Bexley author uncovers Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s forbidden love that ended in tragedy

PUBLISHED: 10:06 05 December 2013 | UPDATED: 10:06 05 December 2013

Franz Ferdinand and Sophie with their three children, believed to be taken in 1912.

Franz Ferdinand and Sophie with their three children, believed to be taken in 1912.


Sue Woolmans’ debut book is a biography of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie Chotek.

Franz Ferdinand Facts

Archduke Franz Ferdinand was heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary.

He was assassinated on June 28, 1914, aged 50, whilst in Sarajevo, Bosnia, with his wife Sophie.

They were both shot and killed at point blank range by 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip. It was their wedding anniversary.

That day was also Serbia’s National Day. Franz Ferdinand’s visit was a direct insult to the Serbs.

His assassination led directly to the outbreak of the First World War, on July 28, 1914, by igniting long standing tensions between the Kingdom of Serbia and Austria-Hungary.

But it is not a political account of the man whose death ignited the First World War.

Instead, The Assassination of the Archduke is a biography centred on the couple and their love story.

It can be seen on shelves in bookshops across Europe and America – but a lot of the research was done in the libraries of Bexleyheath and Welling.

Sue, 50, of Shooters Hill in Greenwich, has always been passionate about the subject.

Sue Woolmans with the book.Sue Woolmans with the book.

“I’ve always been interested in 19th century royal history,” she said. “Once I left school I started reading and researching and I was drawn to Franz Ferdinand’s story.

“It is a romantic love story which sadly ends in tragedy. He fell in love with a lady in waiting, and you didn’t do things like that in those days. He battled an emperor so he could marry Sophie.”

Despite her extensive knowledge, Sue never planned to make her personal interest a professional one.

The sound engineer had to take unpaid leave to write the book, which came to fruition following a chat with a friend.

“I never planned to write a book,” she said. “It sort of just happened.

“My friend Greg, who wrote it with me, is a very experienced writer. He thought it was a wonderful subject and said: ‘Let’s do this together’. We spent a long time researching it and sent documents back and forth via email – he’s based in America.”

The response has been positive since the hardback version was released in the UK, Portugal and the USA in September, and Sue believes she may have already surpassed her target sales of 3,000 to 4,000.

“It was amazing to see my book in the window of Waterstones in London,” she told the Times.

“As far as we’re aware, it’s the first personal biography of Franz Ferdinand.”

Sue believes most books that deal with the archduke centre around the consequences of his death rather than his life.

The foreword to the book, which has also been released in Poland and the Czech Republic, was written by the great-granddaughter of the couple, Princess Sophie Hohenberg.

“I contacted her through her website. She wrote straight back saying ‘tell me more’ and I met her in a hotel in Brussels and talked for hours.”

The paperback version will be released in June to tie in with the First World War’s 100th anniversary.

But for now Sue is enjoying the initial excitement of having her first book published.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” she said. “I never would have expected it, I’m like an excited child.”

In the book’s acknowledgements, she reserves praise for the libraries that helped with her project.

“The Bexley Library Service was great,” said Sue. “They really helped when I was requesting books from all over the country.

“When I took the finished book in, one lady was so overwhelmed she started to cry.”

She added: “I have no plans to write another book at the moment, but my friends keep saying to me ‘you’ll do another one next year’.”

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