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Friday, March 4, 2011

Crazy for Love - or Just Crazy - Guest Post by Leslie Carroll

In celebration of her new release, Royal Pains, Leslie Carroll has dropped by The Maiden's Court (in an official capacity) to give us this exciting guest post on Archduke Rudolf - one of the baddies in her new book! I had not ever heard of this guy until reading this book but he cast quite the scandalous cloud over his kingdom! Don't delay - keep reading! Welcome Leslie!

Crazy For Love—Or Just Crazy?

Guest Post by Leslie Carroll, Author of
Royal Pains


Crown Prince of Austria, Hungary, and Bohemia


Archduke Rudolf, the Crown Prince of Austria, Hungary, and Bohemia—great hope of the Hapsburg dynasty and heir to the vast Austro-Hungarian empire—was the progeny of two first cousins whose marriage was a rare royal love match. His father was Emperor Franz Joseph; and his mother was the beautiful, but neurotic, frigid, anorexic, and peripatetic Elisabeth (better known as Sisi), a former duchess in Bavaria from the Wittelsbach dynasty—known for its nutjobs like Mad King Ludwig II.
Archduke Rudolf
Insanity did in fact run in the Wittelsbach family and Sisi feared she had passed it to her only son. But instead of keeping an eye on Rudolf, who was a sensitive child, an angsty teen, and a troubled young man—when the going got rough, the beautiful Sisi fled, unable to cope with the burdens of real life, especially parenting. She had waged war against both her domineering mother-in-law and her husband for control over her children’s education, and having finally won it, failed to maintain enough of a watchful eye. Her husband was too busy running the Austro-Hungarian Empire to concern himself with Rudolf’s dark thoughts. Besides, the two men had little in common. The father was a conservative autocrat, while the son was an anti-establishmentarian, anticlerical progressive who liked to hang around with Jewish journalists. As a consequence of their political opposition, Franz Joseph refused to give Rudolf any role in his government, denying him an “apprenticeship,” even though he would one day inherit the throne.

Bored and moody, fond of alcohol, which he may have been mixing with morphine on occasion; and already prone to the sort of morbidity that pervaded fin-de-siècle Vienna, Rudolf’s mind was primed for the Gothic romance on which he embarked in 1888 with the teenage baroness Mary Vetsera. Rudolf was married (in 1881 he’d wed Princess Stephanie, the daughter of Leopold, King of the Belgians; she bore him a daughter, Elisabeth, in 1883), and he was also carrying on an affair with a dancer named Mizzi Kaspar at the time; but it didn’t prevent him from indulging Mary’s schoolgirl crush. And evidently, Mary was willing—and passionately so—to indulge Rudolf in something that neither of his other bedfellows would consider: a suicide pact. Stephanie had been horrified when her husband had suggested it. And Mizzi had laughed at her lover. But seventeen-year-old Mary thought that it was the most romantic idea in the world.

His Wife

The date was set for January 29, 1889; the location: Rudolf’s hunting lodge, known as Mayerling. Suicide notes had been written; having been told by Rudolf just days earlier that he could never marry her, Mary was prepared to exit the world with her royal beloved, rather than endure a shadow existence with him in Austria, or marry her betrothed, the Duke of Braganza.

But something happened. Mary’s naked corpse was found on Rudolf’s bed, clutching a handkerchief and a rose, a rivulet of blood snaking down from her single head wound.
Now, it’s hard to compose yourself so artfully if you’ve shot yourself in the head. Which means Mary couldn’t have pulled the trigger herself after all—leaving us to conclude, since there was no one else in Rudolf’s bedroom that night, that what began as a double-suicide pact, became a murder-suicide.

In the predawn hours of January 30, 1889, Rudolf allegedly killed Mary Vetsera with a single shot from one of his revolvers, placing the long-stemmed rose in her pale hands, which already clasped a white handkerchief. But when it came to offing himself, Rudolf apparently hesitated, sitting for hours on the edge of the mattress, fortifying himself with brandy, and finally using a looking glass (some biographers claim that he rolled a standing cheval mirror beside the bed; others believe he employed a hand mirror) so that he could most accurately aim the deadly shot.

Although most of the suicide letters had been written before the doomed couple arrived at Mayerling, one, written by Rudolf, was penned sometime that night. It may even have been written after Mary Vetsera’s death because it contains the admission “I have no right to go on living; I have killed.” And yet, if he and Mary had forged a premeditated suicide pact, what did he mean? Had the original intention of the plot been for Mary to kill herself and for Rudolf to follow suit—a double suicide after all? It was easy to scribble maudlin, moonstruck meditations on the subject of suicide; but as she held a gun to her temple, was she too terrified to do the deed; and had Rudolf then done the job for her—which had never been part of the plan? With a rose and handkerchief clasped poetically in her pale hands, had she in fact begged him to kill her because she didn’t fear dying—but couldn’t bring herself to pull the trigger?

Was that what the imperial family became so eager to subvert: their son’s confession, written to his mother, that he had murdered Mary Vetsera? It was scandalous enough that the married crown prince had been found dead in the company of an equally dead (not to mention, naked) girl. The only thing that could have been worse was that he had murdered the woman.
Archduke Rudolf's Funeral
What really happened that night at Mayerling remains one of history’s mysteries. Because the Hapsburgs were so keen to hush it up, several conspiracy theories subsequently arose, which I discuss in my chapter on Rudolf in ROYAL PAINS. I don’t believe any of them. I am convinced that a double-suicide pact went awry in the middle of the night, because poor Mary, when faced with the actuality of the deed, with a cold pistol in her hands, couldn’t pull the trigger. And yet I do believe that she didn’t fear death itself and that she felt that she and Rudolf would be in a better place together. Did Mary’s sudden act of cowardice (for lack of a better word) turn Rudolf into a murderer? Was the entire pact in and of itself madness?

What are your thoughts? And what do you imagine ran through Rudolf’s head as he pulled the trigger—first on Mary, and hours later, on himself? Or do you think he didn’t do it at all, and believe one of the conspiracy theories?

You can learn more about Leslie and her books by visiting her website.

Copyright © 2011 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. Ooohmygod! This is so lurid, I can't believe it's true! Gah, I love history. What a chilling guest post -- I need to get my hands on this book!

  2. Great guest post! Very well-written and interesting to read.

  3. As you say, we will never know for certain what really happened.
    I think poor little Mary couldn't pull the trigger, be it cowardice or a physical lack really doesn't matter. She may have feared she would not do it correctly and just injure herself causing pain and not death. I can imagine her begging him to help her so they could go together, closing her eyes and waiting for him to complete the chore.
    As for Rudolf, I think the enormity of what the had planned probably didn't hit him until after he had pulled the trigger for her. Remorse, regret, uncertainty, a feeling of inevitability to follow her very likely all assailed him in those final hours.

    I have the first two books in this series and look forward to this one.

  4. Audra - I know! It is so chilling to just think about.

    Librarypat - I couldn't agree with you more!


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