On 30th January 1889 an event occurred that was to have tragic consequences years later, although the event itself was tragic enough for those involved.
This was the double suicide of Prince Rudolf, son and heir of Emperor Franz-Joseph of Austria-Hungary, and his young mistress, Baroness Maria von Vetsera.
Rudolf was a married man, but it was not a happy marriage and Rudolf resorted to a string of mistresses, most notably a 16-year-old that he met at a ball in Vienna. This infuriated Franz-Joseph and caused a deep rift to open between father and son.
On 28th January Franz-Joseph told Rudolf that both he and the Pope were completely opposed to a divorce and that Rudolf would have to fall into line and not cause a royal scandal. Rudolf’s response was to leave Vienna the next day for his hunting lodge at Mayerling, 15 miles from the capital. He took Maria with him.
The actual events of the early morning of 30th January have been the subject of speculation ever since. A double suicide seems the most likely scenario, with Rudolf killing Maria before shooting himself, but there are many other theories including murder by agents of Emperor Franz-Joseph.
The result, however, was clear enough. Franz-Joseph’s only son was dead, so the succession passed to his nephew, Archduke Franz-Ferdinand. The second tragedy, therefore, was that on 28th June 1914 it was Franz-Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, rather than Crown Prince Rudolf, who were in the firing line when assassins struck in Sarajevo, thus precipitating the outbreak of World War I.
© John Welford