Secret love can be dangerous.
The love affair of Crown Prince Rudolf, heir to the Austrian throne and his mistress, Baroness Mary (some say Marie) Vetsera ended tragically on a cold, snowy, January day in 1889.
The 19th Century was so UPtight.
Rudy was married. Shocker! His wife Princess Stephanie of Belgium had born him a daughter, but he was bored with her, never loved her, and it was a forced marriage. Rumor has it that Stephanie, fed UP with Rudy’s philandering, said “what’s good for the goose is good for the princess”, and found a boy-toy of her own.
The 30 year old Prince met 17 year old Marie/Mary at a horse race sometime in 1888. They flirted, made eyes at each other, and soon it was off to nik-nikville. Translation: affair. From the start, Mary adored him, and was ready to do anything for him. Rudolf did have feelings for her, and was scaredshitless touched by her limitless, almost fanatical, love for him. Stalker.
The sexual exploits and hypocrisy of the ruling familes of Europe were no surprise, they just weren’t dinner topics. Most of the kings, princes, counts, dukes, margraves, and emperors had mistresses, some had many. Most of the wives could have cared less. It was expected, and it was accepted.
This one, well, it got out of hand.
Rudolph’s body was found, along with Mary’s at his Vienna Wood hunting lodge, Mayerling, on January 30, 1889. The first report was that Rudy had died of heart failure. But no one was buying that. He was healthy, robust, a nature lover who took walks in the woods and had a physical fitness routine that would have made Jack LaLane happy.
No one in Austria bought it.
Since everyone at court knew that he and Mary/Marie were doing the horizontal tango having an affair, a new story was posed. It was a murder-suicide pact. The Emperor, Franz Joseph demanded that they break it off – it was just getting too public. They were just too in love to give each other UP, and they were too in love to go on the way they were; he couldn’t divorce (darn that Catholic Church), he was a father, and if had children with her, they wouldn’t inherit. Bastards and all.
So, it was reported that Rudy shot Mary/Marie in the head and then after several hours of remorse and grief, turned the gun on himself.
After the event, what ever it was, most of the evidence was removed, and only one bullet casing is mentioned, so the theory has holes.
The official story: Murder Suicide. That was embarrassing enough. Then other rumors/theories started.
Most historians buy the murder suicide thing. Others, not so much.
Empress Zita, the widow of Emperor Karl who got the throne only because Rudy killed himself, and Franz Ferdinand (not the band) was assassinated, in a rare inteview said the Crown Prince was murdered, and the crime was covered UP. EZ says it was all a political plot. Foreign agents, probably Austrian security agents suspected the Prince of pro-Hungarian sympathies did it. Their intent was to off Rudy, and Mary just happened to be there, so (author pushes nose to side) “no witnesses”. That’s how we roll.
EZ also says that it may have been the French. Well, who knew? The French, lead by Clemenceau wanted Rudy to depose his father and assume the throne. Daddy was pro-German, France didn’t like the pro-German thing, and wanted Austria as their ally. The Germans had been bullying the French for centuries, and aside from, drinking, fornicating, designing clothes, and making perfume, bitching about the Germans was the number one past-time.
Empress Zita wasn’t born when it happened, but growing UP in the Austrian court, marrying the man who would become Emperor, Crown Prince Karl, she is surely to have heard stories.
Another theory is that her brothers killed Mary/Marie and the Prince – no one can say why, but one account has three men entering the suite of Rudolph “muffled UP to their eyes in great coats”. Marie supposedly recognized them and uttered “dire threats and warnings”. This theory was reported to the German Kaiser, which makes it official in Germany.
As for me, in the month of love: I’m not going with the murder-suicide thing, I think it was a suicide pact. A fatal attraction. After all, what could be more romantic?
The love story has been made into a movie, several times, a ballet, an animated film, and several books. My favorite stars Omar Sharif and Catherine Deneuve. There’s one out there with Charles Boyer for the true movie purists!
Mayerling is now a penitential convent for Carmelite Nuns where prayers for Rudolf’s soul are said daily.
Let’s hear it for the love!