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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 15: Reactions


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The secret of a second body at Mayerling was kept officially until the end of the monarchy in 1918. However, in actuality, rumors about the death of the girl already circulated in Vienna before Rudolf’s entombment. The diary of the Viennese Baron Dr. Joseph Alexander von Helfert, who was not closely connected to the Court, illustrates this point. He already noted on February 3rd: “During the night preceding the 30th, a female body was buried in Heiligenkreuz. It was not a lady from high society, who will be missed.” In addition, he had heard that for some time already, the Crown Princess had not allowed her husband to enter her bedroom and that he had to live “like a garçon,” [i.e., like a bachelor]. Furthermore, Rudolf had landed on his head when he had fallen from his horse, “a pony at that, which annoyed him the most!” Since then, he had suffered from intense headaches.

On February 5th, he already knew more: “It was young Vecsera [sic], Mary, a pretty, passionate girl, from a gypsy family! He is said to have convinced her and she convinced him to die!” Helfert’s wife, like many other people from Vienna, made a special trip to the Vetsera Palais, in order to find out details—of course, without success, since the house was locked and the neighbors did not talk.

In the course of the next few weeks, Helfert constantly noted new, more and more bizarre...

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