This Could Have Avoided Mayerling

Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria (1858-1889) was a very talented fellow.  He was also relatively liberal, for a Hapsburg archduke, and published liberal essays in a Vienna newspaper, anonymously.  By 1888 his father, Emperor Franz Josef I, had been on the throne for 40 years, and there was political stagnation in the Empire.  Many urged Rudolf to seize the throne, and many more urged him to accept the throne of Hungary (then a constitutional partner in the Dual Monarchy) by quasi-constitutional means.  Of course he refused, and it probably would not have worked had he tried it.  But it is unfortunate that the Emperor never trusted Rudolf, or listened to his reformist political views, or allowed him any meaningful role in government.1

Rudolf’s spectacular death in January 1889, in a love-nest double suicide at the imperial hunting lodge just outside Vienna at Meyerling (if that’s what it really was, and not a murder as many think) put an end to all this. Here’s an accession instrument for Rudolf’s seizure of power. It would have made a lot more sense in 1909.


Instrument of Accession

WHEREAS the well-being of Our beloved Empire of Austria and Hungary is dearest to Our heart and the hearts of all the Empire’s citizens, and

WHEREAS it is evident that the vital powers of Our beloved Father, His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty Franz Josef I, Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary, etc., have been failing for some time, and

WHEREAS the Empire requires a strong and healthy leader in these perilous times,

NOW THEREFORE WE RUDOLF, Crown Prince of Austria and Hungary, do hereby declare that the reign of His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty Our Father is ended, and that

WE DO NOW ASSUME AND ACCEDE TO THE THRONES OF AUSTRIA AND HUNGARY, and all associated crowns, rights, powers and titles, with immediate effect.


Vienna, December 20, 1888
By HIH the Crown Prince:



  1. For more about this see, e.g., Frederic Morton, A Nervous Splendor (1979).