Mad King Ludwig II of Bavaria – “The Märchenkönig”
Ludwig Friedrich Wilhelm was born August 24, 1845 (the official date; Aug 25th) just before midnight in Nymphenburg Castle in Munich, and was a member of the Wittelsbach dynasty. The discrepancy of the date is due to the announcement of his birth being delayed one hour at the request of his family and parents, 36-year-old Catholic Maximilian II of Bavaria and the 19-year-old Protestant Princess Marie of Prussia (who happened also to be Max’s cousin), honoring the wishes of Ludwig I, who wanted his grandson to be born on the same day that he was.
Ludwig became king of Bavaria at the age of 18, very unprepared for the position, and up until that time his experience and interaction with the population outside of his castle environment had been minimal. He, along with his younger brother Otto, had been raised in a very secluded and sheltered life in the Nymphenburg Palace. Ludwig’s parents did not care for each other as it seems and neither were they very close to Ludwig which probably had great influence on his growing up to become somewhat of an odd young man and later on, the ‘Mad King” of Bavaria.
Ludwig earned many such names during his rein, which lasted from March 10, 1864
- June 13, 1886 when he was found drowned in Lake Starnberg along with his physician, Dr. Berhardt von Gudden. The mystery and controversy surrounding Ludwig’s death is still being debated today in some circles. “According to Bavarian law, the king could be removed from power only if shown to be incapable of performing his duties.” (itotd.com) Thus a report by Gudden, who had never met Ludwig before that day, supplied with a detailed account of the King’s troubled behavior, had provided the report that served that served the purposed for those who sought to depose him. On June 12, Ludwig was deposed and arrested. One day later at Berg Castle
he took a walk and never came back.
Other names attached to Ludwig the II are “The Märchenkönig” (The Fairytale King), the Dream King, Mad Ludwig, and the Swan King, because of his love of swans, and the fact he had spent much of his youth in a castle named Hohenschwangau (“high region of the swan”). His father had bought the ancient castle Schwanstein in 1832 and remodeled it into a royal residence. Ludwig grew up among icons and images of swans, as well as the real thing on nearby Schwansee, or Swan Lake. His fascination with swans ultimately drew him to Richard Wagner, the composer, and his operas, particularly
Lohengrin and its Swan Knight; “the medieval knight of the Holy Grail who rescues a princess with the aid of a swan.”
Ludwig’s love of swans and theatre lead him to Wagner, becoming one of the composer’s greatest patrons. Ludwig had read a copy of
“The Ring Cycle” and Wagner’s depiction of the ‘”miserable stage of the German theater,” and that a German Prince was needed to provide the funds for opera. The young King took this as a personal mission and had Wagner brought to Munich. Their relationship was stormy and conflicting, and after it was determined Wagner was having too much influence over Ludwig as mentor and idol, the composer was forced to leave Bavaria.
Wagner’s influence over Ludwig was substantial. Very few of Wagner’s operas are not written in a castle setting. This was perfect for Ludwig who was obsessed with all things medieval, incorporating this dream of the perfect knight into the building of four extravagant castles during his rein, all depicting various scenes, images and settings depicted in Wagner’s operas. His most famous castle, Neuschwanstein (“new swan stone”) is actually built over the ruins of a medieval castle on the slopes of the Alps. Building began in 1869 shortly after losing a war to Prussia, and becoming depressed and bitter he withdrew from the public eye as much as possible. The castle was estimated to be finished in three years and was still not complete at the time of Ludwig’s death in 1886. Construction continued for 8 more years after his death when finally the build was stopped. Only a third of the rooms had bee finished and decorated. One such room, the Grotto, is an artificial cave, with stalactites and a waterfall. It represents the cave from Wagner’s opera,
Tannhäuser. Neuschwantein castle is also the inspiration of Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle.
Another of the castles Ludwig had commissioned during his rein, is Herrenchiemsee Castle, hidden from view by trees at the foot of the Bavarian Alps on the large lake, Chiemsee. Ludwig fancied himself as one of the great kings of Europe and modeled this castle after Louis XIV palace in Versailles surrounded by a huge park with fountains and statues, designed to be a close version of Versailles itself, reflecting the sensibilities and extravagance of French Royalty. Gold and marble are everywhere, with much of the gold nothing more than leaf over wood—very fashionable at the time. As Ludwig was notoriously shy and reclusive, he sought to avoid all contact, with not only members of his own government, but his servants and staff as well. Even his love of music found him creating large theater size rooms in his castles where private performances were demanded from time to time. To stress this reclusive manner more, the dinning room at Herrenchiemsee had an elaborate mechanism designed to lower the table through the floor to the kitchen for setting, thus eliminating any encounter with his kitchen staff. Construction began in 1878, but only a fraction of the ornate rooms and grounds were ever finished.
The construction of his third castle, Linderhof actually began in 1874 and was completed in 1878 just ahead of the building of Herrenchiemsee. Linderhof, the only castle of the three to be completed, is quite luxurious, filled with magnificent drapes, golden candelabras and also had a table in the dinning room that lowered into the floor, down to the kitchen. The grounds contain fountains and statues, again modeled after Louis XIV’s Versailles. One statue, Flora and her attendees, located in the front of the castle, spouts water hundreds of feet into the air. In the back an artificial waterfall send water into the Neptune fountain. Neptune rides three horses in this statue and the steeds shoot water from both their noses and mouths.
The “Dream King” had a fourth castle in mind as well, drawn and designed but never built, Falkenstein castle near Pfronten where the ruins of an old castle are still on top of the Falkenstien mountain. Pipelines were started in 1886, the same year Ludwig died and the project was canceled. “Unfortunately this castle will remain a dream forever…”