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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 13: The Road to Mayerling


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The disappointments and setbacks of the years 1887 and 1888 had such a catastrophic effect, because Rudolf lost more and more of his strength as a result of illness. He was afraid to admit his weakness and fulfilled his military service in any wind and weather on his strenuous travels. On the side, he worked—as always—on his political plans and his extensive correspondence. That left him barely three to five hours of sleep daily. By all accounts, everyone around him was in total agreement about this. His fear of the overwhelmingly powerful father was so great that he did not dare ask him for special consideration. At times of depression and anxiety, he used morphium, alcohol, and women as an intoxicant to flee a dreary reality. With that, he only made his misery worse.

For a time, he still found relaxation in nature. For days and nights on end, during forays into the Danube meadows—often with only one companion—he lost his fear, which haunted him in the Vienna Hofburg [Imperial Castle] like a somber shadow. In February 1888, he incurred a contagious eye infection, which made even hunting impossible. On his travels, meanwhile, Rudolf was accompanied by a doctor—not the Imperial personal physician, Dr. Widerhofer, or his own physician, Dr. Auchenthaler, but rather Dr. Johann Lanyi, staff surgeon and specialist for venereal diseases. The usual mercury cures were applied. It is characteristic for the secrecy surrounding the Crown Prince that...

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