|ROSALIND BRODSKY TIME TRAVEL RESEARCH PROJECTS|
|Research Project - #PRN/33 Operation Swan Lake|
King Ludwig II of Bavaria was born in Nymphenburg Castle outside Munich in the early hours of August 25, 1845. He was the eldest son of King Maximillian II and Queen Marie, and was named after his grandfather, King Ludwig I.
As a boy, Ludwig was given a typical 19th century upbringing - an indifferent father and schooling which consisted of constant beatings. It is fairly obvious that he would have been miserable as a child. His favourite times of the year were the summer holidays the family spent at the Royal Castle Hohenschwangau which King Max had restored between 1832 and 1836 in a romantic medieval style. Hohenschwangau's position can only be called magnificent; it is situated beside a blue alpine lake, the Alpsee, and about 2 kilometres from the Austrian border and the Tyrolean Alps. The Royal Family in 1862. Left to right, Ludwig, Queen Marie, King Max II, Otto. The Queen enjoyed taking Ludwig and his younger brother Otto on lengthy hikes in the nearby alps and it would have been on these occasions that Ludwig developed his love of the mountains and their solitude, as well as his lifelong devotion to the Schwangau region. He also loved to feed the wild swans that lived around the lake, and several drawings of swans that he made at this time survive today.
The discovery of Wagner
In 1858, when Ludwig was thirteen years old, his governess told him of the upcoming production of Richard Wagner's opera Lohengrin, the story of which centres around the heroic medieval Swan-knight Lohengrin. Since the walls of Hohenschwangau were covered in frescoes featuring Lohengrin, a curious Ludwig acquired a copy of the opera's libretto and he read it voraciously. It wasn't too long before the Prince had learnt the entire libretto off by heart, as well as the libretto of another Wagner opera, Tannhäuser. He was soon devouring every book written by Wagner, and on February 2nd, 1861, Ludwig heard a Wagner opera for the first time. Lohengrin, the Knight of the Swan, reveals his identity to the people of Antwerp at the dramatic climax of "Lohengrin". Appropriately it was Lohengrin and the experience left a profound impression on the Prince. In 1863 he acquired Wagner's recently published Ring Cycle, the preface of which contained a comment about the miserable state of the German theatre. In order for the Ring to be produced, Wagner wrote, a German Prince would need to be found to provide the required funds. To Ludwig, this was a direct message from the master. He would be that Prince.
Ludwig becomes King
On March 10th, 1864, King Max died at the age of 53. Ludwig assumed the throne at 18 years of age. Within days of his ascension, the young King ordered his ministers to track down Wagner and bring him to Munich. The task was not as easy as first thought, but eventually Wagner, running from his creditors, was located in Vienna and brought to the King. To the 51 year old composer Ludwig was a new Siegfried, come to rescue art. To the 18 year old King, Wagner was a god. Ludwig became Wagner's patron, settled his debts, and set him up comfortably in an Italianate-style villa. The two were inseparable, and Ludwig was soon planning the construction of a large festival theatre in Munich. On several occasions Wagner stayed with Ludwig at Schloss Berg, another mock-Gothic summer castle, as well as visits to Hohenschwangau. Richard Wagner photographed at about the time he met Ludwig.
The tide turns
Soon, however, Munich society was growing tired of Wagner's arrogance and jealous of his influence on their young King, and the ministers feared Wagner would try to influence Ludwig in political matters. It was only a matter of time before Wagner was forced to leave Bavaria. Eighteen months after his arrival, Wagner left Munich for Switzerland, and to a house rented by Ludwig for him. Ludwig fled to Hohenschwangau. The one thing that was giving him happiness had been taken from him.
The first few years of Ludwig's reign was a series of tragedies and disappointments. In 1866 war broke out between Austria and Prussia, the most powerful of the German states in what became known as the Seven Weeks War. Because of Bavaria's strong links with Austria, she too was drawn into the conflict on the Austrian side. Unfortunately for Bavaria, Prussia was victorious, and the country was thrown into gloom. In a secret treaty Ludwig placed the Bavarian army at the disposal of the Prussian General Staff. A part of Bavaria's independence was lost.
The honeymoon ends
The date for the wedding was first set for August, 1867. Shortly after it was changed to October 12th, the date both Ludwig I and Max II had married. But it was beginning to be obvious that not everything was well. Ludwig and Sophie were seen occupying separate boxes at the theatre, and people remarked that the couple seemed to be lacking a glow. Further evidence of this happened when Ludwig left court balls early and alone in order to catch the final act of plays. The truth was that Ludwig was desperately worried about the wedding. He stated to the Court Secretary that he would rather drown himself in the Alpsee than to marry. As the wedding date dew nearer Ludwig was more agitated and miserable. He wrote to Wagner "Oh, if only I could be carried on a magic carpet to you . . . at dear, peaceful Tribschen (Wagner's house in Lucerne, Switzerland.) - even for an hour or two. What I would give to be able to do that!" But Sophie was just as miserable. She knew that the King didn't love her. Finally she sent a letter offering Ludwig his freedom. But rather than except it, yet another postponement was made, to December. Meanwhile, wild rumours were circulating through Munich, the most absurd being that Sophie had broken Ludwig's heart by having an affair with a local photographer. (This rumour still persists to this day.) In the end it was Sophie's father who ended the affair. He sent word to Ludwig in early October demanding that he set a definite date at the end of November, or withdraw his proposal. Ludwig took the latter option. That night he wrote in his diary, "Sophie is finished with. The gloomy picture vanishes. I longed for freedom, I thirsted for freedom, to wake from this horrible nightmare." Ludwig fled to his beloved Alps, and hid there in his dreams. He wrote to Wagner from Hohenschwangau on 21 November, 1867; "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." (The following year Sophie married Prince Ferdinand d'Orleans, a grandson of King Louis-Phillipe of France. In 1897 she died in a fire during a charity bazaar in Paris.)It was from this time onwards in his life that Ludwig began planning and building his castles. The task of being king was far too great for a young man in his early 20's. This is possibly the most important fact that we must keep in mind when dealing with Ludwig. At the age of 20 he signed the order for mobilising the army and joining the Seven Weeks War, and thereby ordering thousands into battle. The traumatic episode of his failed engagement occurred when he was 21. But tragedy was still about to descend on the young King. Two years after his broken marriage plans, Prussia went to war with France, and since Prussia now effectively controlled Bavaria's army, Ludwig ordered his troops into battle once again into what became known as the Franco-Prussian War. During this war Ludwig withdrew from the real world and into a world of make-believe. The plans for both Neuschwanstein and Linderhof date from this period, and the foundation stone for Neuschwanstein was laid now. (In 1869.)
"The Dream King"
Ludwig was quickly changing in both mind and body. Photographs show how his appearance changed from a slender youth to a huge man in just a few years. He began to spend all his time in the mountains, at Hohenschwangau and Linderhof when it was ready to move in to, and his small mock-Gothic castle at Berg, beside Lake Starnberg. He refused to see his ministers and preferred the company of the mountain people. In fact, the only time he stayted in Munich was the annual investiture and banquet given in the Residenz for the Knights of the Order of St. George, Bavaria's highest Order of Chivalry Ludwig was the Grand Master of this Order. From paintings of these dinners, we can see Ludwig enjoyed himself immensely. The famous "Private Performances" also date from around this time. Sitting alone in the Residenz Theatre or the Court Theatre in Munich, the King would attend plays, concerts and operas put on for him alone. Plays were commissioned by the King to take place in settings designated by him. These settings were invariably exotic; the Himalayas; the court of Louis XIV; Tibet, Imperial China etc. The final trauma for Ludwig occurred shortly after Prussia's victory in the Franco-Prussian War. Bismark requested Ludwig's approval for Bavaria to enter a unified German Empire with Prussia as leader. After several days procrastinating, Ludwig agreed and wrote a letter inviting Wilhelm II to become Emperor of a united Germany. Bavarian sovereignty became an idea rather than a reality, and Ludwig a figurehead in a constitutional monarchy. These incidences, then, were responsible for his reclusive existence, and his alleged "madness". The world had never been kind to him, and he withdrew from it into a world of his own making. This was the reason for his castles.
After his Castles, Ludwig's death is the one subject that attracts the most amount of interest, and much debate. The circumstances of his death are very complex, and much can be analysed from the facts.
The Lead up to Conspiracy
By 1885, it was clear to the Bavarian Cabinet that Ludwig's building was not going to stop. In that year, the King had a number of building projects under way, and was spending huge amounts of money. Although Ludwig paid for the castles and private performances out of his own pocket, and not from the State coffers as some would have us believe, it still was an astronomical amount.
In 1885, Ludwig's buildings that were under way were -
* Neuschwanstein - almost complete. The Great Keep was just begun. (Since removed.)
* Linderhof - the final version of the bedroom nearing completion, and the Herburtus Pavillion, modelled on the Amalienburg at Nymphenburg, was just started in the grounds.
* Herrenchiemsee - exterior largely completed, work on the vast interior well under way. Many major rooms completed.
* Falkenstein - the final plans had been drawn up, and the road to the summit of the mountain completed. Work on the demolition of the old castle ruins about to commence.
What frightened the Cabinet more than these works under way was the projects that were to come. The Chinese Palace in Austria, and most frightening was the enormous Byzantine Palace that was to be started in a few years time. This project is largely ignored by many historians, but it was to be a building on a positively awesome scale, a gigantic building of marble and gold perched on a mountain, appearing like the Grail Temple from Parsifal.
This grandiose building scheme combined with Ludwig's loathing of Affairs of State, and his refusing to see his ministers, lead to a situation that was volatile to say the least.
Ludwig received an annual income of about 4.5 million Marks from the civil list. By 1884 he was 7 million Marks in debt. A Royal scandal would have come about if his creditors sued him for payment, and the King dragged through the courts. Although such an event would more than likely never occur, a loan from the Bavarian State Bank was arranged by Eduard von Reidel, the Finance Minister. He wrote to Ludwig, stressing the importance of economy. Everything must be done to reduce spending.
Unfortunately, economy was an alien concept for Ludwig, and spending continued at an alarming rate, until the debt had reached 14 million a year later. This time Reidel pointed out the fact that Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee could be handed over to the creditors, but Ludwig just demanded another loan. Reidel refused. Ludwig then demanded a total of 20 million. (He wanted work on the Chinese Palace to start as soon as possible.) The Cabinet refused again. A further loan was totally impossible, Ludwig was told.
Ludwig was now getting desperate. Servants were sent out to raise the money from a variety of sources. The Emperor of Austria, the King of Noway and Sweden, the Sultan in Constantinople and the Shah in Tehran were to be asked for loans. (The servants didn't obey their orders, of course.) As a last resort, men were to be found who would break into the banks in Berlin, Frankfurt and Paris.
In early 1886, Count von Dürckheim, the King's personal aide-de-camp wrote,
"Hesselschwerdt (a servant) came to me with a request from the King to go to England and raise 10 million from the Duke of Westminster. I pointed out how unwise such a step would be, and suggested writing to the King saying he had received the order and would write to His Majesty on the matter.
"Hesselschwerdt replied that he couldn't do that. 'I'm in Naples at the moment', he said. I asked him what he meant by this. 'The King sent me to Naples; but there's no point in going, so I stayed here. I said I was going and would be back on Wednesday, so I can't announce myself till then."
With all this happening, it's not very surprising that the Prime Minister and Cabinet felt it necessary to take drastic action. The King had to go. Perhaps there could have been a more humane way of dealing with this situation, but there was another reason Ludwig's Government took such drastic action. In 1886, Ludwig began investigating the possibility of replacing his Cabinet. The ruling clique got wind of his plan, and in order to protect their own position, they had to get in first and get rid of their King. Speed was important, as was secrecy. If Ludwig heard of their scheme, he would dissolve the Cabinet immediately, and their high positions would be lost.
Once the Ministers, headed by Prime Minister Lutz, decided that Ludwig had to go, they set to work planning their coup. The King could only be removed by Constitutional reasons - a coup d'etat was out of the question. Firstly they needed a reason for getting the King off the throne. This was an easy choice - prove he was insane and therefore unfit to rule.
Next on their agenda was a report detailing the King's insanity prepared by important psychiatrists. At the same time, the plotters needed the help of Prince Luitpold, Ludwig and Otto's uncle. Since Otto was insane, and had been kept locked away in an asylum for a number of years, Uncle Luitpold was next in line to the Throne. It would then just be a matter of arranging for the King to be taken into 'care'. It is an interesting point that Lutz received off the Prince on 6 separate occasions, reassurance that the current Government would remain in office after the removal of the King.
Prince Luitpold would only co-operate if the report proved conclusively that Ludwig was incurably insane, and totally unfit to rule. As the Prince was a man in his 60's, he was unambitious and retiring. The last thing he wanted at his age was the Throne. The report would then be required to be very detailed.
Four eminent psychiatrists, headed by Dr Berhard von Gudden - the leading German psychiatrist of the day - were brought in to compile the report. The other three psychiatrists were Doctors Hagen, Grashey and Hubrich.
Around January 1886, Count von Holnstein, Ludwig's Master the Horse, set about collecting the stories and gossip from the King's enemies and disgruntled former servants and lackeys. Holnstein himself was fed up with the King, and hated his Master. He was obviously the right choice for such a mission.
The infamous Arztliches Gutachten or Medical Report into Ludwig's fitness to rule was begun around January 1886 and completed on 23rd March, 1886. The Report is around 5 or 6,000 words long, consisting mainly of the gossip and stories of past and present disgruntled servants and lackeys seeking revenge on their former Master. It's chief compiler was Count von Holnstein, who was in the King's service while it was being compiled. He was the Judas in the matter, using his high position in the servant's pecking order to bully other servants into testifying. Richard Hornig, one of Ludwig's most trusted servants and a companion for almost 20 years, only agreed to add to the Report after threats and bullying from Holnstein.
Basically, the Report contained the following claims -
* Insanity ran in his family. Prince Otto, Ludwig's younger brother, had been diagnosed insane for years and committed to an asylum since he was a young man.
* The King was shy to the point of mania. At State balls he would hide behind a screen of flowers so as to not be seen by guests, and during these balls he would order the music to be loud enough to make conversation impossible. When forced through duty to attend State Dinners, he would steady his nerves with 10 or so glasses of champagne before 'mounting the scaffold' as he referred to it.
* The King's behaviour was childish and bizarre. Early in Ludwig's reign, moon-light picnics at midnight were arranged in the mountains for the King and his young grooms, where children's games were played - such as blind-man's bluff etc - under a full moon. Later in his reign, Turkish parties were organised in the Oriental Pavilions around Linderhof, where young grooms and lackeys were to sit cross-legged and smoke hookahs. At these parties, the good-looking grooms were made to strip and dance naked together. Similar parties were held in the early hours of the morning in the Hunding's Hut at Linderhof.
* While the King could carouse with his servants, he could never find time to see his Ministers, and at the end he refused to see them altogether. All messages and directions for governing were passed to the Cabinet through servants. Lackeys and barbers were given the task of finding new Ministers and a Cabinet Secretary.
* The King suffered from hallucinations. He would often hear footsteps and voices when nobody else could. When he was alone at dinner, Ludwig was heard chatting away and laughing loudly to unseen guests. Richard Hornig mentioned that the King would often arrange a picnic in the mountains during a blizzard, and tell Hornig that they were at the beach, under a tropical sun.
* He suffered from strange and sick fantasies. Once he told Hornig that he wished to smash a jug over the Queen-mother's head, drag her around by her hair, and stamp on her breasts with his heels. He also told him that he had dreamed of pulling King Max (his father) out of his coffin and bash his ears.
* Ludwig had a 'holy tree' near Berg that he bowed to whenever he passed, and a pillar at Linderhof he embraced every time he arrived or departed.
* The King often made strange dancing movements or pull his beard if he got excited, and make faces at himself in a mirror.
* Towards the end, the King would often order his enemies to be taken prisoner and flogged, or deported from Bavaria.
* Servants were often beaten by the King, and the Report contains over 30 cases of him hitting or kicking them. One stable-lad was beaten so badly that a trooper had to rescue him. One small and frail servant had died within a year of being beaten by the King. (Although the Report could not ascertain whether he had died from his beating or some other cause.)
* Servants were sent on ridiculous missions at great expense to the State, such as to Capri, Italy, to check that the blue lighting of Linderhof's Grotto matched that of the Blue Grotto.
* Towards the end, the King was obsessed with Absolute Monarchy. Army officers were ordered to set up Absolute Rule in Bavaria. Servants were made to bow low and grovel in the King's presence. He even sent servants on missions to find a country whose government was by Absolute Rule and negotiate a trade with him, ie. swap Bavaria for this country.
* The King's table manners were atrocious, and his clothes were carefully studied and noted by the Conspirators. His eating habits were described as 'slovenly' and 'disgusting'.
In summary, the Report concludes in the following cold-blooded way. Remember that this was addressed to Ludwig.
"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 because the Bavarian constitution contained a clause allowing the Monarch to be deposed if he was incapable of ruling for more than one year.
The Report - An Analysis
How much of the Report is true we will never know - there was certainly strange midnight goings-on in the Castles, particularly in the Pavilions at Linderhof. The peasants of the Alps, Ludwig's most loyal subjects, knew their King hosted parties were strange 'horse-play' went on.
It's interesting to note that after Ludwig's death, most of the claims in the Report were withdrawn by the late King's servants. For instance, except for a few boxed ears that were immediately compensated for with large gifts of money and diamond-studded watches, no servant ever remembered anyone being beaten.
But by seeing what Ludwig was condemned of, was he insane?
At this point it would be interesting to look at the Report's findings, and view them with 1990's eyes. I'll dissect the findings one by one -
* Because one's brother suffers from a mental illness, does the whole family suffer the same?
* Hiding behind a screen of flowers shows us Ludwig's acute shyness and the fact that he truly suffered at these Balls.
* Why did Ludwig like to play children's games with his servants early in his reign? Firstly, because he was never allowed to have a childhood when he was a child, as his parents were brutal to him; and second, he was only 18 years old when he succeeded to the throne, ie. in many respects, he was a child. Grooms dancing naked together were possibly lies created for the Report. But even if they were true, isn't everyone entitled to a private life?
* Ludwig would talk to himself at dinner because he didn't have something that we 'ordinary folk' have - friends. What would our lives be like if we didn't have any close friends?
* His fantasies about hitting the Queen Mother and bashing dead King Max would be natural feelings towards parents who raised him extremely strictly and harshly. Today we know what damage this kind of upbringing can have on a child.
* Ludwig's 'holy tree' and pillar at Linderhof show us he was merely superstitious. We all would have superstitious family members somewhere in our past. For instance, I remember my paternal Grandmother would put something blue on bee-stings to dull the pain, and was totally convinced that warts came from touching frogs and toads. My maternal Grandmother would throw salt over her left shoulder if she spilt any to avoid bad luck.
* What does a 'normal' person do if they are very excited? What would a 'normal' person do if they won a fortue in a lottery, for instance? Dance around making strange movements and pull your beard, if you had one?
* I personally know a few people I'd like to have flogged and deported. I think we all have a list like this in our minds.
* Servants sent to Capri and an obsession with Absolute Rule shows how Ludwig was eccentric. There is no denying he was a strange man, but as I asked earlier, was he insane, and a danger to other people? Was it justified to want to lock him away somewhere?
* As far as I personally am concerned, the final claim demonstrates how desperate the Conspirators were. To study a man's clothes after his meal, and draw conclusions about his mental health from the state of them is ludicrous. And why was Ludwig's eating habits so bad? By the 1880's, he had no teeth left, as dental hygiene was almost unknown in the 19th cent. and the King loved sweets. Eat a large meal with no teeth, and what would one's clothes be like? The majority of people had bad teeth in those days, hence a lack of smiles in early photographs.
The Report was compiled and signed by Dr Gudden, head psychiatrist at the Munich Asylum, and one of the leading psychiatrists of his day in Germany. He had never met Ludwig, let alone examined him. The Report was compiled exclusively from the stories and tattle-tales of spies in the Castles, and ex-servants that had been discharged by Ludwig for misconduct, and supervised by Count von Holnstein, a servant who was notorious for his hatred of the King.
This must be one of History's most disgraceful documents.
Dr. Berhardt von Gudden, late-19th Cent. Germany's leading psychiatrist.
Lead up to action
The Medical Report was signed by Dr Gudden on March 23rd, 1886, and the Conspirators waited for the right time to strike against Ludwig. Prince Luitpold was shown the Report, and was convinced by it that Ludwig was mentally deranged. But he demanded time to think the Report through, and the repercussions it would have on Bavaria. It is generally assumed that Prince Luitpold instigated the Conspiracy, and he was a kind of usurper of the Crown. Nothing could be further from the truth. He waited, and thought the matter over and over for almost 3 months, until finally giving in to the immense pressure placed on him by Prime Minister Lutz and the Cabinet.
In April, 1886, a copy of the Report was shown to the Prussian Chancellor, Bismarck, who at first was disturbed by it. But after some consideration, he called it "the rakings from the King's waste-paper basket and cupboards". He looked with scepticism at a document based on evidence extracted by Holnstein from lackeys through force and signed by a single Doctor who had never examined his patient. (Incidentally, Bismarck had noted in 1883 that Ludwig understood government better than his ministers, and commented after reading the Report that "the Ministers wish to sacrifice the King, otherwise they have no chance of saving themselves.") He suggested that the matter be brought before the Bavarian Diet and discussed in a session of Parliament, but this was the last thing Lutz wanted. Secrecy was vital.
Finally, through exasperation, Bismarck washed his hands of the whole affair, and wanting to get the matter dealt with before the Diet met, the final draft of the Report was signed by Dr Gudden as well as Dr Hubert von Grashey (Gudden's son-in-law), Dr Hagen and Dr Hubrich on the night of June 7-8, 1886. As a final precaution, the Ministry had fed the Bavarian newspapers stories about the King's mental health, and his fitness for governing. Public opinion had been influenced, and the Conspirators felt they had covered every eventuality.
Attempt at arrest
Finally, after months of planning, a Government Commission headed out from Munich to Neuschwanstein on the late afternoon of June 9th, 1886 to arrest Ludwig. The commission consisted of the following men -
* Baron von Crailsheim, Foreign Minister and Minister of the Household. He headed the commission.
* Count Törring, a councillor.
* Dr Rumpler, a councillor.
* Lieutenant-Colonel Washington.
* Count von Holnstein. Including this arrogant man was a stupid mistake on the part of the Conspirators, but fortunate for the King's cause.
* Dr Gudden. Leading psychiatrist.
* Dr Müller, Gudden's assistant.
* Several mental asylum wardens.
The Commission arrived at Hohenschwangau at around midnight, on a wet and drizzling night, where arrangements had been made to spend the night. They settled down to a seven-course dinner, during which 40 quarts of beer and 10 bottles of champagne were drunk. (Bavarians have always been large drinkers!). After dinner, Holnstein went out to find a carriage for the trip to Berg Castle, Ludwig's little castle on the shore of Lake Starnberg that had been converted to a mental asylum to receive him.
Holnstein found Ludwig's groom, Osterholzer, readying a carriage for the King's nocturnal ride. Holnstein ordered the carriage unharnessed, as another carriage and coachman would be taking the King tonight. Osterholzer refused, to which Holnstein boomed arrogantly, "The King gives no more orders now, only His Royal Highness Prince Luitpold."
Osterholzer was loyal to Ludwig and realised the danger the King was in. He quickly ran up the winding path to Neuschwanstein and was admitted to the King's room, where he poured out the story that he had been deposed. He and Weber, another loyal servant, implored Ludwig to escape while there was time, another coach could be ready in a few moments. Ludwig refused, thinking there was no real danger. He did, however, summon the local police and fire brigade to protect the castle gates, which were closed and bolted.
Meanwhile, down in the village, Osterholzer's absence had finally been noticed, and the Commission realised they're presence was known. Speed was more important than ever now. The others were roused from their sleep (it was now around 3:00 am) and they made their way up through the rain to the Castle gate. When the Commission reached the gates, they found the police force guarding it with bayonets drawn. For the moment, they were halted, and it was here that a now-famous episode happened.
Tragedy into Farce
Baroness Spera von Truchsess was an elderly Spanish-born Russian noble who was in love with Ludwig. She had used partof her vast fortune building a villa in Hohenschwangau so that she could be close to the King. She was also a frequent inmate at Dr Gudden's asylum. Being a noble, she knew all the Commission by name when she reached the castle to protect her beloved King, (she had an army of spies around Hohenschwangau so she would not miss any gossip) which she did by beating them with her parasol. Flailing her weapon, she managed to reach the interior of the Castle, and the King's room, and fell down before him, saying she would protect him. She named the Commission, and when Ludwig heard that it was headed by a trusted Minister, and included a one-time friend (Holnstein), he flew into a rage, and ordered their arrest at once.
During this time, news of the King's predicament had reached every peasant in the region, and the area before the gates were now filled with an army of men, women and children, threatening and harassing the now-embarrassed Commission. One thing they had not counted on was the loyally of the mountain peasants, who truly loved Ludwig.
Arrest of the Commission
To the jeering of the crowd, the Castle guard now arrived to arrest the Commission, and they were locked up in servant's quarters in the Castle. The Commission was terrified at this point, for locked up in the Castle under heavy guard, Ludwig was raging and storming about upstairs ordering their eyes burnt out and flogging them until their blood flowed like a river. Crailsheim was so terrified that he managed to bribe a guard to smuggle out a message which read, "Extreme speed necessary. We are in mortal danger. The King has ordered us to be put to death. Send help as soon as possible." But it was of course a false alarm, and the commission was released form their prison by midday, 10th June, and the Commission made their way back to Munich.
Calm before the storm
Dürckheim, Ludwig's most faithful and loyal aide-de-camp, arrived from Munich and begged Ludwig to go to Munich and show himself to the people. Bismarck offered him the same advice. Public opinion would save him. Ludwig refused. Dürckheim then begged Ludwig to flee to Austria, Neuschwanstein lying only a few miles from the border. Again Ludwig refused. The Battalion of Chasseurs at nearby Kempten had been summoned to Neuschwanstein, and a huge force of peasants now swarmed to Hohenschwangau to protect the King. The were willing to escort Ludwig under guard across the border and save him. But once more Ludwig refused. "He had abandoned himself to his Fate," as Bismarck later told a newspaper reporter.
Later in the day, Dürckheim was sent a telegram forcing him to return to Munich, and desert Ludwig. To refuse would mean imprisonment for high treason. Ludwig begged him to stay, but after a while agreed to his leaving. ".... you must go back or your career will be ruined." Before leaving, Ludwig asked Dürckheim to go to the village and get poison for him. "I cannot go on living", Ludwig said. Dürckheim refused, and left his Master in the early hours of June 11th.
The Arrest 2
June 11th, 1886
This would have been one of the most painful days in Ludwig's life. Starting in the early morning, the peasants that surrounded Neuschwanstein were ordered back to their farms by the government forces, and one by one Ludwig's servants and lackeys switched over to the other side, leaving him with a few remaining loyal servants. The police force that guarded the gates of Neuschwanstein were replaced by Prince Luitpold's forces, and all through the village posters and announcements were being put up proclaiming the Regency. Ludwig was no longer King.
Up in the Castle, Ludwig began to talk of suicide. His one remaining faithful servant, a boy named Weber, was told, "...... look for my head in the waters of the Pöllat". (The waterfall that is next to Neuschwanstein.) He wanted the key to the highest tower in the Castle, that he could throw himself from the top of it. He was told the key could not be found. "Do you believe in the immortality of the soul?" he asked Weber. "Because I do."
At one point he said something that is very revealing. "Had they only deprived me of my Crown, that I could have survived. But to deprive me of my reason, take away my freedom, and treat me as they treat my brother, that is intolerable. From that fate I will escape. They are hounding me to my death." And at another point, he said, "Drowning is a fine death. There is no mutilation of the body." He then wished to take a stroll down to the Alpsee that afternoon, obviously with the intention of drowning himself. Weber told him he could not leave the Castle, as it was now guarded by Government forces.
As night fell, he informed Weber that he wished to escape now. But it was too late. For his loyalty and kindness, Ludwig went to his study and handed the Weber 1,200 Marks in gold. "This is all I have left. You were the most faithful of them all. I won't need it anymore." The boy burst into tears, and Ludwig, deeply moved, gave him a diamond and sapphire clasp as well. Then, something that proves he was not totally mad, he wrote a note saying that if the clasp had to be returned to the Royal Treasury, Weber was to receive 25,000 Marks in compensation.
In the afternoon of 11th, a second Commission left Munich, again reaching Neuschwanstein at midnight.
June 12th, 1886
As soon as the 2nd Commission arrived, Mayer, one of Ludwig's remaining servants, came running down from the Castle to say Ludwig was about to throw himself from a window. The coach to Berg had been ordered for 4:00 am, and the group went up to the Castle. Gudden thought out a plan for trapping Ludwig. He had been asking for the key to the highest tower all night - Mayer was to tell him it had been found. Several police officers were to wait halfway up the tower, and after Ludwig had entered it, the rest were to go up at his rear, trapping him. This plan worked, and the King was placed under arrest halfway up the main tower of Neuschwanstein. (Tours of the Castle use this tower today to reach the various floors. Keep this in mind when you visit the Castle.)
He was told by Gudden that he had been found mentally ill, and he had been replaced by Prince Luitpold as Head of State. He was to be taken to Berg at 4:00 am.
"How can you declare me insane?" Ludwig had demanded. "You have never examined me." It had not been necessary, Gudden replied, there was plenty of documentary evidence.
The journey to Berg took 8 hours, all the while in the pouring rain that had been falling for the past few days. Ludwig rode in a coach with no doorhandles in the inside, and several asylum wardens riding with him. At Seeshaupt, at the head of Lake Starnberg, the horses were changed. Ludwig asked for a glass of water, which was given to him by the Inn-keeper's wife. The glass was preserved as a family heirloom.
The party arrived at Berg at midday, and Ludwig walked through the little castle where he had spent many happy times early in his reign examining everything. It was here that he had first entertained Wagner in 1867, as well as many of his special friends.
Berg Castle where Ludwig was incarcerated. This phot was taken in the 1890's, and this view no longer exists. The castle was badly damaged during World War 2, and the trees in the grounds now block out any view of the building. The castle is a private residence today.
Gudden had converted the castle into a mental asylum, with peep-holes drilled into walls, and holes around the windows waiting for iron bars. Most of the paintings and decorations had been removed, and the walls were painted a clinical white.
Ludwig's converted bedroom in Berg, where he slept while under guard.
Lunch was served soon after their arrival, with gold knives replacing steel ones. Apparently gold knives would dent if stabbed into flesh. Ludwig went to bed at his usual 3:00 pm and told a warden to wake him at midnight, to which he was told he was now to keep 'normal' hours. Gudden informed Ludwig that he was going to live a 'normal' life from now on, starting immediately.
The Curtain Falls
June 13th, 1886
Ludwig woke in the early hours of the morning as he was used to, and got up to get dressed. But his clothes had been removed. He was told by a warder to go back to sleep after he was discovered pacing the room in his night-shirt. When the sun rose through grey, rainy clouds, he was not permitted to speak to anyone, and the Royal hair and beard was dressed by a different barber, something which must have unnerved him. Ludwig ate a large breakfast, and even though it was Whitsunday, he was not permitted to attend Mass. (As a devout Catholic, this again must have unnerved him.)
Around 11:00 am, Ludwig asked Dr Gudden if he would accompany him on a walk through the grounds of the castle, as the rain had stopped. They set out for their walk with two warders following at a distance behind, and when they returned, Dr Gudden commented over lunch how well Ludwig was. The treatment is working very well, he commented - the patient seemed quite 'normal' already. Naturally, the fact that Ludwig was 'normal' to begin with never occurred to him. Was Gudden so arrogant as to think that 24 hours in his presence would turn someone suffering a mental problem 'normal'?
Gudden returned from their walk exhausted from all the questions Ludwig had asked. Several wardens were also plagued by the King for answers, and among these questions, Ludwig had very cunningly asked how many guards surrounded the castle grounds and where they were positioned. None of the wardens noticed the significance of these questions, and answered them dutifully.
Ludwig had a large lunch that day, and at about 4:30 pm had requested another huge meal. Gudden tried to dissuade Ludwig from this, but finally agreed to it. During this meal he drank a considerable amount, even though Gudden had set a strict quota on how much alcohol the King was permitted to have.
Just after 6:00 pm, Ludwig sent for Gudden to accompany him on another walk, as had been arranged during their last walk, and the rain had stopped once more. Gudden grudgingly agreed, and he thought Ludwig was behaving so well that theorder was given to leave the two men alone, and not to follow them. The King might be even more co-operative if he saw the doctor had such trust.
The two men set out at around 6:10 pm, and both were wearing overcoats and carrying umbrellas, as another storm was threatening. It is recorded that they passed from the castle's view at exactly 6:25 pm. Before departing, Dr Gudden had given orders for dinner to be ready at 8:00 pm.
When 8:00 pm came, and Ludwig and the 62 year old doctor had not returned, Müller thought they must be sheltering from the rain, which was now falling heavily, and didn't think too much about it. A policeman was sent out to look for them, and soon after two more. At 9:00 pm, when there was still no news of them, Müller began to panic at last. It was very unlike Gudden to be out on such a night. It was now dark, and the rain was torrential. Every available man in the Starnberg area was summoned to search for the missing pair with lamps and torches, as it was a very black night. The park was scoured, every inch of ground covered, until, around 10:00 pm, someone noticed a dark object floating in the water at a point where the path was close to the shore. It was the King's jacket and overcoat, and half an hour later, at 10:30 pm, June 13, 1886, the body of King Ludwig II was found floating face down in shallow water, about 20 metres from the lake's bank. Dr Gudden's body was found a few minutes later, floating near the King. Ludwig's watch had stopped at 6:54 pm, Gudden's at 8:00. However, Dr Gudden frequently forgot to wind his watch, so it may have actually stopped at 8:00 am., and the doctor had not noticed it.
An illustration from a newspaper the day after the tragedy.
The bodies were dragged from the water and laid out on the shore. Dr Müller tried for over an hour to resuscitate the King, but at midnight he announced that no more could be done. They were laid into a small boat and rowed back to the castle, and a telegram sent to the Prince Regent in Munich, the most important of the many telegrams that were sent to Munich that night.
The Dream King was dead at the age of 40.
The 'Votive Chapel' at Berg, which stands near the spot where Ludwig's body was discovered. In the foreground, rising from the waters of Lake Starnberg, is the cross that marks the exact spot.
Page 3 of The London Times. Note the date, and how long it took for news to reach another country 113 years ago. It's interesting that news from Munich reached London via Vienna. Compare this with today's Internet . . .
Ludwig's death sent shockwaves across Europe and the world. We can perhaps visualise the impact across Bavaria if we think of last year's tragic death of Princess Diana. As the world mourned her in a way nobody could have guessed, so did the Bavarian people mourn their beloved Swan King. The Conspirators were brought under close scrutiny by everyone in the country, the main target being Prime Minister Lutz. In London, The Times ran a huge story detailing the King's death, and this makes very interesting reading, as it was written as news, and not as history.
The King lay in State in Munich for a week, and the funeral was held on June 19th, 1886. Ludwig was buried in the Royal Vault beneath St Michael's Church, Munich.
Soon after his death a cult sprang up particularly among the people of the Alps. Shrines to Ludwig were set up in their homes, and postcards of varying taste were circulated everywhere. Even today, Ludwig's cult flourishes, and he has become part of our popular culture. Souvenirs of Ludwig are sold throughout Bavaria, and his castles, particularly Neuschwanstein, are used as locations, and inspiration for special effects, for many films, travel posters and books. The Dream
King has even entered the modern computer age, featuring in the computer game "Gabriel Knight 2 - The Beast Within". And could this web site be considered part of it?
Two postcards produced immediately after Ludwig's death. On the left, one of his subjects, dressed in traditional Bavarian costume, mourns the King in his Alpine hut, with an impossible view of Herrenchiemsee out the window. On the right, an image of dubious taste shows a Wagnerian Rhine-maiden keeping watch over Ludwig's body, lying on the bottom of Lake Starnberg amongst the seaweed. In the background, a stormy night sky threatens Berg Castle. Notice how Ludwig is holding his crown - taste has certainly changed since those days.
The Aftermath 2
What happened at Berg?
What actually took place that night beside Lake Starnberg has been a topic for debate for 113 years, and there have been a number of theories about it. There were no witnesses, and the evidence is very inconclusive, and indeed contractictory. Before outlining some of the theories, I will list the facts.
- Dr Gudden was discovered with a massive wound across his forehead.
- Signs of a struggle were found beside the Lake, the ground being churned up, and footprints found in the mud leading down towards the water.
- Gudden's hat was discovered totally crushed as if a huge weight was laid onto it.
- Gudden's umbrella was found laying near a seat, next to the shore.
- Some sources say that Ludwig's overcoat and jacket were found beside the lake, but most say they were found floating in the water near his body.
- Some sources say that there was no autopsy on the King, others say that during the autopsy, no water was found in his lungs.
- The autopsy on Dr Gudden found water in his lungs, so he drowned.
- According to some sources, immediately after the bodies were discovered, the local police confined the population of the area to their homes, and the King's loyal servants were placed under arrest. They were released, however, after a few days. It must be borne in mind that Theodor Hierneis, Ludwig's cook, in his memoirs* doesn't mention that this took place. As he was one of the King's servants, one would assume he would mention if he was imprisoned for the night. He documents everything else that happened that night in great detail.
Here then are a few of the theories -
1) Ludwig committed suicide. This theory was the first to come about, and is the official one. As the two men were sitting on the seat near the water, (where the umbrella had been discovered) Ludwig rushed towards the Lake to drown himself. (He had been talking of suicide all the previous day.) While Dr Gudden tried to stop him, Ludwig killed the doctor by hitting him across the forehead, and drowning him once he was knocked unconcious. Ludwig then drowned himself in the shallows of the lake.
2) Ludwig tried to escape by swimming across the Lake to safety. This theory has a number of scenarios. A boat waited on the other side of the Lake for Ludwig to swim to (Ludwig was a very strong swimmer, one of the few sports he enjoyed all his life), and he lead Gudden to the spot close to the shore where he could enter the water without being seen. Gudden tried to stop him, and met the same fate as in theory number 1). After Gudden's death, Ludwig was hit from the effort by a stroke, or by a massive heart attack. The water was freezing, and the King was overweight, so this theory is plausible. Or, after disposing of the doctor, Ludwig was shot by one of the guards on duty. His body fell into the water, at which the guard realised the consequences of what he had done and ran from the scene, hoping that nobody saw what had occured. When a gunshot wound was found on Ludwig's body, a cover-up ensued which meant no autopsy was performed.
3) Ludwig and Dr Gudden were murdered. Either a group of Ministers, or some of Ludwig's family arranged to have him murdered so that the new Regime would not be threatened. A massive government cover-up followed, hence the arrest of Ludwig's servants, and keeping the population indoors for the night. All evidence of the murders was disposed of, and signs of Ludwig's suicide created at the scene. Ludwig was then quickly buried five days later before an autopsy could be performed. This theory is gaining in popularity, and a recent book has revealed new evidence to support this theory.*
As was mentioned above, Theodor Hierneis describes what took place that night in great detail, and he says, in fact, one of those who found the body. He describes the king as being "in his shirt sleeves, his feet in the sand and his lifeless body washed to and fro by the waves."* He doesn't mention any bullet holes or blood on the body.
The truth is we will never really know what happened beside Lake Starnberg that evening. There are a number of deaths of famous people that can be classed as complete mysteries. The assassination of J.F.K. in 1963, and the drowning of Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt in 1966, to name only two, are just as mysterious as Ludwig's death. It is an interesting experience to visit the park in Berg where Ludwig died, and try to imagine what happened.
© Institute of Militronics and Advanced Time Interventionality 2058