This is just part one of a two-part post about how tremendously unlucky the ruling family of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was around the end of the 19th century. I've already posted one tiny blurb on this blog about Empress Sisi (or Sissi, aka Elisabeth of Bavaria) and we'll talk about her whole bucket of misfortune tomorrow. But today we'll start with her son, the Crown Prince Rudolf.
Here he is, rocking his proto-Tsar Nicholas II look, which was really just a look that developed from a hell of a lot of inbreeding. I actually have no idea if Prince Rudolf was related to the Tsar, but given that Rudi's from the House of Hapsburg-Lorraine (Hapsburg, there's your first clue–Kentucky race horses are less inbred than the Hapsburgs were), I'd say he's pretty much related to most of the major families in Europe.
BUT I DIGRESS.
Rudolf was the only son of Emperor Franz Joseph, and the development of Rudolf's politics was very, very important. I'm going to give you an insane short-hand view of what was going on:
Austro-Hungarian Empire, right? The Hapsburgs had Austria, were its long-term rulers, and Austria was fine with that. Then the Hapsburgs inherited Hungary (again, because they were inbred with all the major families, and it was only a matter of time before someone died and left them a COUNTRY). Hungary was having NONE of this. They wanted to be independent, and there were many assassination attempts on Emperor Franz Joseph's life by radical Hungarian movements. They were constantly trying to replace Emperor Franz Joseph with his son, because Prince Rudolf very publicly believed that Hungary should be independent. So the Hungarians were like, "Guys, let's just hold on til the Emperor dies–Rudolf will get on the throne, he'll grant us our independence . . . and then we'll invite him to be our king anyway."
Okay, so there's a bigger storm a-brewin' just outside of this internal feud. THIS WILL BE IMPORTANT LATER: GETCHA NOTEBOOKS OUT. There were three major powers in that part of the world: the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Russian Empire. They aaaaall wanted the Balkan states, which bordered the Austro-Hungarian Empire. If Hungary revolted from Hapsburg power, it would screw up Austrian influence and would allow the Ottomans and the Russians to come in, claim land as their own, and suddenly European power would be out of balance. This is why the Crimean War happened: because Russia was getting too big for its boots and it scared the crap out of the rest of Europe, who enjoyed the status quo.
The moral of the story is: if we want to avoid this Perfect Storm of imperial smash-and-grab, Rudolf needs to come to the throne. He is single-handedly holding everyone's shit together just by being ALIVE.
That was an incredibly simplistic version of what happened, but it gets us where we need to be.
Rudolf married Princes Stephanie of Belgium, and they popped out a single sproglet (Archduchess Elisabeth) before drifting apart. He was all: "Daaaaaaad, can I get a divorce?" And Franz Joseph was all, "Over my dead body!" And Rudolf was all, "Fine. I'll just get some mad biddies up in here and try to fornicate my way into some happiness."
In 1887, Rudolf bought Mayerling hunting lodge where he could go score with chicks and hunt things . . . deer . . . fox . . . mongeese . . . look, I have no idea what Princes do in their spare time except have sex with people who are not their wives, okay? So his chief skank at that time was Baroness Mary Vetsera. Check her out here with her glamor lighting:
She was 17, he was 30. She was "new nobility" and totally not worthy of his royal royalness. He had other affairs simultaneously, but Mary was convinced that Rudolf was her slave and would eventually leave his wife for her. Emperor Franz Josef was displeased with her and wanted the affair to end. Rudolf was all, "DAD, I DO WHAT I WANT!" So Rudolf took her up to his hunting lodge in January of 1889 to copulate and skin things, preferably not at the same time.
The next morning, Rudolf's valet came to wake him up early. He didn't answer, and eventually his servants had to break the door down with an axe. Rudolf and Mary were found dead inside. He was shot. There are conflicting stories as to how she died. The royal family stated publicly that Rudolf died of an aneurism of the heart, but stories persisted that he had been poisoned, shot or committed suicide. Eventually the story got out that he hadn't died of an aneurism, especially when he was displayed at his funeral like this:
Then the story got out that he had propositioned another one of his mistresses with a suicide pact, which she had brushed off as a joke. There are tons of conspiracy theories about what really happened behind those locked doors that night. There was no surface reason anyone can see for them to commit such an act. Though it's totally unknown what happened at Mayerling, most scholarship believes it was a murder-suicide (or suicide pact) that resulted from Rudolf's mental instability due to syphilis. Other factors might have been that Emperor Franz Joseph wanted to keep the lovers apart, or that Mary might have been pregnant. Some believe that she died of a botched abortion and he killed himself in despair. So much was hushed up that, even now when the bodies have been dug up for examination, there just isn't enough evidence to say what was really going on.
This all certainly plays into how Mary described her influence over Rudolf and how neither of them could live without the other. Because love means never having to say, "No, I won't go in on a suicide pact with you." How long had they been together? Well, there are two versions: one says they'd only been together for three months, so, umm, a little intense for such a short relationship. The other said they'd been together for 3 years, which would have made her fourteen when they met. Uhhhh, not touching that one. WHICH IS WHAT HE SHOULD HAVE SAID.
So, okay, remember how back in BizarreVictoria history class when I told you to pay attention? It was for this reason: Rudolf was dead, he didn't have a son, and this left Hungary without a champion and Emperor Franz Joseph without a direct heir. The throne would pass to Franz Joseph's brother, Archduke Karl Ludwig, once Franz Joseph died. But a few days after Rudolf died, Karl Ludwig was like, "Uh uh, I am not interested in trying to hold this shambles together. I refuse the throne." So then the heirdom passed to Karl Ludwig's son, who was Franz Joseph's nephew and Rudolf's cousin.
He was Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
Anyone dimly remember that name from senior year history class? Well, Franz Ferdinand was no Rudolf. The Hungarians hated him, and most people found him odd, untrustworthy and reckless. In 1914, on a visit to Sarajevo, Serbia, he was assassinated. Another heir gone. His death was a direct component to the start of World War I. The Austro-Hungarian Empire and Hapsburg dynasty were on rocky foundation, and without Rudolf to help stabilize it, everything just imploded.
All this, because Emperor Franz Joseph's first son didn't live, and he didn't have a second son.This is what happens when you don't have an "heir and a spare": WORLD WAR.
Don't think the Hapsburg-Lorraine's are out of it yet. Tomorrow you'll get to hear the potentially even better story of Empress Sisi.