Борис Бурда
Author: Boris Burda
Journalist, writer, bard. Winner of the «Diamond Owl» intellectual game «What? Where? When?»
Liberal Arts
6 minutes for reading

AH, LOVE: an heir to the throne, a baroness girl and Mayerling Castle

AH, LOVE: an heir to the throne, a baroness girl and Mayerling Castle
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Арт-оформление: huxley.media via Photoshop

 

THE ULTIMATE TRAGEDY OF A GREAT EMPIRE

 

Let’s start with what the Mayerling is and why there are so many books and movies associated with it, as well as unhappy feelings. It turns out that it is a hunting castle — ordinary hunters have huts where you can shelter from the weather, change clothes, and prepare prey, but the emperors have a castle instead of a hut, although a small one. It is located in the heart of the Vienna Woods, praised by Strauss, and naturally belongs to the Kaiser.

On January 29, 1889, Crown Prince Rudolf arrived in Mayerling at 15:30. A little later, a lady arrived to visit him by hired fiacre. Her name is Baroness Maria Alexandrina von Vechera, and she is 18 without a month and a half of age. The servants easily recognize her; it is not the first time she has been here — of course, with the crown prince.

In the morning, neither the crown prince nor his guest left the bedchamber. It was not until 9 o’clock that the valet broke down the door with an axe. What he saw made him panic-stricken. The crown prince was sitting on the edge of the bed, leaning awkwardly against the night table. Blood was streaming from his mouth, and on the floor lay a revolver that had fallen from his hand.

The revolver bullet had entered one temple of the crown prince and exited through the other. The exact same wound was in Maria, lying on the couch with her hair loose and a red rose in her folded hands. The vast empire was left without the only direct heir to the throne.

Further on, a creepy scene begins, modern horror movies are not ripe for it. Maria is shoved almost naked into a laundry basket and hidden in a closet until the evening of January 31, when her uncles, Counts Stokau and Baltazzi, come to pick her up. They dress her up, wash off a little of the blood, replace the dislodged bandage that covered the eye that had been knocked out by the gunshot with Count Stokau’s silk tie, put a cane or a broomstick under her corset from the back, and tie her neck to the stick with a handkerchief.

In this form, she is brought to the little Abbey of Holy Cross, where a chapel is set up by her mother and uncle. There, she finds eternal rest under the inscription: «Here lies Mary, Baroness von Vechera, born March 19, 1871, died January 30, 1889. «Like a flower, he comes forth, then withers away» Job, 14, 2». Rudolf, on the other hand, was buried in the tomb of the Habsburgs Kapucinen Kirche.

The official version vaguely spoke of suicide caused by mental illness (for other reasons, it would be impossible to bury in consecrated ground). On the details of his death, the press did not write a word — the Kaiser strictly forbade it. But everyone passed on his words: «Anything is better than the truth». What was the truth?

 

Императорский охотничий замок в Майерлинге, фотография 1889 года с подписью: «Майерлинг, старый охотничий замок кронпринца Рудольфа до 1889 года»
Imperial hunting castle in Mayerling, photo from 1889 with the caption, «Mayerling, old hunting castle of Crown Prince Rudolf until 1889» / wikipedia.org

 

HOW COULD THIS HAVE HAPPENED?

 

The most common assumption is that it was a double suicide by collusion. It is known that just three days before the fatal event, Crown Prince Rudolf had a tough conversation with his father, the Kaiser. He was out of his mind, learning that his son quietly appealed to the Pope with a request to allow him to divorce his wife, the Belgian Princess Stephanie, in order to enter into a new legal marriage with Maria von Vechera.

The crown prince could not even imagine that the Pope of Rome, as Pope to his father, would give all this information to the crown prince’s father — let him eat this candy himself. The anger of the Kaiser was not limited, he even threatened to send his son abroad and not give him a penny, and finally shouted at him in the back: «You are not worthy to be my heir!». Perhaps Rudolf could not endure this…

There is another version, according to which Maria was brought to the castle. Meyerling was already dead or dying as a result of a criminal abortion. But why shoot her in the head? To give what happened a more noble coloring: a double suicide is not much more romantic. Maybe the reason was a severe illness, which Rudolf really had?

Yes, in 1886, he contracted gonorrhea, which is now easily cured, but then it could lead, among other things, to sexual impotence. And some believe that Mayerling — is not suicide at all but a double murder, carried out by the special services of Austria-Hungary on behalf of the Kaiser himself, who was not only fed up with the heir to the throne but also became frankly dangerous.

Those who do not believe it, its supporters condescendingly explain that the Secret Service can do anything and pass it off as anything; that’s why they are the Secret Service. But the last empress of Austria-Hungary Zita, wife of Charles I, who took the throne after the death of Franz Joseph (she, by the way, died only in 1989), was sure that Mayerling — the result of an elaborate operation of the British and French secret services, who hoped to recruit Rudolf to fight against his father, and when he refused, they killed him.

It is also unrealistic to object — the secret services can do anything, and it does not depend much on their nationality. Completely conspiracy theories, in which all set up evil Jews, insidious masons, or horrible Jew-masons, can not be considered — without them enough…

 

DIFFICULT CHILD, UNHAPPY HUSBAND

 

Crown Prince Rudolf himself has been in a hazardous situation since childhood. When the royal couple finally had a son, he was immediately taken away from his mother by order of Franz Joseph’s mother, Archduchess Sophie — apparently in order to bring him up properly, but in fact, to annoy the unloved daughter-in-law.

As a result, away from his birth mother, the child grew fearful, sensitive, and not so healthy. However, the Viennese still adored the heir to their Kaiser, calling him simply Rudy — who would not be delighted with the photos of the well-groomed child made by the best photographers in the country!

As a result, the prince has become not the example of a liberal and progressive daddy, who for all his long life never once took a ride in a car, did not talk on the phone, and did not even allow to conduct a telephone line to his palace, and agreed to electricity only after much persuasion.

Imagine how such a father met the statements of his fifteen-year-old son about the obscurantism of the Catholic Church. And the prince also began to print his articles on politics in liberal newspapers. Of course, under a pseudonym, but is it difficult for a qualified secret police to find a person who proclaims ideas that smell strongly of sedition?

In general, the relationship between the Kaiser and the crown prince has never been cloudless.

The Kaiser’s anxiety grew also because the crown prince had a too turbulent and noisy personal life. From a young age, Rudy changed ladies like gloves (the courtesies of the Viennese, who are not in vain called German Parisians; he was only more honored for this), and this did not please his father, who feared dynastic complications. In this case, as a wife order, he was offered the daughter of King Leopold II of Belgium, Stephanie — a young lady bland, dormant, and unsightly.

Nevertheless, a couple rounded up, after which Rudolf continued his former way of life. And, as a man of great decency, he felt it his duty to keep his wife informed of all his heart affairs. Indeed, he would not deceive the poor girl! She was quite a clever girl and soon realized that she could repay her spouse for his love only in the same way. Smoke went up at once between husband and wife, but public scandals did not bring the same training.

 

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YOUNG AND RECKLESS

 

Maria Alexandrina Frein von Vechera, a very young daughter of Baron Albin Vechera and Joanna Baltazzi, whom some authors call Czech, but most still consider her a Romanian, met with Rudolf on November 5, 1888, at a ball at the Hofburg Palace. It is worth noting that their affair did not last three months.

After their first meeting, Rudolf was completely conquered. Why — that’s another question. Looking at her photo, I was also surprised — the appearance is absolutely nothing; in every crowded tramway, there are a couple or three of them.

But her intimate experience for a girl of 17 years old at that time is simply amazing. Mary already had a passionate and not at all platonic romance with an English officer, about which the mass of Viennese gossip. By the way, she also smoked, and it seemed that the young Baroness was chasing the laurels of Paris Hilton. In general, it has a badass look — and is rather frightening than surprising. But it was she who proved irresistible to Rudolf. How could that be?

Perhaps the point is that Rudolf had backed himself into a corner and needed all the support he could get. His timid steps to form a political position seemed to his father not only inappropriate but bordering on treason. A quiet horror was going on in his personal life as well. He not only contracted gonorrhea himself: of course, he also infected his wife, who eventually lost the possibility of having children — hence the end of the dynasty. At first, Rudolf got used to numbing his misfortune with cognac and cold champagne, and then he switched to cocaine and morphine.

But they did not bring steady peace either. He put a human skull on his desk, near which he often placed a revolver. And now Rudolf suggests to his «household assistant» and part-time mistress, Mizzi Kaspar, to shoot themselves together.

Mizzi disagreed with such nonsense, of course, and neatly reported it to the police, who supplied her with information about the crown prince. He needed a loving and suggestible soul who would listen more carefully to his words. Seventeen-year-old Maria Vechera was clearly better suited than most.

 

DO OR DIE — IT’S USUALLY THE SECOND ONE

 

Our lovers obviously feel that they will not stay together on this planet for long, and there is no time to lose — their relationship turns to intimacy almost immediately. Their meetings were obviously few, only a few dozen, hardly more than thirty, but they did not think about propriety — Rudolf often brought her to the castle, and they secluded themselves in abandoned side rooms.

Moreover, Rudolf made a decisive step — secretly but officially appealing to the Roman Pope Leo XIII with a request for divorce. More precisely, it is not a divorce — a Catholic marriage is not dissolved, but there are a lot of tricks that allow you to declare the marriage invalid.

But the Pope not only did not grant the requested permission, but also pledged it to Franz Joseph for proceedings by domestic means. You already know of the dreadful scene in which the Kaiser rolled on his son. Now, there were very few options — or the continuation of a shabby life, and even separation from his beloved, or existence without means and skills to earn them.

Rudolf found another option that seemed more attractive to him, especially since he had long been drawn to it.

How did he manage to persuade seventeen-year-old Maria, who, in fact, has not yet lived on this land? It seems that he took advantage of the fact that worldly, frankly inexperienced and foolish, extremely exalted, obviously really in love, hoping for something young girl experienced a complete collapse of her hopes, moreover — felt himself an enemy of his own state.

I wonder if she had known that the night before leaving for Mayerling, her beloved Rudolf had spent in the bed of his ever-ready «household assistant», Mizzi Kaspar, would she have changed her mind?

A separate part of the tragedy is their farewell letters. Maria wrote to her sister Ganna, and her mother, Rudolf, left no word to his parents — only wrote to his estranged and unloved wife. The letters are quite brief, but that is all they wished to say to the world from which they had fled.

The letters were short but touching, all very natural, and obviously well thought out, but with minor edits made at the last minute. These are undoubtedly their last words and the version of suicide by consent they only confirm.

 

Прощальное письмо Марии Вечера к своей матери
Maria Vechera’s goodbye letter to her mother / wikipedia.org

 

THE WORLD HARDLY NOTICED

 

The death of the heir to the throne caused Franz Joseph more anger than grief. In his heart, he even said: «Died like an apprentice tailor!». There is not even a sense of condemnation, all already expressed at a recent date — just contempt and disdain.

The news of the death of the heir instantly spread throughout the empire — such things can not be kept secret, but published a report that the crown prince committed suicide in a temporary loss of reason. As for Maria Vechera, for the press, it simply did not exist; all clearly explained that there is no such person and can not be. At the same time, the Kaiser ordered to destroy the part of Mayerling, where it all happened, that no stone was left on a stone there, and as a result, the castle was almost completely demolished.

Now, a small Carmelite chapel stands on the spot where Rudolf and Mary died. Its altar is exactly where the crown prince’s bed was. In the place where he lay, there is a statue of the Virgin Mary with the face of his mother, Empress Sissi. That’s it.

Well, there we are. Now we can sort out which version is more true. However, you’ll pardon me for distrusting so many carefully thought-out legends, I believe only in the simplest — the unhappy end of the tragic love of a poor boy from a very important family, not ready for what gifts real life can give us. Everything else is not that impossible — nothing is possible, there is just the unlikely — but completely unserious.

There was nothing left of Rudolf’s political theories; the angry father Kaiser eventually crushed them into dust, along with their bearer. However, in literature and especially in cinematography, the story of Mayerling is very strongly rooted. Entire novels are devoted to it, and movies are made about it. They were in the USSR, and many people saw them.

What else is left of them on this planet? Do you remember where Georgy Sedov, the head of the Russian expedition to the North Pole, one of the prototypes of Captain Tatarinov in «The Two Captains», died of hunger and deprivation? It was on Rudolf Island, a small uninhabited frozen island from the Franz Josef Land archipelago, discovered in 1863 by Austrian explorers, who, for obvious reasons, left the name of their heir to the throne on the map of the Earth forever. This is the island, and practically nothing else remains.

Except for the chapel on the spot where Meyerling Castle once stood and the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Sorrows, with the face of his own mother, from whom the child was taken away in early childhood and deprived of even the slightest chance to fix anything and try to help him.

 


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