A Hunting Accident Might Have Changed The Course Of History

“Chance is the pseudonym of God when he did not want to sign.” —Theophile Gautier, La croix de Berny (translated from the French)

In A Nutshell

On June 28, 1914, a deranged Yugoslav nationalist named Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, resulting in the unprecedented mayhem of World War I. Globally, around 16 million people lost their lives, with Europe being utterly devastated. But it nearly didn’t happen. Seven months before he was murdered on the streets of Sarajevo, Franz Ferdinand came within inches of being killed in a hunting accident.

The Whole Bushel

In November 1913, Archduke Ferdinand and his wife received an invitation from the Duke of Portland to visit Britain. Although officially a social visit, there were political undertones to the meeting as well. With tensions in Europe at an all-time high, leaders everywhere were looking to show a bit of diplomacy.

Part of that diplomacy involved being very kind to guests. While Archduke Ferdinand was visiting Welbeck Abbey, the Duke of Portland went out of his way to show him every courtesy—including a hunting trip the two took that could’ve changed the world.

Setting off with shotguns and a few dozen men, the two had ventured out onto the Duke’s estate to bag some pheasants. Halfway through the day, one of the servants happened to slip while loading a gun. Instantly both barrels discharged, blasting white hot lead directly at the visiting Archduke.

Luckily for Franz Ferdinand—and perhaps unluckily for everyone else on Earth—the shot missed him by a tiny distance and tragedy was averted. The two finished up their day’s hunting, Archduke Ferdinand returned home, and seven months later caught a bullet from Princip’s gun.

The rest is history. As a direct result of the assassination, Europe went to war, slaughtering 16 million. From the ashes rose the German Weimar government, which led to Hitler’s rise to power and World War II, which led to the Blitz, the Holocaust, and Hiroshima. In total, all these disasters combined killed in excess of 75 million people. Had the barrels of that shotgun been pointing a fraction of an inch sideways, none of it might have ever happened.

Show Me The Proof

BBC News: Could Franz Ferdinand Welbeck gun accident have halted WWI?
ABC News: Archduke Franz Ferdinand: The man whose assassination is blamed for triggering World War I