King Ludwig II. of Bavaria

King Ludwig II of Bavaria is one of Germany’s most interesting ancestors. Conspiracy theories have surrounded his mysterious death and his label as the ‘Mad King’ has drawn artists, historians, and tourists to his history for years. Very few people understand the full history of Ludwig II, however. Here’s a complete guide to the history of this intriguing historical figure.

Early Years
The future King Ludwig II was born in Nymphenburg Palace, in modern-day Munich. He was born to the eldest son of Crown Prince Maximilian II of Bavaria and Princess Marie of Prussia.

During his early years, he was drilled and groomed for power. King Maximilian II demanded he be taught about the corridors of power from an early age. Tutors trained him in both mind and body to rule. He was confined to a strict study and exercise regime.

Ludwig was never close to his parents. He was much closer to his grandfather Ludwig I, who came from a family of eccentrics himself. This is where many assume much of his quirks originated from.

Becoming a King and a Patron of the Arts
Crown Prince Ludwig ascended the throne when he was just 18. His father Maximilian died after a short three-day illness.

Even though his youth and lack of experience made him an unfit ruler, he was immensely popular. His youth brought freshness to the Bavarian state, and women melted over his handsome and dashing demeanor.

One of his first acts was to recall Richard Wagner to court. Wagner was known as a revolutionary and serial debtor. But he had admired him since seeing Wagner’s Lohengrin opera. He apparently appealed to the King’s eccentricities. It was his friendship with the King which led many of his operas to debut in the famous Bavarian State Opera House, which was the Munich Royal Court Theatre at the time.

Relations at Home and Abroad
During Ludwig’s early reign, his main priority was to produce a male heir to secure the dynastic line. At the same time, Prussia was growing in strength and he was bound to confront it. In 1867, both of them reached critical mass.

In 1867 he became engaged to Duchess Sophie Charlotte. She was the youngest sister of Empress Elisabeth of Austria. The marriage never happened, though. After it was initially publicized in January, multiple postponements saw the whole thing cancelled in October. Ludwig would never marry in his life.

Ludwig became involved in two wars during his life. In 1866, Bavaria joined Austria against Prussian expansionism. The final negotiations led to Ludwig accepting a mutual defense treaty with Prussia.

Three years later, the Franco-Prussian War began. Prussia’s resounding victory led to the unification of Germany and Ludwig’s Uncle, Wilhelm I of Prussia, becoming Emperor. King Ludwig lost his crown as Bavaria became a state in the new Germany. He attempted to protest by not attending the ceremony in the Palace of Versailles, but Prince Otto went in his stead.

Power Struggle
Ludwig came into direct conflict with his cabinet, who wanted him deposed after drowning Bavaria in 14 million Marks worth of debt. This led to an attempt to arrest Ludwig and place his uncle Luitpold as Prince Regent. Although an initial peasant support may have saved the king, his fears of large public gatherings and constant dithering caused his support to wane. He was arrested on 12 June 1886.

Ludwig and Dr Bernhard von Gudden went for a walk on the shores of Lake Starnberg on 13 June 1886. They commanded no attendants should follow them. Both men were found in shallow water in Lake Starnberg later that night. Coroners ruled Ludwig, aged 40, had committed suicide by drowning himself, yet the autopsy showed no water had entered his lungs. Furthermore, he was a very strong swimmer and he was found in shallow water. Dr Gudden’s body showed signs of strangulation. The suspicious manner of the deaths of both men has led to a number of conspiracy theories over the years.

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King Ludwig II. of Bavaria | Neuschwanstein Castle in Hohenschwangau, Schwangau near Füssen