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The Mad King: The Life and Times of Ludwig II of Bavaria
by Greg King
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On August 25, 1995, the German Republic celebrated the 150th anniversary of the birth of the most scorned and most beloved monarch of modern times: Ludwig II. As a child, though physically beautiful, Ludwig was withdrawn and silent. Entering his teenage years, he determined that his desires were directed toward young men rather than the numerous girls presented as potential wives. Following a broken engagement to Princess Sophie of Austria, Ludwig never again considered marriage. After ascending the throne at the age of eighteen, Ludwig became devoted to his major passions: music and architecture. Captivated by the music of Richard Wagner, the young king formed a bond with the composer and became his benefactor, enabling Wagner to create and produce his great operas. The royal love for architecture resulted in some of the world's most admired castles as well as the most extravagant. Berg, Hohenschwangau Castle, and Linderhof were jewels, but his crowning achievement, Neuschwanstein, rivaled any other on the continent, a monumental creation second only to the Hermitage. An intemperate ruler, Ludwig changed the course of European history almost against his will. He launched Bavaria into two wars, and, with Bismarck, created the German Second Reich. As Prussia's power grew, he watched the newly unified country come under the sway of the Hohenzollerns rather than his own Wittelsbachs. He assuaged his disappointment by lavishing more of his treasury on art and on funding a new opera house for Wagner's work. He would frequently watch a Ring performance as the sole member of the audience. His own government and family plotted against him, called him mad, and forcibly overthrew him. After a single day at a sanatorium and a prolonged visit with a doctor, he vanished. His body was found in a lonely lake outside Munich. Was it suicide? Or murder?
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