Today, January 30th …
The Crown Prince of Austria, Rudolph Habsburg, and his beautiful seventeen year old mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera died on this day in 1889 in what may have been a double suicide, a murder-suicide (with either Rudolph or Mary being the murderer), or a politically motivated assassination. The subsequent publicity was a masterpiece of cover-up and spin-doctoring, as would be expected from an Imperial family, and the response was speculation and rumour of epic proportions. Officially Rudolph died from “apoplexy of the heart” - a complication, no doubt of the large bullet hole in his chest. Mary was not mentioned at all; officially, she was never there.
It is not only the motive that is in doubt. Mary may or may not have been pregnant (and if she was she may have died as the result of a botched abortion), and she may have been shot in the head or beaten to death (her body disappeared for a while, and the rediscovered body, may not have been the same as the one buried with her name on it, and it is not certain which of the two was the real one anyway). She may or may not have poisoned Rudolph, although again, this does not explain the bullet-hole in his body.
In the midst of such controversy, it is comforting to find that there is no dispute about their last meal together. Rudolph and Mary were at Mayerling, the royal hunting lodge in the Vienna woods (now a Carmelite convent). On that last night his valet served them a meal of pheasant with fresh mushrooms, leeks, and baked potatoes, with two bottles of Tokay on the side.
Not a bad final meal, planned or not, and surely more elegant than the usual American prisoners’ death-row requests for hamburger or pizza!
Here is a pheasant dish from a titled gentleman of the same era : the Baron Brisse, from his book “366 menus and 1200 recipes”.
Truss the pheasant for boiling, lard it with fine strips of bacon, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and mixed spice; be careful to lard even the legs, cover with slices of bacon, and place in a stew-pan lined with bacon; moisten with equal quantities of white wine, and stock, and simmer for two hours; when done, drain the pheasants, remove the slices of bacon, and dish up covered with game sauce.
Enjoy with the Tokay!
Tomorrow: Cheating and eating.