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King Ludwig II of Bavaria

Updated on August 23, 2017

Ludwig Friedrich Wilhelm II, King of Bavaria


One of the most fascinating people in history is King Ludwig II of Bavaria. His castles are enchanting, his personality was intriguing, and his death was suspicious.

Read about the life and tragic death of this eccentric king.

Ludwig II: His Youth

Ludwig Friedrich Wilhelm was born in Nymphenburg Palace in Munich, Bavaria on August 25, 1845, to Maximillian II of Bavaria and Countess Maria of Prussia. Ludwig II was the eldest son of his parents and first in line to the Bavarian throne. He was named after his grandfather, Ludwig I of Bavaria, and felt closer to his grandfather than to his own parents. Ludwig and his younger brother, Otto, were constantly reminded of their royal lineage and duties, and were put on a strict regimen of education and exercise. Ludwig spent more time with his tutors than his parents, and when a tutor suggested Ludwig accompany his father on the King's daily walks, his father replied, "But what am I to say to him? After all, my son takes no interest in what other people tell him."

Ludwig spent a lot of his youth at his father's castle, Hohenschwangau. This beautiful castle was located near Füssen, and the castle's fairy-tale quality and location inspired Ludwig's own building endeavors. A frequent visitor of King Maximilian II was Hans Christian Anderson, author of many beautiful fairy-tales, which may have also influenced young Ludwig II.

Ludwig II had two close friends during his youth. He spent much of his time with his aide de camp (personal assistant) Prince Paul Maximilian Lamoral of Thurn and Taxis. The two young men shared many of the same interests, such as poetry and Wagner operas. Another close friend of Ludwig was his cousin, Duchess Elisabeth. His friendship with Prince Paul faded with Paul's engagement, but his friendship with Duchess Elisabeth lasted his entire life.

Maximilian II of Bavaria, Ludwig II's Father

Maximilian II of Bavaria, Ludwig II's Father
Maximilian II of Bavaria, Ludwig II's Father

The Handsome Young King

Ludwig II was just 18 when his father died, making him the King of Bavaria. Although he had been raised as the crown prince and probable king of Bavaria, Ludwig was still a teen-aged boy, and the pressures of ruling an important kingdom would have been a heavy burden for anyone.

Ludwig felt the pressure to produce and heir, and an engagement to the younger sister of his good friend and cousin Duchess Elisabeth was announced. The wedding date was set, and postponed, then postponed again. Eventually, Ludwig broke off the engagement with an apology to Sophie. Ludwig would remain a single man until his death, and died without an heir.

Soon after Ludwig II ascended to the throne, he requested the presence of Richard Wagner. Ludwig was greatly inspired by Wagner's opera, Lohengrin and Wagner was impressed with the young King Ludwig II. Wagner was a rather colorful and rambunctious man, and was not always popular among the people. If it were not for the kings adoration, Wagner may not have been as acclaimed as he was. After six months, the Bavarian people had enough of Richard Wagner's behavior and King Ludwig II asked him to leave.

Richard Wagner said of the young king: "Alas, he is so handsome and wise, soulful and lovely, that I fear that his life must melt away in this vulgar world like a fleeting dream of the gods".

King Ludwig II and Prussia

In 1866, King Ludwig II of Bavaria found himself in the unenviable position of picking sides in the Austro-Prussian War, and he chose the side of Austria. the Austro-Prussian War, also known as the German Civil War, pitted Austria and its German allies against Prussia and its German allies.

The Austro-Prussian War was being watched very closely by France and Russia, a little too closely, and William I of Prussia, who was doing quite well in the war, approached Austria with a peace treaty, which Austria accepted. The consequence for King Ludwig II was that he accept a defense treaty with Prussia.

War broke out once again between Prussia and France with victory going to Prussia. After the Prussian victory, King Ludwig II was asked to write a letter endorsing the creation of a German Empire. This meant Bavaria would become another state in the Empire, and would no longer be an independent kingdom. King Ludwig II felt intense pressure to endorse this German Unification, and did so begrudgingly, refusing to attend the coronation of William I as Kaiser.

Ludwig I of Bavaria, Grandfather of Ludwig II

Ludwig I of Bavaria, Grandfather of Ludwig II
Ludwig I of Bavaria, Grandfather of Ludwig II

After Bavaria became a German state, Ludwig II withdrew from people and became focused on building his castles. Ludwig II was always an introvert, but his fixation on his fantastic castles set into motion the gossiping tongues of Bavaria.



In 1869, Ludwig II was present for the laying of the cornerstone of Neuschwanstein Castle, and in that same year, he finished the royal apartments in the Residenz Palace and started work on a grand conservatory on the roof.

In 1872, he began work on a theater built especially for the operas of Richard Wagner.

In 1878, Linderhof was complete with its beautiful castle gardens and fairy-tale like structures. In that same year, work began on Herrenchiemsee, a palace fashioned after the Palace of Versailles in France, and located on the island of Herren in the middle of Chiemsee.

Ludwig II also had plans to erect three more buildings. A Byzatine Palace in the Graswangtal, a Chinese Palace in the Tyrol, and a castle on the Falkenstein in the Allgäu.

A Fabulous Book on Neuschwanstein

Neuschwanstein  (Opus 33)
Neuschwanstein (Opus 33)

Written in German and English, this book will give you a true appreciation of the castle and the man. The photo gallery at the end of this book will show you rooms that are not open to tourists, and since photography is not allowed in the castle, this is a great way to remember the grandeur yo may have seen in person. Get this book!

 

Rumor, Accusation, and Betrayal

Ludwig II was greatly loved by the people of Bavaria. He was a king who enjoyed travelling through the Bavarian countryside, and would engage the local farmers and peasants in conversation, greatly rewarding those whose hospitality he enjoyed. What he didn't like was the social pomp and circumstance that came with being a king. He avoided large crowds and formal events whenever possible, which many in the social ladder saw as a problem. How could he be a leader if he could barely attend a formal function? How could he be a leader if he preferred the "fantasy-world" of his castles? How could he be a leader if the rumors of his eccentric behavior were true? While the king had the love of the common people, there were those the royal society who didn't like the way King Ludwig II ruled Bavaria, especially Count von Holnstein, and the wheels of Ludwig's fall began turning.

Information was collected, servants were interviewed, gossip and rumors were intermingled with fact, and a report was drawn up by those who wished to remove King Ludwig II from power. The report included such things as the King's bad table manners, his extreme shyness, his dislike of state matters and social functions, his penchant for fantasy, his hermit-like behavior, his expensive habits, and even extreme behavior like having conversations with imaginary people, and holding moonlight picnics while his male servants danced naked in the moonlight. While some of the behaviors reported were true to some extent, it isn't known how many and to what extent. People love to gossip, and some people speculate that many of the things reported were exaggerated and some had run through the rumor mill for so long that the end result bore little or no resemblance to the original story. There were those in the royal circles that doubted the validity of the report, but they did not do anything to stop it.

In June, the report was presented to four psychiatrists, all of whom signed off on it without any of them having ever examined King Ludwig II themselves. The four Psychiatrists declared Ludwig II Paraniod.

"Suffering from such a disorder, freedom of action can no longer be allowed and Your Majesty is declared incapable of ruling, which incapacity will be not only for a year's duration, but for the length of Your Majesty's life."

Was Ludwig II Really a Mad King?

There is great debate as to whether Ludwig II was truly insane. The fact that his younger brother, Otto, was legally declared insane did not help matters much, but that doesn't mean Ludwig suffered from the same malady. While it is true that King Ludwig II was eccentric, that is not enough to declare insanity. Eccentricity was not uncommon in high society, and was almost a by-product of royalty. Give just about anyone the power and money available to those who were of royal birth, and they will find something unusual to do with it. A major point in favor of King Ludwig II was that he used much of his own money for his eccentricities, including his castles, and not the coffers of Bavaria. By doing this, he provided employment for the people, and gained their adoration, but the king was going deeper and deeper in debt, and his financial ministers advised him to halt his lavish spending. The king refused, seeking to borrow money from his family as well as other members of Europe's royalty, and hinted at replacing his cabinet ministers because he didn't like their advice. His cabinet ministers didn't want to lose their jobs, and many weren't too fond of the way Ludwig II avoided affairs of the state, which wasn't exactly good for Bavaria. Some of the cabinet ministers started looking for a way to legally remove Ludwig II from rule, and insanity was the key.

Was Ludwig II of Bavaria insane? Was he the Mad King of Bavaria, or an eccentric man whose odd behavior was exaggerated to "prove" he was unfit for rule?

He was known to take moonlit rides in an elaborate sleigh with servants dressed in 18th century livery.

He rowed in a shell shaped boat around Linderhof Palace while listening to operatic performances.

He would sit in a mirrored room in Linderhof at night, and enjoy a dazzling display of candlelight and the optical illusion of a room without end.

He had a penchant for fantasy, and indulged this with his elaborate building projects.

He was rumored to have frequently dined alone in Linderhof, insisting that his servants set a place for his imaginary guests.

He did seem to live in a fantasy world, and if he did insist on a table setting for imaginary guests, that would make a person wonder...but was he truly insane?

There are many modern doctors who believe Ludwig II was suffering from Aspergers Syndrome. His behavior greatly supports that belief and he is included on almost every list of Famous People with Aspergers.

On his arrest, King Ludwig II asked Dr. Gudden, "How can you declare me insane? After all, you have never seen or examined me before."

Reader Feedback

Think about some of the things you do when you are completely alone. Would a person think you were a little nuts? Perhaps Ludwig II did take an occasional dip in the fantasy river, but was he unfit for rule or just taking a break from the pressures of his life as King of Bavaria?

Do you think King Ludwig II of Bavaria was insane?

The Arrest of King Ludwig II

On June 9, 1886, officials arrived to place the king under arrest and serve him papers declaring him insane with Count von Holnstein and Dr. von Gudden among them. King Ludwig II was tipped off by a servant and ordered the local police to protect him, which they did. Even an elderly baroness flailed at the officials with an umbrella, defending her beloved king. The officials were held overnight, and released the next day. Friends of the king urged him to flee the country and hide, but the king refused, and submitted a statement to the Bamberg Newspaper hoping to gain the support of the people, but officials confiscated the newspapers. The king had the support of his Bavarian people, but this did little good against the government officials bent on arresting the king. When the king did decide he should escape, it was too late, and on June 12, he was taken into custody. He asked Dr. von Gudden, " How can you declare me insane? After all, you have never seen or examined me before?"

King Ludwig II was taken to Castle Berg. On June 13, the very next day, Ludwig II along with Dr. von Gudden were found dead in Lake Starnberg.

The Death of Ludwig II

Ludwig II asked Dr. von Gudden to walk to the lake with him, and the two men were never seen alive again. They were both found floating in the shallow waters of Lake Starnberg, and the official cause of death was drowning. This did not sit well with many who knew the king.

Ludwig II was a very good swimmer, and the waters were shallow. During his autopsy, there was no water found in his lungs, so how did he really die?

Some believe it was murder-suicide. They claim Ludwig II must have drowned Dr. von Gudden and then committed suicide by allowing himself to drown, but again, how did he drown with no water in his lungs?

A man by the name of Jakob Lidl, the king's personal fisherman left notes concerning the death of Ludwig II. He states that he was hiding in the bushes when a boat filled with men arrived intent on rescuing the king. A shot suddenly rang out from the shore, and the king fell dead. There were no gunshot wounds found during the autopsy.

What really happened to Ludwig II and Dr. von Gudden that night will probably be a mystery forever.

Ludwig II is in the crypt of the Michaelskirche in Munich, but his heart is in a silver urn in the Gnadenkapelle (Chapel of the Mercy) in Altötting, next to the hearts of his family.

Ludwig II holds a boquet of white jasmine picked by his dear friend and cousin Elisabeth, who was then Empress of Austria.

Empress Elisabeth stated 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."

Learn more about Ludwig II of Bavaria.

Learn more about this intriguing man, and his wonderful castles.

Ludwig II of Bavaria photos

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      I have family records that indicate King Ludwig's uncle who was exiled by Louis II married my great grandmother in New Orleans. His name was Karl Ludwig, born in 1834 in Stuttgart and died in 1900 in Louisiana.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I didn't know much about King Ludwig before. Sounds like he was a good man. Your lens is so interesting and informative. Blessings!

    • CruiseReady profile image

      CruiseReady 6 years ago from East Central Florida

      Now, along with the ret of the world, I will wonder about what really killed Kind Lugwig

    • profile image

      KatBar 6 years ago

      I visited one of his castles and it was amazing.

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

      Your visit and kind comment on my lens reminded me of one of my favourite lenses that I hadn't yet blessed. Well now I have! :)

    • profile image

      ulla_hennig 7 years ago

      Wonderful history lens! Lensrolled it to my Bavaria lens.

    • justholidays profile image

      justholidays 7 years ago

      I've read but not studied his story so I couldn't have anything but biased opinion but I definitely love this lens.

      Squidangel blessings for King Ludwig II of Bavaria!

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 8 years ago from UK

      This is a truly fascinating story, beautifully presented. I love history but did not know anything about King Ludwig II. Now I feel I know him a little and would love to know even more. I'll certainly have to visit his stunning castles. (5* by the way - well-deserved)

    • CXpressions LM profile image

      CXpressions LM 8 years ago

      Just returned from visiting Germany and Austria. Had the privilege of touring Neuschwanstein, Hohenschwangau, & ate dinner in the town that takes the boats out to Herrenchiemsee and got pics of it from a distance. I liked Hohenschwangau more than Neuschwanstein - it was more personable - probably because that is the castle that was most lived in and contains more history. A very intriguing man, for sure.

    • tandemonimom lm profile image

      tandemonimom lm 8 years ago

      Wow, what an excellent historical lens! I didn't know any of this, and I do love history! 5* and a cordial invitation to join the new Squidoo group Rulers and Royalty.

    • drifter0658 lm profile image

      drifter0658 lm 8 years ago

      Fantastic telling of Ludwig's life, and the brutality of politics. Theodore Roosevelt would have certainly received the same treatment in that era and that general locale.

      I too love history, which means we'll be bumping into each other around these digs.

      Thank you for your kind comments on my Lensograhy.

      Thank you for this!