1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Louis II. of Bavaria

LOUIS II., king of Bavaria (1845-1886), son of his predecessor Maximilian II. and his wife Maria, daughter of Prince William of Prussia, was born at Nymphenburg on the 25th of August 1845. Together with his brother Otto, three years younger than himself, Louis received, in accordance with the wishes of his learned father, a simple and serious education modelled on that of the German Gymnasien, of which the classical languages are the chief feature. Of modern languages the crown prince learnt only French, of which he remained fond all his life. The practical value of the prince's training was small. It was not till he was eighteen years old that he received his first pocket- money, and at that age he had no ideas about money and its value. Military instruction, physical exercises and sport, in spite of the crown prince's strong physique, received little attention. Thus Louis did not come enough into contact with young men of his own age, and consequently soon developed a taste for solitude, which was found at an early age to be com- bined with the romantic tendencies and musical and theatrical tastes traditional in his family.

Louis succeeded to the throne on the loth of March 1864, at the age of eighteen. The early years of his reign were marked by a series of most serious political defeats for Bavaria. In the Schleswig-Holstein question, though he was opposed to Prussia and a friend of Duke Frederick VIII. of Augustenburg, he did not command the material forces necessary effectively to resist the powerful policy of Bismarck. Again, in the war of 1866, Louis and his minister von der Pfordten took the side of Austria, and at the conclusion of peace (August 22) Bavaria had, in addition to the surrender of certain small portions of her territory, to agree to the foundation of the North German Confederation under the leadership of Prussia. The king's Bavarian patriotism, one of the few steadfast ideas underlying his policy, was deeply wounded by these occurrences, but he was face to face with the inevitable, and on the loth of August wrote a letter of reconcilia- tion to King William of Prussia. The defeat of Bavaria in 1866 showed clearly the necessity for a reform of the army. Under the new Liberal ministry of Hohenlohe (December 29, 1866- February 13, 1870) and under Prauckh as minister of war, a series of reforms were carried through which prepared for the victories of 1870. As regards his ecclesiastical policy, though Lou' 5 remained personally true to the Catholic Church, he strove for a greater independence of the Vatican. He maintained friendly relations with Ignaz von Dollinger, the leader of the more liberal Catholics who opposed the definition of papal infallibility, but without extending his protection to the anti- Roman movement of the Old Catholics. In spite of this the Old Bavarian opposition was so aroused by the Liberalism of the Hohenlohe ministry that at the beginning of 1870 Louis had to form a more Conservative cabinet under Count Bray- Steinburg. On the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War he at once took the side of Prussia, and gave orders for mobilization. In 1871 it was he who offered the imperial crown to the king of Prussia; but this was not done on his own initiative. Bis-marck not only determined the king of Bavaria to take the decisive step which put an end to a serious diplomatic crisis, but actually drafted the letter to King William which Louis copied and despatched without changing a word. Louis placed very few difficulties in the way of the new German Empire under the leadership of Prussia, though his Bavarian particularism remained unchanged.

Though up till the beginning of the year 1880 he did not cease to give some attention to state affairs, the king's interests lay in quite other spheres. His personal idiosyncrasies had, in fact, developed meanwhile in a most unhappy direction. His enthusiasm for all that is beautiful soon led him into dangerous bypaths. It found its most innocent expression in the earliest years of his reign when he formed an intimate friendship with Richard Wagner, whom from May 1864 to December 1865 he had constantly in his company. Louis was entirely possessed by the soaring ideas of the master, and was energetic in their realization. He not only established Wagner's material position at the moment by paying 18,000 gulden of debts for him and granting him a yearly income of 4000 gulden (afterwards in- creased to 8000), but he also proceeded to realize the ambitious artistic plans of the master. A series of brilliant model per- formances of the Wagnerian music-dramas was instituted in Munich under the personal patronage of the king, and when the further plan of erecting a great festival theatre in Munich for the performance of Wagner's " music of the future " broke down in the face of the passive resistance of the local circles interested, the royal enthusiast conceived the idea of building at Bayreuth, according to Wagner's new principles, a theatre worthy of the music-dramas. For a time Louis was entirely under Wagner's influence, the fantastic tendencies of whose art cast a spell over him, and there is extant a series of emotional letters of the king to Wagner. Wagner, on the whole, used his influence in artistic and not in political affairs.[1] In spite of this the opposition to him became permanent. Public opinion in Bavaria for the most part turned against him. He was attacked for his foreign origin, his extravagance, his intrigues, his artistic Utopias, and last but by no means least, for his unwholesome influence over the king. Louis in the end was compelled to give him up. But the relations between king and artist were by no means at an end. In face of the war which was imminent in 1866, and in the midst of the preparation for war, the king hastened in May to Triebschen, near Lucerne, in order to see Wagner again.[2] In 1868 they were seen together in public for the last time at the festival performances in Munich. In 1876 Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen was performed for the first time at Bayreuth in the presence of the king. Later, in 1881, the king formed a similar friendship with Joseph Kainz the actor, but it soon came to an end. In January 1867 the young king became betrothed to Duchess Sophie of Bavaria (afterwards Duchesse d’Alençon), daughter of Duke Max and sister of the empress of Austria; but the betrothal was dissolved in October of the same year.

Though even in his later years he remained interested in lofty and intellectual pursuits, as may be gathered, apart from his enthusiasm for art and nature, from his wide reading in history, serious poetry and philosophy, yet in his private life there became increasingly marked the signs of moral and mental weakness which gradually gained the mastery over his once pure and noble nature. A prominent feature was his blind craving for solitude. He cut himself off from society, and avoided all intercourse with his family, even with his devotedly affectionate mother. With his ministers he came to communicate in writing only. At the end he was surrounded only by inferior favourites and servants. His life was now spent almost entirely in his castles far from the capital, which irked him more and more, or in short and hasty journeys, in which he always travelled incognito. Even the theatre he could now only enjoy alone. He arranged private performances in his castles or in Munich at fabulous cost, and appointed an official poet to his household. Later his avoidance of society developed into a dread of it, accompanied by a fear of assassination and delusions that he was being followed.

Side by side with this pathological development his inborn self-consciousness increased apace, turning more and more to megalomania, and impelling the weak-willed monarch to those extraordinary displays of magnificence which can still be admired to-day in the castles built or altered by him, such as Berg on the Starnberger See, Linderhof, Herrenchiemsee, Hohenschwangau, Neuschwanstein, &c., which are among the most splendid buildings in Germany. It is characteristic of the extravagance of the king’s ideas that he adopted as his model the style of Louis XIV. and fell into the habit of imitating the Roi Soleil. He no longer stayed for any length of time in one castle. Often he scoured the country in wild nocturnal rides, and madness gained upon him apace. His mania for buying things and making presents was comparatively harmless, but more serious matters were the wild extravagance which in 1880 involved him in financial ruin, his fits of destructive rage, and the tendency to the most cruel forms of abnormal vice. None the less, at the time when the king’s mental weakness was increasing, his character still retained lovable traits—his simple sense of beauty, his kindliness, and his highly developed understanding of art and artistic crafts. Louis’s love of beauty also brought material profit to Bavaria.

But the financial and political dangers which arose from the king’s way of life were so great that interference became necessary. On the 8th of June 1886 medical opinion declared him to be affected with chronic and incurable madness and he was pronounced incapable of governing. On the 10th of June his uncle, Prince Luitpold, assumed the regency, and after violent resistance the late king was placed under the charge of a mental specialist. On the 13th of June 1886 he met with his death by drowning in the Starnberger See, together with his doctor von Gudden, who had unwisely gone for a walk alone with his patient, whose physical strength was enormous. The details of his death will never be fully known, as the only possible eye-witness died with him. An examination of the brain revealed a condition of incurable insanity, and the faculty submitted a report giving the terrible details of his malady. Louis’s brother Otto, who succeeded him as king of Bavaria, was also incurably insane.

Bibliography.—K. v. Heigel, Ludwig II. (1893); Luise v. Kobell, Unter den vier ersten Königen Bayerns (1894); C. Bujer, Ludwig II. (1897); Luise v. Kobell, “Wilhelm I. und Ludwig II.” Deutsche Revue, 22; Ludwig II. und die Kunst (1898); Ludwig II. und Bismarck (1870, 1899); Anonym, Endlich völlige Klarheit über den Tod des Königs Ludwig II. ... (1900); Freiherr v. Völderndorff, “Aus meiner Hofzeit,” in Velhagen und Klasings Monatshefte (1900); Francis Gerard, The Romance of Ludwig II. of Bavaria; J. Bainville, Louis II. de Bavière (Paris, 1900); E. v. Possart, Die Separatvorstellungen von König Ludwig II. (1901); O. Bray-Steinburg, Denkwürdigkeiten (1901); S. Röcke, Ludwig II. und Richard Wagner (1903); W. Busch, Die Kämpfe über Reichsverfassung und Kaisertum (1906); Chlodwig Hohenlohe, Denkwürdigkeiten (2 vols., 1907); A. v. Ruville, Bayern und die Wiederaufrichtung des Deutschen Reiches (1909); K. A. v. Müller, Bayern im Jahre 1866 und die Berufung des Fürsten Hohenlohe (1909); G. Kuntzel, Bismarck und Bayern in der Zeit der Reichsgründung (1910); Hesselbarth, Die Enstehung des deutsch-framözischen Krieges (1910); W. Strohmayer, “Die Ahnentafel Ludwigs II. und Ottos I.,” Archiv für Rassen- und Gesellschaftsbiologie, vol. vii. (1910).  (J. Hn.) 

  1. It was on Wagner's advice that the king appointed Hohenlohe prime minister in 1866. See Hohenlohe-Schillingfurst, Prince Chlodwig zu, under HOHENLOHE. [ED.]
  2. Hohenlohe (Denkwürdigkeiten) comments on the fact that the king did not even take the trouble to review the troops proceeding to the war. [Ed.]