The past month I have had family from Australia travelling through Europe. I met them up in Islay, then we travelled together to London and Cornwall. Last weekend I took them to Bavaria’s Schloss Neuschwanstein, where I heroically defied a bridge-ban in order to get some happy snaps for my Instagram.
I trekked the 2.5 hours to Neuschwanstein expecting to fall in love with a castle. What I didn’t expect was to develop an obsession with Bavaria’s crazy, yet loveable, King Ludwig II.
Here are seven facts that a go long way in explaining my soft spot. I am confident you will develop one too after reading them.
1. He was never really cut out to be King
Ludwig became king of Bavaria at the age of 18 after his father died suddenly as a result of a three-day illness. Although Ludwig was apparently much admired by his female subjects (I mean, with a hairstyle like that, who could resist?) he also had some qualities that prevented him from being King material. He was a notorious introvert and disliked large public functions. His real passions were music, theatre and architecture.
2. He was a great patron of the composer Richard Wagner
At the age of 15, when other boys were playing marbles and collecting baseball cards, Ludwig was watching Lohengrin. This was the first of Wagner’s operas Ludwig ever saw, and he became fascinated by the composer shortly afterwards.
As King, one of the first things Ludwig did was invite Wagner to court. By all accounts Wagner was a bit of a shit, and being called to Lugwig’s court was the only thing that saved him from financial ruin. Later he was forced to leave Munich due to conflict with the Government, which sounds ominous.
However Ludwig continued his lavish support for Wagner, and no expenses were spared for the staging of his operas. The pair exchanged some 600 letters, and Ludwig would reportedly have forgone the crown in order to devote his life to Wagner. However, unluckily enough for Ludwig, Wagner also liked chicks (and power) (and being a shit).
3. He had some other special male friends too
Ludwig famously refused to get married, even for reasons of state. He was engaged to the rather normal sounding Duchess Sophie Charlotte. However when it turned out their only common ground was a mutual love of Wagner, Sophie presumably smelt a rat, and the engagement was called off.
In addition to his companionship with Wagner, Ludwig was also reportedly “close” with his equerry. And with a name like Richard Hornig, this guy couldn’t have had anything innocent in mind. Later, Wagner was also quite taken by the Hungarian actor Jospeph Kainz. He was so taken, in fact, that on the first night of their meeting Ludwig did the honour of bestowing him a pair of ivory opera glasses. *Cough*. *Sugar Daddy*.
4. He had some very peculiar habits
From 1875 Ludwig lived at night and slept during the day. The latest technology was used to construct the sleighs that he used to cruise around in at night.
Ludwig insisted on dining outdoors, no matter the weather, and he wore heavy overcoats in summer (this is hardly surprising - after all he did live in Bavaria!). He made regular and violent threats against his domestic staff (including an especially creative suggestion to deport an ill-mannered servant to America), and was described as having sloppy and childish table manners.
These were all grounds that were eventually used against Ludwig to have him declared insane. And to be fair, he can’t have really been all that surprised.
5. He had an outrageous penchant for castles
If it wasn’t enough that he oversaw the defeat of Bavaria at the hands of Prussia (and its eventual loss of independence as it became part of the newly-unified Germany) Ludwig also plunged the state into ruin by continuing to build castles all over the place. His advisors pleaded for him to stop; in 1885 the foreign banks threatened to seize his property, but there was just no curbing the man’s enthusiasm for neo-gothic architecture.
Ludwig ordered the construction of three castles: Neuschwanstein - which is perhaps most famous for inspiring the logo of Walt Disney films; Linderhof - complete with a Venus grotto lit by electricity, where he rowed around in a boat shaped like a shell; and Herrenchiemsee - a miniature replica and homage to the Palace of Versailles.
6. He was declared insane
It would appear that Ludwig’s family started to get a bit red around the ears from his behaviour, and - with the long-term view of getting him deposed - hired a psych to declare him nuts. The psychiatrist in question was the sinister sounding Dr Bernhard von Gudden, who’s other achievements included perfecting a machine that could slice the human brain into fine pieces for research purposes. Awesome.
I doubt it will come as a shock for you to discover that the attempt to prove Ludwig insane was overwhelmingly succesful. Although he was framed, he really had done a lot of stuff that gave the impression he was bonkers, and so he made light work of it for his enemies.
After being declared insane, Ludwig was deposed and captured. This was despite the famously heroic efforts of the 47-year-old Baroness Spera von Truchseß von Wetzhausen, who flailed at Ludwig’s captors with her umbrella. It didn’t work, and Ludwig was taken and interned in Berg Palace. If this choice was supposed to deflate him I doubt it worked, as this was the very same palace where Ludwig reportedly hosted orgies with the young troopers under his command.
7. He was discovered dead under suspicious circumstances
A day after being confined, Ludwig announced that he was going to take a stroll around Lake Starnberg with his good friend Dr von Gudden (the brain guy who had him certified a loony). The pair was due to return at 8.00 pm, but when the time arrived and there was no sign of Ludwig or the Doc, the alarm was raised and a search party dispatched.
Several hours later the two were found dead in the shallows of the lake, with their heads and shoulders above water. The official cause of death was declared suicide by drowning, even though the autopsy found no water in Ludwig’s lungs. The Doc, on the other hand, had signs of blows to the head and attempted strangulation. It was a pleasant stroll apparently.
If the whole suicide thing doesn’t quite add up for you, here are some alternative theories that you may prefer:
a) murder at the hands of his enemies, who ambushed him during his afternoon stroll
b) cardiac-arrest brought upon by the cold water as Ludwig attempted to escape through the lake
c) a homo-erotic lakeside orgy that went horribly wrong
Is it just me or is King Ludwig II simply too good to be true? I want the book, I want the T-shirt, I want the bobble-head doll for my car. What do you make of the whole story?