Research Notes – The Great War (5) The Suicide Pact That Changed History

I’m researching The Great War for my current work in progress: a historical novel set during that time. To write the period accurately, I’ve been reading and studying the war and the surrounding events. I hope you find these bits of information as interesting as I do. ~ Meg

Nearly 120 years after his death, Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria, son of Franz Josef and Elisabeth (of Bavaria), heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire is a mere asterisk in the history of the Great War. Nevertheless, his short but eventful life changed the face of the ruling Habsburg Dynasty and altered the path which led to the dreadful conflict 15 years after his tragic demise.

Rudolf Franz Karl Josef was born on August 21, 1858 and with his early education, began his grooming to lead the empire. Unlike his conservative father, Rudolf developed more liberal views and was intensely interested in the natural sciences, especially mineralogy. His marriage to Princess Stéphanie of Belgium was initially a happy match, but the royal couple grew distant after the birth of their only child, Elisabeth. Rudolf, a passionate man, began drinking and embarking on a number of love affairs. At one point, he considered trying to have his marriage to Stéphanie annulled, but was prevented by his father, the emperor.

In 1888, the 30 year old Crown Prince met the 17 year old Baroness Marie Vetsera and began a doomed affair. Although, by all accounts, Marie was devoted to her married lover, Rudolf carried on liaisons with other women during the 3 months he and Marie were involved. At Rudolf’s hunting lodge in Mayerling, on January 30, 1889, the lovers committed murder suicide –the act confirmed by letters of Marie’s which recorded that she was preparing to take her own life for the sake of ‘love’. Prior to the events at Mayerling, however, the ‘unbalanced’ Crown Prince had proposed a similar suicide pact to another of his mistresses, the actress, Mizzi Kaspar, who regarded the suggestion as a joke. Alas, in Vetsera he found a gullible and willing partner.

Rudolf’s death left Emperor Franz Josef without a direct heir. Franz Josef’s younger brother, Karl Ludwig became first in line to the throne, until his death of typhus in 1896. Karl Ludwig’s son Franz Ferdinand, the nephew of Emperor Franz Josef, now became the heir presumptive. That is until he was assassinated in June 1914 in Sarajevo –the spark that lit the fire of The Great War.

Header image credit: Fototeca Storica Nazionale; Crown Prince Rudolf image and Mary Vetsera image credits: WikiCommons.

29 thoughts on “Research Notes – The Great War (5) The Suicide Pact That Changed History

      1. The thing I didn’t mention and will be covered in a subsequent post, is that both Rudolf and Franz Ferdinand held more liberal views meaning they were already considering giving the Slavic states the autonomy they were fighting for. Had either one of them ascended to the throne, the Serbians et al would have likely got the terms they were demanding (or close to it) They just needed to wait for the change in leadership. Anyway, I’ll cover this a bit more thoroughly – I have a post about Franz Ferdinand planned. 🧐😜

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Right. Once the old emperor was out of power, the new regime (no matter which of them took the lead) was in favor of giving the Slavic states the rights they were demanding. No guarantees but things might’ve gone differently. (Although, all sides were really spoiling for war, so something else might have set things in motion.)

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  1. Interesting how alike Stephanie and Marie seem to have been. Easy to get carried away when researching isn’t it? In looking at photos of the two, I happened across a blog that was fashion based, describing the size of buckle adorning ladies dresses, and how they were dependent on whether the lady was a virgin, married, widowed, or spinster!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s fascinating! The two women were similar…. I wonder what the rest of his mistresses looked like? I totally wander off my research path onto these side roads and the internet just makes it too easy!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That is an interesting piece of history I didn’t know about it makes one realise how sensitive they would have been to Franz’s preservation in order to lead the empire.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, indeed! It was really quite foolish of him to visit Sarajevo when he did. Rumours of possible assassination were abundant. But he must have felt untouchable. Ah, hubris….


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