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The Murder-Suicide Pact That Paved The Way For World War I – And Changed The World Forever

Updated 26 Jun 2018 25.4k views14 items

On January 30, 1889, the body of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary was found alongside his teenage mistress at his Mayerling hunting lodge outside of Vienna. Though more questions than answers surround their deaths, many believe it may have been the fulfillment of a murder-suicide pact. Rudolf's death had global repercussions, and anticipated the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the start of World War I

Born on August 21, 1858, Rudolf was the only son and heir of Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary. Rudolf had a difficult childhood and a turbulent young adulthood. His drug and alcohol use fueled a dramatic love life, and he probably ended up with syphilis before he was 30. In 1888, Rudolf began an affair with Baroness Mary Vetsera, and by January 1889, the two had apparently entered into a kind of suicide pact.

The Mayerling incident’s true significance lies in what happened in the wake of the tragedy. Rudolf’s death threw the imperial line of succession into crisis. Eventually, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was named the new heir; he was Rudolf’s cousin and a man whose own violent death in 1914 led to world war. Anyone asking, “How did WWI start?” needs to begin at the Mayerling story.

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