Outings | Stories

Mayerling – walk and secrets of emperor’s family

January 9, 2019

In the last couple of days Austria is experiencing a really heavy snowfall. Vienna, however, resists and continues to be grey and wet. There aren’t many things worse then cleaning a dog covered in mud, so we decided to look for a place with snow. This time we decided for Mayerling. 

It is located not even 30 minutes drive from Vienna direction Graz. You can park comfortably in front of the old hunting palace. From there just go direction Alland and take a first left. If just after the bridge you take a left and left you can walk on the bicycle/walking path along Schwechat. On your left you will see nearly endless fields.

Now, I am going to admit to a bit of a wrongdoing. Officially there are signs saying dogs are to be leashed. However there was not a single soul out there and Badi is well trained so we decided to disobey and let him run freely. Wind was very cold and snow rather sharp so we did not walk very far but Badi seemed quite pleased. We saw some people horseback riding, some people attempting at a walk and failing miserably (similarly to us), and besides that – absolute silence and peace. Everyone we met was really friendly and smiling. I am just guessing this path can be quite popular with more friendly weather around.

This is however only one of the options. Fields are pretty accessible. I guess in less snowy weather you can figure out the paths going trough them. We were met with a pretty much white all over the place. We definitely want to come back.

When nature and mistresses are not enough

As we were walking along Schwechat we found out that this is a village where prince Rudolf von Habsburg, son of Franz Josef, committed suicide. Or did he?
Rudolf was much less conservative than his father. Relationship with his mother was rather strained too, as she was far more interested in traveling to England and hunting. Not to mention she was also quite cuckoo herself. On top of that he suffered from neurasthenia. In 1881 he married Pricess Stéphanie of Belgium, a daughter of King Leopold II. 2 years later their daughter was born, yet the couple pretty much drifted apart. So of course Rudolf found solace in drinking, morphine, and female companionship. Comes 1887, prince (29 at the time) bought Mayerling and made himself a hunting lodge there. Year later, during a horse-race, he met the 17-year-old Baroness Marie Vetsera. She fell madly in love with him, and he was quite smitten with her. As you can expect, Franz Josef wasn’t too happy about this development and requested the affair to end. So the lovers reacted accordingly: they came up with a suicide pact. Rudolf shot his mistress in the head and after that killed himself. To keep appearances Rudolf was declared to have been in a state of “mental unbalance” – only that way he could have been buried in the Imperial Crypt. Marie’s body was smuggled out of Mayerling and buried secretly in Heiligenkreuz. Mayerling was converted into a penitential convent of Carmelite nuns. You might find it quite funny that the chapel is located in former bedroom and the altar is exactly where the bed was located.

Is it really what happened?

That’s where the story could end, but! We all love mysteries and secret theories, don’t we? Rumours say the couple has been murdered as to silence Rudolf. He apparently refused to take part in a French plot to depose his pro-German father and take control as a pro-French and more liberal Austrian emperor.

Things got even more interesting in 1992 when the remains of Baronessa Vetsera were stolen from the cemetery. After they have been tracked down, the police asked the Viennese Medical Institute for an examination. They did confirm police had the correct remains, however there was no bullet hole. If anything, evidence suggested Baronessa received a series of violent blows to the head. More or less in the same time the remains of the prince were examined and apparently his body showed evidence of a violent struggle. Also, all six bullets had been fired from a gun that did not belong to the prince.
Let’s add even more fuel to the fire. On the 31st July 2015 the Austrian National Library issued copies of Vetsera’s farewell letters to her mother and other relatives. The letters quite clearly stated that she was preparing to commit suicide “out of love”.

And the truth?

It is impossible to figure out what has really happened, but I think it is part of the charm. It must have been rather hard for the emperor to say that his own son was crazy enough to kill his mistress and also himself. Had there been any way to claim a third party has murdered the two it probably would have been the official response from the emperor. I mean, no father likes to say that his own son was mad, or?

After Rudolf’s death, the marriage of Franz Josef and Elisabeth collapsed. Archduke Karl Ludwig, eldest surviving brother of Franz Josef was the new heir. After his death, his oldest son, Archduke Franz Ferdinand became heir presumptive. And then he was killed in 1914, but that is a different story…
Ultimately, the throne went to Franz Josef’s grandnephew, Karl. He became an emperor in 1916, the last one to rule Austria.