Thursday, April 9, 2020

Book Review | Not So Happily Ever After: The Tale of King Ludwig II

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Rating: ⭐⭐

When! You! Use! Lots! Of! Exclamation! Points! You! Lose! Credibility! As! A! Historian!

Okay, so they were not that bad, but they were there. A lot.

Look, I love exclamation points as much as the next person and am guilty of using them a lot. Even in work emails, where I always make sure to use the same number or less of exclamation points as the person I am responding to. But the thing about non-fiction, and a story like this in particular, is that the facts speak for themselves. There was plenty of astonishing information contained here, that the exclamation points were not needed to highlight how crucial the info was. It became a silly distraction for a story that deserves to be analyzed and discussed.

I remember hearing of "Mad" King Ludwig in German classes a bit (I took four years in high school and was even German Honor Society President for the last part of senior year. Can't speak a lick of it, except basic phrases. Yet, I can still read some of it decently. Funny how our brains respond to foreign languages) but of course the purpose of said classes were mainly to learn the language. Still, I was always hypnotized by the poster of Neuschwanstein Castle and it remains on my bucket list to this day. I mean seriously, look at it. How can anyone not be drawn in by its breathtaking beauty, both the castle and the surroundings?

Turns out, Ludwig II commissioned the castle, and a slew of others, and got himself into debt over it. He used his own money, but when that ran out he borrowed from his own government against future income coming to him from properties and as you can imagine, that did not go well.

After ruling over twenty years, doctors who never examined Ludwig personally declared him unfit to rule on the grounds that he was crazy (based on notes, letters, and testimonies some from servants), and he was eventually placed under house arrest after a coup by a jerk who wanted the power for himself and had been the de facto ruler of Bavaria for years with Ludwig distancing himself more and more from government life.

Truthfully, Ludwig was eccentric. There is no denying that and we have seen over the course of hundreds of years what marrying your cousin means for the children you produce. Everyone ends up deformed, crazy, or both, to some degree. Some just hide it better than others. Still, based on what I have read here and other research I did as I was reading, I don't think Ludwig was crazy. I do think being a product of hundreds' of years of inbreeding played its part, as did having parents who were purposely hard on their oldest child in order to 'toughen him up' for the day he would eventually rule. I think Ludwig's life might have gone quite differently had he not been the heir. He might have been left to his imagination, the operas he loved so much, and the stories he created in his head. He comes across as a sensitive child and yeah I know child-rearing was a bit different back then, but the impact of treating extra sensitive kids in harsh ways to "toughen them up" rarely goes well.

After Ludwig's house arrest was in place, he would regularly take walks with one of the doctors who had declared him insane. One night in particular the two men would leave the grounds and never return. This is where the story really gets interesting, as no one knows what happened that night that lead to both men being found dead in the lake which they were often seen strolling around. Conspiracies abound, and I do love a good intrigue (if you can guess the movie that line comes from, you get a cookie. It's a great movie!) The men were found in roughly four feet of water, so drowning is not considered a cause of death for Ludwig, as he was a strong swimmer and swam in the lake many times as a youth. An interesting fact observed was that the men's watches had stopped nearly an hour apart, which makes this all the mysterious - especially considering that Ludwig's watch was the one that had stopped first.

So, what happened?

Most people think Ludwig was trying to escape (I think so too, based on facts that would come out in the years following his death). Others think he was assassinated to prevent him from ever returning to power again (those in rural Bavaria especially loved Ludwig and to them he was a hero, a Fairy Tale King who brought them gifts when stopping by their homes to seek shelter on one of his many midnight sleigh rides. Like I said, dude was eccentric). There are reports that several boats were on the lake that night manned by those loyal to the deposed king. Earlier in the day, Ludwig has often been observed looking out the window at the lake, even using a telescope. He'd previously gotten a message to his beloved cousin Sisi, and many think they had hatched an escape plan. This makes sense when it was revealed that Sisi had actually been at the lake with a carriage for several house. While she had made a quick getaway at some point, carriage tracks were discovered near where she was staying. Now, here's where I am unsure about things, because decades later it  claims were made by various people that Ludwig had been shot. At one point a family member claimed the coat they had in their possession was the very coat Ludwig wore the night he died, and there were two bullet holes in it. This family member and her husband later died when their home burned down and they were killed in the fire. The coat, and the watches of the two men for that matter, had long-since disappeared.

One would think, surely the autopsy and investigation would reveal some answers. Except, there was no investigation. Imagine that. Whether he was assassinated, or shot by guards who saw him trying to escape, I do believe he had been shot. But this still does not account for how Dr Gudden would not have died for another hour, when his watch stopped. The theory has been proposed that he had simply forgotten to wind the watch and it stopped at 8 AM. Those close to the doctor did not believe that would have ever happened, as he was always punctual and never forgot a task such as that. The punctuality is what caused the search for Ludwig and the doctor to begin with, as Dr. Gudden had a train to catch that night, but was not back in time to board. 

Another interesting note is that Dr. Gudden had always taught his students that one should never be alone with a "crazy person". Orderlies had always joined the men for their walks, but from a distance. Yet this night in particular, Gudden waved them off, and he set off with Ludwig alone. I don't know what this means, if it was an unfortunate coincidence, or what. He was one of the doctor's who helped secure the "diagnosis" for Ludwig, so why would he potentially be helping him escape? Unless it was an assassination and the doctor was accidentally killed? But again, then how do the time differences make sense?

Basically, it is an endlessly intriguing event and a sad end to a life that was not meant to be lived as a king. But Ludwig had ruled for 22 years as such, and I think he was determined to get his throne back.

If you are new to Ludwig's story, as I still am, I don't think I would recommend this book to start with. It was just kind of silly sometimes. I made tones of notes as I was reading but when I went back to goodreads to look at them, so many were "truncated due to consecutive passage length restrictions". Does any one else have this problem? I try so hard to highlight things shortly, even dividing important paragraphs up into small chunks of two sentences just to avoid this damn truncation and no matter what I do it does not help. However, I was able to salvage a couple quotes to show what I mean about the exclamation points and in general the not-serious tone of the book.

"But wait! This is a book about King Ludwig, not King Otto. That's right. But the fact is, King Ludwig II spent the first few days of his life named Otto" (2%).

"One relative even married her own nephew! With such a heritage, what did the future hold for Ludwig? No doubt his parents were curious" (3%). What is even the purpose of this part? And WHY the exclamation points?!!!!!!!

"A typical day in Ludwig's childhood involved waking at 5:30 and spending an hour on homework before breakfast" (7%). Pretty sure it was not called homework.

"He had very little sense of humor and took life seriously. No joking around for Ludwig!" (8%) WHYYYYYYY THE EXCLAMATION POINTS?!!!!!!!!!!

"Handsome, dark, moody, and brooding, Ludwig had a lot in common with Mr. Rochester (you'll have to read Jane Eyre to understand)" (29%). These asides are as dumb as all the exclamation points!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

"...favorite activity involved Ludwig using a map to calculate the distance to a specific destination he wanted to visit (not an easy task in the days before the Internet)" (47%) You mean GPS? Or are you referring to the largely unnecessary (now) MapQuest?!!!!!!!

"Every fairly tale needs a villain, whether it is a witch, an evil stepmother, or perhaps a big bad wolf. Johann Lutz plays the role of the big bad wolf in our story" (69%). This tone is annoying!!!!!!!

"This meant that he had the royal family's tacit approval for taking action against the king!" (69%). OMG STOP!!!!!!!

"This was his worst nightmare come true. He felt buried alive!" (84%). I can't even anymore!!!!

And that is where I will end with the examples because honestly, this review is much longer than I anticipated and enough is enough. When I first picked it up I didn't not pay attention to any categories it was in (I grabbed it for free from Kindle Unlimited). But I quickly assumed by all that nonsense mentioned above that maybe this was geared toward middle/high school? But to me that is also kind of disrespectful of those age groups, almost like talking down to them? I don't know. I checked goodreads first and none of the categories indicated middle grade or high school. On Amazon however, and it does says grades 6-12.

Even knowing the age level as I was reading did not stop these things from annoying me. They just felt so out of place in a non-fiction text. I will definitely be looking for other books on the life and death of Ludwig II and I would encourage you to do the same.

I will also leave you with a final quote to sum up my feelings on the subject and his questionable mental state:

"Cousin Sisi was probably closest to the truth when she declared, 'He is not mad enough to be locked up, but too abnormal to manage comfortably in the world with reasonable people'" (64%).


  1. fascinating inquest... i had 3 years of German in hischool but that was over 60 years ago... i read a book about Ludwig once, i think, and it concluded that the whole thing was a plot and that L was executed, but that's about all i retain... it's a sumptuous and delicate castle that gives a very good indication of what sort of person L was: intelligent and sensitive to a high degree, most likely... anyway it's one of those historical puzzles that can really ensnare a person...

    1. I could easily believe he had been assassinated; perhaps his captors learned about his escape attempt that he and Sisi were planning (I believe they were planning, anyway) and decided they had to kill him. That does make sense, given how popular he was outside the capital. The whole thing about their watches being stopped at different times is such an interesting part of the puzzle.

      I also agree he was sensitive and intelligent. It really is a shame he was the heir - though his brother truly was insane and Otto as king would have been way worse. Though, once Ludwig was dead Otto became king, though he was never actually told this, and his cousin ruled in his place, propped up by Lutz who was the mastermind behind the coup to begin with.

  2. Well, it is a fascinating story. The things that were done in royal families of Europe in the past did produce some badly whacked people. I find it odd that such a book would be written for such young readers though.

    1. And that is why it was hard for me to determine who the audience is. I guess 6th grade and up could make sense, except would they even understand the complexities of the royal houses and all of this? I don't know. I'd say high school and up.


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