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Love Is Dead

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Pictures and autographs of Baroness Mary Vetsera and Crown Prince Rudolf, nineteenth century. Alamy.

Two gunshots echoed from Mayerling looking lodge within the early hours of 30 January 1889, sending shockwaves by way of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Crown Prince Rudolf was discovered lifeless alongside Baroness Mary Vetsera, his 17-year-old mistress. Mary had been shot by Rudolf, who, a number of hours later, turned the gun on himself.

Within the following weeks the imperial household sought to erase all reminiscence of the baroness’ presence at Mayerling, understanding that her homicide would deny Rudolf a Catholic burial (his suicide was excused by an abnormality within the mind). This, mixed with the combined messages the royal family despatched out to the general public about Rudolf’s loss of life, started a recreation of whispering and finger-pointing that continues at the moment.

Numerous theories have circulated since: homicide by overseas brokers or on the command of Rudolf’s hated uncle, Archduke Albrecht; an orgy gone flawed; a botched abortion; an assassination by a jealous neighbour. However, whereas there’s nonetheless a lot left unanswered about Mayerling, major sources and forensic discoveries unequivocally affirm that Rudolf killed his mistress after which himself. 

Mary, like many younger women her age, collected photos of Rudolf. After seeing him from afar in April 1888, she wrote in her calendar {that a} ‘ardour was born’. By that autumn she was decided to satisfy him and, having written him a fervent letter expressing her want, her want was quickly fulfilled. 

A gathering was organized within the Hofburg, the place Rudolf’s cousin, Marie Larisch, acted as chaperone. In a letter to her good friend and previous piano instructor, Hermine Tobis, Mary wrote that the Crown Prince begged Larisch to deliver her again as quickly as potential.

The 2 met typically between then and January 1889, however it was not till 13 January that their affair was consummated. ‘We each misplaced our heads’, Mary wrote to Hermine, ‘and I turned a lady! Now we belong to one another in physique and soul.’ Her letter makes it clear this was Mary’s first sexual expertise. This not solely disproves the abortion principle (her being pregnant wouldn’t have been evident by the point of their deaths) but additionally casts shadows on the aristocratic authors and diarists who took the chance to malign the Vetsera household and describe Mary as a sexual adventuress and even a ‘titled trollop’, as Depend Carl Lonyay named her in 1949. 

The encounter meant a lot to the baroness that, two days later, she purchased a cigarette case engraved with the phrases ‘thirteenth January, because of destiny’ and requested in her farewell observe to her sister that she depart flowers on her grave yearly on this date.

On 28 January Marie Larisch took Mary to the Hofburg for the final time. Mary was then pushed to the inn Roter Stadl by Josef Bratfisch (the carriage driver who typically introduced Mary to her rendezvous with Rudolf). Rudolf adopted shortly after and joined Mary and Bratfisch to trip onwards to Mayerling. 

Rudolf’s looking visitors, Prince Philipp Coburg and Depend Josef Hoyos, arrived the subsequent day. Rudolf excused himself from the hunt and a household dinner within the Hofburg, complaining of a chilly. Afterwards, Coburg returned to Vienna for the dinner, whereas Rudolf and Hoyos dined collectively. After Hoyos retired, Mary and Rudolf have been entertained by Bratfisch. Presents have been exchanged and Mary stated to the carriage driver that it will be the final time they’d see one another. Early the subsequent morning, the pair was found lifeless by the panicked valet, Loschek, who heard gunshots and located the door to the Crown Prince’s bed room locked.

The half-truth of the Crown Prince’s suicide quickly turned identified, however solely after a collection of bulletins that originally tried to report pure causes of loss of life. 

Mary’s physique was rushed out of the looking lodge in secret. Her uncles pressured a broomstick up the again of her garments and sat along with her corpse between them in a carriage. She was unexpectedly buried on the cemetery at Heiligenkreuz. Her mom, Helene, was not allowed to go to and the memoirs by which she sought justice for her daughter have been suppressed. Many of the copies which revealed Mary as a sufferer have been confiscated by the police chief, Baron Krauss. One escaped and was printed in a French each day newspaper.

The disappearance of those memoirs and the continued refusal of the imperial household to talk the reality led to over 100 years of rumours and conspiracy theories. Though the contents of Mary’s farewell letters have been suspected, their whereabouts have been unknown. It was not till they have been discovered deposited in an Austrian financial institution in 2015 that we gained a clearer image of a younger woman able to enter eternity alongside the person she liked.

‘Just some hours earlier than my loss of life, I need to say “adieu”’, she wrote to her sister Hanna. ‘We’re each going blissfully into the unsure past.’ She said to her mom that, in settlement with Rudolf, she wished to be buried subsequent to him. What is evident all through her letters is that she went willingly to her destiny: ‘I’m happier in loss of life than in life.’ 

But in loss of life, Mary was not permitted her relaxation. Her stays have been disturbed a number of instances, most notably in 1992 when Helmut Flatzelsteiner stole her physique from its tomb. Underneath the guise of discovering out how an ancestor died, Flatzelsteiner had the stays examined. Gunshot wounds are seen on her cranium and the bullet’s entry level is on the left. The precise-handed Mary was shot by her lover.

What, then, motivated the couple’s suicide? Romantic movies would have us consider it was their unattainable love. This was definitely the case for Mary. Paperwork written by Mary reveal a younger girl who felt intensely and who, months earlier than Mayerling, stated that she would die for Rudolf – ‘for what does life imply to me?’ she requested. She reveals her motive clearly to Hanna in her ultimate letter: as a result of she couldn’t marry for love, she would observe Rudolf into the unknown. 

Although he definitely had emotions for Mary, Rudolf’s incentives have been completely different. His dreadful childhood, disastrous marriage and his father blocking him from political involvement had created an ideal storm. Too scared to die alone, Rudolf had already proposed a suicide pact to others, together with his long-term lover, Mizzi Caspar. When she rejected him and unsuccessfully tried to alert the police, Rudolf turned to Mary, making the most of her emotions and youthful naivety. In doing so, he inadvertently started to show the wheels that finally led to the autumn of the monarchy.


Lucy Coatman is a postgraduate at Central European College, Vienna, researching the Habsburg household within the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

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