Sunday, March 12, 2023

King Ludwig II: The Mad King

 By Kathy Kovach

In this third and last installment of King Ludwig II’s life, I'll explore yet another name he was known for. If you missed the first two, please click on these links: The Fairytale King, because of his fanciful and romantic nature, and The Moon King, due to his adoration of King Louis XIV, known as the Sun King. Now, let’s delve into what made the Mad King appear insane. Or was he? The jury is still out on that. At any rate, Ludwig had such a large personality, one name simply couldn't contain his many facets.


Boat to Herrenchiemsee with Fraueninsel Island and Frauenworth Abbey in the background.

He'd built three castles, two of which he barely lived in. Please follow the links where I've written about Neuschwanstein, and Linderhof. Herrenchiemsee, (pronounced hare-en-keem-say,) the third one Ludwig commissioned, sits on the large island known as Herreninsel in Lake Chiemsee. The only way to this most opulent edifice was, and still is, by boat. As I stated in the previous articles, my husband, two sons, and I vacationed in Bavaria while hubs was serving in the Air Force and stationed at Frankfurt. Not only did we travel to the island by boat, but we also took a carriage ride three-and-a-half miles to the castle. However, we did walk back through the beautiful countryside.

Hall of Mirrors Herrenchiemsee

Domed ceiling in the Herrenchiemsee Hall of Mirrors

To contrast, this is the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles
Construction on Herrenchiemsee started in May of 1878 and was his most ambitious venture yet. He modeled the architecture and the grounds after the Palace of Versailles as a tribute to King Louis XIV. The most prominent feature was the Hall of Mirrors where twenty-five frescos with paintings of his idol’s most glorious days were framed by mirrors. Lots of mirrors. The Hall of War is on one side, and the Hall of Peace is on the other, with each having six windows. The domed ceiling also has paintings of the French king.

Smaller than Versailles, Herrenchiemsee is notably the largest of the three castles Ludwig built. It was never meant to become a government seat nor to be home to the royal court. Its purpose was to be a personal residence for the reclusive king who thought a palace set in a forest in the middle of an island the ideal retreat. As is the case with Neuschwanstein, this third of Ludwig’s efforts also remained unfinished. In fact, Ludwig only spent a total of ten days in his new residence.

Memorial Cross at the site where the body of Ludwig II was found in Lake Starnberg

Among King Ludwig’s numerous monikers, the Mad King of Bavaria is what clung on like the smell of sauerkraut. The question of the ages, however: Was he really insane or simply eccentric? His enemies would say the former as they worked to bring him down, which seemed the case when he was eventually deposed and put under the care of a psychiatrist who declared him insane. Both men met their end in a mysterious manner after taking a walk around a lake. Ludwig’s supporters seemed to enable his quirkiness and attributed it to his past. The boy prince with a sad family lifeoverbearing Bavarian father and distant Prussian motherbecame the boy king much too young at the age of eighteen.

Then two years later, he suffered a devastating defeat when Prussia conquered Austria and Bavaria. Bavaria’s foreign policy was then dictated solely by the dominant government, leaving Ludwig at the mercy of his Prussian uncle. Is it any wonder he succumbed to his childhood means of escape and lost himself in a fantasy world he could control?

King Louis XIV of France
His obsession with King Louis XIV and the opera composer Richard Wagner didn’t help his case as he spent millions on expensive tributes, including Versailles-like castles and a large grotto dedicated to one act of an opera.

Even though he was friendly enough to those he ruled, often handing out cash to those who befriended him, he was also reclusive—to the point of bizarre. In both Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee, he had installed a “wishing table” based on a Grimm fairytale where the dining table disappeared into the floor and reappeared fully set. In the castle, gears and mechanisms lowered the elevator table to the kitchen where servants set it and then raised it up to the dining hall. This was to prevent Ludwig from having to see his servants, thus perpetrating the illusion of solitude. However, they were instructed to set the table for three or more people so the king could imagine himself feasting with people of importance, no doubt the king of France and his favorite composer would be “in attendance” at the fictional dinner.

Ludwig and Wagner
Speaking of Wagner, Ludwig started to fancy himself as characters in the operas he loved. He dressed like them and then would venture out in the night in costume. This, of course, led to the habit of sleeping only in the day. The fairytale king allowed himself to be consumed by his fancy.

King Ludwig II of Bavaria once told his governess, "I want to remain an eternal mystery to myself and others." It seems he made good on that promise, and the world has created its own obsession with the Mad King of Bavaria.



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Kathleen E. Kovach is a Christian romance author published traditionally through Barbour Publishing, Inc. as well as indie. Kathleen and her husband, Jim, raised two sons while living the nomadic lifestyle for over twenty years in the Air Force. Now planted in northeast Colorado, she's a grandmother—and soon-to-be great-grandmother—though much too young for that. Kathleen has been a longstanding member of American Christian Fiction Writers. An award-winning author, she presents spiritual truths with a giggle, proving herself as one of God's peculiar people.


  1. An intriguing post. I've enjoyed learned about this enigmatic figure of history. I'm sure the truth is somewhere in the middle.

  2. Thank you for posting today. What a strange character! It was interesting to learn about him.

    1. Even though I knew some of it after living over there, I learned a lot more in my research for this article. I wish someone would make a movie of his life. I think there's a documentary out there.

  3. thanks for sharing about this king. really very interesting about him and his reign

  4. I was busy yesterday, and I didn't see this until today. Back in 1994 I visited Bavaria on a mission concert tour with our choir. We visited Herrenchiemsee Castle and it was beautiful, but the most exciting thing for me was the walk up to Newschwanstein Castle and singing in that hall. Oh, my what an experience. Reading about them here brings back some beautiful memories. Thank you.

  5. Kathy Kovach, A very informative blog about the Mad King and his eccentricities. I've been to Neu Schwanstein twice and was fascinated by it both times. It is one of the most beautiful castles in the world. It's no wonder Disney used it as a model. Thanks for the memories!