The Mayerling Mystery — Michael Rose 15th — June 2015.

If you like mys­tery stor­ies –dark nights, isol­ated houses, dodgy characters- and  having your ima­gin­a­tion tickled, this story had the lot. One of our mem­bers, Michael Rose, kept us spell­bound as he out­lined the plot set in 1889 in a time and place of which we knew little.

On the 30th of January that fate­ful year the mutil­ated bodies of Crown Prince Rudolf, the 30 year old heir to the throne of the Austria-Hungarian Empire and Baroness Maria Vetsera, his sev­en­teen old mis­tress, were dis­covered in a ground floor bed­room in the Royal Hunting Lodge at Mayerling in a remote wooded area south west of Vienna.  Both had met with viol­ent deaths. It was no wonder the Imperial family tried to draw a veil over the affair.

The manner in which the couple died, and the sur­round­ing intrigue, has res­ul­ted in one of the great unsolved mys­ter­ies of his­tory having become the sub­ject of over twenty movies, a ballet, a musical  -includ­ing a Japanese version- and count­less art­icles and books in a dozen lan­guages. And the list still grows!

There have been many attempts –legal, forensic, and dra­matic to ‘solve’ what has become known as the Mayerling Mystery.  Michael sug­ges­ted the prot­ag­on­ists fell into two main groups: -did the not so happy couple die in a sui­cide pact, motiv­ated by the fear that they would be forced to part?  Or was it a planned murder, driven by the work of darker forces? Our Lawyer speaker invited us to wit­ness this debate which, typ­ical of such stor­ies, raised more ques­tions than sat­is­fact­ory answers.

Like a Jury, we were asked to con­sider the evid­ence and the con­tex­tual back­ground. Was Rudolf killed because he was plot­ting the over­throw of his father, Emperor Franz-Joseph?  Apparently they did not get on, the elder favour­ing to con­tinue inde­pend­ence from, and the younger, closer rela­tions with the ascend­ing Germany.  What could have been revealed in the black box full of encryp­ted papers?  Was Johann Loschek, the Prince’s loyal valet and the first to find the bodies at 06.55 pre­cisely, telling the truth?  Was Marie Larisch, the Prince’s all-seeing and all hear­ing cousin and con­fid­ante, a reli­able source for all the inform­a­tion she dis­closes?  Why have all the police files dis­ap­peared?  What role, if any, did Dr Karl Graves, a sup­posed Master Spy, have in influ­en­cing events? Did a carpenter’s son have the real solu­tion? And why, after WW2 were the Russians so inter­ested?  As for the journ­al­ists, they were never to let the facts-if known- spoil a good story!

What we do know is that Rudolf’s life, like many Hapsburgs, was influ­enced by people of doubt­ful wisdom and motiv­a­tion.  The family had a his­tory of mental ill­ness and obses­sions.  It was clear from his Army ser­vice the Prince was unre­li­able and prone to extreme mood swings.  Leaving the Army at his father’s insist­ence his  son had noth­ing worth­while to do.  Rudolf became a ser­i­ous woman­iser –a trait noted when he vis­ited Queen Victoria at Windsor when Edward found he had a com­pet­itor!  Rudolf’s taste in women ranged from street pros­ti­tutes to wives of aris­to­crats, one of whom had chil­dren by four men.  Such liais­ons rarely lasted long and were sub­ject to rapid turnover but gen­er­ously rewarded- the wages of sin might amount to a town or coun­try house! His rela­tion­ship with Maria Vetsara had lasted around 12 months.  Her time was more than up. Unable to think of another way of dis­en­gage­ment could Rudolf have killed her and then com­mit­ted sui­cide?

The story was not end with those gory deaths in 1889. In 1928 Loschek, the valet, changed his story admit­ting he had heard shots at 06.55 fol­low­ing a fierce argu­ment between Rudolf and Maria.  In 1949 Maria’s (who had been denied a Catholic funeral and burial while Rudolf went to the Royal Mausoleum) remains turned up 150 miles away in Linz. She was rebur­ied in a marked grave but not allowed to rest ,  her remains being forensic­ally examined –all inconclusively- no less than three times (the latest in 1991).

What is clear is that the story will con­tinue to run if not in fact, cer­tainly in the ima­gin­a­tion.  Like the many books and films it inspired, the mys­tery behind this drama will con­tinue to niggle the curi­ous seek­ing the truth.

Thank you, Michael, for such an enter­tain­ing morn­ing!