LUDWIG II KING OF BAVARIA (Ludwig Otto Friedrich Wilhelm) was King of Bavaria from 1864 until his death on this date in 1886 (b: 1845); He is sometimes called the Swan King or der Märchenkönig (‘the Fairy Tale King’). He also held the titles of Count Palatine of the Rhine, Duke of Bavaria, Duke of Franconia, and Duke in Swabia.

Ludwig ascended to the throne in 1864 at the age of 18. Two years later, Bavaria and Austria fought a war against Prussia lasting only a matter of weeks, which they lost. However, in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, Bavaria sided with Prussia against France, and after the Prussian victory, it became part of the new German Empire, comprising 22 monarchies, led by the Prussian Monarchy, whose king became Deutscher Kaiser (‘German Emperor’). The two candidates for the new Kaiser were Ludwig and his cousin Wilhelm. Wilhelm was chosen as the new Kaiser. Bavaria did however retain a large degree of autonomy on some matters within the Empire, which was named the Reich. In the new Imperial Constitution, Bavaria was able to secure for itself extensive rights, in particular regarding military sovereignty. Not only did the army retain, like the kingdoms of Saxony and Württemberg, its own troops, War Ministry and military justice system, but it was also excluded from the Empire-wide regimental re-numbering of the army regiments, and would only come under Imperial control in times of war. Bavaria also kept its light-blue infantry uniforms, the Raupenhelm (until 1886), the Light Cavalry and some other peculiarities. The officers and men of the Bavarian Army continued to swear their oaths to the king of Bavaria and not the German emperor.

Nevertheless, Ludwig increasingly withdrew from day-to-day affairs of state in favor of extravagant artistic and architectural projects. He commissioned the construction of two lavish palaces and Neuschwanstein Castle, and he was a devoted patron of the composer Richard Wagner. Ludwig spent all his own private royal revenues (although not state funds as is commonly thought) on these projects, borrowed extensively, and defied all attempts by his ministers to restrain him. This extravagance was used against him to declare him insane, an accusation that has since come under scrutiny. Today, his architectural and artistic legacy includes many of Bavaria’s most important tourist attractions.

Despite constant pressures to marry and produce a male heir, Ludwig never married nor had any known mistresses. It is known from his diary (which began in the 1860s), private letters, and other surviving personal documents that he had strong homosexual desires. He struggled all his life to suppress those desires and remain true to the teachings of the Catholic Church. Homosexuality had not been punishable in Bavaria since 1813, but the Unification of Germany in 1871 instated Paragraph 175, which criminalized homosexual acts between males under Prussian hegemony. In intensely Catholic and socially conservative 19th-century Bavaria, the scandal of a homosexual monarch would have been intolerable.

Throughout his reign, Ludwig had a succession of close friendships with men, including his chief equerry and master of the horse, Richard Hornig, the Bavarian prince Paul von Thurn und Taxis, the Hungarian theater actor Josef Kainz, and his courtier Alfons Weber .

Ludwig’s original diaries from 1869 onward were lost during World War II, and all that remain today are copies of entries made during the 1886 plot to depose him. Some earlier diaries have survived in the Geheimes Hausarchiv (‘secret archives’) in Munich, and extracts starting in 1858 were published by Evers in 1986.