Saturday, 31 January 2009

The Mayerling Affair (part 2)

Prince Rudolf's last known photograph is quite depressing. It shows him, expressionless, somewhere in the Vienna Woods, gazing without emotion directly into the camera; an unlit Turkish cigarette hangs from his mouth. He is wrapped-up against the January cold in his fur-lined coat and cossack hat. The road to Mayerling is covered with ice. The days are short.
What's going through his mind? Perhaps he thinking about the blazing argument with his father, Kaiser Franz Joseph, and the Kaiser's last words, the dressing-down may still be ringing in his ears: You are not fit to be the heir to my throne! Or maybe, he's thinking about his favourite painting, an Albert Smith (1848) Three Sailing Ships Approaching the Rocks. Or perhaps of the first stag he shot in Ischl's Jainzer woodland at the age of eight. Or maybe of the evening to come, of his suicide plan; and if he could indeed go through with it when the moment came?

One man who might know the answers is the faithful servant Johann Loschek. He will sleep alone in the next room to the Crown Prince, only an inner wall and a door between them. He will hear every sound. He will be aware that Rudolf's mistress will be spending the night with him, in the room which has only one bed. He will hear their voices through the wall. But, the secretive Loschek will never divulge the nature and content of their conversation; never reveal the overheard phrases and words. In fact what he finally says will be so confusing and unreliable that it will throw many off the scent.

The official version will be in the special editions of the following day's newspapers. Crown Prince Rudolf suffered a heart attack at his Mayerling Hunting Lodge in the Vienna Woods. End.

But the authorities were soon forced to retract. Kaiser Franz Joseph was informed of the 'truth'. At 6am on 30th January Rudolf had killed Baroness Mary Vetsera by shooting her through the head with his own revolver. The revolver which he kept on his desk next to his human skull, his dead sparrow paperweight and his box of Turkish cigarettes. He had then turned gun on himself. Two shots. Two deaths. At first the Kaiser refused to believe it. But finally he broke down and wept. Of course Rudolf's body was quickly brought to Vienna and the appropriate funeral arrangements were made. It was obviously a hunting accident that had taken place at Mayerling.

But what of the young Baroness? It would be shortly before midnight on the 31st January before her body arrived in Vienna. It was taken to an outlying district of the city and the following day at 10am was quickly buried. The circumstances of its transport to Vienna are bizarre to say the least. The body was washed and dressed in outdoor winter clothes; coat, shoes, hat and so on. It was then seated in a carriage in an upright position to give the appearance of a living person and then driven under cover of darkness to Vienna.

The Neue Frei Presse, Austria's most reputable newspaper at the time, ran the scoop. But all copies were seized by the authorities before they could go on general sale. To find out what was going on many Austrians requested contacts in Germany to send newspapers to Austria under plain cover. The cat was out of the bag. Or was it?
There was the little matter of the two hours delay in breaking down the door if we are to believe Johann Loshek's version of events. Loschek claims that the fatal shots were fired at 5.50am. He tried to open the doors to the room. They were both locked from the inside. It was after 8.00am before he finally broke down the door and entered. So what was he doing all this time. It seems he was sleeping in a chair outside the door, guarding the scene as it were.

Is it possible that the couple were murdered as claimed by Lord Salisbury, the British Prime Minister? Salisbury is certain that Rudolf and the young lady were murdered: the Prince of Wales to Queen Victoria.
Certainly it's feasible. One could lie on one's back and slide under the heavy wooden bed and wait for the bed's occupants to fall asleep. It would then be a simple matter to shoot the couple, and if prince's own revolver was to hand so much the better. Next, place the revolver near Rudolf's hand and return to the hiding place. Anyone coming into the room to investigate the shots would immediately deduce that it was a suicide pact. It would be unlikely that the first person on the scene would get down on his hands and knees and peer candle in hand into the dark space beneath the bed. It is, admittedly, an unlikely scenario but it is one that can't be completely ruled out.

On 22nd December 1992 the newspapers led with a sensational story: Mary Vetsera Stolen from her Grave was one headline. It seems that not everyone is convinced of the third official version of events.

Archduke Karl Ludwig: The truth is so terrible that no-one can speak of it!

2 comments:

greg rappleye said...

Interesting. I take it that the plot to "The Illusionist" was based on this incident.

Poet in Residence said...

Gerg, Unfortunately I don't know the story of "The Illusionist" but certainly the Mayerling Affair must be a veritable treasure trove for plot-seekers.
It's an interesting coincidence that the new post immediately above Mayerling (2) mentions Victor Hugo, a writer who was a great influence on Rudolf, and was one of the many authors that the young prince was banned from reading. Presumably he'd have to study Hugo and others in secret, lest the Kaiser - a man who never read a book in his life unless it was a military manual - find out. Rudolf, as we now know, was forced to publish his own writings anonymously.