The End of the Kitsch King

Neuschwanstein CastleOn the night of June 12, 1886, a group of psychiatrists drove up the dark road to Neuschwanstein, the fairytale castle in Bavaria on a mission to take the lord of the manor, King Ludwig II (1845–1886), into custody. When they got there, they encountered a bloated man weighing 120 kilograms (260 lbs.), ravaged by the constant use of the soporific chloral hydrate, his teeth ruined by sweets.

King Ludwig IILudwig, sensing his impending doom, had asked for potassium cyanide. “Hurtling downward from the highest levels of life into nothingness – that is a lost life, and I cannot bear it,” he wrote.

The king was not “incurably” mad, as the medical experts claimed at the time. At most, he was nothing more than a quirky eccentric. The real reason for his arrest was that he had lost control over his finances, and had amassed 14.5 million marks in debt. More than 100 creditors, including foreign banks, were threatening foreclosure. He was arrested to spare the Wittelsbach dynasty the humiliation of having its assets seized.

Source: Spiegel online, October 14

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Later that year, according to Wikipedia, on June 13, 1886, Dr. Gudden accompanied Ludwig on a stroll in the grounds of the castle. They were accompanied by two attendants. On their return, Gudden expressed optimism to other doctors concerning the treatment of his royal patient. Following dinner, at around 6 pm, Ludwig asked Gudden to accompany him on a further walk, this time through the Schloß Berg parkland along the shore of Lake Starnberg. Gudden agreed; the walk may even have been his suggestion, and he told aides not to accompany them. His words were ambiguous (Es darf kein Pfleger mitgehen, “No attendant may come along”) and whether they were meant to follow at a discreet distance is not clear. The two men were last seen at about 6:30 pm; they were due back at 8 pm but never returned. After searches were made for more than two hours by the entire castle staff in a gale with heavy rain, at 10:30 pm that night, the bodies of both the King and von Gudden were found, head and shoulders above the shallow water near the shore. The King’s watch had stopped at 6:54. Gendarmes patrolling the park had heard and seen nothing.

Ludwig’s death was officially ruled a suicide by drowning, but the official autopsy report indicated that no water was found in his lungs. Ludwig was a very strong swimmer in his youth, the water was approximately waist-deep where his body was found, and he had not expressed suicidal feelings during the crisis. Gudden’s body showed blows to the head and neck and signs of strangulation, leading to the suspicion that he was strangled although there is no more evidence to prove this.

Many hold that Ludwig was murdered by his enemies while attempting to escape from Berg. One account suggests that the king was shot.


2 responses to “The End of the Kitsch King

  1. Michael Gundy

    Where either wearing cement overshoes?

  2. Elisabeth Ecker

    Were King Ludwig II debt ever paid and if so by whom?