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Rudolf. Crown Prince and Rebel

Translation of the New and Revised Edition, «Kronprinz Rudolf. Ein Leben» (Amalthea, 2005)

Brigitte Hamann

Brigitte Hamann portrays Rudolf von Habsburg, Crown Prince of Austria, as a liberal intellectual who stood in opposition to his father Emperor Franz Josef and the imperial establishment. Against the prevailing currents of his time, Rudolf wanted to modernize the Habsburg Empire by abolishing the privileges of the aristocracy. He vehemently opposed nationalism and anti-Semitism and fought for liberalism and democracy and the rights of the minorities within the multinational Empire. His political goal was a United Europe of liberal states. For a long time, Crown Prince Rudolf was known mainly in connection with his suicide at Mayerling with Baroness Mary Vetsera. However, the Mayerling tragedy may be seen as the last consequence of living without any prospect of realizing his ideals.
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Chapter 11: Germany


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When Rudolf was eight years old, Austria’s dominant position in Germany was lost in the Battle of Königgrätz. When he was thirteen, Austria for a short time contemplated revenge and considered intervening in the Franco-Prussian War on the side of France. The fast victories of the Prussian army annihilated all hope. In Versailles, the Prussian king became a German emperor, claiming the leading position in Europe, which was noted by the Austrian Imperial House with anything but amity.

In order to avoid a French-Austrian alliance, Bismarck made efforts to improve the relationship between the new German Empire and the old Habsburg Empire. The thirteen-year-old Crown Prince, however, commented on the first visit of Wilhelm I in Austria in 1871 with veritable torrents of hate.

At the Congress of Berlin in 1878, Bismarck gave Austria-Hungary the right to occupy the former Turkish provinces Bosnia and Herzegovina, skillfully diverting the Habsburg Empire from a Western-oriented politics (threatening Germany) to unpredictable struggles in the Balkans. The less than honest ulterior motives of the “honest broker” were not perceived in Vienna. In 1878, Bismarck wrote:

It is not in the German interest to establish a lasting peace in the East, since—given our geographic location—the great powers, all of which hate us, are seeking a rallying point against Germany and would find it, as soon as their hands were free. Within a short time, Austria could experience a change in government and...

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