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Crown Prince Rudolf, son of Empress Elisabeth and Franz Joseph I, remained an important historical figure, not least because of Mayerling’s “secret”.

Myths and legends have grown up around Crown Prince Rudolf. His death in particular and the associated “Mayerling Secret” are still a matter of debate today. But what do you actually know about the Crown Prince? Here are facts about the Habsburgs that may be new to you. We spoke to the Austrian historian Karl Vocelka about this.

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  • Full name: Rudolf Franz Karl Joseph
  • Date of birth: August 21, 1858
  • Date of death: January 30, 1889 († 30)
  • Astrological sign Leo
  • Place of birth: Laxenburg
  • Place of death: Mayerling
  • Time: Founding time
  • Mother: Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary (Sisi)
  • Father: Franz Joseph I.
  • Wife: Stephanie of Belgium (married 1881–1889)
  • Children: One daughter, Elisabeth Petznek

© Austrian National Library, Vienna / apa Crown Prince Rudolf in the uniform of his “body regiment”

How can one imagine the character of Crown Prince Rudolf?

The Crown Prince was certainly a very intelligent person who was strongly encouraged by his liberal upbringing – after his mother intervened against the brutal military regime of his original tutor. The liberal-minded teachers (such as e.g. the zoologist Alfred Brehm, the geologist Ferdinand von Hochstetter, the economist Carl Menger or the historian Anton Gindely) shaped Rudolf. His ornithological interests, for which he has found great recognition – even an honorary doctorate from the University of Vienna – would certainly not have been so without his training from Brehm.

“He sought his luck in women as well as in alcohol and drugs”

Despite his high intelligence and his privileged position in the state, he was certainly not a happy person.essays and papers 123helpme He was considered very sensitive, which in the atmosphere of the court and his constant intrigues, under constant observation by the court society, certainly led to constant uncertainties in his person. His relationship with his father was disturbed, the two lived in very different political worlds, his marriage was anything but happy and he sought this happiness with other women as well as in alcohol and drugs.

Was he a rebel?

He was not a rebel in the classic sense, not a son who overthrew his father through a conspiracy or an uprising and changed the political and social conditions of the state. On the other hand, he showed ideas that can unquestionably be described as rebellious: He doubted the line of Franz Joseph’s policy on various points. Rudolf represented the political interests of liberalism, believed that the power of the future would be the bourgeoisie and rejected court society, embodied in the church and the nobility – like his mother. It went so far that mother and son – who, however, had little contact with one another – even considered republican ideas. The Crown Prince published many of his thoughts under a different name in memoranda or in Moritz Szeps’ Neue Wiener Tagblatt. Friendship with this and other Jewish intellectuals was not welcomed by many people in the monarchy at a time when anti-Semitism was prevalent. All of this, including his supranational thinking and the rejection of the compromise with Hungary, isolated him at court and contributed to his mentally deteriorating condition.

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What is behind the Mayerling myth?

© apa / dpa / Christian Fürst Mayerling is today a monastery in which only a few Carmelite women live (photo taken on May 14, 2008).

For a long time Archduke Rudolf was reduced to his “mysterious” death in Mayerling in public opinion and historiography. It was not until Brigitte Hamann’s biography in 1978 that a broader picture of this man was given for the first time, which also shed light on many other aspects of his life. What still fascinates people today about the question of what happened on the night of January 29th to 30th, 1889 in the Mayerling hunting lodge near Vienna? Certainly in the first place, the secrecy of the circumstances of the death of the Crown Prince by the court and Franz Joseph. At first they spoke of heart failure, of a hunting accident in order to cover up suicide, which was horrible for Catholics. The mere fact that a suicide died with a serious sin and could not be buried in consecrated ground (including in the Capuchin crypt) posed a huge problem. In addition, the fact that it was what you were calls today an “extended suicide”, acted because Rudolf had shot his young lover, Baroness Mary Vetsera, before he killed himself. Her corpse not only disappeared from Mayerling, but also for a long time from the discourse about the events in Mayerling. This cover-up promoted rumors and these are the basis of a construct. Everyone made up their own story and believed that they were in possession of the truth, the myth was born.

You mentioned death; how did Crown Prince Rudolf die exactly?

The above-mentioned secrecy and concealment of the true facts in Mayerling led to innumerable theories about the death of the Crown Prince. Some of them – not least common in the Habsburg family – denied the suicide and believed that the Crown Prince had been murdered by hostile powers, the French, the Freemasons or the Jews. Others even believed that Rudolf and Mary Vetsera did not die at all, but fled to start a new life elsewhere. Even Emperor Franz Joseph was suspected of having sent the murderers to his son.

»The question of” why? “Is far more difficult to answer«

All of this can be rejected; serious historians are firmly convinced that Rudolf shot his mistress first and then himself. The question “Why?” Is far more difficult to answer. Suicide usually has not just one reason, but a bundling of causes that ultimately lead to this most radical solution. His disturbed relationship with his father, his seemingly hopeless situation of gaining influence in politics, the infection with a sexually transmitted disease, his health situation, which was characterized by alcohol and drugs, must have worked together to bring his decision to bear. As early as 1888 he had proposed a double suicide to his then lover Mizzi Caspar, and since she refused, he tried to realize his ideas with Mary Vetsera. There were other rumors circulating in various circles of the monarchy that sometimes re-emerge today, most notably the story that Mary Vetsera emasculated him and that he killed her on it before laying a hand on himself. Of course, as with most speculation, there is no evidence.

© apa / dpa / Christian Fürst Nowadays only a few rooms of the hunting lodge in Mayerling, which was converted into a monastery by Emperor Franz Josef, can be viewed. Crown Prince Rudolf shot himself in a similar room on the night of January 30, 1889, after killing his young lover hours earlier.

Let’s stay with women. The Crown Prince is said to be having an affair with a young Jewess, what is the truth of these rumors?

The story of the court is also a story of rumors and intrigues. There are no written documents for many of the rumors and the historian is forced to remain silent. The Rudolf affair in Prague is somewhat better documented, even if most of the information is only indirect.

When Rudolf went to Prague in 1878 to do his military service there, he is said to have had a relationship with a young Jewish woman (whose name is never mentioned). We know about it through two women who were in a close relationship with Rudolf. The daughter of the newspaper publisher Moritz Szeps, with whom the Crown Prince was friends, Berta Zuckerkandl, reported on this relationship and Rudolf’s granddaughter Stephanie Windisch-Graetz (1909–2005) called this woman “his one and only love” in an interview at a late age. There is also a reference to this woman in the files of the Vienna Police President Franz von Krauss, who is said to have accompanied Rudolf to Brussels, where he was supposed to meet his future wife. She is said to have died after being exiled from the Habsburg monarchy.

The wedding with Stephanie of Belgium was planned by the Emperor, can you say something about this marriage?

As is customary in dynasties, the wedding between the young Princess Stephanie of Belgium and Crown Prince Rudolf was arranged, whereby the denomination of the candidate played a special role, because only a Catholic bride was considered for the future emperor. Stephanie was not a beauty and seemed a bit homely, she wasn’t very funny or charming, but Rudolf married her for dynastic reasons. When the two married in 1881, Stephanie was only 16 years old, just two years later she gave birth to a daughter – Elisabeth, later called Erzsi, whose further fate was to be very unusual: she lived with a Social Democrat and Schutzbund leader, whom she eventually married and is often called the red archduchess.

© apa / Atelier Adele / Österr.Nationalbib / GI Crown Prince Rudolf (l.) In naval uniform around 1877/78 with Rustimo (r.), Whose godfather was the Crown Prince.

That this child was not a son disappointed families, which was compounded by the fact that no more children were born. In addition to the crown prince’s unsteady lifestyle, an infection with syphilis was also decisive, as he passed this disease on to his wife, who became sterile as a result. The marriage turned out to be more and more unhappy, with personal problems and ideological issues playing a role, because Rudolf was very liberal and his wife was extremely conservative. While the heir to the throne was still alive, Stephanie had a secret affair with the Polish Count Artur Potocki, and after the death of her husband, she married the – unequal – Hungarian Count and Prince Elemér Edmund Lónyay.

Who was Mizzi Caspar and what role did she play in his life?

Mizzi Caspar was an upper class prostitute who had a relationship with Rudolf, who had affairs with many women, that lasted long until his suicide. Two years before his death, he bought her a large house in Heumühlgasse in Vienna’s 4th district and gave her rich gifts of jewelry and money. When he suggested a joint suicide to Mizzi Caspar, the latter not only refused, but also reported it to the police, who, however, did not respond. The young Baroness Mary Vetsera took her place in the suicide plan. Mizzi Caspar inherited the sumptuous sum of 60,000 guilders from Rudolf and therefore remained silent about everything that she knew as a confidante of the Crown Prince. She died in 1907 of the consequences of her syphilis disease.

What was the relationship like between Crown Prince Rudolf and his mother, Empress Elisabeth?

© apa / G. HORVATH / SCHLOSS SCHOENBRUNN CULTURAL AND OPERATED GES.M.B.H. A historical photograph of Empress Elisabeth “Sisi” in her sumptuous Hungarian dress. “Rudolf had little contact with his mother”

All in all, Rudolf had little contact with his mother. As is customary in the Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty, Rudolf was more with his Aja (educator) in childhood than with his parents. When he passed into the hands of male Ajo at the age of six, a path of suffering began for him, because he treated the sensitive boy terribly. His mother, who felt anything but comfortable at court, was mostly absent, so that no stable mother-son relationship could develop. However, one of the educators, Count Joseph Latour von Thurmburg, wrote a letter to the Empress in which he pointed out the excesses of the child’s military upbringing. Then Elisabeth stepped in and confronted her husband (and also her mother-in-law and aunt, Sophie), both of whom were in favor of this strictly military, brutal training, with an ultimatum and ensured that Rudolf was taught by bourgeois, intellectual teachers. That was certainly the mother’s most positive influence on the son. Since Elisabeth was not often at court in her later life either, but traveled frequently, the contact between the two did not intensify, although they often expressed very similar opinions. After Rudolf’s suicide, his mother (almost) only wore black clothes, which is interpreted as a sign of her affection for her son.

What can you say about the relationship with his father, Franz Joseph I?

Rudolf’s relationship with his father was just as distant as with his mother. When Rudolf was a young man, Franz Joseph did a lot with his son, most of all, of course, they went hunting together. This topic remained the only lasting connection between the two. When they later met on official occasions, the emperor – according to courtiers’ reports – always asked which game his son had last shot. The emperor was not interested in his private problems, his health and, above all, his political opinions. When the Crown Prince presented his father with the encyclopedia The Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, which he had inspired and looked after, his father was surprised that it also contained parts of Rudolf and asked him whether he had really written it himself.

© apa / dpa The Austrian Emperor and husband of the legendary Empress Elisabeth of Austria, father of Crown Prince Rudolf, Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria (1830-1916),

The worst thing for Rudolf was that his father never included him in political decisions, or even heard his opinion, let alone accepted him.