Nicholas Hartwig was 56 years old when, on 10th July 1914, he paid a call on the Baron Giesl von Gieslingen at the Austro-Hungarian embassy in Belgrade.
Freiherr von Giesl and Hartwig were both ambassadors to Serbia: Baron Nicholas Genrikhovich Hartwig had powerful friends at the Russian court, which had enabled him to take an independent line – he is said to have implied to Serbia that they would get more support from Russia than was official policy, though Russia had for some time been using the Pan Slav idea of unity of Slavs in the Balkan nations to justify aggressive moves against Austro-Hungary or Turkey.
When Baron Hartwig dropped dead from a massive heart attack in the Austro-Hungarian legation, the Serbian press were the first to suspect foul play. Several articles were published accusing the Austrians of poisoning Hartwig while he was visiting their legation.
Just as with Alberto Pollio’s sudden death, there seems no reason to suppose that the rumours or the conspiracy theories were true.
Hartwig may have suggested to the Serbian government – he appears to have been on excellent terms with Nikola Pašić – that the Russian Empire would support Serbia and so they could afford to take an aggressive line against the Austro-Hungarian empire.
A letter (written in 1930) from the British traveler, writer, and artist Edith Durham, apostrophises Nicholas Hartwig as all for the Serbs:
By 1913 Russia’s Balkan plans were completely changed. It had been decided that the real road to the Russian domination in the Balkans lay by way of the destruction of Austria. And I believe that if the Bulgars had accepted Russ. arbitration it would have gone against them. They might not have lost as much as they did by fighting, but no Big Bulgaria would have been made. The French Yellow book on the Balkans at that date makes it pretty clear Hartwig meant to get all he could for the Serbs and was pretty sure of success.
But it is difficult to see what would have been accomplished by poisoning Hartwig; though the Serbian papers may not have known or cared, Austria was already determined to go to war against them.
On the same day, Henri Allizé, the French minister in Bavaria, wrote from Munich to tell Stéphen Pichon, the French Minister for Foreign Affairs:
From a political point of view people are asking what is the object of the new armaments. Recognising that no one threatens Germany, they consider that German diplomacy had already at its disposal forces sufficiently large and alliances sufficiently powerful to protect German interests with success. As I pointed out the day after the Morocco agreement of 1911, it is thought that the Imperial Chancery will be as incapable in the future as in the past, of adopting an active foreign policy and of achieving, at least in this sphere, successes which would justify the burdens which the nation has assumed.
This frame of mind is all the more a cause of anxiety as the Imperial Government would find themselves supported by public opinion in any enterprise on which they might energetically embark, even at the risk of a conflict. The state of war to which all the events in the East have accustomed people’s minds for the last two years appears no longer like some distant catastrophe, but as a solution of the political and economic difficulties which will continue to increase. May the example of Bulgaria exercise a salutary influence on Germany. As the Prince Regent recently said to me, “The fortune of war is always uncertain: every war is an adventure, and the man is a fool who risks it believing himself sure of victory.”