In Munich, the capital and royal seat, the happy event robbed the
inhabitants of their sleep. For at three oclock in the morning cannons sounded off a
25-gun salute to announce that on this day, 25 August 1845, an heir had been born to Crown
Prince Maximilian. Such was the diary entry of Johann Andreas Schmeller, the author of the
"Bavarian Dictionary". Or perhaps, after all, the artillery had fired off a
101-gun salute, as the mother of the newborn, Princess Marie, wrote to her family in
The previous evening, King Ludwig I had driven out from his residence to
Nymphenburg Castle, where watch in hand he had sat on a sofa observing the hour hand as it
moved inexorably towards midnight, and shortly after the new day, his 59th birthday and
name day, had broken, he received word that he had become a grandfather.
Afterwards it was whispered secretly that the future King Ludwig II had actually come
into the world a few days earlier, but that the news had been suppressed so as to make the
grandson a kind of birthday present for the old man (whom the dancer Lola Montex was to do
out of the throne a good two-and-a-half years later).
Three decades later, Ludwig II, himself now king for a number of years, wrote to the
actress Marie Dahn Hausmann the much-quoted sentence: "I want to remain an eternal
enigma both to myself and others." The seeds of the enigma were, it seems, already
sown at his birth.
If the new arrival was greeted with a booming grandiose reception fit for a future
king, his subsequent childhood could hardly have been more meagre or unloving. His father,
a sickly man plagued by headaches since an attack of typhoid, wanted to instruct his two
sons Ludwig and Otto (the latter was more than two years younger than his brother Ludwig)
in the burdens of royal duty from their childhood onwards. Their pocket money comprised
just a few small coins, and their food was so paltry that the maid Lisi sometimes crept
into the room of the two princes to give them morsels from the servants kitchen. His
since the spring of 1848 had ruled under the name of Maximilian II, had such a high
opinion of the dignity of his house that he forbade his sons to associate with other
No doubt the grumpy melancholic king meant well, but by wanting to mould Ludwig and
Otto in his own image, he caused the two princes to lose touch with reality.
When Ludwig celebrated his eighteenth birthday and thereby reached adulthood, his
father gave him a purse containing all the different coins which were legal tender in
Bavaria. As Ludwig had had very little experience with money, he na´vely believed he
could buy a locket for his mother with the contents of the purse. On discovering this was
totally insufficient to buy such a valuable piece of jewelry, he suffered a bitter
disappointment. From that day on, it is said, Ludwig never again showed the slightest
interest in the value of money.
Despite this circumstance, numerous researchers have attributed the blame for the two
princes tragic fate not so much to their misguided upbringing, but more to
hereditary considerations. Although, they maintain, there is no trace of degeneracy in the
Wittelsbach line itself, "the sudden appearance of two mentally disturbed brothers
can be explained by the fact that a weakly representative of the Wittelsbach dynasty made
a highly unfortunate genetic match in his wifes combined Hohenzollern-Brunswick
blood." Ultimately, so they claim, the cause of Ludwig and Ottos mental
confusion can be traced back to one Wilhelm the Younger Duke of Brunswick, born in 1535.
And there the matter would rest, except that friends and admirers of King Ludwig are
compelled to counter (not without reasons of their own) that their fairytale king may have
been of a brooding disposition, but was by no means mentally unhinged.