The early years of reign

Accession in 1864

Ludwig II came to the Bavarian throne almost completely unprepared after the sudden death of his father King Max II (1811-1864) in March 1864. From the beginning of his reign, the 18-year-old faced a variety of extremely complicated foreign and domestic policy challenges. Bavaria was a large German territorial state, home to nearly five million people. The young king had to fit into the system of a constitutional monarchy – a form of government in which the monarch’s power is limited by a constitution. Ludwig initially took up the business of government with commitment and lively interest. However, it soon became apparent that he was not up to his tasks.

Matthias Bader

Royal secretariats

The Bavarian kings maintained two secretariats to manage their administrative tasks. On the one hand there was the Cabinet Secretariat, which dealt with the day-to-day affairs of the court and the state, and on the other hand the Court Secretariat, which was responsible for the king’s private affairs. The Court Secretariat was responsible for the administration of the royal cabinet treasury and therefore also for all matters relating to expenditure on palace buildings and theatre productions.

Julia Misamer

Concept of rulership and style of government

Ludwig II’s concept of rulership was based on the Wittelsbach tradition of God’s grace, i.e. the idea that the ruler was appointed by divine will and was therefore bound only to this will. Added to this was the pre-constitutional notion of absolutist rule, which the king admired above all in the model of the French 17th and 18th century Bourbon kings, and which was not supposed to impose any legal restrictions on royal power.

However, this concept of rulership clashed with political reality. The power of the Bavarian kings was limited by the constitution from 1818. Even though all power emanated from the king, his power lay primarily in the executive, and here too the king had to assert himself against his ministers first. Legislative options were limited by the consent of the Landtag, which had gained considerable political weight since the constitutional reforms of 1848.

In the course of his reign, the king repeatedly showed his rejection of parliamentarism and popular sovereignty very clearly. The idea of a coup d’état to restore an absolutist system of government, which he pursued at times throughout his reign, is evidence of his preferences. The project of acquiring a new island kingdom also points in the same direction. His initial will to exercise his constitutional rights weakened over time. Instead of meeting ministers and being able to exert influence directly, communication was only in writing in later years, testifying to the monarch’s diminishing influence.

Stefan Schnupp

Political ideas, government and church politics

Under Ludwig II there were two major political camps in parliament: on the one hand, the Liberals, whose strongest force was the Fortschrittspartei (Progress Party), and on the other hand, the Catholic Conservatives, who were represented by the Patriotic Party. There was great antagonism between these two factions. Although the patriots had always had a majority in the Landtag’s Chamber of Deputies since 1869, the king almost always selected liberals for the ministry. He wanted to prevent the government’s work from being subject to parliamentarisation. Ludwig II was also confronted with ecclesiastic policy disputes. In the "Kulturkampf" (culture struggle), he and his government were concerned with pushing back the influence of the church on state and society.

Matthias Bader

An invisible king and court life

One of the Bavarian king’s representative duties was to attend parades, court festivities, receptions and state visits in Munich. In the beginning Ludwig still tried to fulfil these official duties to the best of his ability. But he soon withdrew. The young Bavarian king was therefore quickly regarded as introverted and highly sensitive. He avoided his residential city of Munich and the public appearances associated with it, which were an anathema to him his whole life, whenever he could. The Queen Mother Marie and other relatives therefore often had to stand in for him at courtly occasions.

This is why the image of Ludwig II as a reclusive eccentric still exists today. Nevertheless, there were also a few confidants and constant relationships in the Bavarian king’s life who shaped him and his actions. However, he was unable to meet the dynastic demand for a marriage in keeping with his status and the associated preservation of the dynasty.

Ludwig II’s behaviour broke with time-honoured traditions. The king was often represented at the traditional foot-washing ceremony on Maundy Thursday in the Court Church of All Saints or at the Munich Oktoberfest. In his altogether 22-year reign he also led the House Equestrian Order of Saint George just seven times as Grand Master on the annual feast day celebrating imperial orders on 24 April. The Bavarian people saw Ludwig II for the last time in 1874 at the annual Corpus Christi procession in Munich. His last public appearance ever was at the Bayreuth Festival in 1876.

Julia Misamer

To chapter: The struggle for Bavarian sovereignty