Without Ludwig we would not have Wagner’s Ring Cycle or the fabulous fairy-tale castles of which Neuschwanstein is the most famous.
He is, and was, even in his lifetime, known as ‘Mad King Ludwig.’ At first, however, he was viewed merely as eccentric. Later, when Bavarian independence was lost to a unified Prussia, his lack of interest in politics and his life of dreams became an impediment to the state, leading to his dethronement and death.
I first came across him on a family holiday in 1983. One of the set ‘excursions’ was to Linderhof: I remember seeing the famous grotto and the table in his bedroom which could be raised from the floor below, allowing him to enjoy solitary meals. Later I was able to see Neuschwanstein, like a typical tourist. All very interesting and amusing, but I knew little of the man beyond his extravagances and idiosyncrasies.
I recently heard a biography of him on the radio and it reignited my interest, inspiring me to find out more. This book was perfect for the job. It is written without recourse to sensation and is sceptical of some of the myths which surround the King. For example, in spite of his flowery ‘love’ letters to Wagner, Blunt makes it clear that it was the composer’s talent which Ludwig was infatuated with and there was no physical relationship between them.
There are colour plates which show the full splendour of Ludwig’s castles but it gives equal weight to the biographical detail and his patronage of the arts (which is as much his legacy to the world as his castle-building is to the German tourist industry).
Ludwig’s death is unexplained. He was a strong swimmer but drowned in water he could stand in. The world loves a conspiracy theory so this only adds to his appeal. This book does not disappoint.