03. Faits et gestes
Some time prior to the Mayerling tragedy, Rudolf had asked another of his mistresses - Mitzi Caspar - to join him in a suicide pact.
The Mayerling tragedy has been popularly interpreted as the final desperate act of two star-crossed lovers who could not marry and could not bear to live without each other; it has thus been depicted in the film and ballet versions. This romantic interpretation, as we will see, is hardly borne out by the facts. For one thing, Rudolf had approached Mitzi Caspar, a Viennese prostitute who was one of his mistresses, with the idea about a month before.
Most analysts of the case agree the deed represented the ultimate act of rebellion against the Emperor Franz Josef, Rudolf's stern, distant, and highly critical father. The scenario that Rudolf suggested to Mitzi makes clear that Rudolf intended the act to be as shocking and scandalous as possible; he originally wanted it to take place among the monuments outside the Ringstrasse, so that their bodies would be posed among the statuary! Mitzi originally did not take Rudolf's suggestion seriously; when he persisted, however, she became concerned enough to contact the police chief Baron Krauss about Rudolf's suggestion. Krauss duly reported Mitzi's story but, tragically, did nothing more.
A number of things weighed heavily upon Rudolf's mind in the years before the tragedy; frustration with his limited role in the government, resentment of his overbearing (and far more influential) cousin Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany, unhappiness in his politically arranged marriage to Princess Stephanie of Belgium, and a haunting fear of the strain of insanity that overshadowed his mother's side of the family (one of her cousins was the mad king Ludwig of Bavaria). These were exacerbated by certain other factors; which of these was NOT one of them?
Epilepsy. As a result of his numerous affairs, Rudolf had contracted a venereal disease, which he believed to be incurable; as a result of this disease he suffered from severe fits of coughing, along with vision problems. In 1888, he had suffered a bad fall from his horse, as a result of which he began to experience severe headaches. He begged his doctor not to inform the Emperor of the incident, and asked him for something to alleviate the pain. The doctor prescribed morphine, which eased the pain but exacerbated Rudolf's depression and may have led to addiction. He also sought relief from the frustrations and pressures of court life, along with family problems, in alcohol. Boyishly handsome in his early youth, by 1889 Rudolf, as can be seen from photographs, was prematurely aged and on the verge of physical, as well as emotional, collapse. He did not, however, suffer from epilepsy.
According to a persistent, but uncorraborated story, there was a terrible argument between Rudolf and his father four days before the Mayerling tragedy. During this argument, Franz Josef was heard to say, "You are not worthy to be my successor!" There are different theories as what brought about this argument if, indeed it occurred. Which of these is generally believed to have been the cause?
Rudolf had written to the Pope asking for a dispensation to end his marriage.. The marriage between Rudolf and Stephanie had never been a happy one; Rudolf found Stephanie dull-witted and unsympathetic and his family (particularly his mother, Empress Elisabeth), looked down upon her. Stephanie herself became aware from the beginning of the marriage that Rudolf did not love her; she describes the carriage ride with her new husband after the wedding thus: "It was in vain that I awaited a tender or kind word from him which might have distracted me from my thoughts." Even the birth of a daughter, Elisabeth (named after Rudolf's mother) did not bring them closer and things went from bad to worse when Rudolf not only contracted a venereal disease, but managed to infect Stephanie as well, resulting in her subsequent barrenness. From that point, their marriage existed in name only.
The story goes that Rudolf, without his father's permission, had written to Pope Leo XIII asking for a dispensation to annull the marriage, divorce being out of the question. The Pope's reply was delivered, not to Rudolf, but to Franz Josef, whose reaction (compounded, no doubt, by shock) was predictably explosive.
How did Rudolf spend the night before the Mayerling tragedy?
With Mitzi Caspar.. That Rudolf's final evening before the tragedy was spent with another of his mistresses does rather give the lie to the idea that the Mayerling affair was a "Romeo and Juliet" style tragedy. Mitzi later reported that she was startled when, after kissing her good-night, Rudolf made the sign of the cross upon her forehead.
Rudolf did not ask Mary Vetsera to join him in the death pact and tried to dissuade her from doing so.
F. Although Mary embraced the suicide pact with surprising alacrity, Rudolf had asked her for her participation, just as he had earlier asked Mitzi. The reason why Rudolf wanted a female companion to join him in death is still something of a mystery; most analysts who have studied the case believe that he needed a partner to affirm and approve his choice. Joining him in death would certainly be the most definitive form of affirmation he could desire. Also, having killed his partner, he would then have no choice but to end his own life, since the alternative would be to undergo a trial for murder. Mary Vetsera was an impulsive, romantic girl; she probably gave no thought to the long-range consequences of the act until it was too late. The sense of exultation with which she embraced the idea was exactly the impetus Rudolf needed to go through with it.
Rudolf's relationship with Mary had been consumated less than a month before the tragedy.
T. Rudolf and Mary are believed to have consumnated their affair on January 13, seventeen days before the tragedy; at this time, they also made the fateful decision to die together. The romantic Mary embraced the idea ecstatically, and the four letters she left her family speak of her impending fate with a sense of exultation; however, some have wondered if these notes, found well in advance of the tragedy, might not have been written out of a subconscious desire to prevent what ultimately happened to her.
Approximately how much time elapsed between the shooting of Mary Vetsera and Rudolf's suicide?
Six to eight hours. Rudolf had retired early in the evening of January 29, leaving instructions that no one was to be admitted to his room "not even the Emperor." He was next seen by his valet Loschek at about 6:30 A.M., standing outside his bedroom door. He appeared to be in good spirits and was whistling. He gave instructions to be awakened at about 7:30, but when the valet knocked at his door, there was no answer. About 15 minutes later, another attempt was made; still no answer. The men then beat at the door with a log and broke open a door panel, through which the bodies could be seen.
The medical evidence later indicated that Rudolf had shot Mary about six to eight hours before turning the gun on himself; incredibly, he spent the rest of the evening alone with the body, drinking and attempting to get up the courage to kill himself.
When the bodies were discovered, Johann Loschek, Rudolf's valet, declared to the others what he believed to be the cause of death (quite wrongly, as it turned out). What did he believe (or wish to believe) was the cause of death?
Strychnine poisoning. Loschek saw the two bodies on the bed; Mary lying down, Rudolf semi-recumbent with a pool of blood under his head (he could not see the damage from the bullet on the other side of Rudolf's head). He decided that Mary must have poisoned herself and the crown prince with strychnine (strychnine can cause hemorrhaging; victims sometimes bleed from the mouth and/or nose). This was the accepted version of the tragedy, and the one reported to the royal family; it had the benefit of making Rudolf the victim of a jealous and unbalanced Mary. The truth would not be known until Dr. Widerhofer entered the room and examined the bodies more thoroughly.
By a curious turn of events, this notableperson was informed of Rudolf's death before any of the royal family were. Who was it?
Baron Nathaniel Rothschild. After the tragedy, Count Hoyos, who had been at the lodge when the tragedy occurred, departed for Baden to board a train for Vienna to break the news of the tragedy to the Emperor and Empress' aides. He had to ask the stationmaster for special permission to board the express train from Trieste, which was only supposed to discharge passengers at Baden; no one was allowed to board. In explaining why it was urgent that he be allowed to board the train, Hoyos inadvertantly let slip an intimation that the Crown Prince was dead. After his departure, the stationmaster immediately telegraphed the news to Baron Rothschild, the head of the Vienna branch of the famous banking family and the railway's largest stockholder. Amazingly, the stationmaster guessed, correctly, that Rudolf had probably shot himself.
Who was the first member of the royal family to be informed of the tragedy?
Empress Elisabeth. The Empress was in the middle of a Greek lesson and did not wish to be interrupted. While the maid was endeavoring to explain that it was a matter of great urgency, Baron Nopcsa suddenly entered. In tears, he informed her of the double tragedy, maintaining the erroneous double-strychnine poisoning scenario which he had just heard from Count Hoyos. Elisabeth at first collapsed with grief, then composed herself and personally informed her husband.
Franz Josef was prostrated by grief and shock; Elisabeth then took him by the hand and led him to a room in which his mistress, Katherina Schratt, was waiting (the Empress was fully aware of, and in fact approved her husband's relation with Madame Schratt, an actress; she was actually received at the palace. Rudolf hadn't been the only one whose marital relationship had become distant). While Katherina comforted the emperor, Elisabeth broke the news to her daughters, Valerie and Giselle. Valerie shocked her by immediately asking her if Rudolf had committed suicide; she had known Rudolf better than his own parents.
Stephanie, Rudolf's wife and the mother of his child, was the last to be informed of his death; worse still, the announcement took the form of an interrogation by the Emperor and Empress. Stephanie believed (probably correctly) that Elisabeth held her responsible for her son's unhappiness and, by extension, for his death.
From whom did the Empress Elisabeth receive an unexpected visit on the day of the tragedy?
Mary Vetsera's mother. Baroness Helene Vetsera was an ambitious and unsubtle social climber who longed to belong to the royal family's intimate circle and was not above using her daughter's charms to attract the Crown Prince. She was a friend of Elisabeth's niece, Countess Marie Larisch, an unscrupulous schemer who acted as go-between for the pair; neither she nor the Baroness could have guessed at the tragic outcome of the affair.
On the 28th of January, Countess Larisch arranged for Mary's departure with Rudolf to Mayerling. The Countess later informed Helene that Mary had left a cryptic suicide note behind in the cab, but dismissed as ridiculous any idea that the note was serious, describing Mary as having been happy and in good spirits when she left her. The Baroness, however, became frantic, the more so when her daughter Hanna discovered another note in Mary's room which read "Dear Mother: By the time you read this, I shall be in the Danube." Countess Larisch persuaded her to notify Baron Krauss, the police chief (to whom Mitzi Caspar had related Rudolf's repeated requests to join her in a suicide pact). Krauss was unwilling to become embroiled in any sex scandal involving the Crown Prince and tried to persuade the Baroness not to pursue the matter. Ultimately, the Baroness' concern for her daughter overrode her fear of scandal and she reported Mary missing.
The following morning, she went to the palace and begged Ida Ferenczy, Elisabeth's aide, to allow her to see the Empress, believing that she alone could tell her what had become of Mary. Elisabeth, who had been informed of the tragedy a short time before, entered and told her the news. The Baroness collapsed with grief and accepted without question the story that her daughter had poisoned Rudolf and herself. Elisabeth, upon leaving her, whispered "Remember from now on and forever, Rudolf died of a heart attack."
On January 31, two days after the tragedy, Helene Vetsera was advised by Count Paar to leave Vienna immediately. She set off at once for Venice, but turned back out of a combination of exhaustion and a mother's desire to see her daughter's body one last time. Another messenger called upon her and strongly suggested that she not be in Vienna at the time of Rudolf's funeral; she agreed to leave only if requested by an official emissary of the Emperor. She was then called upon by Eduard von Taaffe, the Chancellor (or head of government), who requested that she leave, which she did reluctantly; she never had a chance to see her dead daughter.
What did the first newspaper accounts of the Crown Prince's passing give as the cause of death?
Heart attack or stroke. The first accounts of the Crown Prince's death on the morning after the tragedy gave the cause of death alternately as heart attack or stroke. After Dr. Widerhofer's findings, the official report, as given in a black-framed headline in the "Wiener Tageblatt", gave the cause of death as "suicide by revolver, while in a state of temporary derangement." No mention was made of Mary and, as we shall see, some quite desperate attempts were made to expunge her from the story altogether.
The heavy veil of secrecy and subterfuge surrounding the tragedy aroused the scepticism of both press and public, and led to a slew of wild conspiracy theories about the case, some of which persist to this day. At the time, stories of Rudolf and Mary being murdered by a jealous hunter who was in love with Mary and found her with Rudolf began to appear. Rumors that the Crown Prince's death had been carried out by assassins in the pay of Bismarck, Kaiser Wilhelm I, and even Franz Josef himself circulated and continue to this day (Rudolf's aunt, Princess Zita, believed that he was murdered because he refused to participate in a plot hatched by Clémenceau to overthrow his father Franz Josef and place himself on the Austrian throne. Supposedly, he would then break Austria's alliance with Germany in favor of an alliance with France).
While some of the murder theories are interesting, most of them are manifestly implausible and do not answer the physical circumstances of the crime; why would assassins paid to kill Rudolf (or a hunter inflamed by jealousy) have killed Mary first and then have shot Rudolf a full six to eight hours later? Why would the official cover-up of the murder involve a scenario that made Rudolf a suicide? There also does not appear to have been any pressing reason for either Bismarck or Wilhelm to have gotten Rudolf out of the way; he was allowed no active role in the Austrian government and would only assume authority upon the death of his father. Franz Josef was in excellent health and, in fact, reigned for another twenty-five years. Finally, there is the fact that Rudolf left about eight suicide notes (Mary left four), one of which - the one written to Elisabeth - acknowledges his guilt in Mary's death.
Who ultimately had the unenviable task of informing the Emperor of the true course of events - namely, that his son had committed both murder and suicide?
Dr. Widerhofer, the Court Physician. Dr. Widerhofer had examined the bodies and realized that their condition, and the physical circumstances surrounding the deaths, admitted of only one logical explanation: that Rudolf had shot Mary and then, many hours later, had shot himself. Franz Josef reacted with intense indignation to Widerhofer's account and seemed about to strike him, but the doctor stood firm and held his ground. The revelation that his son was both a suicide and a murderer was almost more than the Emperor could bear. Although in subsequent years he would idealize Rudolf and speak of him with warmth and respect, his initial reaction to the truth was to exclaim that "He died like a tailor!", meaning that Rudolf had died in a shameful and degrading manner undeserving of a prince and soldier (In German-speaking countries,the word "schneider", meaning "tailor", was in those days used as a slang term for "coward").
Rudolf had written farewell notes to the members of his immediate family, with one significant exception. Who was the exception?
His father, Franz Josef. Rudolf wrote letters not only to his mother, wife, and sisters, but also to his valet Loschek and to Mitzi Caspar (the letter to Mitzi never reached her; it was read by the Emperor and its contents have never been made public. He stated in one letter that any money found on him be given to Mitzi).
In his letter to his sister Valerie, he advises her to leave Austria after their father's death, "…for what will happen in Austria then is unforeseeable". In his letter to Stephanie, he tells her that she is now liberated from the burden of his presence (whether this is genuine regret for the wrongs he had done to her, an attempt to induce guilt, or a combination of both is difficult to say) and urges her to be kind to their beloved daughter. The letter to Elisabeth is the most interesting, as it was written actually at Mayerling after the death of Mary. In it, Rudolf confesses "I have no right to go on living, I have killed" and requests that he and Mary be buried together.
Rudolf left no note for his father, Franz Josef. In the letter to Stephanie, he asks her to send his regards to some friends and acquaintances of theirs, but says nothing of his father. This omission, which left a perpetual void between the Emperor and his dead son which could never be bridged, was an additional crushing blow for Franz Josef.
The presence of Mary Vetsera's body at the scene of the tragedy represented a terrible scandal, which necessitated the body's surreptious removal from the lodge. By what macabre and distinctly degrading method was this accomplished?
She was dressed in her street clothes, then propped up in a carriage between her uncles.. The royal family and their circle were desperate to hide every vestige of Mary's existence from the press and the public. After the discovery of the bodies, a cordon was placed around Mayerling and reporters and curiosity seekers were kept firmly at bay. Once Rudolf's body had been removed, there was the problem of getting Mary's corpse out of the building without attracting undue attention. To achieve this, the body was cleaned and dressed in street clothes, a broomstick inserted up the back of Mary's dress to keep her back rigid. When her two uncles came to claim the body and bring it to the cemetery for burial (Mary's mother Helene had asked that a family member be present at the graveside), the body was propped up between them as they departed for the graveyard, so that to the casual onlooker it would appear that a young woman was riding in a carriage with two older men.
Mary was taken to the graveyard of the Heiligenkreuz Monastery in the Wienerwald (or Vienna Woods) for interment. A torrential downpour of rain prevented the grave from being dug that night and the weather continued raw and gusty the following morning. Mary's uncles helped the gravediggers with their work and the grave was finally dug. However, there was one further hitch: officially, Mary's death had been given as suicide, making her burial in consecrated ground a violation of Church law. Under extreme pressure from above, the Abbott was "persuaded" to make an exception in Mary's case and the burial finally took place on the morning of February 1, 1889. A telegram was then sent to the palace with the terse message "All finished".
Was Rudolf given a church funeral and burial?
Y. Although rumors persist that Rudolf was originally refused the burial rites of the Catholic Church and that permission was obtained only with the greatest difficulty, the truth is that Franz Josef easily obtained permission from the papal nuncio for a full Catholic funeral and burial. There was some disapproval among conservative Catholic clergy of the papal nuncio presiding over the funeral of "a suicide and a murderer", but the Pope himself sent a message of condolence to the Emperor and made no mention of the unseemly circunstances of the tragedy.
The embalmed body, with bandaged head, lay in state in the Hofburg chapel during February 4th and 5th; the chapel was open to the public. Rudolf had been a "people's prince" in much the same way that Princess Diana, almost a century later, was a "people's princess", and a huge crowd filed past the body to pay their last respects.
At the end of the funeral procession, Franz Josef departed from tradition as the body was brought into the burial vault; what did he do?
All of these (Kissed the coffin., Prayed by the coffin in the burial vault., Accompanied the procession of monks into the vault.). The rigid etiquette at the Austrian court was legendary and prompted even King George V of England to comment "My God, this court is stiff" after a state visit in the early 20th century. Nowhere was this truer than in public rituals, such as royal funerals, which makes Franz Joseph's tripartite breach of official protocol at his son's funeral the more remarkable. Clearly, he wished to display his deep affection for his son, despite his shame over the circumstances of Rudolf's death; no doubt he also felt responsible to some degree for his failure to gauge how deeply disturbed Rudolf must have been.
Which female member of the family, who had been too distraught to attend the funeral, is said to have paid a nighttime visit to the burial vault and called out Rudolf's name?
Elisabeth. Elisabeth and her daughter Valerie had been too overcome by grief to attend the funeral (so, too, had Stephanie, despite the strain and unhappiness that had existed between herself and Rudolf). On the evening of February 9th, four days after the burial, she is said to have departed by cab from the palace and arrived, heavily veiled, at the Capuchin Church, where the Hapsburg crypt was located. Ringing the bell, she aroused one of the monks, announced herself, and requested admittance to the burial vault. She was conducted by torchlight to the crypt, which she insisted upon entering alone; the monk and guardian priest watched her descend and heard her cry out "Rudolf!" inside the crypt. She emerged, drawn but stony-faced, and quietly departed. While the story is not "official", it fits the Empress' restless, impulsive, and emotional nature.
A few years before the Mayerling tragedy, Rudolf had been involved in a rather macabre prank with his cousin, Archduke Otto. What was the nature of the prank?
They stopped a funeral procession and jumped their horses over the coffin.. Otto, the son of Franz Josef's brother Karl Ludwig, was a notorious prankster who had, on one occasion, appeared in a hotel lobby completely naked except for his cap, gloves, and saber. The funeral prank was done on impulse during a ride through the Prater. In addition to Otto and Rudolf, there was a third young man involved in this prank who may well have been Otto's brother, Franz Ferdinand. Considering the ultimate tragic fate of both Rudolf and Franz Ferdinand (whose 1914 assasination in Sarajevo triggered World War I), the image of the three riding their horses over a coffin takes on a particularly macabre symbolism.
The story of the Mayerling tragedy was made into a classic 1937 film starring Charles Boyer as Rudolf and Danielle Darrieux as Mary Vetsera. Which of the following films deals with another murder-suicide which took place just seven months after the Mayerling affair, in July of 1889?
Elvira Madigan. The 1967 Bo Widberg film is based on a tragic love story which played out in Denmark in the year of the Mayerling tragedy. In July of 1889 Elvira Madigan, a young Danish tightrope artist, ran off with Duke Sixten Sparre, a married officer who had deserted both his family and his post. The lovers wandered around Denmark, leading a bohemian existence while Sparre (who was heavily in debt) repeatedly telegraphed his family to ask for money, to no avail. Returning to his regiment after having deserted was out of the question, his wife refused to grant him a divorce and, even if she had, he could not have married the low-born Elvira without facing social ruin. The two lovers were last seen entering the forest near Tassinge; four days later, their bodies were discovered. The scenario was similar to the Mayerling tragedy; Sparre apparently shot Elvira and then himself. An interesting side note to the tragedy; before they disappeared into the forest, the couple had visited the Bregninge Church, where they signed the registry as Mr. And Mrs. Vetsera.