Ludwig II of Bavaria: Suicide or Murder? How Did the Swan King Meet His End?
Ludwig II of Bavaria was the favorite cousin of the famous Empress Elizabeth ''Sisi'', the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph II. His name became immortal due to the impressive castles he built during his short lifetime. He was a visionary, an artist, and a man whose secrets brought his death.
For many decades, people said that Ludwig was mad. However, now researchers can explain that it wasn't madness, but a cruel rumor created by his enemies (maybe even his own family!) Ludwig was very different than his relatives. He was a dreamer and an intelligent visionary. However, his connection to the Wittelsbach family made him one of the most shocking and scandalous people in 19th century Europe.
Maximilian II of Bavaria with his wife and two sons: King Ludwig II and his younger brother Otto. ( Public Domain )
A Prince of His Castles
Ludwig was born August 25, 1845 and ruled as King of Bavaria from 1864 until his death on June 13, 1886. He became a ruler as an 18 year old Duke. but his life was more concerned with his world of imagination than politics.
He was fascinated by the history of Prussia, Germany, and the surrounding lands. He loved the music of Richard Wagner and became his patron. Ludwig was an intellectualist, who spent more time with books and in nature than caring about dynastic issues. He was engaged to the Duchess Sofie Charlotte, but never got married. It is unknown if he ever had a mistress, but the lack of romances led some people to spread rumors that he was a homosexual. He explained his lack of love affairs by saying that he felt like a Roman Catholic, and due to lack of wife he lived by his faith.
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Ludwig II and Sophie of Bavaria. ( Public Domain )
Although he was a king, he wasn't an attractive candidate for marriage either. Other royal houses were afraid that if he would enter their families he would spend their wealth to build another castle. Ludwig focused his life on art and arranging finances to create his next project.
During his 41 years of life, he built a few impressive castles and left many other ones in progress. The most famous of his projects is Neuschwanstein Castle, which is a fortress located on a hill and built in the dramatic Romanesque style. This castle became one of the inspirations for castles in Disneyland.
Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, Germany. ( Public Domain )
Apart from this, Ludwig built the Winter Garden in Residenz Palace in Munich, Linderhof Castle in neo-French Rococo style with an impressive garden, Herrenchiemsee, which is a replica of the Palace of Versailles (based on original plans), Schachen king's house, and many other smaller projects which were unfinished.
Before he died, he had started works on the building of Falkenstein castle in the Gothic Style - which was to be even more of a fairytale style than the famous Neuschwanstein. It was a time when his own relatives were already tired of his lack of responsibility for the family finances. They believed he must have been sick in the mind. With what they perceived as his weird personality, he had a few psychiatrists hired to check him out - but they didn't find him to be a dangerous madman.
Ludwig II in generals' uniform and coronation robe (c. 1865). ( Public Domain )
What Really Happened Near the Lake?
On the afternoon of June 13, 1886 Ludwig decided to go for a stroll with his personal
psychiatrist Dr. Bernhard von Gudden. Two attendants followed them. It was a good day for both, and the doctor was pleased with his patient’s mental condition. It was a time when the two men were friends as well. Around 6 pm they ate dinner together and then Ludwig invited Gudden for another walk. He wanted to visit Schoß Berg Park near Lake Starnberg. They (or some authors say just Ludwig) decided they didn't want to take attendants with them. They were last seen alive around 6:30 pm when they started their stroll. The weather was pleasant and Ludwig was in a good condition. Nobody thought that a tragedy was coming.
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But Ludwig and the doctor were both found dead many hours later. According to the official report, Ludwig committed suicide by drowning himself. However, the autopsy indicated that there was no water in his lungs. He was known as a very good swimmer, so it seems unlikely that he could have drowned in such circumstances. The body of the Gudden showed signs of strangulation, but there was nothing more in the explanations about how or why.
According to an article published by Munich HighLights, there are many pieces of evidence suggesting that Ludwig was murdered, including the account of Mr. Utermöhle: ''As a 10-year-old, he and his mother were invited for afternoon coffee and cakes by a Countess Josephine von Wrba-Kaunitz, who looked after some of the Wittelsbach family's assets. Mr. Utermöhle recalled how the countess gathered her guests, telling them in a hushed tone: "Now you will find out the truth about Ludwig's death without his family knowing. I will show you all the coat he wore on the day he died." The countess opened a chest and pulled out a grey Loden coat. Mr. Utermöhle insists in his statement that he saw "two bullet holes in its back" and his mother, who has since died, left him a written account of what they saw.''
Portrait of Ludwig II in 1882. ( Project Gutenberg )
Nowadays, researchers have discovered many unexpected details which are supported by the words of the witness who was alive when Ludwig lived and died. Many statements from the witness and his family members support the theory that Ludwig and the doctor were murdered. Everybody said they had heard of the two bullet holes in Ludwig’s back. They also claim that the doctor could have been shot death.
The End of a Fairy Tale
Ludwig was buried in St Michael's Church in Munich. When Elizabeth went to say goodbye to her cousin she was devastated. He was the only person who really understood her. When she saw his dead body, she went to pick his favorite white jasmine to decorate his coffin. Ludwig was succeeded by his brother Otto - who was diagnosed by doctor Gudden as the one who was really mentally ill many years earlier. Gudden wrote that the one who was dangerous was not Ludwig, but Otto. He was right, perhaps, but Otto ruled Bavaria until the end of World War I, when the Bavarian monarchy came to an end.
Memorial Cross at the site where the body of Ludwig II of Bavaria was found in the Lake Starnberg. (Nicholas Even / CC BY SA 3.0 )
Now, Ludwig is considered one of the most unrealistic, surrealistic, mad, and visionary royals of the 19th century European monarchies. But the magnificent castles he had built also made him more famous than anyone else in his family.
Top Image: Ludwig II of Bavaria by Jószef Arpád Koppay. Source: Public Domain
Jean des Cars, Ludwik II Bawarski,1997.
Bavaria's 'Mad King' Ludwig may not have been so mad after all, available at:
Ludwig the Second, king of Bavaria by Clara Tschudi, 1908, available at:
A royal recluse; memories of Ludwig II. of Bavaria by Werner Bertram, 1900, available at:
The 125th Anniversary of the Death of King Ludwig II by Ana Taylor, available at:
The romance of King Ludwig II. of Bavaria; his relations with Wagner and his Bavarian fairy places by Frances Gerard, 1901, available at:
The mystery of Ludwig II, available at: