The Young King


Ludwig 1864

Ludwig as Grand Master of the Royal Order of the Knights of Saint George.

King Maximilian’s advisers had often suggested to him that on his daily walks in the English Garden he might like — at least sometimes — to be accompanied by his future successor. "But what am I supposed to say to him?" His Majesty answered; "after all, my son takes no interest in what other people tell him." And so contact between the two Wittelsbach royals continued to be restricted almost exclusively to brief arid encounters at official occasions or over breakfast or the evening meal. But evidently the mother too, a Hohenzollern princess, was incapable of forming a warm relationship with her two sons, with the result that in later years Ludwig II referred to her as "my predecessor’s consort" or "the colonel-in-chief of the 3rd Field Artillery Regiment"! Thus it was that Crown Prince Ludwig, who had just come of age, was not prepared for high office when in March 1864 his father died after a three-day illness. A report has come down to us that Ludwig turned pale when a servant addressed him for the first time as "Your Majesty".

Right from the beginning the new king won the affection of his subjects. "When Ludwig came to the throne," his biographer Gottfried von Boehm wrote, "he appeared to many like a veritable young god. This Apollo-like figure was seemingly blessed with all the mental and spiritual qualities that Nature can bestow upon a person. He was adored not only by women. Men too were touched by his innate nobility, kindliness and charm."

In the first months of his reign, he gained the affection of his ministers through the childlike enthusiasm with which he studied documents submitted to him. Over and over again it happened that he impatiently enquired as to whether there were no new papers for him to read or sign.

His father had once asked a scholar whether science could provide copper-bottomed proof that rulers were also allocated a special position in the next king dom. For his son, the Wittelsbach kingdom soon occupied an exceptional position here on earth. Whereas in much of Europe nations were struggling for rights and freedom, the King of Bavaria, whose grandfather had lost his crown in these upheavals, sought his models in long-forgotten absolutist times — with France’s Bourbon kings. The Bavarian king paid homage to faded majesties — at Linderhof to Louis XV and his ladies, at Herrenchiemsee to Louis XIV — whose reign he celebrated like a religious ritual. Thus, for example, the throne room at Neuschwanstein Castle looks more like the inside of a church than the audience chamber of a worldly sovereign.

Courtly ceremonial meant more to Ludwig II than the business of politics. True, in his early years he received rulers from other countries — for example the Emperor Franz Joseph and his Empress Elisabeth in Bad Kissingen, Tsarina Maria Alexandrovna at Lake Starnberg, Emperor Napoleon III and the Empress Eugénie en route between Augsburg and Prien on the Chiemsee, and the Prussian King Wilhelm in Hohenschwangau —and yet the only one of his crowned colleagues whom he went out of his way to visit was the French emperor, whom he met shortly before the Augsburg encounter on the first of his three very brief trips to France. The Wittelsbach sovereign never once went to Vienna or Berlin,and even in his own country he traveled only extremely rarely. Most of his journeys took him "uphill", where he came of course to Switzerland, the land of William Tell. But he did not need to travel to discover the world — he created it in his imagination. He dreamed up reality.

Ludwig It of Bavaria was indeed, as the French poet Paul Verlaine wrote, "le seul vrai roi de ce siècle" — this century’s only real king.