For reasons that have never been entirely understood, sometime during the night of January 29, 1889 crown prince Rudolf of Austria shot and killed his lover and then took his own life, thereby setting off a chain of events that changed the fate of Europe. The murder-suicide became known as the Mayerling Affair, after the hunting lodge where it took place.
Rudolf was the son and heir to the Hapsburg Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria and the famously beautiful and infamously melancholy Empress Elisabeth. Young Rudolf seemed to be a very different type than his cold and calculating father, developing an early passion for the natural sciences, liberal politics, and a somewhat more delicate sensibility in general.
By the time Rudolf was wed to Princess Stephanie of Belgium in 1881, he had already established the other habit that would appear to be his undoing: a certain weakness for the ladies - in fact, he allegedly brought a lover with him to his wedding.
Within a few short years, the marriage devolved into a relationship of mutual tolerance. Rudolf’s womanizing, drinking, and more recently acquired drug habit took over his life, apparently leading him in a downward spiral.
Mary Vetsara on the other hand, appeared to be a young woman very much smitten with the prince. The 17 year old baroness, however, was not Rudolf’s first choice for his suicide pact. He actually attempted to convince another woman, a prostitute named Mitzi Caspar, to die with him, but she declined his offer.
Mary and Rudolf left Vienna for the hunting lodge in Mayerling on January 29th, 1889, the prince claiming he wanted to do a bit of hunting the following morning. Sometime in the night, Rudolf shot and killed Mary, and then turned the gun on himself. When the staff came to the door in the morning, the bodies were discovered.
A massive cover-up operation followed, with the royal family attempting to pass off Rudolf’s death as one of natural causes, and to hide Mary’s body entirely.
Today, Rudolf is buried in the Habsburg family crypt in Vienna, and Mary’s body lies in a modest grave in Heiligenkreuz, Austria.
Rudolf’s death left Franz Josef I without an heir, leading to the succession of Franz Ferdinand whose assassination in 1914 kicked off the hostilities of WWI, and effectively led to the end of the Hapsburg dynasty.
After the deaths, the lodge was transformed into a Carmelite church, where services are still said in memory of Rudolf. A small museum houses artifacts related to the deaths.