Sunday, March 25, 2007

King Ludwig II, Part I

A central figure in Valhalla,King Ludwig II of Bavaria was born in 1845, the son of King Maximilian II of Bavaria and Princess Marie of Prussia. He was extremely spoiled as a child, and constantly reminded of his royal power; but he was also often subjected to ruthless regimens of exercise and study. The happiest days of his childhood were spent at Lake Starnberg (the eventual site of his death), and Schloss Hohenschwangau, the castle built by his father in the foothills of the Alps.

Teenaged Ludwig became best friends with (and possibly the lover of) his aide de camp, the handsome aristocrat and sometime actor Paul Maximilian Lamoral, a scion of the wealthy Thurn and Taxis dynasty. The two young men rode together, read poetry aloud, and staged excerpts from the operas of their idol, Richard Wagner. Their relationship lapsed when Paul eventually became more interested in (or at least began courting) young women. During these years Ludwig began a lifelong friendship with his cousin Duchess Elisabeth, who eventually married Franz Joseph to become Empress of Austria. The two teenagers loved nature and poetry, and nicknamed each other “the Eagle” (Ludwig) and “the Seagull” (Elisabeth).

In 1864, King Maximilian died, and Ludwig inherited the throne at 18. He took the royal apartments in Schloss Hohenschwangau as his own, but did not displace his mother - as he never married, she retained her customary rooms in the castle. By 1867, Ludwig had become engaged to Princess Sophie, his cousin and Empress Elisabeth's younger sister, but after repeatedly postponing the wedding, Ludwig cancelled the engagement that October. Ludwig never married - instead he was linked romantically to a number of men, including his chief equerry Richard Hornig, Hungarian theatre star Josef Kainz, and courtier Alfons Weber. (Sophie eventually married Ferdinand Philippe Marie, duc d'Alençon, but died some twenty years later in a fire which destroyed the Paris Charity Bazaar.)

That same year, Ludwig underwent (and failed) his most serious test as a monarch; he sided with Austria against Prussia in the Seven Weeks' War, and was forced to accept a mutual defense treaty with Prussia after Austria's defeat. Under the terms of this treaty, Bavaria joined with Prussia against France in the Franco-Prussian War. Ludwig received some concessions in return for his support, but essentially he had lost his independence. Stripped of true responsibility for his kingdom, Ludwig began to recede further into a life of royalist fantasy. He was only 22.

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