ketvirtadienis, birželio 30

Mayerling syndrome



Paraphrasing Austrian journalist Georg Markus, every country has its Loch Ness. It seems that Mayerling incident has become the Loch Ness of Austria. More than 100 years passed since unsolved mystery of the last night of the Crown Prince Rudolf in Mayerling, but many Austrians still suffer from an illness which some doctors intend to call ‘Mayerling fever’ or ‘Mayerling syndrome’.

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In a small village called Mayerling, located approximately 20 km southwest of Vienna, in Wienerwald, nice Carmelites church greets visitors from the low hill. One could never guess that the walls of the cloister of Carmelites nuns remind of a 100 years old tragedy and great imperial mystery.

On the 30th of January in 1889 in the Mayerling hunting lodge, belonging to the Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria, the only son of Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth, ‘Sissi’, were found bodies of Rudolf and his mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera, daughter of Austrian diplomat, both with gunshot wounds.

After the incident the hunting lodge was completely rebuilt into the church at the desire of the Emperor so that nuns could daily pray for the soul of Rudolf. It is said that the altar of the church stands right in the place where the bed of the lovers was situated (by the way, the authentic bed is exposed in contemporary royal furniture museum of Vienna Hofmobiliendepot). Even more – statue of Madonna in the Chapel is believed to have the face of Empress Elisabeth…
The small museum inside the church has a small exposition dedicated to the fatal night with the last letters of the Crown Prince Rudolf, photos and even the coffin of Mary Vetsera, whose grave (with her remains lying in a new coffin) can be found in Heiligenkreuz, in the neighbourhood of Mayerling.

These places attract plenty of tourists each year. The rich list of novels, plays, operas, movies’ screen plays or even musicals, whose authors were inspired by the tragic love story of Rudolf and Mary, do not allow public interest to immerse into forgetfulness. There can be not a smallest hope of that until there is at least one person left still desperately waiting for the ‘Mayerling puzzle’ to be finally solved one day.

The reason is that it is not the incident itself which caused the great society attention lasting for a century already, but more the behavior of imperial family after the unexpected event. Habsburg dynasty did not only remain silent about the incident of that night, they tried hard to keep every possible witness silent. For instance, Prince’s own coachman Josef Bratfisch was offered a monthly income for life to keep discretion for his master’s mysteries and to take everything he knew (and he knew a lot, because he spent the last evening with Rudolf and Mary, and the last Mary’s words in the farewell letter to her relatives were ‘Bratfish played the pipes wonderfully’) to the grave. Or, the entire edition of Countess Marie Larisch’s, who used to arrange the meetings between Rudolf and Baroness Vetsera (by the way, some of them secretly took place in still working Viennese inn called Gmoa Keller, Am Heumarkt), memoirs containing the ‘complete truth about Mayerling’ was purchased by the Emperor, what has reportedly cost him more than Vienna Ferris wheel.

Viennese newspapers proclaiming another version than heart attack as the only reason which has caused sudden death of the Crown Prince were under strict censorship or confiscated. And the name of Mary Vetsera altogether was taboo until the collapse of the Monarchy.

Consequently so many interpretations ever since were born. Maybe Rudolf shot Mary and then shot himself? Maybe the lovers shot each other? Maybe Mary was poisoned or took poison herself? Maybe she died during the abortion (there is the version that Baroness Vetsera was pregnant during Mayerling incident and possibly that fact was the reason of lovers’ decision to die together escaping the world where they cannot have a family)? Maybe the lovers became victims of political conspiracy?

G.Markus in his book ‘Crime at Mayerling. The Life and Death of Mary Vetsera’ claims that Mayerling crime was never seriously investigated, and the few investigations that were made were falsified and manipulated by the Royal House. The body of Mary Vetsera was buried as soon as possible, without judicial inquiry, and as secretly as possible, not even allowing her mother to participate. Only later the version that Rudolf shot Mary and then shot himself has appeared. In the times of Habsburgs Emperor Franz Joseph did everything in his power to get Church’s blessing for Rudolf in Imperial crypt Kapuzinergruft, which would have not been possible in case of convicting Crown Prince as perpetrator. For the same reason the special dispensation from the Vatican was obtained to declare Rudolf to have been ‘in condition of mental derangement’ while commiting a suicide.

One can also find different interpretations of the ending of fatal liaisons of the Crown Prince Rudolf and Baroness Mary Vetsera in various pieces of art. In the musical ‘Rudolf. The Mayerling Affair’ directed by David Leveaux in Vienna Raimund Theater as well as in the ballet ‘Mayerling’ in Vienna State Opera, both in the season of 2009, the last scene between the lovers in the bed of the hunting lodge could be observed by spectators only in a total dark or behind the folding screen, just with the clear sounds of two shots.

On the contrary, in the Terence Young’s movie (1968) ‘Mayerling’ the main characters, played by Omar Sharif and young Catherine Deneuve, were not left alone by camera till the very end. The film, English French production, maintains the legend of insuperably strong affection leading to death. At the end of the movie Rudolf shoots Mary Vetsera and after some time shoots himself still keeping her hand in his.

But the novel ‘The Habsburgs’ Tragedy’ written by Polish author Leo Belmonto (Leopold Blumental) suggests quite uncommon interpretation of the event by creating the portrait of Baroness Mary as smart, selfish and manipulating feelings of her beloved. In the last pages of the book, mistress of Rudolf, facing the growing indifference of the Crown Prince, decides to poison herself in the property of Rudolf and leaving the letter for him inviting to follow her steps knowing well enough that it would be the question of honour for the Emperor’s son.

Nevertheless some things are common in many pieces of art inspired by tragic life of the Crown Prince Rudolf. These are the drama of the relationship between Emperor as a father and Rudolf as a son, not only his successor, the need of mother, who was constantly away avoiding duties in palace, care, the unhappy marriage with Princess Stephanie of Belgium, frustration of his political objectives, at last his depression caused by hypersensitiveness, permanent headaches, insomnia and use of morphine together with alcohol. Maybe all of them were determinative and leading to suicide, maybe none. That’s why generalized words in lips of Mary in the musical ‘Rudolf. Mayerling Affair’ do sound convincingly: ‘It is often better to die at once, than to die a little every day’.

But most of the creators of the romantic interpretation of Mayerling event could be blamed by provoking ‘Mayerling fever’ as mentioned above. Because almost in none of them such facts as thirty illegitimate children of Crown Prince (according to the words of Rudolf’s grandson Prince Francis Joseph Windisch-Graetz), or Rudolf having gonorrehea and infecting his wife with this venereal disease, what led to her sterility and buried their hopes for masculine successor, or his affair with Mary’s mother Baroness Helene Vetsera, when Mary was only 6 years old, or the thing that Mary was not his great love were used. It is known, that even the night before Mayerling Crown Prince spent with his another mistress Mizzy Caspar. And even more – half a year before Mayerling he suggested Mizzy to shoot themselves, but Mizzy refused. As it is put in the book ‘Crime at Mayerling’, Rudolf was afraid of living alone and also afraid of dying alone, so maybe that’s how desire to die with another person appeared. Mary was the one who agreed with the insane plan…

It seems that all the mysteries of Mayerling incident cannot already be solved. Many witnesses are dead, many proofs destroyed, and the interpretation of the event as a story of tragic romance is too strong. Probably all the speculations about Mayerling, one of the most sensational chapters in the six hundred years history of the Habsburg empire, could come to an end only after exhumation of the Crown Prince. But this decision lies not with the Rudolf’s direct descendants, but with the head of the family Otto von Habsburg and with the Capuchin friars. All previous requests for exhumation have been refused, as journalist G. Markus states.

Unfortunately, for those who have so called ‘Mayerling syndrome’ forcing to believe in legend could be too dangerous. Just remember the curious case of the furniture dealer Helmut Flatzelsteiner from Linz. In 1991 he removed the remains of Mary Vetsera. In 1992 he came to the journalist of ‘Kronen Zeitung’ to sell the story and the skeleton… The remains of Mary Vetsera were reinterred in the grave in Heiligenkreuz in 1993 (and it is the second time after 1959, when the body was placed in a new coffin after the original one was disgraced by Soviet soldiers who were looking for jewelry).

According to G.Markus, who run the story about H.Flatzelsteiner and stolen remains of Mary Vetsera, Habsburgs family are making the same mistake as in 1889. Remaining silent allows the myth to survive, for it is only by withholding present evidence that new, fantastic versions can be generated.

That is why ‘Mayerling syndrome’ is still not curable.
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