Gavrilo Princip's parents, Marija and Petar, in 1927.
Gavrilo Princip was born in the remote hamlet of Obljaj, near Bosansko Grahovo, on 25 July [O.S. 13 July] 1894. He was the second of his parents' nine children, six of whom died in infancy. Princip's mother Marija wanted to name him after her late brother Špiro, but he was named Gavrilo at the insistence of a local Eastern Orthodox priest, who claimed that naming the sickly infant after the Archangel Gabriel would help him survive.
A Serb family, the Princips had lived in northwestern Bosnia for many centuries and adhered to the Serbian Orthodox Christian faith. Princip's parents, Petar and Marija (née Mićić), were poor farmers who lived off the little land that they owned. They belonged to a class of Christian peasants known as kmets (serfs), who were often oppressed by their Muslim landlords. Petar, who insisted on "strict correctness", never drank or swore and was ridiculed by his neighbours as a result. In his youth, he fought in the Herzegovina Uprising against the Ottoman Empire. Following the revolt, he returned to being a farmer in the Grahovo valley, where he worked approximately 4 acres (1.6 ha; 0.0063 sq mi) of land and was forced to give one-third of his income away to his landlord. As he could not grow enough grain to feed his family, he resorted to transporting mail and passengers across the mountains separating northwestern Bosnia from Dalmatia in order to supplement his income.
Despite his father's opposition, Princip first began attending primary school in 1903, aged nine. He overcame a difficult first year and became very successful in his studies, for which he was awarded a collection of Serbian epic poetry by his headmaster. At the age of 13, Princip moved to Sarajevo, where his older brother Jovan intended to enroll him into an Austro-Hungarian military school. By the time Princip reached Sarajevo, Jovan had changed his mind after a friend advised him not to make Gavrilo "an executioner of his own people". Princip was enrolled into a merchant school instead. Jovan paid for his tuition with the money he had earned performing manual labour, carrying logs from the forests surrounding Sarajevo to mills within the city. After three years of study, Gavrilo transferred to a local gymnasium. In 1910, he came to revere Bogdan Žerajić, a Bosnian Serb revolutionary who attempted to assassinate Marijan Varešanin, the Austro-Hungarian Governor of Bosnia and Herzegovina, before taking his own life. In 1911, Princip joined Young Bosnia (Serbian: Mlada Bosna), a society that wanted to separate Bosnia from Austria-Hungary and unite it with the neighbouring Kingdom of Serbia. Because the local authorities had forbidden students from forming organizations and clubs, Princip and other members of Young Bosnia met in secret. During their meetings, they discussed literature, ethics and politics.
Young Bosnia members, ca. 1911.
In 1912, Princip was expelled from school for being involved in a demonstration against Austro-Hungarian authorities. A student who witnessed the incident claimed that "Princip went from class to class, threatening with his knuckle-duster all the boys who wavered in coming to the new demonstrations." Princip left Sarajevo shortly after being expelled and made the 280 kilometres (170 mi) journey to Belgrade on foot. According to one account, he fell to his knees and kissed the ground upon crossing the border into Serbia. In Belgrade, Princip volunteered to join the Serbian guerrilla bands fighting the Ottoman Turks, under the leadership of Major Vojislav Tankosić. Tankosić was a member of the Black Hand, the foremost conspiratorial society in Serbia at the time.
At first, Princip was rejected at a recruitment office in Belgrade because of his small stature. Enraged, he tracked down Tankosić himself, who also told him that he was too small and weak. Humiliated, Princip returned to Bosnia and lodged with his brother in Sarajevo. He spent the next several months moving back and forth between Sarajevo and Belgrade. In Belgrade he met Živojin Rafajlović, one of the founders of the Serbian Chetnik Organization, who sent him (alongside 15 other Young Bosnia members) to the Chetnik training centre in Vranje. There they met with school manager Mihajlo Stevanović-Cupara. He lived in Cupara's house, which is today located on Gavrilo Princip Street in Vranje. Princip practiced shooting, using bombs and the blade, after which training was completed and he returned to Belgrade.
In 1913, while Princip was staying in Sarajevo, Austria-Hungary declared a state of emergency, implemented martial law, seized control of all schools and prohibited all Serb cultural organizations.