We’ve all heard tragic love stories before and are probably tired of hearing them by now. After all, the most popular ones are only tragic because they caused irreversible political damage. Cleopatra and Marc Antony’s Shakespearean love story marked the end of the entire Egyptian civilization, while Helen and Paris’ debauchery led to the utter destruction of Troy.
Conclusion? Romance is dangerous, people. However, the one love story that deserves first place in terms of ruining all of modern history is hardly ever mentioned. This love story was the first rock to tumble in what eventually became an avalanche that caused the World Wars! I believe that this tale must be recounted in order to hold these ‘lovebirds’ accountable for their absolute idiocy.
The Fairy Tale
He was Prince Charming and she was a baroness. The Prince was unhappy and had a troublesome marriage, and she was his ray of sunshine. Their parents didn’t approve of their love, and yet, they persisted as lovers, against all odds. Finally, both of them had enough. They both committed suicide together in a hunting lodge in Mayerling. This suicide became famous in history as the Mayerling Incident, but it sure sounds like Romeo and Juliet, right? Well, it isn’t. However, a little historical background would be useful here.
The Prince Charming in question is the Austrian-Hungarian Crown Prince Rudolf I. He was the only son and heir of Franz Josef I, the Emperor of Austria-Hungary. Now, let me first discuss the position of the Emperor here.
19th century Europe was going through a complete political makeover. Empires were falling and democratic parliaments were strengthening… basically, it was a terrible time to be the king of a European territory – especially a turbulent territory like Franz Josef’s. The Hungarians were not fond of being ruled by an Austrian Emperor. External as well as internal pressures plagued the mind of this extremely overworked Emperor.
Amidst his political struggles, he gave birth to a truly asinine son. He was a ladies man, with a horde of mistresses who worshipped him. In fact, it has been rumored that he had a mistress with him even when he went to pick up his bride, Princess Stephanie, from Belgium! His amorous adventures ended up earning him a venereal disease, which was passed onto his wife Stephanie. As a result, she could no longer have any children after her first and only child – a girl. Rudolf also inconveniently had liberal views, and didn’t want the monarchy to continue in Austria-Hungary. No one really knows the mindset of that volatile personality during his last days, but the assumption is that his brain was addled by morphine when he made the decision to commit suicide.
The Baroness mentioned earlier is Mary Vetsera. And no, she was not Rudolf’s ‘only love’. She was just a 17-year-old teenager in love with a 30-year-old prince! In fact, Rudolf had previously asked another mistress to commit suicide with him, but she had said no. Mary, unfortunately, agreed. And thus, she was led to her dramatic death.
Rudolf had no male children, and thus the Austrian-Hungarian throne lost its only direct male heir. Can you imagine the frustration of Franz Josef at that point? He was trying so hard to keep his country together and then, the unthinkable happens! However, he did have two other brothers, Maximilian and Karl Ludwig. They could have been the next in line for the throne, which would have made things a lot smoother. However, Maximilian, another recklessly stupid member of the royal family, had already tried to establish his own kingdom in Mexico after scheming with Napoleon III of France. In Mexico! Of course, the people of Mexico rejected his rule outright and assassinated him.
You may be asking, what about the other brother? Franz still had him to carry his line forward, right? Yes, but Karl Ludwig declined. He convinced the king to let his son, Franz Ferdinand, take his place as heir. Karl Ludwig himself died of typhoid 6 years after Rudolf’s death.
Franz Josef’s wife, Elisabeth, became increasingly disturbed after her son’s death. She was already an avid traveler, but after the suicide, she began doing it quite recklessly. It wasn’t long before this habit took a toll on her. She, too, was assassinated in the streets by a random anarchist who had no other motive than to murder a member of a royal family.
Franz Josef, on the eve of his wife’s death, had been ruling for almost 50 years, and the only person he could depend on was Franz Ferdinand. But guess what? He hated him. Despite that, with the number of deaths in his family already, he didn’t seem to have much choice.
Doesn’t the name Franz Ferdinand sound familiar to you? If it does, congratulations! You paid attention in school! Franz Ferdinand was the same guy who was assassinated in Serbia by a Serbian nationalist who didn’t like the Austrian presence in his country. Germany backed Austria’s claim and Russia supported Serbia. Thus, Franz Ferdinand’s death spiraled out of proportion, causing World War I.
To be fair, it wasn’t Franz Josef who declared war, but rather his minister. However, the public pressure was such that he could do nothing to stop it. I mean, most of his family was dead! He couldn’t very well stay complacent after his nephew’s murder!
So that, my friends, is how one love story can potentially lead to the rise of someone like Hitler. It was a series of events that, like dominoes, kept befalling the life of the Austrian-Hungarian Emperor. If Rudolf had the sense to stay alive, it’s highly possible that the wars would never have happened in the first place. Of course, a lot of other complex national and international political factors also contributed to the World Wars, but this one factor is particularly interesting because of how highly personal and obviously avoidable it was.
Unfortunately, the royal family of Austria-Hungary simply didn’t know any better. Hopefully, world leaders will be wiser in the future. As they say, if you can’t be a good example, you might as well be a terrible warning!
- Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria – Wikipedia
- Princess Stéphanie of Belgium – Wikipedia
- Baroness Mary Vetsera – Wikipedia
- Franz Joseph I of Austria – Wikipedia