Being as different a king as he was, Ludwig II had few friends inside his own government. In particular, the ministers of the realm, whom he had inherited from his father, were seriously offended by his behavior and his refusal to pay attention to them. Although he had paid for his pet projects out of his own funds, by 1885, the King was 14 million marks in debt, had borrowed heavily from his family, and rather than economizing as his financial ministers advised, Ludwig continued to pursue his further opulent designs without pause; besides the four castles he had already begun, he had four more on the drawing board. He demanded that loans be sought from all of Europe’s royalty, while still remaining aloof from the matters of state. Feeling harassed and irritated by his ministers, he let it be known that he was considering replacing them all.
The ministers feared that he would actually do it, so they decided to find a way to declare the King mentally ill, which would render him unable to rule. Between January and March of 1886, when Ludwig had ruled Bavaria for twenty-one years and was only forty years of age, the conspirators assembled a “medical report” that included a litany of supposed bizarre behaviors: his pathological shyness, his avoidance of state business, his complex and expensive flights of fancy, sloppy and childish table manners, and sending servants into foreign lands on “research trips” to verify architectural details of buildings.
The report was finalized in June and signed by four psychiatrists, the main one being Dr. Bernhard von Gudden, the head of the Munich insane asylum. The report concluded that the King suffered from paranoia and was incapable of ruling. Interestingly, three of the signers had never met the King, while Gudden had met him only once, twelve years before. There was no examination.
Ludwig’s uncle, Prince Luitpold, kindly let it be known that he would take over the government if the King were to be deposed.
At four in the morning on June 10, 1886, a government commission arrived at Neuschwanstein to deliver a document of deposition to the King. Having been warned an hour earlier, Ludwig had them arrested at the gates and imprisoned until later that day. In spite of the King not being officially deposed, the government issued a news release declaring Luitpold as Prince Regent, which made him the ruler of Bavaria. King Ludwig protested with his own news release, but most of the copies were seized by the commission and the populace remained ignorant of the happenings.
On June 12, the commission succeeded in capturing the now non-king Ludwig, taking him to the Castle Berg for confinement. That evening, on a private walk around the castle’s lake with Dr. von Gudden, Ludwig and his psychiatrist both disappeared. Their bodies were found the next morning in waist-deep water. Ludwig’s death was officially ruled a suicide by drowning, despite an official autopsy indicating that no water was found in his lungs. Gudden’s body showed blows to the head and neck, with signs that he had been strangled.
Ludwig was officially succeeded by his younger brother Otto, but since Otto had been ruled insane three years before (by Dr. von Gudden), Prince Regent Luitpold continued to rule until his death in 1912, at age 91. His eldest son, also named Ludwig, took over, officially deposed Otto, and declared himself King Ludwig III of Bavaria. He would rule only until 1918, when the end of World War I declared that Germany would no longer have monarchies.
Prince Regent Luitpold, needing money to finish the castle, began charging visitors to see Castle Neuschwanstein in August of 1886. Since that time, more than 50 million people have walked through the halls, becoming one of Bavaria’s biggest tourist attractions.
Don Willerton has been a reader all his life and yearns to write words like the authors he has read. He's working hard at it and invites others to share their experiences.