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About Ludwig II, König von Bayern
Ludwig II or Ludwig Otto Friedrich Wilhelm (25 August 1845 – 13 June 1886) was King of Bavaria from 1864 until his death. He is sometimes called the Swan King (English) and der Märchenkönig, the Fairy Tale King (German). He also held the titles of Count Palatine of the Rhine, Duke of Bavaria, Duke of Franconia, and Duke in Swabia.
He succeeded to the throne aged 18. Two years later Bavaria was effectively subjugated by Prussia, and subsequently absorbed into the German Empire. Ludwig remained King of Bavaria, but largely ignored such state affairs as remained to Bavaria in favor of extravagant artistic and architectural projects. He commissioned the construction of two lavish palaces and the Neuschwanstein Castle, and was a devoted patron of the composer Richard Wagner. Ludwig spent all the royal revenues (although not state funds) on these projects, borrowed extensively, and defied all attempts by his ministers to restrain him. This was used against him to declare him insane, an accusation which has since been refuted. Ludwig is generally well-regarded and even revered by many Bavarians today. His legacy of architecture and art includes many of Bavaria's important tourist attractions.
Born in Nymphenburg Palace (today located in suburban Munich), he was the elder son of Maximilian II of Bavaria (then Bavarian Crown Prince) of the House of Wittelsbach, and his wife Princess Marie of Prussia. His parents intended to name him Otto, but his grandfather, Ludwig I of Bavaria, insisted that his grandson was named after him, since their common birthday, 25 August, is the feast day of Saint Louis IX of France, patron saint of Bavaria. His younger brother, born three years later, was named Otto.
Like many young heirs in an age when kings governed most of Europe, Ludwig was continually reminded of his royal status. King Maximilian wanted to instruct both of his sons in the burdens of royal duty from an early age. Ludwig was both extremely indulged and severely controlled by his tutors and subjected to a strict regimen of study and exercise. There are some who point to these stresses of growing up in a royal family as the causes for much of his odd behavior as an adult. Ludwig was not close to either of his parents. King Maximilian's advisers had suggested that on his daily walks he might like, at times, to be accompanied by his future successor. The King replied, "But what am I to say to him? After all, my son takes no interest in what other people tell him." Later, Ludwig would refer to his mother as "my predecessor's consort". He was far closer to his grandfather, the deposed and notorious King Ludwig I, who came from a family of eccentrics.
Ludwig's childhood years did have happy moments. He lived for much of the time at Castle Hohenschwangau, a fantasy castle his father had built near the Schwansee (Swan Lake) near Füssen. It was decorated in the Gothic Revival style with many frescoes depicting heroic German sagas. The family also visited Lake Starnberg. As an adolescent, Ludwig became close friends with his aide de camp, Prince Paul, a member of Bavaria's wealthy Thurn und Taxis family. The two young men rode together, read poetry aloud, and staged scenes from the Romantic operas of Richard Wagner. The friendship ended when Paul became engaged in 1866. During his youth Ludwig also initiated a lifelong friendship with his cousin, Duchess Elisabeth in Bavaria, later Empress of Austria.
Crown Prince Ludwig had just turned 18 when his father died after a three-day illness, and he ascended the Bavarian throne. Although he was not prepared for high office, his youth and brooding good looks made him popular in Bavaria and elsewhere. He continued the state policies of his father and retained his ministers.
His real interests were in art, music, and architecture. One of the first acts of his reign, a few months after his accession, was to summon Wagner to his court. Also in 1864, he laid the foundation stone of a new Court Theatre, now the Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz (Gärtnerplatz-Theater).
Ludwig was notably eccentric in ways that made serving as Bavaria's head of state problematic. He disliked large public functions and avoided formal social events whenever possible, preferring a life of seclusion that he pursued with various creative projects. He last inspected a military parade on 22 August 1875 and last gave a Court banquet on 10 February 1876. His mother had foreseen difficulties for Ludwig when she recorded her concern for her extremely introverted and creative son who spent much time day-dreaming. These idiosyncrasies, combined with the fact that Ludwig avoided Munich and participating in the government there at all costs, caused considerable tension with the king's government ministers, but did not cost him popularity among the citizens of Bavaria. The king enjoyed traveling in the Bavarian countryside and chatting with farmers and labourers he met along the way. He also delighted in rewarding those who were hospitable to him during his travels with lavish gifts. He is still remembered in Bavaria as "Unser Kini" ("our cherished king" in the Bavarian dialect).
Relations with Prussia took center stage from 1866. In the Austro-Prussian War, which began in July, Ludwig supported Austria against Prussia. Austria and Bavaria were defeated; and Bavaria was forced to sign a mutual defense treaty with Prussia which effectively left Bavaria under Prussian control.
When the Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870, Bavaria was required to fight alongside Prussia. After the Prussian victory over France, Bismarck moved to complete the Unification of Germany. In November 1870, Bavaria joined the North German Confederation. In December 1870, Bismarck by certain financial concessions induced Ludwig to write the so-called Kaiserbrief, a letter endorsing the creation of the German Empire. The Empire was established a few days later, and its crown was awarded to Ludwig's uncle, King Wilhelm I of Prussia.
Bavaria thus lost its status as an independent kingdom, and became a state in the Empire. Ludwig protested this alteration by refusing to attend Wilhelm's 10 January coronation in the Palace of Versailles. Ludwig's brother Prince Otto and his uncle Luitpold went instead. Otto criticized the celebration as ostentatious and heartless in a letter to his brother.
However, the Bavarian delegation under Prime Minister Count Otto von Bray-Steinburg secured privileged status for Bavaria within the Empire (Reservatrechte). Bavaria retained its own diplomatic corps and its own army, which would come under Prussian command only in times of war.
The greatest stress of Ludwig's early reign was pressure to produce an heir. This issue came to the forefront in 1867. Ludwig became engaged to Duchess Sophie Charlotte in Bavaria, his cousin and the youngest sister of his dear friend Elisabeth, Empress of Austria. They shared a deep interest in the works of Wagner. The engagement was announced on 22 January 1867; a few days earlier, Ludwig had written Sophie that "The main substance of our relationship has always been … Richard Wagner's remarkable and deeply moving destiny."
But Ludwig repeatedly postponed the wedding date, and finally cancelled the engagement in October. After the engagement was broken off, Ludwig wrote to his former fiancée, "My beloved Elsa! Your cruel father has torn us apart. Eternally yours, Heinrich." (The names Elsa and Heinrich came from characters in Wagner's opera Lohengrin.) Sophie later married Prince Ferdinand, Duke of Alençon.
Ludwig never married, nor had any known mistresses. It is known from his diary (begun in the 1860s), private letters, and other surviving personal documents, that he had strong homosexual desires. He struggled all his life to suppress his sexual desires and remain true to his Roman Catholic faith. While homosexuality had not been punishable in Bavaria since 1813, the Unification of Germany in 1871 under Prussian hegemony changed this.
Throughout his reign, Ludwig had a succession of close friendships with men, including his chief equerry and Master of the Horse, Richard Hornig (1843–1911), Hungarian theater actor Josef Kainz, and courtier Alfons Weber (born c.1862).
Ludwig's original diaries from 1869 onward were lost during World War II, and all that remain today are copies of entries made during the 1886 plot to depose him. (Some earlier diaries have survived in the Geheimes Hausarchiv in Munich and extracts starting in 1858 were published by Evers in 1986.
Ludwig II, König von Bayern's Timeline
August 25, 1845
München, Bayern, Deutschland(DB)
June 13, 1886
Berg, Bayern, Deutschland(DKR)
June 19, 1886
München, Bayern, Deutschland(DKR)