AKA Ludwig Friedrich Wilhelm
Birthplace: Munich, Bavaria, Germany
Location of death: Starnberger, Germany
Cause of death: Accident - Drowning
Remains: Buried, Michaelskirche, Munich, Germany
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Gay
Executive summary: Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria, 1864-86
Ludwig II, King of Bavaria, son of his predecessor Maximilian II and his wife Maria, daughter of Prince William of Prussia, was born at Nymphenburg Palace in Munich on 25 August 1845. Together with his brother Otto, three years younger than himself, Ludwig received, in accordance with the wishes of his learned father, a simple and serious education modelled on that of the German Gymnasien, of which the classical languages are the chief feature. Of modern languages the crown prince learned only French, of which he remained fond all his life. The practical value of the prince's training was small. It was not until he was eighteen years old that he received his first pocket money, and at that age he had no ideas about money and its value. Military instruction, physical exercises and sport, in spite of the crown prince's strong physique, received little attention. Thus Ludwig did not come enough into contact with young men of his own age, and consequently soon developed a taste for solitude, which was found at an early age to be combined with the romantic tendencies and musical and theatrical tastes traditional in his family.
Ludwig succeeded to the throne on 10 March 1864, at the age of eighteen. The early years of his reign were marked by a series of serious political defeats for Bavaria. In the Schleswig-Holstein question, though he was opposed to Prussia and a friend of Duke Frederick VIII of Augustenburg, he did not command the material forces necessary to effectively resist the powerful policy of Bismarck. Again, in the war of 1866, Ludwig and his minister von der Pfordten took the side of Austria, and at the conclusion of peace (22 August) Bavaria, in addition to the surrender of certain small portions of her territory, had to agree to the foundation of the North German Confederation under the leadership of Prussia. The king's Bavarian patriotism, one of the few steadfast ideas underlying his policy, was deeply wounded by these occurrences, but he was face to face with the inevitable, and on 10 August he wrote a letter of reconciliation to King William of Prussia. The defeat of Bavaria in 1866 showed clearly the necessity for a reform of the army. Under he new Liberal ministry of Hohenlohe (29-Dec-1866 to 13-Feb-1870) and under Prauckh as minister of war, a series of reforms were carried through which prepared for the victories of 1870. As regards his ecclesiastical policy, though Ludwig remained personally true to the Catholic Church, he strove for a greater independence of the Vatican. He maintained friendly relations with theologian Ignatz von Dollinger, the leader of the more liberal Catholics who opposed the definition of papal infallibility, but without extending his protection to the anti-Roman movement of the Old Catholics. In spite of this the Old Bavarian opposition was so aroused by the Liberalism of the Hohenlohe ministry that at the beginning of 1870 Ludwig had to form a more conservative cabinet under Count Bray-Steinburg. On the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War he at once took the side of Prussia, and gave orders for mobilization. In 1871 it was he who offered the imperial crown to the king of Prussia; but this was not done on his own initiative. Bismarck not only determined the king of Bavaria to take the decisive step which put an end to a serious diplomatic crisis, but actually drafted the letter to King William which Ludwig copied and despatched without changing a word. Ludwig placed very few difficulties in the way of the new German Empire under the leadership of Prussia, though his Bavarian particularism remained unchanged.
Though up until the beginning of the year 1880 he did not cease to give some attention to state affairs, the king's interests lay in quite other spheres. His personal idiosyncrasies had, in fact, developed in a most unhappy direction. His enthusiasm for all that is beautiful soon led him into dangerous bypaths. It found its most innocent expression in the earliest years of his reign when he formed an intimate friendship with Richard Wagner, who from May 1864 to December 1865 he had constantly in his company. Ludwig was entirely possessed by the soaring ideas of the master, and was energetic in their realization. He not only established Wagner's material position at the moment by paying 18,000 gulden of debts for him and granting him a yearly income of 4000 gulden (afterwards increased to 8000), but he also proceeded to realize the ambitious artistic plans of the master. A series of brilliant model performances of the Wagnerian music-dramas was instituted in Munich under the personal patronage of the king, and when the further plan of erecting a great festival theatre in Munich for the performance of Wagner's "music of the future" broke down in the face of the passive resistance of the local circles interested, the royal enthusiast conceived the idea of building at Bayreuth, according to Wagner's new principles, a theatre worthy of the music-dramas. For a time Ludwig was entirely under Wagner's influence, the fantastic tendencies of whose art cast a spell over him, and there is extant a series of emotional letters from the king to Wagner. Wagner, on the whole, used his influence in artistic and not in political affairs, though it was on Wagner's advice that the king appointed Hohenlohe prime minister in 1866.
In spite of this the opposition to Wagner became permanent. Public opinion in Bavaria for the most part turned against him. He was attacked for his foreign origin, his extravagance, his intrigues, his artistic utopias, and last but by no means least, for his unwholesome influence over the king. Ludwig in the end was compelled to give him up. But the relations between king and artist were by no means at an end. In face of the war which was imminent in 1866, and in the midst of preparation for war, the king hastened in May to Triebschen, near Lucerne, in order to see Wagner again. (Hohenlohe commented on the fact that the king did not even take the trouble to review the troops proceeding the war.) In 1868 they were seen together in public for the last time at the festival performances in Munich. In 1876 Wagner's Ring des Nibelungen was performed for the first time at Bayreuth in the presence of the king. Later, in 1881, the king formed a similar friendship with Josef Kainz, the Hungarian actor, but it soon came to an end. In January 1867 the young king became betrothed to Duchess Sophie of Bavaria (afterwards Duchesse d'Alenfon), daughter of Duke Max and sister of the empress of Austria; but the betrothal was dissolved in October of the same year.
Though even in his later years he remained interested in lofty and intellectual pursuits, as may be gathered, apart from his enthusiasm for art and nature, from his wide reading in history, serious poetry and philosophy, yet in his private life there became increasingly marked the signs of moral and mental weakness which gradually gained the mastery over his once pure and noble nature. A prominent feature was his blind craving for solitude. He cut himself off from society, and avoided all intercourse with his family, even with his devotedly affectionate mother. With his ministers he came to communicate in writing only. At the end he was surrounded only by inferior favorites and servants. His life was now spent almost entirely in his castles far from the capital, which irked him more and more, or on short and hasty journeys, in which he always travelled incognito. Even the theatre he could now only enjoy alone. He arranged private performances in his castles or in Munich at fabulous cost, and appointed an official poet to his household. Later his avoidance of society developed into a dread of it, accompanied by a fear of assassination and delusions that he was being followed.
Side by side with this pathological development his inborn self-consciousness increased apace, turning more and more to megalomania, and impelling the weak-willed monarch to those extraordinary displays of magnificence which can still be admired today in the castles built or altered by him, such as Neuschwanstein, later the inspiration for that fanciful castle at Disneyland, as well as Berg on the Starnberger, Linderhof, Herrenchiemsee, Hohensch-wangau, etc., which are among the most splendid buildings in Germany. It is characteristic of the extravagance of the king's ideas that he adopted as his model the style of Louis XIV, specifically the imperial palace at Versailles, and fell into the habit of imitating the Roi Soleil. He no longer stayed for any length of time in one castle. Often he scoured the country in wild nocturnal rides, his madness nipping at his heels. His mania for buying things and making presents was comparatively harmless, but more serious matters were the wild extravagance which in 1880 involved him in financial ruin, his fits of destructive rage, and his private homosexual yearning which wracked and perplexed him. Nonetheless, at the time when the king's mental weakness was increasing, his character still retained lovable traits: his simple sense of beauty, his kindliness, and his highly developed understanding of art and artistic crafts. Ludwig's love of beauty also brought material profit to Bavaria.
But the financial and political dangers which arose from the king's way of life were so great that interference became necessary. On 8 June 1886, medical opinion declared him to be affected with chronic and incurable madness and he was pronounced incapable of governing. On l0 June his uncle, Prince Luitpold, assumed the regency, and after violent resistance the late king was placed under the charge of a psychiatrist. On 13 June 1886 he met his death by drowning in the Starnberger See, together with his doctor von Gudden, who had unwisely gone for a walk alone with his patient, whose physical strength was enormous. The details of Ludwig's death will never be fully known, as the only possible eyewitness died with him. An examination of the brain revealed a condition of incurable insanity, and the faculty submitted a report giving the terrible details of his malady. Ludwig's brother Otto, who succeeded him as king of Bavaria, was also incurably insane.
Father: King Maximilian II
Mother: Marie (Prussian princess)
Boyfriend: Richard Hornig (equerry)
Boyfriend: Josef Kainz (Hungarian actor)
Boyfriend: Alfons Weber (courtier)
Autopsy Munich, Germany
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