The tragic love story of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria and his lovely young mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera, is once again in the headlines, over 126 years after the deaths of the young lovers!
The Mayerling Incident
First, here’s a little background on their story, commonly called, “The Mayerling Incident” after the Mayerling Hunting Lodge where events took place.
Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria was the only son of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria, King of Hungary and Croatia, King of Bohemia, etc. and his wife, Empress Elisabeth, better known as “Sisi.” Rudolf was the heir to his father’s throne.
At the age of 23, Rudolf needed a wife. Princess Stephanie of Belgium was one of the few Catholic princesses available, and although a distant cousin, she was not so closely related to Rudolf that he would need a Papal dispensation. They married on May 10, 1881. Stephanie was 16-years-old. In 1883, their only child was born. A daughter. At that time, only a male could inherit the throne. Rudolf and Stephanie’s personalities did not mesh well, and they both had affairs outside of the marriage. They were considering divorce, but Rudolf’s parents were opposed to ending the marriage without an heir.
There is some disparity about when Rudolf first met Baroness Mary Vetsera. It’s sometimes said that he met her in late 1888 when he was 30-years-old, and she was 17. There are other thoughts that they had been involved for up to 3 years, so since 1885.
Rudolf’s parents were opposed to the affair, and demanded an end to it.
On the morning of January 30, 1889, the lifeless bodies of Rudolf and Mary were discovered by two of the Emperor’s men in the Imperial hunting lodge at Mayerling. The Austrian royal family immediately began to cover up details of the incident, and conspiracy theories ran rampant. The initial reports were that Rudolf died of a brain aneurism. Mary’s corpse was buried quickly and secretly before her family was made aware of her death.
It is not known how they died. Crown Prince Rudolf is buried in the family crypt and his tomb remains undisturbed. His head was bandaged for the private family viewing; however, for his lying in state, wax was used to conceal the damaged areas of Rudolf’s head. Baroness Mary Vetsera’s grave has been disturbed repeatedly, to the point where it’s not possible to know how she died.
One theory is that the Baroness died in childbirth or possibly during a miscarriage or abortion, and Rudolf shot himself in grief. Another theory is that they both swallowed poison in a suicide pact. Another theory is it was a murder-suicide pact with a gun. It’s even said someone broke in and shot them in a robbery attempt. Without any definite information about even how they died, it’s even more difficult to figure out why they died. What happened at Mayerling that night remains a mystery. It was one in a series of events that led up to the start of World War I.
In a clearing out of old bank vaults, the Schoeller Bank discovered that in 1926, “An unknown person had deposited in a leather cover numerous personal documents, letters and photographs of the Vetsera family, including farewell letters of Mary Vetsera from 1889 that previously were considered destroyed.” (1)
Among the papers, there were three farewell letters from Mary Vetsera, one each to her mother, Helene; her sister, Hanna; and her brother, Feri. They were in an envelope, which had the seal of Crown Prince Rudolf.
The documents and photographs are now on loan to the Austrian National Library. The library is planning an exhibition in its State Hall to mark the 100th Anniversary of the death of Emperor Franz Joseph I, Crown Prince Rudolf’s father. Franz Joseph died of pneumonia on November 21, 1916, aged 86, during World War I.
Are these letters legitimate? Are they the final clue to what happened that night? Who put them in the bank vault? Where were they before 1926? In the Mayerling Incident, there are always more questions than there are answers. That is what has kept people so fascinated with the case for so many years.
“I am happier in death than life.”
– Baroness Mary Vetsera, in letter to her mother. (2)
- European Press Agency/Austrian National Library. February 8, 2015.
- Daily Mail. August 1, 2015.
- TheHistoryBlog.com August 1, 2015.
The featured picture is of Baroness Marie “Mary” Alexandrine von Vetsera (1871-1889). c1888. Public Domain. Colorization by “Klimbims” at deviantart.com
“Please forgive me…” Mary Vetsera quote from Source 2, Daily Mail.
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