August 25, 1845 – King Ludwig II of Bavaria:
”There is a castle on a cloud. I like to go there in my sleep.”
Paul von Thurn und Taxis was a Bavarian prince who kept a diary, but like everything else concerning him or any of the powerful and wealthy Thurn und Taxis family, nearly all his letters and journals were destroyed, a few remain.
He pursued a career as a professional actor, plus Prince Paul was an intimate, devoted boyfriend to the Wittelsbach crown prince Ludwig, who ascended to the throne when he was just 18 years old. Paul and Ludwig engaged in the sort of behavior that would come across as unseemly to the Thurn and Taxis dynasty.
In a letter to Ludwig on May 5, 1866, when the king was 20 years old, Prince Paul wrote:
”Dear and Beloved Ludwig! I am just finishing my diary with the thought of the beautiful hours which we spent together that evening a week ago which made me the happiest man on earth. Oh, Ludwig, Ludwig, I am devoted to you! I couldn’t stand the people around me; I sat still and, in my thoughts I was still with you. How my heart beat when, as I passed the Residenz, I saw a light in your window.”
Paul and Ludwig shared a passion for composer Richard Wagner and the theatre. Prince Paul possessed a beautiful voice and the king liked when he sang just for him. When Paul and Ludwig visited Wagner’s home, the gay boys shared a ”cosy little room”, as described in one of Paul’s letters. Wagner rehearsed Paul in an aria of his opera Lohengrin, which was performed for the 20th birthday of the king on August 25, 1865, at the Alpsee in Hohenschwangau, Ludwig’s family castle. It was magnificently staged with the prince costumed as the hero Lohengrin, wearing silver armor, drawn over the lake by an artificial swan as the scenery was illuminated by the new electric lights. The King sat enraptured as his lover sang his favorite music.
A year later, New Year’s Day, 1867, all of Bavaria was atwitter at the announcement of dashing, handsome King Ludwig’s engagement to Princess Sophie, sister to the Empress Elizabeth of Austria. The royal wedding was arranged to take place on Ludwigs’ 22nd birthday, but later in the summer it was postponed until October 12. However, Ludwig broke off the engagement a week before the marriage was to take place. In a long letter to Princess Sophie, he stated that the engagement and wedding had been forced upon him; he loved the Princess ”like a sister” and hoped they would remain friends.
There was a good reason for the postponement and ultimate cancellation. During that summer Ludwig met Richard Hornig, a groom employed at one of his stables. A blond, blue-eyed Prussian, five years older than the king, he was to become one of the most important people in Ludwig’s life. Hornig was an excellent horseman, and their mutual love of horses sparked their romance. After that, Hornig was seeing the king constantly and intimately. Hornig was given the title of Crown Equerry and Master of the Horse. He controlled all horse transport, coaches and carriages, stabling, purchase, breeding and training of the 500 Royal horses. Ludwig and Hornig often visited the king’s remote castles, chalets and mountain cabins, mostly traveling in a four-horse carriage, but sometimes in a romantic, sleigh ride by the moonlight. When the men dined at the king’s castles, they were waited on by footmen dressed in 18th-century livery uniforms.
Hornig was a go-between for the king and his ministers, much like Queen Victoria‘s special friend John Brown. This caused much tongue-wagging and criticism. Ludwig and Hornig traveled through Germany to France, with the King traveling incognito as ”Count von Berg”. This was the time that the king issued the postponement of his wedding. It was Ludwig’s relationship with Hornig that made him realize that loving a woman was not a really going to happen.
Ludwig II went on to have a long line of handsome male companions. There was Hungarian theatre star Josef Kainz and one of his attendants, Alfons Weber. They were both good-looking, and Ludwig treated them in the manner that other royal males treated mistresses. Ludwig gave Kainz expensive gifts, invited him to stay in the royal castles and brought him along for vacations in Switzerland. They even had their photograph taken together at the end of a trip, although it is scandalous that in this picture Kainz is seated, and the king is standing.
Ludwig II was an obsessive, devoted patron of Wagner. The king wiped out the composer’s enormous debts, built him his own theatre in Bayreuth custom designed for his operas, plus a private villa in the town. Wagner lived on an allowance supplied by the king.
As Ludwig II grew older, he became an eccentric recluse caught up in building fantasy castles decorated with murals depicting scenes from the legends on which Wagner’s operas were based, all the while ignoring matters of state, which he left to his staff of ministers to deal with. It was during Ludwig’s reign that Prussia launched a successful campaign to unify all the disparate German kingdoms into one unified Germany Empire, with Prussian King Wilhelm I installed as kaiser.
When the king’s ministers discovered that Ludwig was planning to dismiss his entire cabinet and replace them, the ministers acted first. They plotted to depose him constitutionally, on grounds that he was mentally ill, issuing a statement that he was unable to rule. This was done without any medical examination, so their diagnosis of the king’s insanity remains dubious. Among the list of bizarre behaviors described in their so-called medical report was a tid-bit that his young groomsmen were sometimes ordered to strip naked and dance for the king’s delight. Not proper decorum, perhaps, but not insanity. Three of the four doctors who signed the damning medical report had never met the king, and none had examined him.
Still, the ministers made plans to place Ludwig’s younger brother Otto on the throne. In summer 1886, a commission arrived at Neuschwanstein castle and served the king with an order of deposition, escorting him to Schlossberg on the shores of Lake Starnberg.
The next day Ludwig II’s body was found floating in the lake, alongside the corpse of Dr. Bernhard von Gudden, one of the psychiatrists who had declared the king insane. Gudden’s body showed evidence of a struggle and attempted strangulation, suggesting that the king tried to kill him. Ludwig was 6’4″ tall and in good shape, so there is validity to this theory. The exact cause of the king’s death has never been solved. An autopsy found no water present in his lungs.
Ludwig left a legacy that is intertwined with the history of art and architecture. He commissioned the construction of several extravagant fantasy castles and palaces, the most famous being Neuschwanstein. Neuschwanstein Castle was used by Walt Disney as the inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty Castles at Disney Parks around the world. The castle has had over 50 million visitors since it was opened to the public in August 1886, two million in 2019 alone. Since his legacy of these grandiose castles lives on in the form of massive tourist revenue, King Ludwig II is revered by many Bavarians today.
Franz, Duke of Bavaria (born in 1933) is the head of the Wittelsbach dynasty now. He is a gay man who lives in a suite of apartments in Schloss Nymphenburg in Munich, the summer residence of the Wittelsbach kings of Bavaria where King Ludwig II was born.
The Wittelsbachs opposed the Nazi regime in Germany, and in 1939 Franz’s father Albrecht fled with his family to Hungary. They lived in Budapest for four years before moving to Somlovar Castle in late 1943. In March 1944, Nazi Germany occupied Hungary, and on October 6, 1944, the entire family including Franz, then 11 years old, was arrested. They were sent to Nazi concentration camps including Dachau. At the end of April 1945, they were liberated by the U.S. Army.
Ludwig’s remains were interred in the crypt of the Michaelskirche in Munich. His heart, however, does not. Bavarian tradition calls for the heart of the king to be placed in a silver urn and sent to the Gnadenkapelle (Chapel of Mercy) in Altötting, where it now sits beside those of his father and grandfather.
Three years after his death, a small memorial chapel was built overlooking the site where he died, and a cross was erected in the lake. A remembrance ceremony is held there each year on June 13.
Ludwig (1973), a biopic by gay director Luchino Visconti, stars yummy Helmut Berger as Ludwig. The film was shot at locations in Bavaria including Neuschwanstein Castle.
László Gálffi, a Hungarian actor, plays Ludwig II in Tony Palmer‘s epic film Wagner (1983) with Richard Burton as Wagner, along with John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Laurence Olivier, Joan Plowright and Vanessa Redgrave.