Ludwig (Louis) II, King of Bavaria, Ludwig Friedrich Wilhelm, also known as Ludwig the Mad, and Mad King Ludwig (August 25, 1845 - June 13, 1886) was king of Bavaria from 1864 until his death.
Born at Nymphenburg (today part of Munich), he was the son of Maximilian II of Bavaria and Princess Marie of Prussia. Ludwig ascended to the Bavarian throne at age 18 following his father's death. For much of his rule he promoted reconcilliation among the German states. Though he sided with Austria against Prussia in the Seven Weeks' War, he quickly allied with Prussia in 1867 after being defeated in the war. Ludwig refused to break ranks with Prussia by making an alliance with France and joined with Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War. On the request of Bismarck, he solicied a letter in December 1870 calling for the creation of a German Empire. He received some concessions in return for his country becoming part of said empire, but not the territorial expansion he sought.
Ludwig was by all accounts strange to begin with, and as his rule progressed, he became even more antisocial. In the 1880s, Ludwig withdrew into seclusion in the Alps most of the time, where he built several expensive fairytale castles. The most famous, Neue Burg Hohenschwangau (now known as Neuschwanstein), was not completed until years after his death, and is now a popular tourist attraction. Ludwig's apologists explain that much of his 'unusual' behaviour was caused by the stress of growing up in a royal family, comparing it to the problems that modern royals like those in the House of Windsor have experienced.
Ludwig was engaged to Princess Sophie of Bavaria who was his cousin and sister of Elisabeth of Austria ("Sissi"). Their engagement was publicized on January 22, 1867, but after having repeatedly postponed the wedding date, he finally cancelled it in October. Sophie later married Ferdinand Philippe Marie, duc d'Alenšon (1844-1910), son of Louis Charles Philippe Raphael, duc de Nemours.
On June 10, 1886, he was officially declared insane and incapable of executing his governmental powers, and Prince Luitpold was delcared regent. Many historians, however, believe, that he was sane, but victim of an intrigue.
Mystery surrounds his death by drowning in Lake Starnberg in Berg, south of Munich. A little chapel was later built near the site of his drowning. A remembrance ceremony is held there each year on the anniversary of his death.
Ludwig is remembered as one of the most unusual rulers of Germany, and the debate about how to judge him continues even today. It seems that he was quite popular among his subjects, probably for two reasons: First, he avoided engaging in war, giving Bavaria a time of peace. (Whether this was due to him being pacifist, or simply due to his lack of interest in political power is debated). Second, he funded the construction of his famous fairy-tale castles from his own private property, not from the state budget. This gave many people employment and brought a considerable flow of money to the regions involved. Hence, he is still remembered in Bavaria as "unser Kini" (our king), which is meant quite cordially (although now often also jocular).
Of course, his spending of the family's wealth on art and architecture likely upset his relatives, and it was hence often suspected, that his death was not an accident. (This was never proven, but the fact that he was known to be a good swimmer, as well as that the lake was less than waist-deep at the area where he drowned, seems to support the suspicion.) Ironically, despite nearly bankrupting Bavaria's royal family with his construction projects, the palaces have now turned into profitable tourist attractions for the State.
Ludwig and the arts
Ludwig was a major patron of composer Richard Wagner, and he funded the construction of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus.
- Linderhof palace
- Neuschwanstein castle, built next to his father's castle: Hohenschwangau castle.
- Schachen king's house
Ludwig left behind a large collection of plans and designs for other castles that were never built, as well as plans for further rooms in his completed buildings. Many of these designs are housed today in the King Ludwig II Museum at Herrenchiemsee. These buildings date from the later part of the King's reign, beginning around 1883. As money was starting to run out, the designs became more extravagant, and numerous.
Only one of these castles had a known name, Castle Falkenstein also designed by Christian Jank who designed Neuschwanstein.
Ludwig in fiction
The 1972 movie Ludwig, directed by Luchino Visconti was based on his life. His past (both real-life and a fictional version) also features heavily in the computer game Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within.