Ludwig II of Bavaria

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Ludwig II of Bavaria

Ludwig (Louis) II, King of Bavaria, Ludwig Friedrich Wilhelm, also known as Ludwig the Mad (August 25, 1845 - June 13, 1886) was king of Bavaria from 1864 until his death.



Born at Nymphenburg (today part of Munich), he was the son of Maximilian II of Bavaria and Princess Marie of Prussia. Ludwig was continually reminded of his royal power as a child, and his education swayed between being extremely spoiled on some occassions to being severely controlled by his protectors on others. This no doubt played a role in what later accounts describe as strange behavior. Ludwig's apologists explain that much of his 'unusual' behaviour was caused by the stress of growing up in a royal family, comparing it to the problems that modern royals like those in the House of Windsor have experienced.

Ludwig's youth did have many, often overlooked, happy experiences, as well. An early friend, the handsome aristocrat and actor Paul Maximilian Lamoral von Thurn und Taxis, was pastoral in tone with the two men riding together, reading poetry aloud, and staging scenes from the Romantic operas of Richard Wagner, whom they both adored. The relationship broke off when Paul von Thurn became more interested in young women. During his youth, Ludwig also initiated a lifelong friendship with his cousin Elizabeth of Bavaria called Sissi. They both loved nature and poetry, and nicknamed each other the Eagle and the Seagull.

Ludwig ascended to the Bavarian throne at age 18 following his father's death. His brooding good looks and youth made him wildly popular amongst Bavarians, as well as abroad. One of his first acts was official patronage of his idol, Wagner. For much of Ludwig's rule he promoted reconcilliation amongst the German states.

The greatest stresses of Ludwig's early reign were the expectation to produce an heir, and relations with militant Prussia. Both issues came to the forefront in 1867. Ludwig was engaged to Princess Sophie of Bavaria who was his cousin and sister of Elisabeth of Austria ("the Dove"). Their engagement was publicized on January 22, 1867, but after having repeatedly postponed the wedding date, he finally cancelled it in October. It is proven by her letters to her new friend that she was unfaithful. Sophie later married Ferdinand Philippe Marie, duc d'Alenon (1844-1910), son of Louis Charles Philippe Raphael, duc de Nemours. Though Ludwig had sided with Austria against Prussia in the Seven Weeks' War, he quickly allied with Prussia in 1867 after being defeated in the war. Ludwig refused to break ranks with Prussia by making an alliance with France, and joined with Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War. In 1869, Ludwig began keeping a diary in which among other things he recorded his agony at desiring sexual desires while trying to remain true to his Catholic beliefs. On the request of Bismarck, Ludwig solicited a letter in December 1870 calling for the creation of a German Empire. He received some concessions in return for his country becoming part of said empire, but not the territorial expansion he sought.

Matrimonial and territorial defeats added to Ludwig's natural melancholy. As Ludwig's rule progressed, he became antisocial. In the 1880s, Ludwig withdrew into seclusion in the Alps most of the time. There he built several expensive fairytale palaces with the stage designer Christian Jank, and imagined a dream world with himself as an absolute monarch descended from Louis Bourbon XIV of France. Ludwig's closest companion during these years was his chief equerry, Richard Hornig. Ludwig also enjoyed a brief friendship with the Hungarian theatre star Josef Kainz in 1881. But the king showed always all men the border, which he wanted to pull.

Ludwig's building projects included:

  • Neuschwanstein- or "New Swan Castle", a dramatic Romanesque fortress with Byzantine and Gothic interiors, which was built next to his predecessor's castle: Hohenschwangau. Numerous wall paintings depict scenes from Wagner's operas. Christian glory and chaste love figure predominantly in the iconography, and were possibly hoped to help Ludwig live up to his Catholic ideals. The castle was not finished at Ludwig's death. It is by far the best known (to non-Germans) landmark in Germany today. Neuschwanstein would become the largest inspiration for Sleeping Beauty's castle at Disney Land.
  • Linderhof- is an ornate palace in neo-Rococo style, with handsome formal gardens. The grounds contain a grotto where opera singers performed on an underground lake lit with electricity, a novelty at that time, and a Romantic woodsman's hut built inside an artificial tree. Inside the palace, iconography reflects Ludwig's fascination with the absolutist government of Ancien Rgime France. Ludwig saw himself as the "Moon King", a Romantic shadow of the earlier "Sun King", Louis XIV of France. From Linderhof, Ludwig enjoyed moonlit sleigh rides in an elaborate 18th century sleigh, complete with footmen in 18th century livery. He was known to stop and visit with rural peasants while on rides, adding to his legend and popularity.
  • Herrenchiemsee- is a replica of the palace at Versailles, France, which was meant to outdo its predecessor in scale and opulence. It is located on an island in the middle of a large lake. Most of the palace was never completed, and Ludwig only stayed there once.
  • Ludwig also outfitted Schachen king's house with an overwhelmingly decorative Arabian style interior, including a replica of the famous Peacock Throne. There are stories of luxurious parties with the king sometimes reclining in the role of Turkish sultan while the most handsome soldiers and stable boys serve him as scantily clad dancers. These stories may or may not be true.
  • Falkenstein- was a planned, but never executed "robber baron's castle". A painting by Christian Jank shows the proposed building as an even more fairytale version of Neuschwanstein, perched on a rocky cliff. It seems that as Ludwig was increasingly cut off from reality, and as his family fortune ran dry, he conceived a plan to rob banks to fund his absolutist dream.

On June 10, 1886, Ludwig was officially declared insane by the government and incapable of executing his governmental powers, and Prince Luitpold was declared regent. Professor Bernhard von Gudden explained King Ludwig II insane - ever to have seen or examine Ludwig - however due to lieful and strange reports of Ludwigs enemies. Some historians believe that Ludwig was sane, but victim of an intrigue. Empress Elizabeth held that, "The King was not mad; he was just an eccentric living in a world of dreams. They might have treated him more gently, and thus perhaps spared him so terrible an end."

Taking the popular head of state into custody was done in secret, and the event proved as queer as the rest of Ludwig's life. An eccentric but loyal baroness arrived at the gate of the rural castle to wave her umbrella menacingly and to harangue the men who came to imprison Ludwig. The king himself ordered - it is said - all kinds of nonsensical punishments against the "treasonous" ministers. A huge force of peasants now swarmed to Hohenschwangau to protect the King. They were willing to escort Ludwig under guard across the border and save him. But Ludwig refused. The battalion of soldiers at nearby Kempten had been summoned to Neuschwanstein, but it was retained by the government. King Ludwig tried to publish the following call to the population: The prince Luitpold intends to rise up without my will to the regent of my country. My past Ministry deceived untrue data over state of my health and prepares high-traitorous actions forwards against my loved people ... I request each faithful Bavaria man to help. Crowds forward around my faithful ones and prevents the planned betrayal to the king and the native country. (Bamberger newspaper on June 11, 1886, briefly before seizing). But most of his telegrams to the newspapers and friends were intercepted by the secret service. Bismarck offered him the advice to go to Munich and show himself to the people. But Ludwig refused. In the morning of 12th, a second Commission reaching Neuschwanstein. The King was placed under arrest and to be taken to castle Berg at 4:00 am.

Mystery surrounds his death by drowning in Lake Starnberg in Berg, south of Munich. On June 13, at 6:30 pm, Ludwig expressed the desire to make still a walk together with Dr. Gudden. It is strange that Gudden forbade that someone should follow. King Ludwig was found dead after 4 1/2 hours (!) of search - at 11:30 pm, side at side with dead Professor Gudden, in the water close nearby the bank of lake Starnberg. A little chapel was later built near the site of his drowning. A remembrance ceremony is held there each year on the anniversary of his death. It was first alleged in 1887 by his enemies in the government that Ludwig was a homosexual and he developed mental problems after repeatedly trying to suppress his desires unsuccessfully.

Ludwig is remembered as one of the most unusual rulers of Germany, and the debate about how to judge him continues even today. It seems that he was quite popular among his subjects, probably for two reasons: First, he avoided engaging in war, giving Bavaria a time of peace. Whether this was due to him being pacifist, or simply due to his lack of interest in political power is debated. Second, he funded the construction of his famous fairy-tale castles from his own private property, not from the state budget. This gave many people employment and brought a considerable flow of money to the regions involved. Hence, he is still remembered in Bavaria as "unser Kini" (our king), which is meant quite cordially (although now often also jocular).

Of course, his spending of the family's wealth on art and architecture likely upset his relatives, and it was hence often suspected, that his death was not an accident. (This was never proven, but the fact that he was known to be a good swimmer, as well as that the lake was less than waist-deep at the area where he drowned, seems to support the suspicion.) Ironically, despite nearly bankrupting Bavaria's royal family with his construction projects, the palaces have now turned into profitable tourist attractions for the State.

Ludwig and the arts

Ludwig was a major patron of composer Richard Wagner, and he funded the construction of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus.

Ludwig left behind a large collection of plans and designs for other castles that were never built, as well as plans for further rooms in his completed buildings. Many of these designs are housed today in the King Ludwig II Museum at Herrenchiemsee. These buildings date from the later part of the King's reign, beginning around 1883. As money was starting to run out, the designs became more extravagant, and numerous.

Ludwig in fiction

The 1972 movie Ludwig, directed by Luchino Visconti was based on his life. His past (both real-life and a fictional version) also features heavily in the computer game Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within. And, there is a Japanese comic based on Ludwig's love life.

Preceded by:
Maximilian II
King of Bavaria
Succeeded by:
Otto I

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External links

fr:Louis_II,_roi_de_Bavire he:לודוויג השני ja:ルートヴィヒ2世 (バイエルン王) la:Ludovicus_II_(rex_Bavarensis) nl:Lodewijk_II_van_Beieren ru:Людвиг_II_Баварский sv:Ludwig_II_av_Bayern uk:Людвіґ II (король Баварії) pl:Ludwik II (krl Bawarii)


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