‘History in 10’ Sunday: King Ludwig II

History in Ten

Happy Sunday, everyone! I’m really excited to introduce this new weekly feature for Duchess-at-Large: ‘History in 10’ Sundays. There’re so many fascinated royal figures in history and I really want to share some of the cool things I’ve researched over the years… that’s where History in 10 comes in. Every Sunday I’ll be sharing 10 facts about various royal-related topics, everything from historical royals to palaces, as well as provide some further resources for you to learn more.

For the first ‘History in 10’, I’ve chosen one of my all-time favorite royals, King Ludwig II. After living in Munich for a year, it’s no surprise that I’ve really been inspired to dive more into his life. That’s what I love about living in Europe, royal history is literally all around… So let’s get down to it!

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10. Ludwig II, son of Maximilian II and Princess Maria of Prussia, was born August 25, 1845 at Nymphemburg Palace in Munich. He had an isolated childhood, as many royal children did, and was reminded of his royal duties since a young age. Though he wasn’t close with his parents, his father did build him a fantasy castle, Castle Hohenschwangau, which had walls adorned with scenes from fairy tales where Prince Ludwig enjoyed times of solitude, lost in his own imagination.

“Ludwig enjoyed dressing up … took pleasure in play acting, loved pictures and the like … and liked … making presents of his property, money and other possessions”, said his mother. This was not to change. His vivid imagination, his tendency to isolate himself, and his pronounced sense of sovereignty were also already evident when Ludwig was a child. (Source.)

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9. Prince Ludwig ascended the throne in 1864, at the young age of 18. He was well-received by the Bavarian people, and was known for “his brooding good looks.” Though he was painfully shy and preferred isolation to large public functions, King Ludwig II tried his best to take over the role of King.

“I became king much too early. I had not learned enough. I had made such a good beginning … with the learning of state laws. Suddenly I was snatched away from my books and set on the throne. Well, I am still trying to learn …” (Source.)

8. Since childhood, King Ludwig II had a close friendship with his cousin Duchess Elisabeth of Bavaria, later Empress Elisabeth (Sisi) of Austria. She was one of his closest confidants and they would write letters often. She called him “Eagle,” and he called her “Dove.”

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7. On New Year’s Day, 1867, King Ludwig II’s engagement to Duchess Sophie Charlotte, Empress Elisabeth’s sister and King Ludwig’s cousin, was announced. The wedding was planned to take place on King Ludwig’s 22nd birthday, but was postponed to October. The week before the wedding, Ludwig broke off the engagement with Sophie through a letter, explaining that he only loved her like a sister, and hoped they stay friends. (Royal breakups, they’re just like ours!)

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6. It’s been widely speculated that King Ludwig II was gay. He was close with a few male companions throughout the years, but there is no proof that their relationships were amorous. He was a devout Catholic and was said to have struggled with his sexuality because of his religious devotion.

5. King Ludwig II was obsessed with composer Richard Wagner (to say the least). Upon his becoming King, Ludwig immediately summoned Wagner to Munich, where Ludwig essentially saved Wagner from financial ruin.

“… Today I was brought to him. He is unfortunately so beautiful and wise, soulful and lordly, that I fear his life must fade away like a divine dream in this base world … You cannot imagine the magic of his regard: if he remains alive it will be a great miracle!” wrote the composer after his first meeting. (Source.)

Political conflicts and Wagner’s anti-Semitic sentiments ultimately led to King Ludwig II having him removed from court.

4. King Ludwig II became obsessed with creating a fantasy world which he could rule. He began spending less and less time in Munich and more time at palaces in remote locations. Starting in 1875, Ludwig would only sleep during the day and live at night, forcing his servants to do the same. He had special pulleys and levers created so he could be served through floorboards, so as not to have any contact with servants.

3. The creation of this fantasy world ultimately led Ludwig, and the State of Bavaria, to financial ruin. Because of his refusal to stop his spending, he was deposed as King and declared as being “insane” by psychiatrist Bernhard von Gudden.

If anything, Gudden’s diagnosis of paranoia and insanity casts a dim light on the doctor’s own decidedly odd methods. Instead of examining the king himself, he based his report on interviews with a few of his aides in secret night-time meetings. (Source.)

It’s also worth noting that Ludwig’s brother, Otto, was already locked away at this time under claims of him also being “insane.”

2.  On June 13, 1886, King Ludwig II went for a walk with his psychiatrist, Dr. Gudden. Their bodies were discovered floating in Lake Starnberg, they had drown. No one knows much more than that, and the details surrounding their deaths continue to remain a mystery.

1.  One of the most famous quotes of King Ludwig II. also happens to be the most fitting:

“I wish to forever remain an enigma, both to myself and to others.”

To learn more about the fascinating life of King Ludwig II, I recommend…

This article from the Atlantic about the 125th Anniversary of his death.

This piece from Der Spiegel on whether or not he was truly mentally ill.

This podcast episode about him from the brilliant Stuff You Missed In History Class.

This book, The Swan King: Ludwig II of Bavaria by Christopher McIntosh.

And this movie, which I just watched last night (and loved!), Ludwig II.

Bonus: King Ludwig II’s modern-day doppelgängers.

Do you have any recommendations for future ‘History in 10’ posts? Let me know!

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One thought on “‘History in 10’ Sunday: King Ludwig II

  1. jamiemid

    This was fascinating and I am so glad that you posted it. When my husband was stationed in Germany, he went to see Ludwig’s castle and was quite taken with it. I am glad that Ludwig wasn’t likely crazy at all. A lot of royals in history have gotten a bad rap, and poor Ludwig was certainly one, with Richard the Third being another. A lot of the bad rap on Richard came from the Tudors, which is no surprise since their claim on the throne was not as good as poor Richard’s was. I read a fascinating book by Josephine Tey years ago, and came away from it with a certainty that Richard was not the horrible man that he was called for so many years. Poor Ludwig was called Crazy Ludwig for years, and in fact some Germans that my husband met told him Ludwig was crazy. I think the poor man had some inner conflicts, but who doesn’t?! He was also kind of a hotty. 🙂 I like the idea of this series. I would like to see something on poor King George who was also said to be mad, or Richard. No Tudors please! Kaiser Bill might also be an interesting subject. Something or someone romantic might be nice too. I can’t think of anyone offhand who fits that description though.

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