The third observation which can be made about Crown Prince Rudolf, Archduke of Austria’s death at Mayerling in the night of Tuesday 29 to Wednesday 30 January 1889, is that the dossier given by Emperor Franz-Josef to Count Taafe, the Prime Minister – and his childhood friend – has also disappeared in a suspicious fire at his castle. The copy of this dossier, deposited with a lawyer of the imperial family, was stolen.
Fourthly, Herr Frederic Wolf, a carpenter in the village of Alland, near Mayerling, has recounted that his father, also a carpenter, was called to clean up the hunting pavillion two days after the drama. Herr Wolf had always said that the bedroom had been the scene of a terrible combat. The furniture had been knocked over and broken, there were bullet impacts on the furniture and in the walls. There were traces of blood everywhere and, in particular, an enormous puddle of it near the bed. To make it go away, his father had had to plane the floor-boards. He added that the bedroom window was broken and that a ladder was leaning against the outside wall.
Fifthly, Archduchess Maria-Theresa, the widow of Archduke Karl-Louis, who was one of Emperor Franz-Josef’s brothers, had certified that Rudolf had said to her husband:
“I am going to be assassinated.”
Rudolf was alluding to a European conspiracy which was aiming to depose Franz-Josef from Hungary’s throne and place his liberal son in his place. According to Empress Zita, Austria’s last empress and last Queen of Hungary, in her 1983 newspaper interview, Rudolf had refused to participate in the plot against his father. He had said to his uncle Karl-Louis:
“I would have no scrupules in revealing this conspiracy but if I do, I will be killed.”
Sixthly, Archduchess Maria-Theresa saw Rudolf dead and touched his hands. She declared to Empress Zita:
“The gloves had been stuffed with cotton, for his hands were broken.”
This remark can be connected to the statement by Prince Xavier de Bourbon-Parme (Empress Zita’s brother) published in the December 1982 number of the magazine Historia:
“I have it from a reliable source, believe me, because it is from the mouth of an official person who had entered the bedroom of the drama when the body of Maria Vetsera had just been removed, that Archduke Rudolf’s right wrist had been severed by a blow from a sabre.”
Seventhly, Doctor Karl Georg von Boroviczeny, a Berlin doctor and grandson of the Princess of Lowenstein, whose sister had married Don Miguel of Braganza. Don Miguel was a great friend of Rudolf. Invited to the hunt which was to take place on the morning of the drama, he had declined the invitation at the last moment. But he recounted later to his family that Rudolf had said to him:
“I am going to be assassinated. I know too many things.”
Eighthly, when the Carmelites at the convent built near Mayerling are asked if they pray for the Archduke who committed suicide, they reply only that he is dead. The 1983 Mother Superior declared that each new Carmelite is taught that the Archduke did not commit suicide but that he had been killed.
Ninthly, Rudolf’s faithful coachman, present on the night of the drama, repeated, without giving details:
“It’s not like they always say, it’s not a suicide.”
Tenthly, Empress Elisabeth’s daughter Gisela told Empress Zita that she had touched her brother’s head and that it was crushed, as if it had received a blow. The official version claims that Rudolf had killed Maria Vetsera by applying the weapon to her left temple, the bullet having exited through the right temple. However, on 7 July 1959, undertakers from Baden in the Viennese forest, near Mayerling, proceeded to the exhumation of the defunct girl, in the presence of a forensic doctor. It was noted that
“the cranium presented an oval hole of seven centimetres”.
There was no hole through which a bullet could have exited.
Eleventhly, the physical elimination of the Prince, for political reasons, is perfectly conceivable. Different hates were unleashed against the Habsburg family. We have seen, for example, that of Bismarck, ceaselessly trying to weaken Austria. There were many others. Empress Zita affirms that some of the assassins were foreigners. In the hypothesis of an assassination, Maria Vetsera would have been killed only because she was with Rudolf. This is far removed from the “Romeo and Juliet” version.
Twelfthly, according to a letter conserved in the Royal Archives of Windsor Castle, the British Prime Minister is convinced that it is a double assassination. This letter was written on 12 February 1889 by the Prince of Wales to Queen Victoria:
“You tell me that Lord Salisbury is certain that poor Rudolf and that unfortunate young girl were killed…”
This letter can be connected to another contemporary one addressed by the King of the Belgians, Leopold II (Rudolf’s father-in-law) to his brother in Brussels. Telling him of the uncomfortable voyage to Vienna to attend the funeral, the Belgian monarch adds:
“It is sovereignly important that the suicide version be affirmed and maintained. (…) Suicide and madness were the only means of avoiding an unforgettable scandal the details of which I cannot confide in my letter, but which I shall narrate in all details Saturday.
Your brother, Leopold.”
This capital letter was found in the personal papers of Monsieur Paul Hymans, Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs, one of the signatories of the Treaty of Versailles, after his death in 1942.
In light of these troubling elements, it is now impossible to blindly uphold the suicide thesis. The possibility of assassination can no longer be systematically denied. Doubt has always existed and is singularly reinforced by technical observations which give pause for thought. Franz-Josef sometimes admitted:
“The truth is even more serious than anything than anyone one has ever said.”
More than a century after this drama, we are perhaps very close to the truth…