Wednesday, April 11, 2007

By reason of insanity

Why, after years of eccentric behavior, was Ludwig finally declared insane and deposed by his Cabinet? The reasons were probably financial in nature. While Ludwig paid for his palaces out of his own resources, his relentless building program had dragged him deeper and deeper into debt, and the scandal of royal bankruptcy had begun to loom. In 1884 a loan had to be secured from the Bavarian State Bank to continue the work on Neuschwanstein, but rather than economize as a result, Ludwig only planned even grander projects - he had the site cleared for Castle Falkenstein, and announced Byzantine and Chinese palaces would soon follow. When Ludwig turned to his Cabinet for a second loan, however, they refused; the king responded by sending servants out to other monarchs to beg for funds, and gossip arose that he was seeking men for a crazed plan to break into banks in Berlin, Frankfurt and Paris. By 1886, it was rumored Ludwig had even begun seeking new ministers for his Cabinet, and the ruling clique decided it had to act.

A drawing of Ludwig's planned Chinese palace.

The Cabinet settled on a plan to depose Ludwig for constitutional reasons (rather than through a coup d'etat), by removing him due to his unfitness to govern, by reason of insanity. One problem with this plan was that Ludwig's brother Otto, next in line to the throne, was clearly incurably mad, and had been institutionalized since 1872. Ludwig's uncle, Prince Luitpold, however, agreed to act as Regent, but only on the condition that he was convinced Ludwig was truly unfit to govern. Thus a team of four eminent psychiatrists, headed by Dr Berhard von Gudden - the leading German psychiatrist of the day - was chartered to compile an official report on Ludwig, and Count von Holnstein, Ludwig's Master the Horse, set about collecting stories and gossip about the king.

There was no shortage of lurid rumors. Ludwig's public appearances were bizarre enough - he often chattered to himself, pulling his beard, and was so shy on state occasions that he sometimes hid behind screens of flowers. The king was also known to repeatedly hug various pillars and architectural features of his castles, and enjoyed dressing up as Lohengrin and other medieval heroes. But servants also told tales of beatings, children's games, and stableboys dancing naked before the king in the moonlight (!). The report convinced Prince Luitpold, and a mission was sent to Neuschwanstein to arrest the king.

Appropriately enough, the mission ended in a debacle - alerted to its approach, peasants loyal to Ludwig swarmed the castle, and a baroness in love with the king caused a scene by brandishing her parasol menacingly at the gate. Loyalists tried to persuade Ludwig to flee over the Alps, but he refused; the king then attempted to issue a proclamation protesting the mission, but it was suppressed by the government. From Berlin, Bismarck - who was only partly sympathetic to the Cabinet - advised Ludwig that to hold onto the throne, he must show himself to the people, but the neurotic Ludwig refused this course of action, too. When a second mission arrived at Neuschwanstein, he submitted to arrest in his bedroom (below), and was declared insane. The king was then transported to Berg Castle on Lake Starnberg.

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