The early ears
Ludwig II of Bavaria was born in Nymphenburg Castle outside Munich
on August 25, 1845. He was the eldest son of King Maximilian II and
Queen Marie. As a child, he was given a typical 19th century upbringing
- an indifferent father and schooling which consisted of constant
beatings. Obviously miserable as a child, his most enjoyable times were
during the summer when the family spent their time in the newly restored
Schloss Hohenschwangau. The Queen took Ludwig and his younger brother
Otto on hikes in the nearby mountains, and it was here that Ludwig
developed his love for nature. At the age of thirteen, he was told of
the upcoming production of a Wagner opera, Lohengrin, which he acquired
a copy of and studied, learning it by heart (possibly due to the hero
being a swan-knight, a creature he enjoyed feeding in the nearby lakes).
He would also acquire and read all his other works, and heard his first
Wagner opera in 1861. In 1863, the young Prince Ludwig got a copy of the
Ring Cycle, where in the preface, Wagner comments that in order for the
opera (Ring) to be produced, a German Prince would be required to
provide the funds.
My horse for a kingdom!
In 1864, King Maximilian II died at the age of 53. Ludwig ascended
the throne at the age of 18, and it took him only days to track down the
composer and bring him to Munich. Wagner, who had problems with his
creditors, saw Ludwig as his rescuer, and one might say the two enjoyed
a symbiotic relationship. They spent a lot of time together, both at
Schloss Berg by Starnberger See and at Schloss Hohenschwangau. Fearful
of Wagner's influence on the King and state matters, the ministers in
Munich forced Wagner out of Bavaria, and into Switzerland. To the young
king, this was a heavy blow.
Love and war
The years after were troublesome as well, as Bavaria was drawn into
the war between Austria and Prussia (Preüssen), and unfortunately for
the king, the side he had to choose (Austria) lost, and along with it
part of Bavaria's independence.
After the war, Ludwig was noticed for spending a lot of time with the
sister of the Austrian Empress, Sophie. She was a fellow Wagner
enthusiast and the two seemed made for each other. Thanks to eager
planning from Sophie's mother, the two were engaged and were to be
married in 1867. It soon became evident that the prince was
uncomfortable with the idea of marriage, and would leave court balls
early, and the affair ended the same year, whereupon he moved back to
the mountains and Hohenschwangau, and longed to be with his great Master
(Wagner), as is apparent by a letter he sent to him:
"I write these lines sitting in my cosy gothic bow-window, by the light
of my lonely lamp, while outside the blizzard rages. It is so peaceful
here, this silence is stimulating, whereas in the clamour of the world I
feel absolutely miserable. Thank God I am alone at last. My mother is
far away, as is my former bride, who would have made me unspeakably
unhappy. Before me stands a bust of the one, true Friend whom I shall
love until death... If only I had the opportunity to die for you."
From this time on, Ludiwig started planning and building his castles.
Still in his early twenties, the task of being king was too great for
him, as his army had to engage in another war with France, sending the
king into desperation and a world of make-believe, to withdraw from it
all. In 1869, the construction of Schloss Neuschwanstein began. He
withdrew himself from all state affairs, and spent time in
Hohenschwangau, Berg and Linderhof when it was finished. He arranged for
private theatre or opera performances, some of these in Munich. On a
tour of Schloss Hohenschwangau, you will be shown the window from which
Ludwig used his spyglass to follow the construction of Neuschwanstein.
Prussia was victorious in the war against France, and Ludwig finally
agreed to unify Bavaria with Germany, even though it would shatter his
dreams of sovereignity and see him merely as a figurehead in a
Further planning of castle building made the Bavarian Cabinet more
than raise their eyebrows. In 1885, several projects were planned,
underway or finished.
These would undoubtedly be the greatest legacy he left behind.
Originally meant for his sole enjoyment, the castles have become world
famous tourist attractions. Of these, Neuschwanstein is the most famous,
even though few know it by its real name (perhaps more people think that
it resembles the Disney logo or Sleeping Beauty castle in Disneyland,
when it is in fact the opposite way round).
Neuschwanstein is the ultimate fairy-tale castle, and was
modelled after the castle in Wartburg in Thuringia (Thüringen), which
was also the actual location where the Wagner opera Tannhäuser took
place. Designed by Christian Jank, it was also to house several
paintings depicting scenes from Wagner operas, mainly Lohengrin and
Tannhäuser. Interestingly enough, in Ludwig's days, the castle was
referred to as Vorderhohenschwangau or 'further/upper Hohenscnwangau',
and was given its present name after the king's death. Building
commenced in 1869 and ended in 1892, six years after the king's death,
which is contrary to common belief that it ceased as soon as the king
died. A lot of the interior and exterior was planned to be spectacular,
including gold pating in some places. As the budget ran lower and lower
together with the building of the other castles, cheaper solutions
appeared, visible even on the tour of the 14 finished rooms. More
paintings depicting Wagner opera scenes were added, and in the end, only
The Flying Dutchman was left out. All paintings depict the original
legends that had inspired Wagner, however.
Linderhof was Ludwig's second castle and also his favourite, as
he stayed here regularly. It resembles more of a royal villa than an
actual castle, considering its small size, and was also the only one to
be completed in the King's lifetime, and was built between 1874 - 1878.
It was to replace the former hunting lodge on the grounds, which was
moved to another spot on the castle grounds. The interior is a Ludwig
version of Rococo, perhaps more reminiscent of the heavy and ponderous
Baroque style. Still, out of the three castles, this one most closely
resembles a livable 'house'.
The park deserves mention as well, and is perhaps even more magnificent
than the castle. Laid on rolling small hills, one of the definite
highlights is the pond and fountain in front of the castle, which shoots
a varying-intensity jet of water into the air at regular intervals.
Likewise, the Venus grotto is a small marvel to visit and very
atmospheric, depicting a scene from Tannhäuser. Here, Bavaria's first
power station was built with the sole intention of lighting up the cave
in various colours to suit the king's mood. The Moorish kiosk is
designed to resemble an Arabian Nights fantasy, complete with a peacock
throne. The Moroccan house was moved to Oberammergau in recent years,
but has since been moved back (or copied?) to the castle grounds.
Herrenchiemsee is the most grandeur of the castles, and was built
to resemble or rival Versailles itself. Only one of three wings was
completed however, yet it sits marvellously on a small island
(Herreninsel) in lake Chiemsee, somewhat further from the other two
castles (southeast of Munich). Most of it was finished in 1885, taking
only seven years to construct and letting Ludwig realise his fantasy of
his own Versailles.
What seemed even more frightening to the Cabinet was the further plans
for another castle similar to Neuschwanstein, to be built over the old
ruin of Falkenberg. Furthermore, a Chinese Palace in Austria as well as an enormous Byzantine Palace
were on the drawing board.
The King paid for his castles from his own pocket however, not the State
coffers, as some would believe. He received an annual income of 4.5
million Marks, but was 14 million Marks in debt by 1886. As Ludwig was
finally denied further loans, he got desperate and sent servants out in
several directions to try to raise money - from various heads of state
How to depose a king
The Prime Minister and Cabinet decided to take action - also based
upon the fact that they had heard of Ludwig's possible plans to replace
the government. In order to secure their positions, they had to get rid
of the king with the utmost speed and secrecy. Their only possibility of
declaring that he was unfit to rule was to prove he was insane. They
sought the help of Ludwig's uncle, Prince Luitpold, who at the age of 60
was not ambitious and would only agree to help if undeniable facts of
his insanity were laid forward. Four eminent psychiatrists, led by Dr
Bernhard von Gudden, were brought in to compile a report with the
intention of declaring the king insane. Gossip and stories were brought
in, bribes were made and bullying was done in order to get as much
negative information as possible. Some servants who hated their master
In March 1886 the report was completed, and claimed in short the
- insanity ran in his family (his brother Otto had already been
diagnosed as insane)
- he was shy to the point of mania (referring to Court balls, where he
hid behind curtains)
- his behaviour was childish and bizarre (he did have strange picnics
arranged in moonlight where children's games were played)
- he would refuse to see his Ministers
- he suffered from hallucinations and talked to imaginary guests at his
- he suffered from strange and sick fantasies (he had imagined pulling
his father out of his coffin and bashing his ears)
- he had a holy tree he bowed to whenever he passed it
- he often made strange dancing moves or pulled his beard when he got
- he would toward the end order his prisoners flogged or exiled (which
- he would beat his servants (to which no physical evidence was given)
- servants were sent out on ridiculously expensive missions, such as
venturing to the Blue Grotto of Capri in order to check that the Venus
Grotto at Linderhof matched its lighting
- the King was obsessed with absolute monarchy
- the King's manners were atrocious, as had been revealed by careful
inspection of his clothes after dining
The report then concluded, addressing the King himself in the following
"Your Majesty is in a very advanced stage of mental disorder, a form of
insanity known to brain-specialists by the name 'Paranoia'. As this form
of brain-trouble has a slow but progressive development of many years
duration, Your Majesty must be regarded as incurable, a still further
decline of the mental powers being the natural development of this
disease. Suffering from such a disorder, freedom of action can no longer
be allowed and Your Majesty is declared incapable of ruling, which
incapacity will be not only for a year's duration, but for the length of
Your Majesty's life."
The reference to one year was included as rules stated that the King
could be deposed if he was unfit to rule for more than a year.
It is somewhat impressive to see that the top ranking psychiatrists at
the time could conclude from all this that the King was insane, without
ever having examined him. The document was dubious at best,
nevertheless, it was shown to Prince Luitpold, who waited in doubt for 3
months before finally giving in to the pressure from the Prime Minister
and his Cabinet.
Arrest, part I
On June 9th, 1886, a Government commission headed out to arrest the
king at Schloss Neuschwanstein. On a stroke of 'luck', the king found
this out, and ordered the local police and fire brigade to guard the
guates of the castle. As the king found out the commission was headed by
a trusted Minister, he was furious and had them arrested and locked up
in the castle, yet they were released the day after, even though they
thought they would be executed (which was also used against him).
Arrest, part II
On June 11th, a second commission left Munich with the intention to
arrest the king. Peasants who had shown up at the castle to protect
their beloved king were ordered home and a curfew was enforced by
government forces. Posters were put up in the vicinity proclaiming
Ludwig was no longer king. Ludwig, on the other hand, began to seriously
nurtur plans of suicide. He wanted the key to the highest tower in the
castle, but had earlier been told it could not be found (a lie, of
course). On this day, however, it had been 'found', and he went up to
his tower with the intention of throwing himself off it into the Pöllat
gorge. However, this was a trap, as Gudden had prepared a police force
waiting halfway up the tower and entered it with his force after the
king (this tower is the one used by tours to reach the various floors of
the castle). It was June 12th, and the arrest was a success. The king
was told by Gudden that he had been found mentally ill and had been
replaced by Prince Luitpold. The king asked how he could be declared
insane when he had never been examined - to which the reply was that
there was plenty of documentary evidence, therefore no reason for
The curtains drawn
Ludwig was transported to Berg castle, which had been prepared well
beforehand and turned partly into a mental asylum. The next day, after a
large breakfast, Ludwig asked to be accompanied by dr Gudden on a walk
around the castle grounds. Over lunch after they had returned, Gudden
commented over how well Ludwig seemed to be, claiming his treatment was
already working. It is strange that he could claim this when this would
be the first time he actually had 'examined' the patient he had declared
incurably insane not long ago. After an early dinner, Ludwig had asked
for Gudden's company on another walk, and at around 18:10, they left the
castle and passed from its view at 18:25, with no guards accompanying
them - under Gudden's orders. Dinner had been ordered at 20:00.
When 8 o'clock as well as 9 o'clock came and went, and no sign of the
pair was seen, a search party was ordered out. At around 10 in the
evening, the king's jacket and overcoat were found floating in the
water, and at around 22:30 the body of Ludwig was found lying face down
in shallow water, 20 metres from the bank. Half an hour later, the body
of dr Gudden was found nearby. King Ludwig's watch had stopped at 18:54.
The Fairy-tale king was dead at the age of 40.
The news sent shockwaves across Europe and the World. He was buried on
June 19th in the Royal Vault beneath St Michael's church in Munich. His
heart, however, was removed and cremated and the remains lie in an urn
in a small chapel in Altötting, also in Bavaria.
At Berg, a chapel has later been raised as a memoriam, and on the exact
spot in the lake that he was found, a cross was placed.
What actually happened at Starnberger See that night remains a
mystery till this day. As there were no witnesses to these final events,
only speculations and theories can be made. Some facts have been
obscured, such as one claim saying no autopsy was made on the king,
while another claimed one was made and resulted in no water being found
in his lungs.
- Dr Gudden was discovered with a massive wound across his forehead
- Signs of a struggle were found beside the lake, as well as footprints
leading down to it
- Gudden's umbrella was found near a seat next to the shore (the weather
was unstable, much rain had fallen during the previous days)
- An autopsy was performed on dr Gudden, revealing water in his lungs,
i.e. he drowned
- The local police confined the whole population to their homes after
the bodies were found, and the king's loyal servants were placed under
arrest, but released shortly thereafter (not confirmed though)
- Ludwig committed suicide: this is the official theory, and is
explained thus: the two men were sitting on the seat near the water, and
Ludwig rushed toward the lake to drown himself. As Gudden tried to stop
him, they fought, and Ludwig knocked him out and drowned him as well as
- Ludwig tried to escape: a boat could have waited on the other side to
receive him, but Gudden tried to stop him, similarly to the above
mentioned theory and met with the same fate. After Gudden's death,
Ludwig could have had a stroke or heart attack - the water was freezing
cold - and drowned. Or, a guard could have seen the struggle too late
and shot and killed Ludwig thereafter, then ran away from the scene.
- Ludwig and dr Gudden were murdered: a Government plan to have Ludwig
removed and killed, then covering it up as a suicide could have
occurred, which could explain the sudden confinement of the nearby
Perhaps it is a good thing that this remains a mystery. It certainly
adds to the atmosphere of the scenery, the castles and everything around
it, and fortunes are made today on the mystery as well as the castles. A
musical named "Ludwig - Longing for Paradise" is performed at the
theatre Neuschwanstein, on the shores of Forggensee, near the castles.
Ludwig's construction projects cost more than a small fortune. A total
calculation of the three castle's final build cost is around 31 million
1880-Marks, half of this amount from Herrenchiemsee alone.
Based on assumption, if a normal year attracts 1.5 million visitors to
Neuschwanstein (at € 9), and half a million to both Linderhof and
Herrenchiemsee each (at € 7), assuming an income of two-thirds of the adult price (thus accounting for children & other reduced fares), the yearly income would be something like 13.5 million euros. Even when deducing a lot of
administration costs, not to mention neverending maintenance of the palaces
and gardens, the castles have already paid for themselves several times.
Perhaps this is the greatest irony of it all...
Some of the information on this page may be based on tales handed
down, or even speculations. There are no guarantees that everything
quoted is accurate.
Source of information: