Archduke Ferdinand owned a bulletproof vest. Why didn’t he wear it?

Archduke Franz Ferdinand died of an assassin's bullet even though he owned a bulletproof vest capable of stopping it.
Logan Nye Avatar
archduke ferdinand
The Latin Bridge near the assassination site.

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand triggered World War I. Ironically, Ferdinand owned a stylish silk vest capable of stopping bullets, including, potentially, the one that killed him.

The barely successful assassination

First, let’s talk about the assassination itself and how close it came to failing.

Ferdinand knew about the risks of attack during his civic visit to Sarajevo. Still, he decided to visit the city and to travel in an open-top car. Six members of the Young Bosnia movement posted along the anticipated route of the archduke with a variety of weapons. Nedjelko Cabrinovic almost succeeded in the assassination attempt, throwing a grenade at the open car.

But the throw was a little off, and the grenade rolled off of the car and wounded bystanders and an officer.

If the archduke withdrew from the city after the bombing, he would have survived just fine. But he decided, a few hours later, to visit the wounded officer in the hospital.

The archduke would’ve survived if the failed assassins had gone home after the first failure. But after the archduke’s driver took a wrong turn and then tried to reverse, another assassin looked up, recognized the car, and walked to it.

Gavrilo Princip fired two shots, both at the archduke. But Ferdinand’s pregnant wife jumped in front of him and took one of the shots. Both died within an hour after the attack. Princip died three years later of skeletal tuberculosis in prison.

Archduke Ferdinand uniform
Franz Ferdinand’s blood-stained uniform.

The wardrobe choice

Ferdinand made an odd choice taking an open-top car despite the known threats. He made another odd choice staying in the city after the first attempt. But he also made an odd choice of wardrobe. He owned a silk vest designed, patented, and sold as a bulletproof vest.

Silk may sound like an odd choice of bulletproof material, but it’s extremely strong. And successful silk armor saved the King of Spain from a bombing and other public figures from pistols.

Since Ferdinand owned body armor and knew there was a threat, it’s quite odd that he didn’t bother to wear his armor capable of stopping bullets. The vests were stylish and made to blend in.

And historians made a replica in 2014 and proved that it could, in fact, stop bullets.

But, importantly, it probably would not have saved his life, though it could have saved his wife’s. That’s because Princip aimed high, maybe because he knew about body armor but probably by random chance.

So Princip’s attack on Sophia hit her in the abdomen, an area likely to be covered by the vest. But his hit against Ferdinand struck the archduke in the neck, an area rarely protected by bulletproof vests of the time.

So, even with a vest, it’s likely that Ferdinand would have been killed. And even if he had survived, the pressures leading to World War I might still have erupted. But it’s nice to imagine a history where 20 million people weren’t killed in the conflict that exploded from the assassination.