In the early morning of January 30, 1889, Crown Prince Rudolf Franz Karl Joseph of the Habsburg-Lorraine line of monarchs allegedly shot himself in the head. History records his death as a murder-suicide pact with his lover, Baroness Mary Vetsera, who was found naked and dead on the bed next to the Prince.
He was thirty years old, and she was only seventeen, but history records the tragedy as the result of forbidden love. Did the heir to the Austrian Empire really commit suicide?
Suicide or Murder Cover-Up?
The murder-suicide was only one of several theories about what took place. Given the political intrigue that occupied the hearts and minds of late nineteenth-century European rulers, the more likely cause of death was something nefarious.
The Prince was the most liberal-minded future monarch alive in Europe, a real progressive ahead of his time, which caused many of his contemporaries to wish him dead. Also, he was a philanderer, seeing and sleeping with at least two other women while sleeping with the Baroness.
The official cover-up began with the press claiming the Prince died of a heart attack, contrary to an eyewitness who claimed the Prince had taken cyanide.
The government locked away all official accounts of the Mayerling incident except suicide notes written by the lover to their families. However, no one really believes those suicide notes are real.
The Prince’s Unintentional Impact On WW1
Had Prince Rudolf Franz Karl Joseph lived, modern European borders would likely be very different.
Only a few short decades later, an assassination lit the fuse for the First World War explosion. Historians further speculate that had Rudolf lived, the ArchDuke would not have been assassinated, and WW1 would not have commenced.