Crown Prince Rudolf – The Tragedy of Mayerling

Sisi's amazing Journey - Österreichs legendäre Kaiserin Sisi

Crown Prince Rudolf – he sought his fortune in women and in death

Crown Prince Rudolf Franz Karl Joseph von Habsburg, his full name, was born on August 21, 1858 in Laxenburg. How was his short life and which women did he love? Why his death is still a mystery to this day

Crown Prince Rudolf (1858-1889) was the only son and heir to the throne. However, he did not become a ruling member of the Habsburg dynasty and is considered a tragic figure of the declining monarchy. Unlike his father, Emperor Franz Joseph, he had progressive ideas that he was unable to implement. He also indulged in the Viennese nightlife and had numerous lovers in addition to his wife, Stephanie, the Belgian king’s daughter. Together they had a daughter named Elisabeth-Marie.

The only son of Emperor Franz Joseph and Elisabeth (Sisi), pictured here at the age of four, was subjected to the military drill of the educator Leopold Gondrecourt from the age of six. He should be “hardened ” to make him a good soldier. For example, he was woken up with pistol shots or left alone in the woods until his mother Elisabeth intervened and this type of training was discontinued.

Instead, his scientific interests were encouraged and he enjoyed a liberal and middle-class upbringing from Count Latour and other teachers. He was considered an intelligent child with a quick grasp. His ornithological interests later earned him an honorary doctorate from the University of Vienna.

He was often at odds with his father over his views. He was considered sensitive, liberal, anti-clerical and very critical of the multi-ethnic monarchy. He believed in the power of the bourgeoisie and, like his mother, rejected courtly society.
Nevertheless, he also had a rather distant relationship with his mother.

He wrote many of his thoughts under other names in the Neues Wiener Tagblatt by Moritz Szeps . His friendship with Jewish intellectuals was frowned upon at court and isolated him more and more, which also affected his mental state.

In 1881 the arranged marriage to Princess Stephanie took place, daughter of the Belgian King Leopold II. Two years later the only daughter Elisabeth Marie was born. The marriage cannot be described as a happy one, since Rudolf sought his happiness from other women. He traveled to court with his mistress and this continued into the marriage, where he had contact with prostitutes.

He took refuge in alcohol and drugs, suffered from depression and his health deteriorated due to his lifestyle and the effects of an STD (probably gonorrhea).

He saw suicide as the only way out, although he didn’t want to go it alone. His companion at the time, Baroness Mary Vetsera, who was only 17, agreed to go with him. On January 30, 1889, he killed both of their lives by shooting Mayerling. The Mayerling tragedy has not yet been fully elucidated.

The small community of Mayerling is considered one of the most dramatic places in the Vienna Woods . More than 100,000 visitors visit the Carmelite monastery, which stands on the site of the hunting lodge today. The crime is said to have taken place where the altar of the chapel is today.

Three years earlier, Rudolf had bought the property in Mayerling and had it converted into a small hunting lodge . Hunting was a favorite pastime of the Habsburgs. Such an informal hunting stay was also suspected when Rudolf made his way to Mayerling in January 1889. But a day after his arrival, the fatal pistol shots were fired.

Crown Prince Rudolf, the heir to the throne, the hope of the dynasty and the empire , is dead – so wrote the Neue Freie Presse in the evening newspaper of January 30, 1889. The whole country was in an uproar. At first it was assumed that it was an accident, but soon rumors of murder and suicide, even a love death, spread.

The imperial family tried to cover up the alleged suicide and murder. As a suicide , Rudolf was not even entitled to a church burial. A medical certificate was issued, which certified the insanity of the crown prince. Clearly, it was a “ complimentary report”.

But how did one explain the murder of Mary Vetsera ? She was accused of suicide in a fictitious inquest report and buried secretly in the cemetery near Heiligenkreuz Abbey . They put her fully clothed in a fiacre and put a stick in her dress so she wouldn’t fall over in this cover-up operation.

The exact circumstances surrounding the deaths of Rudolf and Mary Vetsera have not yet been completely clarified and are still a source of speculation . According to the current state of knowledge, it is assumed that Rudolf, who was plagued by depression, first shot his lover Mary Vetsera and then shot himself in the head.

Ultimately, this incident shook confidence in the Habsburg monarchy. For Elisabeth , the death of her son marked an extreme turning point in her life. You only saw her dressed in black, she suffered from depression and already longed for her own death. She traveled restlessly throughout Europe and took refuge in a dream world.

Tip from Sisi’s Amazing Journey : Combine a trip to Mayerling with a visit to the Cistercian monastery of Heiligenkreuz , located in the middle of the Vienna Woods. Afterwards, you can also visit the spa town of Baden . These places are no more than 1 hour away from Vienna.


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