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Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria

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Crown Prince of Austria
Prince Royal of Hungary and Bohemia
Rudolf in 1887
Born(1858-08-21)21 August 1858
Schloss Laxenburg, Laxenburg, Lower Austria, Austrian Empire
Died30 January 1889(1889-01-30) (aged 30)
Mayerling, Lower Austria, Austria-Hungary
(m. 1881)
IssueElisabeth Marie, Princess Otto of Windisch-Graetz
German: Rudolf Franz Karl Josef
English: Rudolph Francis Charles Joseph
FatherFranz Joseph I of Austria
MotherElisabeth in Bavaria
ReligionRoman Catholicism
SignatureRudolf's signature

Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria (Rudolf Franz Karl Josef; 21 August 1858 – 30 January 1889) was the only son and third child of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria and Duchess Elisabeth of Bavaria (Sisi). He was heir apparent to the imperial throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire from birth. In 1889, he died in a suicide pact with his mistress Mary Vetsera at the Mayerling hunting lodge.[1] The ensuing scandal made international headlines.


Wedding medal 1881 by Tautenhayn, obverse
The reverse of this wedding medal showing Hymen the god of marriage
Portrait by Eugen Felix
Garter encircled arms of Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria

Rudolf was born at Schloss Laxenburg,[2] a castle near Vienna, as the son of Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth. He was named after the first Habsburg King of Germany, Rudolf I, who reigned from 1273 to 1291.[3] 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 of Austria. This did not change their relationship and Gisela remained close to him until she left Vienna upon her marriage to Prince Leopold of Bavaria. Rudolf's initial education under Leopold Gondrecourt was physically and emotionally abusive, and likely a cause of his later suicide.[4]

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.[2] After his death, large portions of his mineral collection came into the possession of the University of Agriculture in Vienna, which is now known as the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna[2]

In 1877, the Count of Bombelles was master of the young prince. Bombelles had been the custodian of Rudolf's aunt Empress Charlotte of Mexico.[5]

In contrast with his deeply conservative father, Rudolf held liberal views that were closer to those of his mother. Nevertheless, his relationship with her was at times strained.[6]


In Vienna, on 10 May 1881, Rudolf married Princess Stéphanie of Belgium, a daughter of King Leopold II of Belgium, at the Augustinian Church in Vienna. Although their marriage was initially a happy one, by the time their only child, the Archduchess Elisabeth, was born on 2 September 1883, the couple had drifted apart.

After the birth of their child, Rudolf became increasingly unstable as he drank heavily and was having many affairs. This behaviour, however, was not entirely new as Rudolf had a long history of reckless promiscuity prior to his marriage.[7]

In 1886, Rudolf became seriously ill and the couple was directed to the island of Lacroma (present day Croatia) for his treatment. In transit, Stéphanie also became seriously ill and described "suffering terrible pain". The couple's diagnosis of peritonitis was kept secret by order of the Emperor. [8]

After intensive treatment, Stéphanie was able to recover from the illness but she was left unable to have children as the illness had destroyed her fallopian tubes. [9] Stéphanie's symptoms and outcome indicate Rudolf had most likely infected her with gonorrhoea. Rudolf himself did not improve with treatment and grew increasingly ill. It is likely he had contracted syphilis in addition to gonorrhoea. In order to cope with the effects of the disease, Rudolf began taking large doses of morphine.[10]

By 1889, it was common knowledge at Court that Stéphanie would not have any more children due to the events of 1886, and that Rudolf's health was deteriorating.


In 1886, Rudolf bought Mayerling, a hunting lodge.[11] In late 1888, the 30-year-old Crown Prince met the 17-year-old Freiin (Baroness) Marie von Vetsera, known by the more fashionable Anglophile name Mary, and began an affair with her.[12] On 30 January 1889, he and the young Baroness were discovered dead in the lodge as a result of an apparent joint suicide. As suicide would prevent him from being given a church burial, Rudolf was officially declared to have been in a state of "mental unbalance", and he was buried in the Imperial Crypt (Kapuzinergruft) of the Capuchin Church in Vienna. Vetsera's body was smuggled out of Mayerling in the middle of the night and secretly buried in the village cemetery at Heiligenkreuz.[11][13] The Emperor had Mayerling converted into a penitential convent of Carmelite nuns and endowed a chantry so that daily prayers would eternally be said by the nuns for the repose of Rudolf's soul.[14]

Vetsera's private letters were discovered in a safe deposit box in an Austrian bank in 2015, and they revealed that she was preparing to commit suicide alongside Rudolf, out of love.[15]

Aftermath of death[edit]

Rudolf's death plunged his mother, Empress Elisabeth, 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. Her daughter Gisela was afraid that she might also commit suicide.[16] In 1898, while Elisabeth was abroad in Geneva, Switzerland, she was murdered by an Italian anarchist, Luigi Lucheni.[17]

Rudolf's death had left Franz Joseph without a direct male heir. Franz-Joseph's younger brother, Archduke Karl Ludwig, was next in line to the Austro-Hungarian throne,[18] though it was falsely reported that he had renounced his succession rights.[19] In any case, his death in 1896 from typhoid made his eldest son, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the new heir presumptive. However, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in 1914 (an event that precipitated World War I), so when Emperor Franz-Joseph died in November 1916, he was succeeded instead by his grandnephew, Charles I of Austria. The demands of the American President, Woodrow Wilson[citation needed] forced Emperor Charles I to renounce involvement in state affairs in Vienna in early November 1918. As a result, the Austro-Hungarian Empire ceased to exist and a republic came into being without revolution. Charles I and his family went into exile in Switzerland after spending a short time at Castle Eckartsau.

In popular culture[edit]

Titles, styles and honours[edit]

Titles and styles[edit]

  • 21 August 1858 – 30 January 1889: His Imperial and Royal Highness The Crown Prince of Austria, Hungary, Bohemia and Croatia[21]





See also[edit]


  1. ^ As documented in several autograph letters by the two unfortunate lovers ANSA newsbrief (in Italian)
  2. ^ a b c "Crown Prince Rudolf (1858–1889)" (museum notes), Natural History Museum of Vienna, 2006, NHM-Wien-Rudolfe.
  3. ^ Timothy Snyder (2008) 'The Red Prince, p.9. ISBN 978-0-465-00237-5
  4. ^ Coatman, Lucy (18 March 2022). "The history behind The Scandal at Mayerling". Scottish Ballet. Retrieved 5 December 2022.
  5. ^ "Bombelles, Karl Albert Gf". 2003.
  6. ^ Röhl, John C. G. (29 October 1998). Young Wilhelm. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521497527. Retrieved 27 January 2015.
  7. ^ King & Wilson. "The Many Affairs of Crown Prince Rudolf." History Reader, 21 January 2023, https://www.thehistoryreader.com/historical-figures/the-many-affairs-of-crown-prince-rudolf/.
  8. ^ HRH Princess Stéphanie. I Was To Be Empress. Nicholson & Watson, 1937. Page 197.
  9. ^ Listowel, Judith. A Habsburg Tragedy – Crown Prince Rudolf. Ascent Books, 1978. Page 147.
  10. ^ Listowel, Judith. A Habsburg Tragedy – Crown Prince Rudolf. Ascent Books, 1978. Page 205.
  11. ^ a b Schmöckel, Sonja. "CSI Mayerling – How did the crown prince really die?". The World of the Habsburgs. Retrieved 29 January 2018.
  12. ^ Louise of Coburg, My Own Affairs, George H. Doran Co., 1921, p. 120.
  13. ^ Butkuviene, Gerda (11 March 2012). "Book Review: Myths of Mayerling". The Vienna Review. Archived from the original on 29 January 2018. Retrieved 29 January 2018.
  14. ^ BUTKUVIENE, Gerda (March 2011). "Book Review: Myths of Mayerling Crime at Mayerling. The Life and Death of Mary Vetsera, by Georg Markus; The Habsburgs' Tragedy, by Leo Belmonto". Falter.at.
  15. ^ Press release Archived 31 July 2015 at the Wayback Machine from the Austrian National Library, 31 July 2015 (German)
  16. ^ Coatman, Lucy (27 January 2022). "Mater Dolorosa: Elisabeth in the Aftermath of Mayerling". Team Queens. Retrieved 5 December 2022.
  17. ^ "European royalty Austria: Crown Prince Rudolf". Retrieved 27 January 2015.
  18. ^ Menger, Carl (January 1994). Carl Menger's Lectures to Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria. Edward Elgar. ISBN 9781781008065. Retrieved 27 January 2015.
  19. ^ "The Crown Prince's Successor". New York Times. 2 February 1889.
  20. ^ Rudolf: A play in two acts. Brisbane Dramatic Arts Company. 2011. ISBN 9780980655100.
  21. ^ Kaiser Joseph II. harmonische Wahlkapitulation mit allen den vorhergehenden Wahlkapitulationen der vorigen Kaiser und Könige. Since 1780 official title used for princes ("zu Ungarn, Böhmen, Dalmatien, Kroatien, Slawonien, Königlicher Erbprinz")
  22. ^ a b Hof- und Staats-Handbuch der Österreichisch-Ungarischen Monarchie (1889), Genealogy pp. 1–2
  23. ^ Boettger, T. F. "Chevaliers de la Toisón d'Or – Knights of the Golden Fleece". La Confrérie Amicale. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  24. ^ "A Szent István Rend tagjai" Archived 22 December 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  25. ^ Hof- und Staats-Handbuch des Großherzogtum Baden (1876), "Großherzogliche Orden" pp. 59, 71
  26. ^ Hof- und Staatshandbuch des Königreichs Bayern: 1870. Landesamt. 1870. p. 10.
  27. ^ Koophandel (De) 6 March 1880
  28. ^ Jørgen Pedersen (2009). Riddere af Elefantordenen, 1559–2009 (in Danish). Syddansk Universitetsforlag. p. 472. ISBN 978-87-7674-434-2.
  29. ^ Staatshandbuch für das Großherzogtum Hessen und bei Rhein (1879), "Großherzogliche Orden und Ehrenzeichen ", p. 12
  30. ^ Italia : Ministero dell'interno (1884). Calendario generale del Regno d'Italia. Unione tipografico-editrice. p. 48.
  31. ^ Membership of the Constantinian Order Archived 21 September 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  32. ^ 刑部芳則 (2017). 明治時代の勲章外交儀礼 (PDF) (in Japanese). 明治聖徳記念学会紀要. p. 143.
  33. ^ "Seccion IV: Ordenes del Imperio", Almanaque imperial para el año 1866 (in Spanish), 1866, p. 243, retrieved 29 April 2020
  34. ^ Naser al-Din Shah Qajar (1874). "Chapter VI: Italy, Austria". The Diary of H.M. The Shah of Persia during his tour through Europe in A.D. 1873: A verbatim translation. Translated by James Redhouse. London: John Murray. p. 325.
  35. ^ "Schwarzer Adler-orden", Königlich Preussische Ordensliste (in German), vol. 1, Berlin, 1886, p. 6{{citation}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  36. ^ Staatshandbuch für das Großherzogtum Sachsen / Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach Archived 7 October 2019 at the Wayback Machine (1885), "Großherzogliche Hausorden" p. 14
  37. ^ Sachsen (1877). Staatshandbuch für den Freistaat Sachsen: 1877. Heinrich. p. 3.
  38. ^ "Real y distinguida orden de Carlos III". Guía Oficial de España (in Spanish). 1887. p. 153. Retrieved 21 March 2019.
  39. ^ Sveriges statskalender (in Swedish), 1881, p. 378, retrieved 6 January 2018 – via runeberg.org
  40. ^ Shaw, Wm. A. (1906) The Knights of England, I, London, p. 68
  41. ^ Hof- und Staats-Handbuch des Königreich Württemberg (1886/7), "Königliche Orden" p. 22
  42. ^ a b Wurzbach, Constantin von, ed. (1860). "Habsburg, Franz Joseph I." . Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich [Biographical Encyclopedia of the Austrian Empire] (in German). Vol. 6. p. 227 – via Wikisource.
  43. ^ a b Wurzbach, Constantin von, ed. (1860). "Habsburg, Elisabeth Amalia Eugenia" . Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich [Biographical Encyclopedia of the Austrian Empire] (in German). Vol. 6. p. 173 – via Wikisource.
  44. ^ a b Wurzbach, Constantin von, ed. (1860). "Habsburg, Franz Karl Joseph" . Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich [Biographical Encyclopedia of the Austrian Empire] (in German). Vol. 6. p. 257 – via Wikisource.
  45. ^ a b Wurzbach, Constantin von, ed. (1861). "Habsburg, Sophie (geb. 27. Jänner 1805)" . Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich [Biographical Encyclopedia of the Austrian Empire] (in German). Vol. 7. p. 149 – via Wikisource.
  46. ^ a b Körner, Hans-Michael (1990), "Maximilian, Herzog in Bayern (Pseudonym Phantasus)", Neue Deutsche Biographie (in German), vol. 16, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, pp. 495–496; (full text online)

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]

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