A village in the province of Lower Austria, Mayerling was the site of a noble estate owned by the monastery of Heiligenkreuz, which was purchased and turned into a hunting lodge in 1886 by Archduke Rudolph (1858–1889), the only son and heir of Emperor Franz Joseph. The archduke was a mentally fragile and troubled young man, conditions further aggravated by gonorrhea, drug and alcohol abuse, and episodes of depression. His marriage to a Belgian princess, Stephanie (1864–1945), was unhappy as well. In 1888, he had toyed with ideas of taking his life and suggested the idea of mutual suicide to his mistress, Mizzy Caspar, who was sufficiently alarmed to have reported the proposal to the police.
   Under circumstances not altogether clear, Rudolph met with the 17-year-old Baroness Mary Vetsera at Mayerling on 29 January 1889. Physically somewhat precocious and easily aroused—she had been smitten by the sight of the archduke at a racetrack—she probably allowed him to kill her around six o’clock the next morning, after which he shot himself. Details of the case are still uncertain. The court did its best to cover up the affair, particularly any evidence that the heir apparent had pulled the trigger on the girl. Until the end of the monarchy in 1918, it was officially forbidden to discuss the affair publicly. Indeed, Vetsera’s position as a victim was not even mentioned. Fanciful rumors about Mary having been murdered, by Jews, by Hungarians, by Freemasons, even by the German chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, or by French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, continued to circulate.
   In 1992, a furniture dealer in Linz, Helmut Flatzelsteiner, surreptitiously removed Mary’s coffin from its resting place in the cemetery of Heiligenkreuz. A forensic analysis of the contents removed any doubts that the girl had been shot. There is still a box in the hands of the family of Habsburg–Lorraine that may shed some light on the episode—it is presumed to contain the murder/suicide weapon and some letters. Emperor Franz Joseph had the lodge at Mayerling itself converted into a Carmelite nunnery and church.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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