Nepal Massacre Recalls Earlier Tragedy

A romantic young prince, involved with a woman his family disapproves of, takes his own life in a violent act that rocks the country, despite the stunned survivors' efforts to hush up the scandal.

It sounds like what has been happening in Nepal, where Crown Prince Dipendra allegedly massacred nine members of the royal family and then fatally shot himself after a quarrel over the woman he wanted to marry.

But more than a century ago, the heir to the throne of Austria and his teenage mistress died in a murder-suicide pact that altered the future of an empire.

Because of the bizarre circumstances of the deaths, and the imperial family's frantic efforts to hide the scandal, a lot of questions still surround the tragedy at Mayerling.

"The whole thing has never really been solved," says Theo Aronson, a historical royal biographer based in England.

A Troubled Young Man

The most obvious question, of course, is Why? Crown Prince Rudolf, as the only son of Emperor Franz Joseph I, could expect to one day rule over a vast territory with a multi-ethnic population that included Austrians, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Serbs, Croats, Slovenes and Bosnians.

Rudolf and his father did not get along. "There was a clash of generation," says Aronson. "He and his father didn't see eye to eye politically. He was more liberal, more open-minded, more progressive."

And it appeared that Rudolf would have a very long time to wait before he got out from under his father's thumb. Franz Joseph ascended the throne in 1848 and stayed firmly upon it till his death in 1916.

"There was this idea that the heir apparent was never going to come into his own," says William Bowman, a professor of history at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania.

While he was waiting to inherit, Rudolf spent his time drinking, dabbling with drugs and disporting himself with the ladies of Vienna. He also struggled with psychological stress and perhaps mental illness.

"He was a highly emotional young man," says Aronson. "There was instability in the whole family."

Rudolf may have inherited this tendency from his mother, the beautiful but self-obsessed Empress Elisabeth, whose family, the Wittelsbachs, included the "Mad King" Ludwig of Bavaria.

The crown prince was also unhappy in his marriage to Princess Stephanie of Belgium. He was not a faithful husband, and in the fall of 1888 the 30-year-old prince took up with a girl of 17 named Mary Vetsera.

A Romantic Girl

Mary came from the petty nobility, but she would never have been considered a suitable bride for Rudolf, even if he had been free. The prince made the pretty teen his mistress, but he never showed signs of being in love with her.

"He used her in order to make this grand gesture," says Aronson.

Mary, on the other hand, was dazzled.

"She was thrilled," says Aronson. "One doesn't realize nowadays what being the son of an emperor meant then. She was so thrilled and flattered."

For Mary, says Aronson, "this was a romantic thing. They would have a love pact. They would die like Romeo and Juliet."

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