Rodolfo e Stefania del Belgio, Geruzet Freres 1881


It was the dawn of 30 January 1889. It was a rainy and cold Viennese morning. The servant of Archduke Rudolf knocked on the bedroom door where rested Rudolf and Mary Vetsera, in the Mayerling hunting lodge, two hours by horse from Vienna. Maria was the last of the many mistresses of Archduke. Everything was ready for a hunt. The gamekeeper Wodiczek was waiting in the yard with the horses. The servant received no answer. He knocked again. Knocked again with more energy.

The servant was alarmed at this point, he ran to tell the adjutant of Prince, Joseph Emanuel Hoyos. The adjutant, along with the Prince security police officer, Joseph Cernousek, opened the door of the room pushed with his shoulder. A terrible spectacle was to the sight of those present. Maria Vetsera was lying naked on the bed, she had died by a gunshot to her temple. Prince, next to her, gunshot, showed no signs of life.

They were all in shock. The death of both was ascertained. The adjutant, not wanting to use the telegraph to keep secret the news, sent the servant of prince to Vienna royal palace to inform the emperor.

Archduke Rudolf was born August 21, 1858 in Vienna, only son with two sisters of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph I and Elizabeth (Sissi) of Bavaria.

When Rudolf was little, he preferred to study natural sciences, he was very good at drawing and painting, a passion that he continued with some success. When he began to have responsibility as Crown Prince showed his preference for a liberal view of politics, in contrast to the conservative vision of the father, who still distinguished his reign for moderation and attention to the welfare of his subjects.

Rudolf was entrusted by his father important diplomatic assignments. He was to really ease in the various European and Oriental chancelleries, where he went for diplomatic missions, although he was not particularly inclined to the study of foreign languages.

On May 10, 1881 he married Stephanie of Belgium, daughter of Leopold II, King of Belgium, and Henrietta Mary of Hapsburg-Lorraine. In 1883 Stephanie gave birth to the couple’s only daughter, Elizabeth. The relations between the couple were not so good at birth of the daughter. Stephanie, grew up with a nineteenth-century education, reproached her husband his liberal view of government.

Rudolf was not attracted by his wife. He loved for a long time an escort, Mizzi Kaspar. It was around that time that he contracted gonorrhea becoming sterile. He transmitted the disease to his wife Stefania, which in turn became unable to procreate. The lack of a male heir deeply saddened Rudolf that had often suicidal thoughts. Mizzi informed of these unhealthy intents the Viennese court. These alarms were neglected considering impossible the source.

Baroness Mary Vetsera was born in Vienna March 19, 1871, she was the daughter of Albin Vetsera, an Austrian diplomat and Elena Baltazzi, of Italian origin, the daughter of a rich businessman who had been adviser to the Sultan of Constantinople.

Mary had turned with the family for the European and Middle Eastern capitals because of the work of his father before settling in Vienna. One day in 1878 she was presented the Crown Prince Rudolf attending a gala evening at the opera. She was seven. Mary fell in love at first sight of the prince and cultivated this childish admiration in the following years.

Later her family was able to get acquainted with Mary Louise Larisch, niece of the Empress and very versed at the Viennese court.

The Mary Louise Countess Larisch is the first of the two women who were involved in this story strangely being “alleged secret daughters of …”. Maria Larisch revealed in her autobiography “My Past” to be the second secret daughter of Mary Sophie of Bavaria, Queen of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. She was twin of another child, Viola, conceived during her exile in Rome by Mary Sophie, sister of Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Sissi), with her lover, the Belgian Count Armand de Lawayss.

Mary Sophie of Bavaria had given birth to the twins without the knowledge of her husband Francis II, King of Naples, in the family castle of Possenhofen, on 24 October 1862. The newborn Viola was given to the father and died after a few years for the tuberculosis that was inadvertently transmitted on to her by the parent. The other sister Daisy, then named Mary Louise, was entrusted to Louis of Bavaria, brother of Mary Sophie.

Mary Sophie confessed the birth of little Viola in a letter to her husband in which she asked for forgiveness, but she did not dare to tell all the truth, and that is that suddenly, after giving birth to the first baby, Viola, another little head poked out, Daisy, that Mary Louise. Those present at the births panicked because everything had been arranged only to settle one newborn at the father’s family. The older brother of Mary Sophie, Louis, offered to take Mary Louise as his daughter, as long as the father granted him permission to marry his mistress Henriette, of humble origins prose actress. The father granted him permission, but Louis had to give up the rights of primogeniture. Mary Louise then married Count Georg Larisch with whom she had five children. Mary Louise was the favorite niece of Sissi and assiduously attended the royal family.

The other woman was Caroline Kaiser, who claimed to be the secret daughter of Elizabeth, the wife of the emperor, and cousin Mary Louise Larisch. She was married Count Zanardi-Landi, and promoted a lawsuit to have the recognition of her rights as daughter of Elizabeth.

In 1888 Mary Vetsera managed to have a meeting with Rudolf by the Larisch. The first meeting was followed by more and more meeting organized by Larisch. Mary and Rudolf fell in love. It seems that the young Baroness became pregnant after the first meetings of the prince, but there is no evidence in this regard.

In January 1889, Mary confided to her friend the desire to die for his Rudolf, after a few days she drew up her will. In those days there was a meeting between Rudolf and Mary Louise Larisch. Prince handed her a box with documents, begging her to keep and deliver it only to him and to those who had reported the watchword “R.I.U.O.”.

On January 26, 1889 Rudolf had a strong conflict with his father, Emperor Franz Joseph. It seems that Rodolfo asked his father to annul his marriage with Stephanie. Having received a denial Rudolf threatened to kill himself, but the emperor was adamant. It seems that the meeting ended with a dark threat of Rudolph to abdicate by the heir to the throne of Austria, and to get elected king of Hungary, making that nation independent from the empire. At that time there were libertarian movements in Hungary with which Rudolph was in contact that advocated independence.

The following evening Mary met the Rodolfo’s wife, Stephanie, at a party at the Embassy of Germany. She refused to bow down and planted his eyes on her defiantly.

On January 28, the Baroness Mary went a Mayerling royal hunting lodge with the intention to spend two days there with her lover. She remained locked up in the room of Rudolf, and some guests were unaware of her presence. The tragedy took place between the evening of the 29th and the morning of January 30, 1889.

The servant of Prince Rudolf arrived in Vienna, in the Hofburg, to the twelve a.m. Only the 3 p.m. Sissi conveyed the news to Francis Joseph, after hectic consultations between the courtiers of the Royal Palace about how and who should inform the Emperor. Some witnesses say that Francis Joseph did not seem too upset, as already expected the news.

The first impression of those who had entered the room in the immediacy of the tragedy was that it had been strychnine poisoning for the blood at the mouth of the prince. Then it made sure that the cause of death of the Baroness Vetsera and the prince had been gunshots, the first hit to her head, the second his head or his heart. The detail was never clarified by the authorities.

At first it was disclosed to the public the news that the prince was dead aneurysm. The thesis aneurysm resisted for no more than 24 hours, already all Vienna knew the true cause of death. The news was spread of the suicide with a gunshot.

The body of Mary Vetsera was covered, and as if she were still alive, transported by carriage to Heilegenkreutz, where she was buried in the local cemetery in secret. Religious funeral was required for Prince, but the Cardinal Rampolla refused, at the time the religious rites and burial in consecrated ground were not granted to the suicide. The emperor addressed directly to Pope Leo XIII who gave his assent. The prince was buried in the Capuchin crypt where lie all the Austrian Hapsburgs.

The box, guarded by Mary Louise Larisch, which perhaps contained the terrible secret of the death of Rodolfo, was collected a few days after the tragedy from his best friend of the prince, John of Nepomuk of Habsburg-Lorraine, son of Leopold II of Tuscany. John said a few words to the Larisch, except that Rudolf had died because of the conspiracy who wanted him on the throne of Hungary. John Nepomuk that after the tragedy was so impressed that he gave up his titles of nobility and took the name John Orth, moved to Argentina with his wife, the opera singer Milly Stubel. The emperor deprived him of his Austrian citizenship because of his alleged involvement in the Hungarian conspiracy. He died with his wife in the sinking of his yacht to Cape Horn. The mother, the Grand Duchess Marie Antoinette, never wore mourning. She was always believed that the son, knowing the truth and disgusted by the behavior of the Habsburgs, had wanted to terminate all relations with his past life, living off the grid in Argentina.

Immediately several scenarios started to flow about bloodshed. The most terrible theories were authorized after the sentence that Francis Joseph said about the rumors that were circulating. He literally said: “Everything is better than the truth.”

The quasi-official version, the murder and suicide, was not believed. The hypothesis, that convergent to numerous testimonies, was the state crime with the involvement of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who was assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914. He was the second heir to the throne after Rudolf as a child the emperor’s brother, Charles Louis, and Maria Annunziata of Bourbon-Two Sicilies (fourth daughter of King Ferdinand II of Naples). He shared fully the traditionalist ideas of his uncle, and he too was concerned about the survival of the empire.

There is no evidence of the involvement of Franz Joseph. But he feared, above all things, the disintegration of the empire. If the threat of Rudolf to become king of Hungary, detaching it from the empire, was implemented, this would be the first step in the destruction of Austria-Hungary and perhaps the Royal House of Habsburg-Lorraine.

The Empress Elizabeth (Sissi) wore the mourning the day of his son death and never took longer. She began his travels through Europe, apparently for not attending the royal court that reminded her of the death, or perhaps “the murder” of his son.

Caroline Kaiser, Countess Zanardi-Landi, alleged secret daughter of Empress Sissi, was very deep in the things about the royal family. She told that the same Sissi confided in her. Sissi was convinced that it had been a conspiracy to protect the integrity of the empire.

The plot, according to the Kaiser, was organized by Franz Ferdinand with the consent, conscious or unconscious of Franz Joseph. The concerns expressed by the emperor Franz Ferdinand had been interpreted by the Franz Ferdinand as a green light to the action against Rudolph. Still Caroline Kaiser said that the focus group to carry out the murder was formed by Baron Bolfrass and some policemen.

Caroline Kaiser wrote a book about the events of Mayerling with the title “The Secret of an Empress”. She tried to publish it in Italy but she found no publisher willing to print it. The book was published in France. All copies were purchased in bulk from Franz Joseph agents. In 1914 came the English edition of the book. But other concerns did pass unmentioned the book at the time.

The last empress of Austria, Zita of Bourbon-Parma, wife of Emperor Charles I, was Italian since she was born in Pianore near Viareggio where her father, the Duke of Parma, owned a farm. She recalled, in an interview with kronen Zeitung in the eighties of the twentieth century, that the death of Rodolfo was a murder carried out from French or Austrian agents. The French case was related to the relations had by Georges Clemenceau, later Prime Minister of France, with Rudolf. Clemenceau managed because Rudolf became emperor, dismissing with a coup Franz Joseph. According to this hypothesis Rudolf was killed because in the end he refused to pander to the French.

The secret had to be really terrible, as Franz Joseph said, if it still has not been infringed despite the numerous people who had been directly or indirectly witnesses of the crime.

(Picture at the top: Rodolfo e Stefania del Belgio, 1881, Geruzet Freres)