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The Incident at Mayerling

Updated on October 24, 2011

The incident at Mayerling rocked the world of Europe at the turn of the 20tth century and may have been an underlying cause of WWI. The assisination or suicide of the Crown Prince and his lover shook the world. The incident at Mayerling changed much in Europe for ever after.

It was January 30, 1889. It was cold at the hunting lodge at Mayerling. Snow was one the ground. The Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria and his lover Baroness Mary Vetsera were having dinner. The two dogs began to howl, as a visitor pounded on the door.

It was the end of the nineteenth century. Prince Rudolf was the only son of Emperor Franz Josef I, of Austria, and heir to a vast Hapsburg empire, including Austria,Hungary, and Bohemia. It was the fin de siecle, the end of an era that was becoming increasingly corrupt. The rich got richer, the poor got even poorer, and there was revolution in the air, in France, in Russia, in England and America. All of Europe found that the ancient monarchies were losing their power over the populace.

There was a rising middle class of merchants, but the main issues of the day were the horrid contrast between the wealthy and powerful, and the starving poor. Peasants were no longer well-fed from the land. They had flocked to the cities, looking for work, and found only poverty so dire it was a disgrace to the Empire.

By 1889, most of the people knew that Prince Rudolf was having a prolonged affair with Baroness Mary Vetsera, the daughter of Baron Albin Vetsera, an Austrian court diplomat. The prince's marriage to his wife Stephanie was not a happy one and resulted only in the issue of one daughter, and no sons. Therefore, the next in line to the throne after Rudolf was Rudolf's uncle, his father's brother Archduke Karl Ludwig; when this archduke died, then the next in line was Archduke Franz Ferdinand, another of Rudolf's father's brothers, whose assassination precipitated World War I.

What many people did NOT know was that the Crown Prince Rudolf was suffering from an (incurable at the time disease): syphilis. He was in the tertiary stage of this illness, the last and final stage, which made him moody, possibly temporarily insane. The Crown Prince was also addicted to morphine and alcohol, the morphine as a relief to the pain of the symptoms of his disease; the alcohol as a panacea for his universal Weltschmerz, his Germanic sadness.

The Crown Prince was politically opposed to his father's regime. The Prince was in favor of liberalizing voting and allowing more scope for the Hungarians withing the Austrian empire. His father was adamantly pro-German; also a hard-line old-school aristocrat whose rule was more of an absolute dictatorship than the Prince felt was appropriate to the times.


The Baroness Mary Vetsera

Supper was nearly finished. The Crown Prince Rudolf called for more champagne. The pounding on the door was answered by the Prince himself, who had dismissed the servants after getting two more bottles of champagne.

Three men, muffled to the eyes, burst into the room. One took a bottle of champagne and laid open the Prince's head with it. The Prince fell to the floor, when another man pulled out a pistol and shot him in the back of the head.

The men overpowered the servants, Max and Otto, who had rushed into the room at the noise, and the Baroness, who struggled mightily with them. The servants disappeared.

The Baroness and the Crown Prince were found dead in the morning.

Crown Prince Rudolf

The initial official presentation to the public was that the Prince had suffered a heart attack. There was no mention of the Baroness in the early press releases. Vienna, the seat of the Austrian-Hungarian-Bohemian Empire, had 40 newspapers at that time.

Even though Baroness Mary Vetsera was secretly buried, this story didn't hold water for long. The court later exposed the Crown Prince as a suicide and murderer. Police investigation indicated that the Prince had shot the Baroness in the head, then several hours later, shot himself.

This story didn't exactly hold water, either. It wasn't the Prince's own gun that killed him, for one thing. For another, the gun was fired a total of six times. Only two bullets were accounted for in the bodies of the Baroness and the Prince.

In "A Heart for Europe" (Gracewing:1990), authors James and Joanna Bogle say that in an interview with the Empress Zita, in 1988, she said that the Mayerling deaths were not suicide but part of a political plot. The Empress was the last surviving crowned head from that Empire.

One trouble with that theory is that the Prince did write what could very well have been a suicide note. In Rudolph's final letter to his wife, Stephanie, he bids her adieu and says that only death can save his good name. This could be on account of his shameful illness, though he does not specify the reasons for this statement.

Also, however, during the funeral, the Crown Prince Rudolf's hands were covered by gloves, it was said, to hide defensive wounds that would, for once and for all, explode the suicide/murder theory, and show that Prince Rudolf was the victim of a political assassination.

This incident at Mayerling lost, for Austria-Hungary, the potential for a newly progressive government upon the succession of Prince Rudolph.

It's a mystery that's never been solved. A fascinating murder mystery.

And one thing...this Crown Prince Rudolf, with all his wealth, his position, his power...surrounded always by beautiful things, indulged in every desire, still, was, possibly, probably even, a man who killed his lover then himself. He was even less happy than the majority of us, with the stress and hurry of our modern lives, and not surrounded by beautiful things, or possessed of royal blood.

The incident at Mayerling closed his chapter for good and changed the course of European history.

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    • profile image

      Sean 5 years ago

      Thank you for the information. One question, who were Max and Otto?

    • profile image

      flowers 5 years ago

      honor killing by Austrian crown prince ... just face it.

    • Paradise7 profile image
      Author

      Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks for the comment, afi.

    • profile image

      afi 6 years ago

      Interesting story,not to even mention that in the movie, and in the end, Rudolf was no longer recognized by any of his many titles, but was seen as a poor,human sinner. oI highly recommend the movie, for the acting and some of the beautiful Austrian scenery where it was filmed.

    • Paradise7 profile image
      Author

      Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Sue: True, the door was locked--but there was an unlocked window. The royals were so busy sweeping the entire matter under the rug that there wasn't a proper investigation, nor was the scene preserved.

    • profile image

      Sue 6 years ago

      The door was locked from the inside and had to be broken down with an axe. Rudolph must have locked it before he shot Mary then sat drinking for hours for courage to shoot himself.

    • Christoph Reilly profile image

      Christoph Reilly 7 years ago from St. Louis

      Hi Paradise. An interesting and compelling story. I, for one, do not find political cover-up then surprising, nor today. If we think we get the "true" stories from our government, they are sadly mistaken. Well done. A most interesting history!

    • Paradise7 profile image
      Author

      Paradise7 7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, I'm so glad you liked it.

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      Doug Turner Jr. 7 years ago

      This is a great historical nugget that was new to me. Thank you for telling it so well.

    • Paradise7 profile image
      Author

      Paradise7 7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you, Laura. I thought so, too.

    • Laura in Denver profile image

      Laura Deibel 7 years ago from Aurora

      Odd story of murder/suicide. Interesting.

    • Paradise7 profile image
      Author

      Paradise7 7 years ago from Upstate New York

      YOu're welcome, Winsome. Thanks for the comment.

    • Winsome profile image

      Winsome 7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      An intriguing tale--sadder for the state of medicine at the time and frustrating the CSI crews couldn't have been there. Perhaps the "Dead Files" people can shed some light. Thanks for the interesting read. =:)

    • Paradise7 profile image
      Author

      Paradise7 7 years ago from Upstate New York

      'Tis, JR...Just like Shakespeare.

    • jrsearam profile image

      jrsearam 7 years ago from San Juan, PR

      "Murder most foul, as in the best it is,

      But this most foul, strange, and unnatural."

    • Paradise7 profile image
      Author

      Paradise7 7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, Dinesh!

    • dinesh c bhatt profile image

      dinesh c bhatt 7 years ago from India (Noida)

      Hello, Paradise7

      Lovely story!!! You're doing a great job

    • Paradise7 profile image
      Author

      Paradise7 7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Sambaran & Dean: Thanks for the comments!

    • cheaptrick profile image

      cheaptrick 7 years ago from the bridge of sighs

      Hi'a P.I know very little about the Austro Hungarian empire but You've piqued my interest with this hub and I'm going to add it to my read list.

      Thanks,Dean

    • sambaran08 profile image

      sambaran08 7 years ago from India

      very nice blog

    • Paradise7 profile image
      Author

      Paradise7 7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks for the comments, Carolina Muscle and Mike. Yes, Mike, y'know, that's the only problem, nobody knows what really happened, and at this late date, we never will. It's sorta like reading "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" by Charles Dickens. He died before he finished the story, so we never can know what happened.

    • carolina muscle profile image

      carolina muscle 7 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      Fascinating story!!!!

    • Mike Lickteig profile image

      Mike Lickteig 7 years ago from Lawrence KS USA

      Your telling of this tale was nicely done, leaving us with an unsolved murder mystery. Where did the servants "disappear" to? Why were six shots fired? Perhaps the Prince "hired" the men to murder him and his mistress, and that's why the servants were sent away and later disappeared.....

      If only we knew how to figure out "whodunnit" at the end. Thanks for a nicely written hub.

      Mike

    • Paradise7 profile image
      Author

      Paradise7 7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you all for your very kind comments.

    • SweetiePie profile image

      SweetiePie 7 years ago from Southern California, USA

      I really enjoyed the story telling. Great job!

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 7 years ago from Central Oregon

      Very great writing - how terrible that they covered everything up back then. I suppose nowadays though we've almost gone too far the other way. Enjoyed reading about the Incident at Mayerling.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 7 years ago from south Florida

      You have a compelling style of writing, Paradise7, it was my pleasure to read this hub. Every single word.

    • scarytaff profile image

      Derek James 7 years ago from South Wales

      There were so many unexplained mysteries in the aristocracy in those days. Good hub No.7

    • Paradise7 profile image
      Author

      Paradise7 7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you, Twin, for that kind and perceptive comment.

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 7 years ago from Minnesota

      Very intriguing story. How sad that those times were so about secrets. Sounds like a sad story all around. Thanks for a very interesting hub.