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The Incident at Mayerling
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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