What happened to king Ludwig II of Bavaria?

The Bavarian King Ludwig II might not be the most famous king in History, but his Castles, Neuschwanstein Castle comes to mind, are for sure some of the best known.

Just think of Neuschwanstein, Linderhof or Herrenchiemsee castle. You find more information about these castles here in my article.

But what happened to Ludwig and why were most of his castles never finished?

Between January and march of 1886 King Ludwigs` II Ministers had accumulated a medical report which displayed the king as mentally ill and unfit to rule. In June of 1886, the report was signed by four leading psychiatrists.

Ludwig II of Bavaria was deposed on June 10th, 1886. On June 12th Ludwig was imprisoned at Berg Castle on the shores of Lake Starnberg where he drowned the following day.

Until today there are rumors that Ludwig II was actually murdered.

The deposition of Ludwig II

The kingship of Ludwig II ended on June 10 th of 1886. But why was the quite popular king deposed?

What had happened to justify such an extreme procedure?

Today Ludwig II is seen as Bavarias’ most famous and most popular king. His reputation and fame are mostly based on the breathtaking castles that Ludwig built. The most famous of them being Neuschwanstein Castle, more on Neuschwanstein Castle here in my article.

But the construction of these castles had a major drawback. The building process was expensive! And while the king only used his personal funds and did not drain public bavarian funds the expenses and the accumulated debt were highly dangerous for Bavaria.

Ludwig II had an increasingly hard time finding new lenders and yet his ministers’ pleas to stop or at least reduce the limitless spending on his castles fell on deaf ears.

By 1885 the king had accumulated a staggering amount of debt that even a bankruptcy of the monarch seemed possible. Under these circumstances, the ministers’ pleas for more conservative spending habits became more and more urgent.

The King, who felt more and more harassed by his ministers started thinking about dismissing his entire cabinet.

After the ministers learned about the kings’ plans they started searching for constitutional options to get rid of the king.  And they found it in the idea that a mentally ill person was seen as unfit to rule.

The ministers even managed to win over Ludwigs’ uncle Luitpold to step into the vacant spot that Ludwigs’ deposition would leave behind.

The problem was that Luitpold had only agreed on terms that the mental illness of Ludwig was clearly proven.

Now all the ministers had to do was to prove that the king was actually insane.

In order to get proof, they started to collect the medical report between January and March of 1886.

It is important to realize that the bulk of the information within the medical report was collected by Maximilian count von Holstein who saw the king as completely unfit to rule. In order to get information Maximilian bribed several of Ludwig’s servants.

Amongst other things, he achieved knowledge about the gossip that was rumored among the servants.

By the way, some of the proofs for Ludwigs` insanity that were brought forward include his shyness and his childish table manners.

These points show pretty well which kind of reasons were used to frame the king as mentally unable to rule.

Even the Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck saw the affair as nothing more than an attempt of the ministers to extend their own carreer.

In early June the medical report was reviewed and signed by four psychiatrists, the most famous of them being Dr. Bernhard von Gudden.

June 10th. 1886

While Ludwig II stayed at Neuschwanstein Castle, more information on the breathtaking Neuschwanstein Castle in my article here, a group of government officials and Bernhard von Gudden were on their way to serve the official paper of deposition to the king.

But Ludwig II had been warned. He had ordered the local police to arrest the advancing officials. They were arrested but Ludwig ordered their release just a few hours later. It is unknown why he did that.

On the same day, June 10th. 1886, Ludwigs` uncle Luitpold was publicly proclaimed as Prince Regent. Luitpold was chosen since a few years before King Ludwig, Ludwigs` younger brother Otto had already been diagnosed as insane.

Against the advice of his last loyal friends, Ludwig did decide to stay at Neuschwanstein Castle instead of traveling to Munich and presenting himself to the people.

This was probably Ludwigs` biggest mistake since he had missed his last chance to use his popularity amongst the people to prove that he was NOT insane.

When Ludwig changed his opinion and tried to escape Neuschwanstein castle it was already too late.

The arrest of Ludwig II

In the early morning of June 12th. 1886 the second group of officials had arrived at Neuschwanstein castle intending to transfer the king from Neuschwanstein castle to his new abode Berg castle at the shores of Lake Starnberg.

At 4 am the king boarded a waiting carriage and started his way to the place where he would spend the rest of his life.

The mysterious death of Ludwig II

The last chapter of Ludwig II life came much faster than anybody, including him, had probably expected.

After the deposed king had arrived at Berg castle he seemed quite normal. Neither the psychiatrist nor the servants at Berg castle noticed any kind of unnormal or even suicidal behavior.

And in the afternoon of June 13th, 1886 Ludwig and Bernhard von Gudden took a walk through the park of Berg Castle. During that walk, they were accompanied by two guardians. The walk proceeded without any abnormalities.

After the dinner at 6 pm, Ludwig asked his psychiatrist Bernhard von Gudden for his company and a second walk along the shoreline of Lake Starnberg.

Von Gudden agreed and gave the order that the two men must not be accompanied by any guardians. It is unclear if von Gudden wanted them to follow with a certain distance or if he didn`t want any guardians with him.

The two men were last seen at 6:30 pm and were expected to return at around 8 pm.

But they didn`t!

It wasn`t until 10:30 pm that two bodies were found in the water of Lake Starnberg. The corpses were identified as the bodies of Ludwig II and Bernhard von Gudden.

Both corpses were found in shallow water near the coastline and at least Ludwigs`body did not show any signs of external violence. Von Guddens corps on the other hand showed signs of strangulation.

The official report labeled the affair as a suicide but the autopsy showed irregularities:

For example, there was no water in Ludwigs’ lungs which would have been typical for drowning. And during his youth, the former king was also known as a strong swimmer and the water at the estimated place of drowning was only waist deep.

Since Ludwigs`wristwatch had stopped at 6:54 pm that time was seen as the most likely time of death. But the policemen who had patrolled the area at that time had not noticed any kind of sounds that would be typical for the drowning of two adults.

Until this day all the small irregularities still lead to a wide bandwidth of theories about what really happened during that night.

Ludwigs`s personal fisherman claimed for example that he was present and hiding behind a bush in order to help Ludwig escape.

The effects on the Bavarian monarchy

Ludwig II was buried on June 19th, 1886 in the crypt of the Michaelskirche in Munich. According to Bavarian royal tradition, his heart was buried separately in a silver urn at the Chapel of Mercy in Altötting where it rests beside the hearts of his father and grandfather.

The monarchy had actually suffered a hit. Not only did Prince regent Luitpold have a hard time ridding himself of the stain of usurpation, but he also had to restore the royal finances.

The royal finances were in a pretty bad spot so Luitpold decided to scrap the plans that Ludwig had for his castles.

Some of them weren`t finished at all (Herrenchiemsee castle for example), others (Neuschwanstein Castle for example) were finished more simply.

Prince regent Luitpold was also the one who opened Ludwigs`s castles for the public, more on that in my article here.

Since Ludwigs’ brother Otto was still alive Luitpold would remain prince regent until his death at the age of 91 in 1912.

His son Ludwig would also rule as prince regent until 1913. After 1913 Ludwig III would despose king Otto and would claim the Bavarian throne as Ludwig III until the end of World war I in 1918.

The end of world war I also marked the end of the monarchy, not only in Bavaria but all over the German Empire. What followed was the Weimar Republic with its many flaws.

What legacy did Ludwig II leave behind?

Ludwig did not only leave a legacy but also many questions behind.

Was the king actually mentally ill? What happened at the night of his death?

Many of these questions will probably never be answered. But yet they are an important part of Ludwigs’ legacy!

The miracle around his death, his popularity, and his castles made him immortal and until this day there is a yearly commemoration at the place of his death.

Ironically the buildings that once were the main reason for Ludwigs’ Deposition turned out to be a major blessing for Bavaria. The castles, find out more about Ludwigs castles here, have proven to be big tourist attractions and have already paid their construction costs many times over.

I hope you enjoyed our trip into Bavarian history.

Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.

Until next time

Yours truly

Luke Reitzer