Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria

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For the friend and patron of Beethoven, see Archduke Rudolf of Austria (1788–1831).
Archduke Rudolf
Crown Prince of Austria;
Prince Royal of Hungary and Bohemia
Spouse Stéphanie of Belgium
Issue Elisabeth Marie of Austria
Full name
Rudolf Franz Karl Joseph
House Habsburg-Lorraine
Father Francis Joseph I
Mother Elisabeth in Bayern
Born (1858-08-21)21 August 1858
Laxenburg, Austria
Died 30 January 1889(1889-01-30) (aged 30)
Mayerling, Austria-Hungary
Burial Imperial Crypt, Vienna
Religion Roman Catholic

Rudolf (21 August 1858 – 30 January 1889), who was Archduke of Austria and Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary, was the heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian Empire from birth. In 1889, he died in a suicide pact with his mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera, at the Mayerling hunting lodge. The ensuing scandal made international headlines and remains a cause of speculation more than a century later.


Rudolf was born at Schloss Laxenburg,[1] a castle near Vienna, as the son of Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth. Influenced by his tutor Ferdinand von Hochstetter (who later became the first superintendent of the Imperial Natural History Museum), Rudolf became very interested in natural sciences, starting a mineral collection at an early age.[1] (After his death, large portions of his mineral collection came into the possession of the University for Agriculture in Vienna.[1])

Rudolf was raised together with his older sister Gisela and the two were very close. At the age of six, Rudolf was separated from his sister as he began his education to become a future emperor. This did not change their relationship and Gisela remained close to him until she left Vienna upon her marriage to Prince Leopold of Bavaria.

In contrast with his deeply conservative father, Rudolf held liberal views, that were closer to those of his mother.[2] Nevertheless his relationship with her was, at times, strained.[2]


In Vienna, on 10 May 1881, Rudolf married Princess Stéphanie of Belgium, a daughter of King Leopold II of the Belgians, at the Augustinian's Church in Vienna. By the time their only child, the Archduchess Elisabeth, was born on 2 September 1883, the couple had drifted apart, and he found solace in drink and other female companionship. Rudolf started having many affairs, and wanted to write to Pope Leo XIII about the possibility of annulling his marriage to Stéphanie, but the Emperor forbade it.[2]

Affairs and suicide[edit]

Main article: Mayerling Incident

In 1887, Rudolf bought Mayerling hunting lodge. In late 1888, the 30-year-old crown prince met the 17-year-old Baroness Marie Vetsera, known by the more fashionable Anglophile name Mary, and began an affair with her.[3] According to official reports their deaths were a result of Franz Joseph's demand that the couple end the relationship: the Crown Prince, as part of a suicide pact, first shot his mistress in the head and then himself. Rudolf was officially declared to have been in a state of "mental unbalance" in order to enable Christian burial in the Imperial Crypt (Kapuzinergruft) of the Capuchin Church in Vienna. Mary's body was smuggled out of Mayerling in the middle of the night and secretly buried in the village cemetery at Heiligenkreuz. After the deaths, the Emperor had Mayerling converted into a penitential convent of Carmelite nuns. Today prayers are still said daily by the nuns for the repose of Rudolf's soul.[3]

Austrian Royalty
House of Habsburg-Lorraine
Imperial Coat of Arms of the Empire of Austria (1815).svg

Francis I
(Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor)
Children include
   Archduchess Marie Louise
   Ferdinand I
   Archduchess Maria Leopoldina
   Archduchess Clementina
   Archduke Franz Karl
Grandchildren include
   Franz Joseph I
   Archduke Maximilian
   Archduke Karl Ludwig
   Archduke Ludwig Viktor
Great-grandchildren include
   Archduke Franz Ferdinand
   Archduke Otto Franz
Ferdinand I
Franz Joseph I
   Archduchess Sophie
   Archduchess Gisela
   Crown Prince Rudolf
   Archduchess Marie Valerie
Grandchildren include
   Archduchess Elisabeth Marie
Charles I
Children include
   Crown Prince Otto
   Archduke Robert
   Archduke Felix
   Archduke Karl Ludwig
   Archduke Rudolf
Grandchildren include
   Archduchess Andrea
   Archduchess Monika
   Archduchess Michaela
   Archduchess Gabriela
   Archduchess Walburga
   Archduke Karl
   Archduke Georg
   Archduke Lorenz
Great-Grandchildren include
   Archduke Ferdinand Zvonimir
   Archduke Amedeo

Impact of Rudolf's death[edit]

Rudolf's death plunged his mother into despair. She wore black or pearl grey, the colours of mourning, for the rest of her life and spent more and more time away from the imperial court in Vienna. Empress Elisabeth was murdered while abroad in Geneva in Switzerland in 1898 by Italian anarchist, Luigi Lucheni.[4]

After Rudolf's death, his uncle, Franz Joseph's younger brother, Archduke Karl Ludwig, was next in the line of succession to the Austrian, Bohemian, Croatian and Hungarian thrones.[5] A few days after Rudolf's death, Karl Ludwig was falsely reported to have renounced his succession rights;[6] but in any case, his death in 1896 made his oldest son, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir presumptive. In 1914 Franz Ferdinand's assassination sparked a chain of events that caused the dynasty's collapse, instability within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and World War I. Emperor Franz Joseph died in November 1916, twenty years after his younger brother, and because of Rudolf's and Franz Ferdinand's deaths, was succeeded by his grandnephew, Emperor Karl I of Austria, who reigned until the overthrow of the monarchy on November 11, 1918.[4]

In film and theatre[edit]

  • The musical Marinka (1945), book by George Marion, Jr., and Karl Farkas, lyrics by George Marion, Jr., music by Emmerich Kalman
  • Japanese Takarazuka Revue's "Utakata no Koi"/"Ephemeral Love" (based on Mayerling) revolves around Rudolph and Marie Vetsera.
  • Requiem for a Crown Prince, fourth episode of the British documentary/drama series Fall of Eagles (1974), about the collapse of the Romanov, Habsburg and Hohenzollern dynasties. Directed by James Furman and written by David Turner, the 60-minute episode tracks in detail the events of Wednesday, 30 January 1889, at Mayerling as well as the following few days - The discovery of the dead bodies, the breaking of news to Rudolf's family, the desperate attempts to cover up, what really happened - even to the Emperor and Empress - and the secret smuggling of Mary Vetsera's body away from Mayerling before scandal can erupt.
  • Miklós Jancsó's 1975 film Vizi Privati, Publiche Virtù (Private Vices, Public Virtues) is a daring reinterpretation of the Mayerling incident, in which the lovers and their friends are murdered by imperial authorities for plotting the Emperor's overthrow and for gross immorality and Mary Vetsera was portrayed as a hermaphrodite, which has no basis in history.
  • Rudolf also appears as a character in the musical Elisabeth (1992) and in Lillie, Granada TV's dramatisation of the life of Victorian society beauty, Lillie Langtry.
  • Japanese manga by Higuri You named "Tenshi no Hitsugi" (Angel's Coffin) (2000). Based on of his life and his mistress Mary Vetsera.
  • The Crown Prince (de), film directed by Robert Dornhelm (2006) in two parts. Historical adviser: Brigitte Hamann. Here, the love story and the conflict between father and son are embedded in the general political situation of the time in Central Europe.
  • Frank Wildhorn's new musical Rudolf centers around Crown Prince Rudolf. It premiered at the Operetta Theatre in Budapest in 2006 and ran for three years. The Vienna production opened 26 February 2009 at the Raimund Theatre.
  • The play Rudolf (2011) by David Logan dramatises the last few weeks of the life of Crown Prince Rudolf and features his relationship with his parents Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth as well as his wife Crown Princess Stephanie, his cousins Marie Larisch and Archduke Johan Salvator and his two mistresses Mary Vetsera and Mitzi Caspar.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Crown Prince Rudolf (1858-1889)" (museum notes), Natural History Museum of Vienna, 2006, NHM-Wien-Rudolfe.
  2. ^ a b c "Young Wilhelm". Retrieved 27 January 2015. 
  3. ^ a b "Heritage History - Homeschool History Curriculum - Elizabeth - Empress of Austria by George Upton". Retrieved 27 January 2015. 
  4. ^ a b "European royalty Austria: Crown Prince Rudolf". Retrieved 27 January 2015. 
  5. ^ "Carl Menger's Lectures to Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria". Retrieved 27 January 2015. 
  6. ^ "The Crown Prince’s Successor". New York Times. 2 February 1889. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Barkeley, Richard. The Road to Mayerling: Life and Death of Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria. London: Macmillan, 1958.
  • Franzel, Emil. Crown Prince Rudolph and the Mayerling Tragedy: Fact and Fiction. Vienna : V. Herold, 1974.
  • Hamann, Brigitte. Kronprinz Rudolf: Ein Leben. Wien: Amalthea, 2005, ISBN 3-85002-540-3.
  • Listowel, Judith Márffy-Mantuano Hare, Countess of. A Habsburg Tragedy: Crown Prince Rudolf. London: Ascent Books, 1978.
  • Lonyay, Károly. Rudolph: The Tragedy of Mayerling. New York: Scribner, 1949.
  • Morton, Frederic. A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888/1889. Penguin 1979
  • Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria. Majestät, ich warne Sie... Geheime und private Schriften. Edited by Brigitte Hamann. Wien: Amalthea, 1979, ISBN 3-85002-110-6 (reprinted München: Piper, 1998, ISBN 3-492-20824-X).
  • Salvendy, John T. Royal Rebel: A Psychological Portrait of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1988.

External links[edit]

Media related to Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria at Wikimedia Commons

Rudolf von Habsburg-Lorraine
Cadet branch of the House of Habsburg
Born: 21 August 1858 Died: 30 January 1889
Austro-Hungarian royalty
Preceded by
Ferdinand Maximilian
Heir to the Austrian throne
21 August 1858 – 30 January 1889
Succeeded by
Karl Ludwig