Franz Ferdinand accident could have changed course of history

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One hundred years ago, and just months before his death, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was nearly shot dead in a hunting accident in Nottinghamshire, England.

The BBC reports that at the time, the Duke of Portland – on whose estate the near-miss took place – later speculated the course of history could have been altered hugely if the accident had happened.

In November 1913 the Archduke and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, arrived at Welbeck Abbey, near Worksop, Nottinghamshire, after staying with King George V and Queen Mary at Windsor.

Large crowds cheered the Austro-Hungarian royals as they drove through the town of Worksop from the station. Waiting for them were a number of high-profile dignitaries; the Austro-Hungarian ambassador, the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, Lord Curzon, the Marquis of Titchfield, Lord and Lady Salisbury and ex-Prime Minister Arthur Balfour.

Shortly afterwards Franz Ferdinand, the Duke of Portland and others went out to shoot pheasants. The Duke later recalled: ‘One of the loaders fell down. This caused both barrels of the gun he was carrying to be discharged, the shot passing within a few feet of the archduke and myself.

‘I have often wondered whether the Great War might not have been averted, or at least postponed, had the archduke met his death then and not at Sarajevo the following year.’

On 28 June 1914, during a visit to the Bosnian capital, Franz Ferdinand and Duchess Sophie were shot dead by nationalist Gavrilo Princip.

Had he died the previous year in England history could have been different, but the chances are the European powers would have found another reason to go to war.

The Worksop Library is hosting an archive display of photographs and newspaper cuttings about the Archduke’s visit and the local reaction to his death.

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