Czech countess in a Bohemian noble family.  She was a lady-in-waiting for Archduchess Isabella.  It is most likely at court where she and Franz Ferdinand met.  They shared correspondence while he suffered from tuberculosis.  It is generally believed they were deeply in love, and he refused to think of marrying anyone else.

Franz Ferdinand was actually third in line to the Austro-Hungarian throne.  After the unexpected suicide of his cousin, Crown Prince Rudulf, then the death of his father, he became the heir apparent.  I will note that the emperor had daughters, but they were not eligible to inherit the throne.  Instead, it would go to his nephew, Franz Ferdinand, who he didn’t particularly care for.

Sophie and Franz Ferdinand were at first not permitted to marry.  She was only a countess, and didn’t posses the correct royal blood.  In the eyes of the emperor, it was out of the question.  She was not fit to be an archduchess or empress, and no children of hers should ever inherit the throne.

In 1900 the emperor finally allowed a marriage, but it would be only a morganatic marriage.  This meant not only could Sophie never be empress and her children never be heirs, she suffered a good deal of humiliation.  All princesses and countesses in Austria and Hungary held a higher position in court.

Sophie was not allowed to make public appearances with her husband.  She could not ride in an open carriage with him.  She was not even allowed to sit next to him at the theater.  Because of the restrictions, many other heads of state did not interact with the couple.  The protocol was just too messy.

In June  of 1914, Archduke Ferdinand was invited by the Governor of Bosnia and Herzegovina to view the troops on maneuvers.  Since he was asked as the military commander, not as a royal, the specifics of their marriage and Sophie’s royal standing did not apply.  It was one of the very few times in their 14 year marriage Sophie was allowed to ride in the carriage with her husband.

As I mentioned at the top, this was meant to be about the assassination of the Archduke which led to the outbreak of World War I.  It was going to be a statement about the organization the Black Hand and its attempt at unification by means of terrorism and assassination.  It was going to focus on the Young Bosnia movement, misguided, funded, and trained by the Black Hand, which led to the assassination and consequently to WWI.

However, one portrait changed my focus.  It is instead the story of star-crossed love.  A bit cliché, I’ll admit, but pretty accurate in this case.  I have no doubt that on that day of all days, she was meant to be in that car with her husband, by his side, his equal.

Others in the car reported that while Archduke Ferdinand suffered a gunshot wound to the jugular, he said, “Sophie dear!  Don’t die!  Stay alive for our children!”  When asked of his own wound he said “it is nothing.”

Sophie died in the car.  Archduke Ferdinand shortly after.

Due to Sophie’s status, she was not allowed to be buried in the Imperial Crypt.  At a funeral for the immediate family only, her casket was set lower than her husband’s and was treated merely as that of a lady-in-waiting.  The  bodies were then transported to Artstetten Castle where they could be entombed side by side, finally on the same level.

This pastel portrait also hangs at Artstetten Castle.  I found very little information about it other than a visitor took a photo of it in the castle and that it dates before 1910. No artist name is given.

I think it’s just such a soft, lovely portrait that is really indicative of the turn of the century.  I can imagine her playing tennis or caring for her three children.  Her face is pleasant, with just a tiny hint of an upturned smile.

Unlike most royal portraits, Sophie wears no crown or tiara,  no diamond necklace or brooch.  Only small, circular earrings adorn her ears.  Yet no bitterness shows on her face, just a young woman in a beautiful pastel portrait.

So on this day we remember that the actions of a small group of men can have a profound impact on the world.  One act can plummet the world into war.  But we also remember that the actions and opinions of one person can also have a profound impact.  Her Highness Sophie of Hohenberg may not have changed the world, but she was never given the chance.

Be kind.  Be thoughtful.  Be open-minded.  The person you may find undeserving may just be the person that can make an impact on the world.





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