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Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria
Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria

Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria (21 August 1858 – 30 January 1889) was the only son and third child of Emperor Franz Joseph I and Elisabeth of Bavaria. He was heir apparent to the throne of Austria-Hungary from birth. In 1889, he died in a suicide pact with his mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera, at the Mayerling hunting lodge.[1] The ensuing scandal made international headlines. He was named after the first Habsburg King of Germany, Rudolf I, who assumed the throne in 1273.[2]

Background


Rudolf was born at Schloss Laxenburg,[3] a castle near Vienna, as the son of Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth. Influenced by his tutor Ferdinand von Hochstetter (who later became the first superintendent of the Imperial Natural History Museum), Rudolf became very interested in natural sciences, starting a mineral collection at an early age.[3] After his death, large portions of his mineral collection came into the possession of the University for Agriculture in Vienna.[3]

In 1877 the Count of Bombelles was master of the young prince. Bombelles was the former custodian of his aunt Empress Charlotte of Mexico.[4]

Rudolf was raised together with his older sister Gisela and the two were very close. At the age of six, Rudolf was separated from his sister as he began his education to become a future emperor. This did not change their relationship and Gisela remained close to him until she left Vienna upon her marriage to Prince Leopold of Bavaria.

In contrast with his deeply conservative father, Rudolf held liberal views, that were closer to those of his mother.[5] Nevertheless, his relationship with her was, at times, strained.[5]

Marriage


In Vienna, on 10 May 1881, Rudolf married Princess Stéphanie of Belgium, a daughter of King Leopold II of the Belgians, at the Augustinian's Church in Vienna. Although their marriage was initially a happy one, by the time their only child, the Archduchess Elisabeth, was born on 2 September 1883, the couple had drifted apart, and he found solace in drink and other female companionship. Rudolf started having many affairs, and wanted to write to Pope Leo XIII about the possibility of annulling his marriage to Stéphanie, but the Emperor forbade it.[5] In 1886, spouses were diagnosed with gonorrhea, which rendered Stéphanie sterile.[6]

Affairs and suicide


In 1886, Rudolf bought Mayerling, a hunting lodge.[7] In late 1888, the 30-year-old crown prince met the 17-year-old Baroness Marie Vetsera, known by the more fashionable Anglophile name Mary, and began an affair with her.[8] On 30 January 1889, he and Vetsera were discovered dead in the lodge as a result of an apparent joint suicide. As suicide would prevent him from being given a church burial, Rudolf was officially declared to have been in a state of "mental unbalance", and he was buried in the Imperial Crypt (Kapuzinergruft) of the Capuchin Church in Vienna. Vetsera's body was smuggled out of Mayerling in the middle of the night and secretly buried in the village cemetery at Heiligenkreuz.[7][9] The Emperor had Mayerling converted into a penitential convent of Carmelite nuns and endowed a chantry so that daily prayers would eternally be said by the nuns for the repose of Rudolf's soul.[10]

Vetsera's private letters were discovered in a safe deposit box in an Austrian bank in 2015, and they revealed that she was preparing to commit suicide alongside Rudolf, out of love.[11]

Effect of Rudolf's death


Rudolf's death plunged his mother into despair. She wore black or pearl grey, the colours of mourning, for the rest of her life and spent more and more time away from the imperial court in Vienna. Empress Elisabeth was murdered while abroad in Geneva, Switzerland in 1898 by an Italian anarchist, Luigi Lucheni.[12]

Politically, Rudolf's death left Franz Joseph without a direct male heir. Franz-Joseph's younger brother, Archduke Karl Ludwig, was next in line to the Austro-Hungarian throne,[13] though it was falsely reported that he had renounced his succession rights.[14] In any case, his death in 1896 from typhoid made his eldest son, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the new heir presumptive. In 1914, Franz Ferdinand's assassination precipitated World War I. Emperor Franz-Joseph died in November 1916 and was succeeded by his grandnephew, Karl. The demands of American President Wilson forced Emperor Karl to renounce involvement in state affairs in Vienna in early November 1918. As a result, the empire ceased to exist and a republic came into being without revolution. Karl and his family went into exile in Switzerland after spending a short time at Castle Eckarstau.

In popular culture


Titles, styles and honours


  • 21 August 1858 – 30 January 1889: His Imperial and Royal Highness The Crown Prince of Austria, Hungary, Bohemia and Croatia[16]

Ancestors


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