Wednesday, September 27, 2017

#BookReview: Twilight of Empire: The Tragedy at Mayerling and the End of the Habsburgs by Greg King & Penny Wilson

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On a snowy January morning in 1889, a worried servant hacked open a locked door at the remote hunting lodge deep in the Vienna Woods. Inside, he found two bodies sprawled on an ornate bed, blood oozing from their mouths. Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary appeared to have shot his seventeen-year-old mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera as she slept, sat with the corpse for hours and, when dawn broke, turned the pistol on himself.

A century has transformed this bloody scene into romantic tragedy: star-crossed lovers who preferred death together than to be parted by a cold, unfeeling Viennese Court. But Mayerling is also the story of family secrets: incestuous relationships and mental instability; blackmail, venereal disease, and political treason; and a disillusioned, morphine-addicted Crown Prince and a naïve schoolgirl caught up in a dangerous and deadly waltz inside a decaying empire. What happened in that locked room remains one of history’s most evocative mysteries: What led Rudolf and mistress to this desperate act? Was it really a suicide pact? Or did something far more disturbing take place at that remote hunting lodge and result in murder?

Drawing interviews with members of the Habsburg family and archival sources in Vienna, Greg King and Penny Wilson reconstruct this historical mystery, laying out evidence and information long ignored that conclusively refutes the romantic myth and the conspiracy stories.
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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★   |   Obtained from: Netgalley   |   Read: September 1, 2017
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Crown Prince Rudolf has fascinated me for years, but finding information on him can be a challenge for an English speaker in the United States. The Road to Mayerling by Richard Barkeley is fabulous, but I think Mayerling: The Facts Behind the Legend by Fritz Judtmann a stronger resource. If asked a week ago, it’d have been the only title I’d have recommended, but that was before I’d gotten my hands on an advanced copy of Twilight of Empire: The Tragedy at Mayerling and the End of the Habsburgs.

Between these pages, Greg King and Penny Wilson offer compelling and complex arguments for Rudolf’s actions, present a detailed glimpse at his inner circle, and pull aside the curtain the surrounds his relationship with the Baroness Mary Vetsera. They understand the sentimental romanticism that characterizes their subject matter, but what I love about this book is how the authors dissect and separate fact from fiction to uncover the truths beneath.

Twilight of Empire is easily one of the most comprehensive and detailed accounts of the of the double-suicide and while I don’t agree with all of the authors’ conclusions, I do feel they come closer to than any of their peers and recommend their work as one of the best available.

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For to long, rumor has displaced fact. The time has come to rend the veil gauzy romanticism and bizarre conspiracies, revealing - as much as is possible - the byzantine truth that led to tragedy.
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