Gavrilo Princip

Gavrilo Princip

Gavrilo Princip


Gavrilo Princip (25 July 1894– 28 April 1918) was a Bosinan Serb who belonged to the Yugoslav nationalist group Mlada Bosna, meaning Young Bosnia, this society’s aim was to separate Bosnia from Austria-Hungary and unite it with the neighbouring Kingdom of Serbia. He was also a member of the Black Hand society.

He is infamous for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914. Princip’s act resulted in Austria-Hungary declaring war on Serbia and thus resulting in World War I.


Princip was born into a Bosnian peasant family on 25 July 1894,, in the remote hamlet of Obljaj, near Bosansko Grahovo. He was one of nine children, six of whom died in infancy. He was named Gavrilo at the insistence of a Serbian priest, who claimed that naming the sickly infant after the Archangel Gabriel would help him survive.Gavrilo attended school at the age of 9, against his fathers wishes and began to achieve well in his studies and was rewarded with Serbian poetry from his headmaster.In 1910 Princip started to admire Bogdan Žerajić,a serb who attempted assassination of General Marijan Varešanin, a Governor of Bosnia and Herzegovina.Princip moved to Sarajevo at the age of 13 and in 1912, Princip was expelled from school for being involved in a demonstration against Austro-Hungarian authorities.

Assasination of Franz Ferdinand

The Archduke and Duchess Sophie were invited to the opening of a hospital in Sarajevo by the governor of the Austrian provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Archdukes’ uncle , Emperor Franz Joseph, had been the target of an assassination attempt in 1911 and therefore, Ferdinand knew his visit to Sarajevo would be dangerous. The Royal couple were in the second car with Oskar Potiorek and Lieutenant Colonel Count Franz von Harrach. The car’s top was rolled back in order to allow the crowds a good view of its occupants.

An evening before the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, Gavrilo Princip, Čabrinović and Ilić (two of his fellow conspirators) visited the grave of Žerajić for the last time. In total there were seven conspirators who lined the route to the hospital each one with orders to try to assassinate Franz Ferdinand when the royal car reached their position.

The first conspirator on the route to see the royal car lost his nerve and allowed the car to pass without taking action. When the six-car procession passed the central police station, a nineteen-year-old student named Nedeljko Čabrinović hurled a hand grenade at the Archduke’s car. When the driver saw the object flying towards him, he accelerated, but the bomb had a 10-second delay and exploded under the wheel of the fourth car. Some of the spectators were injured when they were hit by bomb shrapnel and the two occupants of the fourth car were also seriously injured.

After Čabrinović’s bomb missed the car, Princip and the other four conspirators’ opportunities to attack was made increasingly difficult due to the car’s high speed and the heavy crowds. To evade imprisonment, Čabrinović swallowed a cyanide pill and jumped into the Miljacka river to make sure he died. However, the cyanide pill was expired and only made him ill, and the river was shallow and only 10 centimetres deep!. A few seconds later he was dragged out alive and arrested. The other conspirators scattered in various directions.

Later in the morning, against the advice of the majority of people there, Franz Ferdinand, decided to go to the hospital to visit the wounded victims of the hand grenade. On the way to the hospital, Loyka took a right turn into Franz Josef Street, instead of going straight and in the process he drove past Gavrilo Princip who was at Moritz Schiller’s café possibly having a sandwich. When Ferdinand’s driver realised his mistake, he braked and began backing up. In so doing, the engine stalled and the gears locked, giving Princip his opportunity. Princip stepped forward, drew his pistol and at a distance of about 1.5 metres fired twice into the car, first hitting Franz Ferdinand in the neck, and then Sophie, who instinctively covered his body, in the abdomen. They both died minutes later.

Princip attempted suicide with cyanide, but as with Čabrinović, the pill was expired thus leading the police department to believe the group had been deceived buying the poison), he then tried to shoot himself, but the pistol was taken from his hand before he had a chance to fire another shot and he was then arrested and imprisoned.


Princip was only 19 years old at the time of his imprisonment and therefore could not receive the death penalty as it had a minimum age requirement of 20 years. He therefore was only able to receive the maximum sentence of 20 years in prsion. In prison, he was hel din harsh conditions that were worsened by the war. He spent a total of 3 years and 10 months in prison before his death.


Princip died of Tuberculosis on 28 April 1918. His body was weakened by malnutrition and disease and it is said that he only weighed an estimated 40kg at the time of his death. Princip’s body was so damaged by skeletal tuberculosis, that his right arm had to be amputated.


Fearing his bones might become relics for Slavic nationalists, Princip’s jailers secretly took the body to an unmarked grave, but a Czech soldier assigned to the burial, remembered the location, and in 1920 Princip and the other “Heroes of Vidovdan” were disinterred and brought to Sarajevo, where they were buried together beneath a chapel “built to commemorate for eternity our Serb Heroes” at St. Mark’s Cemetery.

References and Further Reading

Written by: Justin Daines