Friday, August 26, 2011

Monarch Profile: King Ludwig III of Bavaria

The last King of Bavaria was born Ludwig Luitpold Josef Maria Aloys Alfried on January 7, 1845 in Munich the firstborn son of the long-serving Prince Regent Luitpold and Archduchess Augusta of Austria. He came from pretty solid roots as the regency of his father was known for being conservative, traditional and opposed to the “culture war” that Bismarck waged against the Catholic Church but all of that was still to come. His mother was the daughter of Grand Duke Leopold II of Tuscany (link to profile), came from Florence and always spoke to her children in Italian. As a boy Ludwig loved the outdoors and in 1861, when he was sixteen, he was commissioned a lieutenant in the 6th Jägerbattalion by his uncle King Maximilian II, the start of what would be a long military career. The following year he started attending classes at Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich to study law and economics, fine fields for a future monarch, but he would have preferred agriculture. That same year, upon turning eighteen, he was appointed to the Senate in the Bavarian Legislature as was custom for all princes to gain some practical experience in government.

In 1866 Prince Leopold served in the Seven Weeks War between Prussia and her allies and Austria and her allies, which included Bavaria. By then a First Lieutenant he was shot in the thigh at the battle of Helmstedt and for his service in the conflict was awarded the Knight’s Cross 1st Class of the Bavarian Military Merit Order. However, Austria was defeated and by the conflict was displaced by Prussia as the dominant German-speaking country. The following year, while in Vienna for the funeral of one of his cousins Ludwig met Archduchess Maria Theresia of Austria-Este, a step-cousin of his and a beauty at eighteen years old. On February 20 the following year the two were married in Vienna. It was a real coup for Ludwig who obtained a good wife and vast estates in Bohemia and Hungary. This allowed him to further his interest in farming and agriculture and brought in sufficient funds for him to purchase and build his model estate in Bavaria which was very successful. His wife also had quite an illustrious lineage of her own and in time was recognized as heiress to the British throne by the handful of Jacobites still lingering around (the Jacobite succession having passed from the House of Stuart, to the House of Savoy and then to the House of Modena and Austria-Este). She would also give Ludwig thirteen children, doing more than her duty to secure the succession.

Ludwig and Maria Theresa were a happy couple, very devoted to each other and their children and Ludwig would have liked nothing better than to have spent all of his time with his family and dabbling in his favorite pastimes such as farming, livestock and harnessing water power for energy production. However, royal duty came first and often interfered with his pastoral interests. In 1870 the Franco-Prussian War broke out and the Prince-Regent led the Bavarian forces in alliance with the Prussians and afterwards joined in the formation of the German Empire under Prussian leadership in 1871. In 1912 his father died and Ludwig succeeded him as Prince-Regent still ruling on behalf of the nominal King Otto who had been supposedly suffering from insanity and kept locked away since 1875. Because the regency has been a fact of life for so long there were soon calls to made Ludwig the King of Bavaria. This made sense to everyone and when the legislature reconvened in 1913 a new law was passed which made the regent King Ludwig III of Bavaria, though Otto continued to be titled King and treated as such for his few remaining years as well, meaning that from 1913-1916 there were actually two Kings of Bavaria.

King Ludwig III was very close to his people, quite concerned with their welfare and always looking for ways to improve his kingdom. However, he was not without his critics. The Prussians tended to view the Bavarians as difficult and somewhat pretentious for so minor a power, no matter how cooperative they were, but there were also some in Bavaria who criticized King Ludwig, as they had his father before him, for being too subservient to the Prussians. This was, however, quite unfair. Just as the Prince-Regent Luitpold has clashed with Bismarck over his anti-Catholic policies, so too did King Ludwig III take great care to preserve the unique culture of Bavaria, especially her Catholic character, and to limit Prussian influence. He saw Bavaria as the southern counter-weight to Prussia and was always concerned with Prussia becoming too powerful at the expense of his own kingdom within the German Empire. This was seen particularly after the outbreak of World War I only a year after Ludwig III became King.

Some accounts like to portray Ludwig III and to an extent Bavaria as a whole as unwilling participants in what was a Prussian conflict. This, however, is not entirely true. As with most countries the German public as a whole was very enthusiastic about the war and anxious for a final showdown with the nations which had, they felt, denied them their “place in the sun”. Where King Ludwig III was concerned was in preventing Prussia from becoming inordinately powerful as a result of the conflict. Again, as he viewed Bavaria as the only major counter-weight to Prussian dominance within the German Empire, Ludwig III felt it essential that Bavaria have her own share of the spoils. These included, most famously, a plan for the Bavarian annexation of Alsace (Alsace-Lorraine having previously been imperial lands not associated with any particular member state) and the Belgian city of Antwerp to provide Bavaria with an outlet on the North Sea as the King had long been interested in maritime developments.

Yet, despite these actions, as the war situation worsened for Germany, the King was again accused by many opposed to the monarchy of being a puppet for the Prussians, which was certainly untrue. However, the losses Bavaria incurred were major given her status as the second most powerful state within the German Empire. At the outset of the war Bavaria contributed three Army Corps, the largest contingent after Prussia among the German states and Munich was headquarters to a separate Bavarian General Staff, War Ministry and her Army Corps were almost totally autonomous with their own commanders, their own uniforms and military establishment. In 1917 Georg von Hertling of the Catholic Center Party (the dominant power in Bavaria) left his post of Prime Minister in Munich which he had held since 1912 when appointed by the King’s father to become Imperial Chancellor in Berlin. However, the government remained dominated by Field Marshal Hindenburg and General Ludendorff and the course Germany was on remained unchanged.

Separatist attitudes increased along with opposition to the war and Bavaria was especially hard hit by the infiltration of Marxist and other left-wing revolutionaries. At the very end in 1918 there was even an effort by Bavaria to come to a separate peace with the Allies but this failed. Revolution broke out in the streets and King Ludwig III was forced to leave Munich with his family in fear of their lives. The revolutionaries declared the King deposed (the first German monarch to suffer such an indignity) and seeing no other option Ludwig III released all soldiers and government officials from their oath of loyalty. He did not, however, abdicate even though the republican leaders announced as much to the crowds. However, legal formalities aside, the monarchy had fallen and Ludwig III was forced to leave the country, moving from Hungary to Liechtenstein to Switzerland. However, in time, after more conservative forces put down the Marxists and restored order, the Royal Family was able to return in 1920 and they continued to enjoy a sizeable minority of monarchist support. There remained for quite some time a cautious optimism that a restoration would be possible but only the following year, while visiting Hungary, King Ludwig III died on October 18, 1921. Because there continued to be such a strong monarchist presence in Bavaria the republican government gave him a state funeral. He never abdicated and his son, Crown Prince Rupprecht, who succeeded to his rights likewise refused to accept the republic until the people of Bavaria were given the choice in a free referendum to decide between a republic or a monarchy. To date, such a vote has never been held.


  1. very interesting....did not know this....

  2. Belgium was always one of my favorite minor powers in Europe (along with Courland; any plans for an entry on them?).
    I ignored that they had two Kings at that time. How old was King Otto, considering Ludwig III's father had also been regent?

  3. You mean "Bavaria" I assume? Anyhoo, King Otto lived to be 68. He would have been about 27 (I think) when he was declared insane.

  4. Yes, sorry, Bavaria. I was thinking of Belgium for some reason.
    Did no one think it odd to have two Kings? Surely it violates... something?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...