Crown Prince Rudolf (1858-89)


Figure 1.--This images shows Prince Rudolf on a play horse. He wears an Austrian military cap and tunic suit. Notice how the stripped detailing on the pants match the tunic. He looks about 4 years old meaning that the portrait was taken about 1862.

Crown Prince Rudolf was the only son of Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth, one of Europe's most beautiful princesses. Rudolf was born on August 21, 1858. I'm not sure how he was dressed as a boy. He was a patron of literature and the arts. He was constantly frustrated by his reactionary father. He colaborated with noted with prominent Austrian scholars in writing the definitive history Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Sissi's relationship with her eldest son, Crown Prince Rudolf was distant and strained. He wanted his mother's affection but by adulthood realized she was incabale of giving it to him. The Crown Prince in 1881 married Princess Stephanie of Belguim. For her part, Sissi hated Stephanie and made her life miserable. She did not see her faults or that they were exactly the same as those she critized. Rudolf's suiside is one of the most storied romances of 19th century European royalty. The suiside at the Mayerlinghunting lodge not only meant the death of two love struck people, it also robbed the Habsburgs of the one person who seemed most capable of keeping the tattered multinational monarchy from its eventual disintegration and collapse.

Parents

Crown Prince Rudolf was the only son of Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth, one of Europe's most beautiful princesses.

Franz Josef

Of all the Hapsburgs, one of the longest ruling was Francis Joseph I (1830-1916). He also proved to be end of the reining monarchs. By uniting himself with the conservative absolutist foces, he preserved the monarchy for over a half century. In the end, however, his refusal to allow basic democratic reforms would eventually lead tonthe end of the monarchy a few years after his death in 1916. Francis Joseph may indeed be the most tragic figure in the twilight of European monarchies. While he reigned for 7 tumultuous decades, his life was filled with tragedy. His brother Maximilian was executed in Mexico. His sonv Rudolf, a man of liberal ideals who might have saved the monarchy, commited suiside in a torrid love affair. His beloved wife Sisi was stabbed by an anarchist. His heir Francis Ferdinand was assasinated. His Empire had alrady begun to crumble in World War I, even before his death. Francis Joseph's rule was both magnificent and at the same time pathetic. The Austrian monarchy was one of the most prestiogious in Europe. The Emperor himself was the most long-lived soverign. Yet he lived to see Austria reduced to a second rate power by Germany, his loved ones die in tragic circumstances, and his Empire begin to desintegrate.

Elizabeth

The one moderating factor in Francis Joseph's court was his beloved wife, the Emperess Elizabeth or "Sisi" as she was known. She was by all accounts an especially beautiful and intelligent woman of liberal disposition. She grew up in the relative freedom of rge liberal and often excentric Bavarian court. Dhe married Franz Josef when she was only 16 years old. She thus at this very young age was thrust into perhaps Europe's most conservative and formal court. Her youth and desire for independence affected her view of the Austrian court. Later as she developed political ideas, her democratic and liberal views further estraigned her from the restrictions of the Court and her role as Empersss. She has been criticized, however, for her lack of warmth as a mother. This is not just a family matter. Her son Rudolf was a man, who if he had become emperor, night have been able to stop World War I.

Siblings

The Emperess Elisabeth gave birth to four children, three in quick order after marriage. She was not, however, a very engaged mother. She has been criticized, however, for her lack of warmth as a mother. This is not just a family matter. Her son Rudolfis a man, who if he had become emperor, night have been able to stop World War I. The Empresses' motherly role may have been affected by her treatment at Court. She was only 16 when she was married and very innocent. Her initail intinmate realtions with her husband appear to have been unpleasant. When the children arrived, Franz Josef's mother the Archduchess Sophia constantly interfered. She prohibited Elizabeth, for example, from breast feeding the children. She ccame to dislike, she used the term "loath" the idea of having children. After the first three children, even though her health was excellent, she insisted to her husband that they have no more children. This proved to be decission if enormous political consequence when their only son, Rudolf committed suiside. This showed a very strong turn of mind for a young woman in the mid-19th century. She in fact encouraged Franz Josef to find a mistress so as not to have further intimate relations with him. This rejection was a considerable scandal in court circles and very painful to Franz Josef as he was so attached to her.

Childhood

Rudolf was born on August 21, 1858. We have little information about his childhood. His father was fairly young, about 28 when Rudolf was born. We have few details on how engaged his father was. One report suggests affairs of state dominated his day and he made little effort to make time for his son. His mother was not engaged. She was very young and clearly not redy for motherhood. Rudolf and the other children were undobtedly affected by the growing gulf between their mother and grand mother, the Arch-Duchess Sophia. We believe that Rudoolf was close to his older sister Gissela as the two were close in age. As a small child through age 5, Rudolf was cared for by his nurse, Baroness von Welden whom he called "Wowo".

Childhood Clothes

We have only limited information on how Prince Rudolf was dressed as a boy. At about age 2 he was wearing a kinf of kilt outfit. A portrait taken about 1862 shows Rudolf wearing an Austrian military cap and tunic suit. Notice how the stripped detailing on the pants match the tunic (figure 1). A portrait of him at about 8 or 9 years old with his father shows them wearing Alpine folk costumes. At about age 10-11 he begn to wear military uniforms.

Education

When very young, Rudolf care takers were selected by the Archuchess Sophie who chose the caretakers. Emperess Elizabeth was judged as too young. Count Leopold Gondrecourt was appointed the prince's governor in 1864. I am not sure who selected him, but believe it was either the Emperor or his mother Arch Duchess Sophia. The Count used severe methods to harden the young prince. These methods were a shock to Rudoldf who had up to this time been affectioinately cared for by Wowo. Finally after hearing constant complaints from her soin, the Emperess intervened. Count Joseph Latour von Thurmburg was appointed in 1865. Latour was a success and got on well with Rudolf. He became a kind of surrogate father as the Emperor spent only limited time with the boy. While not as severe as Gondrecourt, Latour was a demanding governor. He designed a very impressive curriculum. About 50 different teacherswere employed to present the many different subjects Latour insisted upon. The program was a far different one that the Emperor had received. It was a liberal course of study similar to that received by middle-class boys at the time. Rudolf was an apt pupil with an inquiring mind. He did well in most subjects, although he showed little interest in religion. He developed anti-clerical attitudes as was common among liberal thinkers at the time. Latour gave his parents approving reports on his academic progress, but was disappointed in his charge tendecy on occassion to lie. We are unsure just how aware his father was of his son's developing liberal views and if he was why he didn't intervene to demand a more conservative educational program in line with his own views.

Wilhelm

Rudolf met the future German Kaiser in 1873. The boys were the same age, but Wilhelm was taller and stouter. They had little in common. Rudolf was interested in art and literature. Such things bored Wilhelm. Prussia's victory over Austria at the battle of Königgrätz (1866) and the loss of the Austro-Prussian War when the two were still young boys affected their relationship as they grew older. Rudolf is known to have developed anti-Prussian attitudes.

Vision

Rudolf saw Austria's future with Eastern Europe rather than with Germany. He and many other Austrians became increasingly concerned with resisting Russian influence in the Balkans. The Russians were drawn into the Balkans by their hostility to the Turks and Pan-Slavism. Hungary was of special interest to the young prince. After the war with Prussia, reforms made the crown a dual monary, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Both Rudolf and his mother shared a fascination with Hungary.

Youth

Rudolf was a patron of literature and the arts. He was provided with an excellent education and did well in his studies He colaborated with prominent Austrian scholars in writing the definitive history of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy.

Relationship with Parents

Prince Rudolf was constantly frustrated by his reactionary father. Sissi's relationship with her eldest son, Crown Prince Rudolf was distant and strained. As a boy he wanted his mother's affection. He is said to have adored her, but frustrated by her lack of engagement and the fact that he often did not see her for prolonged times. Only in adulthood did Rudolf realize she was incabale of giving the affection to him that he has so craved as a boy.

Marriage

Crown Prince Rudolf in 1881 married Princess Stephanie of Belguim. Their marriage, as it happened frequently in the house of Habsburg, was arranged and involved little love between the young couple. Rudolf needed a more mature wife than his child-bride. Stephanie was not even 17 years of age at the time of her wedding and she failed to keep her husband from wandering the streets of Vienna in search of licentious enjoyments. Not only did Stephanie have to deal with that problem, but she also encountered the displeaure of the Emperess.

Princess Stephanie

Princess Stepanie was the daughter pf King Leopold II of Belgium and Father: Saxe-Coburg, Leopold II of Belgium (1835- ) one of the cruelst king in recent European history. Princess Stephanie had a very sad life. She had few fond memories of her father, but did recall his marvelous gardens. Her mother was Queen Maria Henrietta (1836- ), herself a Hapsburg. Her mother's father was Arch Duke Joseph (1776- ), a son of Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II. Her mother's mother was Maria Dorothea of Württemberg (1797- ). Empress Sissi seems to have hated Stephanie and made her life miserable. She did not see that her own faults or that they were exactly the same as those she critizedin her daughter-in-law. One might think that all the opain that Sissi endured at the hands of her mother-in-law (Arch Duchess Sophia) might have made her sympathetic to Stephanie. Yet she was just as difficult with Stephanie as Sophia had been with her.


Figure 2.--This portrait shows the four children of Prince Rudolph's daughter and Prince Otto zu Windischgraetz. It was probably taken about 1912.

Princess Elizabeth (1883-1963)

Rudolph and Stepanie had one child. Princess Elizabeth was born in 1883. I know little about her childhhod. She was only about 6 years old when her father killed himself at Mayerling in 1889. Princess Elizabeth married Prince Otto zu Windischgraetz in 1902. I have no information on his background at this time. They had four children. Later in life, Elizabeth became known as the Red Archduchess when she married Leopold Petznek, a leftist politician,

Affair

Rudolf subsequently became ardently enamored of a beautiful young lady in the court, the Baroness Marie Vetsera, spawning one of the most notorious love affairs of the 19th century. Rudolf was a sick and depressed young man in an uncertain postion, a loveless marriage, wanted love from a distant mother, and felt afraid and unworthy of his father. He did not know how to escape from the situation in which he found himself.

Suicide

Crown Prince Rudolf is more than anything else known for the double suicide at Mayerling. There are, however, many interpretations and theories. The Prince is various depicted as a womanizing wasterling or a frustrated progressive heir to the throne. Some even claim the whote affair was a French conspiracy. The most likely account is that the Crown Price carefully planned his suicide with the Baroness. began the plan for his suicide. At the Christmas Eve celebrations Rudolf created a weeping emotional scene, crying in his mothers arms, he would not stop and he frightened her but she tried to dismiss it. He gave his mother an expensive and heartfelt gift to prove is adoration and love he had for her. She passed it off lightly because she was so preoccupied with her daughter Marie Valerie's wedding plans. No one took seriously the 31 year old prince's frequent mentions of his imminent death . It seemed odd that for a women who was so sympathic and sentive to others could not comrehend or would remain so blind to the cries her her own children. Rufolf's relationship with the Baroness ended tragically when the Crown Prince probably shot himself. It was presumably a mutual suicide of lovers. In appears to have been one of the world's great love tragedies, the couple committed suicide in a hunting lodge at his country estate, Mayerling in 1889. Many theories of international intrigue, however, surrond the affair. Rudolf's suiside is one of the most storied romances of 19th century European royalty. The suiside at the Mayerlinghunting lodge not only meant the death of two love struck people, it also robbed the Habsburgs of the one person who seemed most capable of keeping the tattered multinational monarchy from its eventual disintegration and collapse. The Austrian Government officially announced the lovers were in dispair because the Emperor ordered them to terminate the affair. All investigation were supressed and rumors of foul play have persisted to this day.

Impact

The deaths at Mayerling took away the security of the imperial succession that Franz-Joseph had provided. Mayerling will forever hold the sign of tragedy and despair that later engulfed the Habsburg family. Rudolf's death brought ruin to his parents' marriage, uncertainty over the imperial succession, and ultimately the end of the ancient house of Habsburg. If he had not met with an untimely demise, Europe's history would have been tremendously different. Mayerling not only meant the death of two love struck people, it also robbed the Habsburgs of the one person who seemed most capable of keeping the tattered multinational monarchy from its eventual disintegration and collapse.






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Created: July 22, 2001
Last updated: April 2, 2004