Ludwig II was a flamboyant and beloved ruler of his Kingdom of Bavaria. He remains a popular figure in the Bavaria region thanks to his eccentric biography and gems of the 19th-century architecture that was built in his reign. Ludwig’s personality was full of contrasting characteristics that helped to gain the love of his people, while also caused the loss of power to the angered Bavarian political elite.
He was a true child of the Romanticism era that inherited a lot of his characteristics and tastes from his grandfather – the Bavarian king Ludwig I (1786-1868), who was also an extravagant and life-loving person that eventually lost his crown due to critical loss of popularity because of his affairs with women. Ludwig I was a great patron of arts and in his era, there were built several architectural objects (mainly in the Kingdom’s capital city Munich), inspired by Ancient Greece and Italian renaissance. His grandson followed his footsteps and was a great patron of arts as well.
Aside from obvious genetic heritage, his nurse Liesi constantly spoiled Ludwig II and in later years – the French governess came in her place and helped to fuel young prince’s admiration of the famous Sun King, Louis XIV. Despite being a great patriot of Bavaria, Ludwig always had a warm place in his heart for his French idol. Eventually, he turned into the Moon King, because of his habit to be awake at nights and sleeping the most of the time of the daylight. Interestingly, his nature and views were dual and sometimes conflicting. For example, Ludwig admired the divine absolutism of the Sun King and in the same time, he was a fan of the Swiss folk hero William Tell, who was a symbol of the resistance against the aristocracy and nobility.
While he shared similarities with his grandfather, Ludwig’s relationships with his father Maximilian Joseph were cold since his early years. Maximilian did not share the interests of his son. He was a strict man, strongly devoted to the matters of his kingdom, while Ludwig was more interested in Wagner’s music, books of Schiller and horse rides in the Bavarian forests and mountains. He never really showed any genuine interest in political games or military. His extraordinary imagination kept him away from the real-life struggles and Ludwig could spend days and nights in his imaginary world, inspired by the legends and stories of his favorite artists.
Despite uneasy and cold relationships, the early death of Maximilian was a serious hit for the Ludwig. At the age of 18, he was forced to return to the harsh reality and face the responsibilities of being the Bavarian King. It was a heavy burden for the young Ludwig. He would rather prefer to remain the Crown Prince and stay away from all the affairs of state. However, the first impression was not that bad at all. Bavarian people instantly fell in love with their young and handsome king. Ludwig’s intelligence and appearance was highly praised by many of his contemporaries – writers, actors, and European nobility. He had plenty of characteristics to become a successful monarch, but his lack of interest in politics and some inherited neurotic tendencies that with age became only stronger, made this task difficult.
Throughout his life, there were many people surrounding him, who tried to influence Ludwig or take advantage of his eccentric and sensitive nature. Most of them failed, but there was one person, whom he could not resist. It was his cousin, the Empress of Austria – Elisabeth. They shared many similarities in their characters and biographies. Both felt burdened by their royal status and responsibilities. Neither of them had experienced the joyful years of youth – they had to face all the struggles of court life since they were yet young children. While Ludwig had an obsession with arts and music, Elisabeth was obsessed with her beauty and she was very distant in personal relationships. Ludwig always had warm feelings towards her and when they were spending time together, the Austrian Empress made him understand that a person of their status could do everything they like. As the history shows, at some point, Ludwig took these words seriously and Bavarian king’s eccentricity went out of bounds.
Sources | Clara Tschudi. Ludwig the Second, King of Bavaria (1908) | Christopher McIntosh. The Swan King: Ludwig II of Bavaria (2003) | Frances A. Gerard. The romance of Ludwig II of Bavaria (1899)
Interested in art, history & culture? Subscribe to our newsletter