King Ludwig II
King Ludwig II (1845–86), the enigmatic presence associated with Bavaria, was one of the last rulers of the Wittelsbach dynasty that ruled Bavaria from 1180 to 1918. While his grandfather and father had created grandiose Parisian-inspired buildings in Munich, Ludwig II preferred isolation in the countryside, where he spent many a childhood summer. Crowned king at the age of 18 after his father's death, he constructed monumental edifices born of fanciful imagination—the fairy-tale-like castles that have become his legacy. A great lover of literature, theater, and opera, he was Richard Wagner's principal patron and murals throughout each of his castles are dedicated to and inspired by Wagner's operas, including the Niebelungen Legend.
Ludwig II reigned from 1864 to 1886, all the while avoiding political duties whenever possible. By 1878 he had completed his Schloss Linderhof retreat and immediately began Schloss Herrenchiemsee on an island in the center of a lake that was to be a tribute to Versailles and Louis XIV. Though both Herrenchiemsee and the grandest of his extravagant projects, Neuschwanstein, were never finished, the castles are concrete proof of the king's eccentricity. In 1886, before Neuschwanstein was finished, members of the government became convinced that Ludwig had taken leave of his senses. A medical commission declared the king insane and forced him to abdicate. Within two days of incarceration in the Berg Castle, on Starnbergersee, Ludwig and his doctor were found drowned in the lake's shallow waters. Their deaths are still a mystery.