Friday, August 26, 2011
Monarch Profile: King Ludwig III of Bavaria
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.
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.
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.