Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ludwig II

One of the most enigmatic of all monarchs is King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886) whose life and death are riddled with mystery. At nineteen years old I made a trip to Bavaria and among the main attractions were King Ludwig's castles. I had a sense that he was still so greatly loved by the Bavarian people, as if he were yet reigning. His eccentric behavior and fairy-tale palaces made him a legend in his own time. Although he is generally referred to as "Mad King Ludwig," he was never officially diagnosed. Nevertheless, the accusation of insanity was used to dethrone and incarcerate him. To this day his death is a matter of controversy. (It is strange that his captors would not let him go to Mass.) Some historians believe he was murdered.

In many ways, Ludwig was a medieval knight transplanted into the political intrigues and upheavals of the nineteenth century. In his youth he adored his cousin Sissi, and while their relationship was platonic, it was deep and lifelong. Ludwig relished stories of sublime and impossible loves. He patronized Wagner, whose music brought to life the legends of Lohengrin and of Tristan and Isolde. There is evidence that Ludwig struggled with inclinations that were at odds with his Catholic faith. He gradually became a recluse, spending a great deal of time in the mountains, venturing out only at night. While visiting his hunting lodge at Linderhof, I was told that it had been inspired by Marie-Antoinette's Petit Trianon.

The unification of Germany and the domination of Bavaria by Prussia in the new German Empire were difficult for Ludwig and led him to vigorously retreat into a world of his own creation. He was always loved and revered by the Bavarian people in spite of his increasingly odd behaviors. His death came as a shock to everyone and he was sincerely mourned, at least by the peasants. His castles continue to bring revenue from the many tourists who journey to Bavaria. Share


May said...

My mother told me recently she had read that the ballet, SWAN LAKE, was an allegory inspired by Ludwig's story.

elena maria vidal said...

Really? That is very interesting!