Among the crowned heads of Europe there is one to whom, by general consent, there has been given a sort of unofficial pre-eminence. A hundred odd years ago, his predecessors could claim, as Roman Emperors and heirs of that unbroken Imperial line which began with Octavius Caesar, a shadowy and unsubstantial authority over the whole of Europe. But his position rests on no such historic pretensions; it has been voluntarily accorded him by an instinct of chivalrous sentiment, partly because of his extreme age, but chiefly on account of the long series of tragedies and misfortunes which have darkened his life.
That monarch is the Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria-hungary. Called to the throne in 1848, he had early to fly his capital in the face of a revolutionary mob; in 1859 nearly all his territory in Northern Italy was wrested from him; in 1866, after a disastrous war with Prussia, he was excluded from the German Confederation. To a sovereign these were misfortunes hard enough to bear, but as a man he was fated to suffer trials even more unendurable.
In an historical record tales of superstition ought properly to play no part, but in the case of the Emperor Francis Joseph there is a circumstance so remarkable, and, moreover, vouched for so authoritatively, that it may be mentioned with propriety. In 1848 there was a national rising in Hungary which was suppressed with great brutality by the Austrians. Among the number of their victims, who were sent to death with the merest formality of a trial, was the son of the aged Countess Karolyi. She herself was forced to witness the execution, and at the climax of that dreadful tragedy she turned, in a mood of frenzied exaltation, to the assembled officials and uttered a curse, which was to be fulfilled in every detail by subsequent events. She called on heaven and hell to blast the happiness of the Emperor, to exterminate his family, to strike him through those he loved, to wreck his life, and to ruin his children.
Not one of the terms of this terrible curse were to remain fruitless. His wife, the Empress Elizabeth, was murdered fifty years later, at Geneva, by the Anarchist, Luigi Luccheni; his kinsman, the Archduke John Salvatore, after renouncing his Imperial rank and marrying Emilie Stubel, an actress, was lost at sea with his wife; his brother, Maximilian, who accepted the throne of Mexico, was taken prisoner by his rebellious subjects and shot; and, most tragic of all, his only son, to whom he must have looked for support and comfort in his old age, was found one morning mysteriously dead by the side of the woman he loved in his shooting-lodge at Meyerling.
The Tragedy of Prince Rudolf
Prince Rudolf was the only son of the three children born to the Emperor and the Empress. He came into the world on August 21, 1858, and his arrival was announced with the thunder of cannon and all the pomp and ceremony of the most Byzantine Court in Europe. He was heir to the most ancient of Royal houses, and every promise and blessing appeared to surround his cradle. As years passed, and he developed into manhood, these hopes seemed likely to be fulfilled. Like all the Hapsburgs, he was said to be wild and self-willed; but these characteristics were attributed by the people, among whom he was immensely popular, to the natural licence of youth, and his attention to his duties as heir-presumptive were quoted as evidences of his future conduct when his hot blood should have been tamed.
In 1879, when he came of age, his marriage became a question of great moment. For domestic reasons, it was absolutely necessary that he should take to himself a wife. As a rule, such marriages, in which the bride has to be selected from the limited circle of Royalty, which is still further restricted by the question of religious faith, are of necessity manages de con-venance. But Prince Rudolf, who inherited, with his Haps-burg blood a certain mediaeval romanticism, refused to wed where he could not give his heart. In vain the Emperor brought forward one possible bride after another; the Crown Prince rejected them all. Stormy scenes took place between father and son; for two years every pressure was brought to bear upon the Prince to induce him to change his purpose, and at last these methods proved successful. Early in 1881 the betrothal of the Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-hungary to Princess Stephanie, daughter of Leopold, King of the Belgians, was announced. He was twenty-three and she was sixteen, and on neither side was there any pretence of affection. Prince Rudolf, indeed, openly declared to his friends that his betrothed simply displeased him less than any of the other available Princesses. On May 8, 1881, they were married with great pomp at Vienna.
Even with all the restrictions of Court
The late Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria, only son of the Emperor Francis
Joseph of Austria-hungary. The tragic death of Prince Rudolf, in 1889, is one of the unfathomable mysteries of modern history life, which compose existence to a certain formal pretence, the marriage was inevitably a fiasco. Not only was Prince Rudolf wild and capricious, but there was a party at Court opposed to his interests. They took care to report faithfully and unfaithfully every one of his misdoings to the Princess Stephanie, with the result that the gulf between husband and wife, which might have been bridged with the passage of the years, was daily widened.
Even the birth of their daughter and only child, the Princess Elizabeth, on September 2, 1883, did not serve to bring them together. Their relations with one another became the talk of Vienna, and there only wanted one thing to make the breach between them permanent. If Prince Rudolf fell in love, it was generally surmised that there would be a scandal which not even the Emperor himself would be able to stifle.