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January 31

Karl Ludwig was proclaimed Holy Roman Emperor and President of the German Confederation the day after his elder brother the ruling monarch Franz Josef was shot dead at the Mayerling Hunting Lodge by the heir to the imperial throne, his crazed eldest son Rudolf Franz.

31st January, 1889 - Karl Ludwig proclaimed Holy Roman EmperorFor several years father and son had been locked in a bitter disagreement over a personal conflict in royal duty versus freedom of personal choice. Rudolf had been unsuccessful in seeking from Pope Leo III annulment of his marriage to Stéphanie of Belgium in order to marry his teenage mistress, Baroness Marie Vetsera.

It was of course an unsolvable dispute and matters finally came to a head when his despotic father made the choice for him with an order to immediately end the affair. What made matters worse from an emotional perspective was the lack of sensitivity because the Emperor's order was delivered (or more accurately, barked out) at the romantic property the son had purchased to be with his mistress. It was speculated that the weapon used had originally been intended for a suicide pact and therefore his father's unexpected arrival was tragically ill-timed.

Although he could be faulted for not seeing that Rudolf was a grave danger to himself, Franz Josef was surely correct to view his son's defiance as a danger to the prestige of the Empire, particularly when the annulment was considered from the perspective of royal duty. Although the Hapsburg Family had ruled almost continuously since 1440, a Holy Roman Emperor was only as strong as his army and alliances made him and of course as a Catholic Monarch the support of the Pope was indispensable to their authority. This truism was proven by the brief interregnum in which Napoleon had seized the crown after the Battle of Austerlitz. Franz Josef had lived in constant fear that a family feud would encourage their Protestant arch-rivals the Hohenzollerns to make such an attempt in a bid to gain the mastery of Europe. However the line of succession now changed to his own son, Franz Ferdinand, who dreamt of creating a multiracial empire of liberty, a shining future that would keep the Hohenzollerns at bay forever.