This article was written by Carol.
Marie was born in 1858 as the daughter of the actress Henriette Mendell and Ludwig Wilhelm, Duke in Bavaria, the grandson of the King of Bavaria. Two months after her birth, her father gave up his rights to the Bavarian throne. Shortly thereafter her mother was created a Baroness, and her parents were married. Due to the circumstances of their marriage, they lived somewhat outside society, but periodically she met her father’s sister Elisabeth, known as Sisi, who had married the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph. When Marie was 16, Empress Elisabeth chose Marie to come and live with her as a companion, and she became the confidante of the Empress. The two appeared devoted to each other, and Marie led a life of privilege, frequently travelling with the Empress. Marie acknowledged that she was useful to the Empress because she was discreet and that she served as a go-between for the Empress in her relationship with Bay Middleton, a British army officer. But it was a similar role Marie played for her cousin Rudolf that made her famous, or more accurately, infamous.
In 1877 Marie married an Austrian nobleman George, Count Larisch. The marriage had been arranged by the Empress, and Marie was soon very unhappy. She spent more time in Vienna and while there she was introduced to the Baroness Vetsera who had two daughters. The younger daughter Mary, who was 17, became obsessed with Rudolf, the Empress’ son and the Crown Prince of Austria. According to Marie, Mary begged Marie to deliver a note to Rudolph, which she did. Nevertheless, she was shocked to discover when she next returned to Vienna that the two had begun an affair.
Marie later claimed that she was pressured and/or tricked into facilitating meetings between Rudolf and Mary. Yet, she acknowledged that she passed letters and money from Rudolf to Mary. She detailed the last days of January 1889. Mary’s mother, distressed by Mary’s conduct and fearing a scandal, had locked Mary in her room. Rudolf visited Marie and begged her to bring Mary to him. He also left with her a box which he hinted had papers that could cause him harm. At Rudolf’s insistence, Marie requested that Mary be allowed to go out for a drive with her. She then took Mary to the Hofburg, the Imperial Palace, where they were taken through a back passage (and across the roof) to meet up with Rudolf. Rudolf asked to speak to Mary alone for 10 minutes. When he returned an hour later, he was alone. Rudolf then told Marie to tell the Baroness Vetsera that Mary had run away.
The next day, 30 January 1889, the bodies of Rudolf and Mary were found at Rudolf’s hunting lodge in Mayerling – apparently a double suicide or a murder/suicide.
The Imperial family tried to cover up the scandal by having Mary’s body removed from the scene by propping her up in a carriage as if she were still alive and driven away. Marie commented that Mary was buried as “if she were a dog.”
When Marie’s involvement became known, her life was never the same again. The Empress and the Imperial family cast her aside. Marie continued to claim that she had been unfairly judged and that she had only done what the Empress had taught her to do – keep others confidences and be discreet about love affairs. Whatever the truth, she was never again accepted in society and never saw the Empress again. The Empress was killed in 1898 without any reconciliation.
In 1896 Marie’s marriage was annulled, and she returned to Bavaria. She married an opera singer Otto Brucks. His association with her, however, hurt his career and he became an alcoholic. She threatened to publish her memoirs, and the Austrian court agreed to pay her an annuity to keep her quiet.
However, in 1913 she published her first volume of memoirs entitled My Past in which she details all the ways Rudolf and Mary tricked her. She also claimed that the box Rudol had left with her contained evidence that he was plotting to overthrow his father and that he feared imminent arrest. Rather than rehabilitating her, this served to further alienate her from the Austrian court. A second volume entitled “Secrets of a Royal House” was published in 1934. In this one, she disclosed that the Empress secretly gave birth to a baby girl, fathered by Bay Middleton. It should be noted that her memoirs are generally thought at best to be biased- at worst deliberately inaccurate.
When war broke out, she joined the Red Cross and worked as a nurse. After the war, she lost all her possessions because she had been living in Alsace, which was returned to France. She described a difficult period in Bavaria, which was under the control of the Red Guard and aristocrats were in danger. She used a fake passport to hide her royal connections. At one point she was warned that the Red Guard was rounding up anyone with royal connections. She escaped in the dead of night. She moved to Berlin where she found work as a housekeeper and soon became a maid, cook and laundress as well.
After giving an interview to an American newspaperman, an article appeared in New York which implied that she would marry anyone who was willing to pay her passage to the United States. In 1924 she accepted an offer from William Meyers, a naturopath in New Jersey. She claims she was to run a sanitarium and was deceived to discover that no sanatorium existed. She did marry Meyers, and this marriage too was unhappy. In Hoboken, New Jersey she found employment as a maid and around 1928 she divorced her husband and returned to Germany where she died destitute in 1940.