Monday, 24 August 2015

So Just Who Was Mad King Ludwig?

Following on from my review of the board game 'Castles of Mad King Ludwig' yesterday, today I'm going to have a bit of a delve into the theme and a bit of history to find out just who Mad King Ludwig was, and whether he really was mad.

Who Was Mad King Ludwig?

The eponymous mad king was in fact Ludwig II, King of Bavaria, sometimes known to history as the Swan King or the Fairy Tale King. He succeeded to the throne when he was only 18, after the death of his father (as an interesting aside for board gamers, as a young man his aide-de-camp and close personal friend was Prince Paul, a member of Bavaria's wealthy Thurn Und Taxis family. But that is for another time).

When Ludwig ascended the throne in 1864, he really wasn't ready for high office and simply wasn't interested in politics or affairs of state, much preferring his passions for art, architecture and music. He was a longtime friend and patron of Richard Wagner, the famous composer most known for his epic Ring Cycle. It is thought by many that without the support of Ludwig, Wagner would never have been the success he was.

Before we get on to Castles, a brief history lesson. At the time Ludwig became king, Bavaria was a separate independent kingdom, but not for long. Bavaria became embroiled in the Austro-Prussian war in 1866, unfortunately picking the wrong side. Bavaria sided with Austria, but when they were defeated, Bavaria had to sign a mutual defence treaty with Prussia which effectively meant Bavaria was under Prussian control. In 1870 after another war (the Franco-Prussian war), Bismark set about completing the unification of Germany. He gave certain financial inducements for King Ludwig to sign the Kaiserbrief, a letter endorsing the creation of the German Empire. Bavaria thus became a part of the German Empire which, while Bavaria was left with a certain degree of autonomy, left Ludwig free to pursue his favourite hobby - building Castles!


The most famous of Ludwig's Castles was Schloss Neuschwanstein, a Romanesque Revival palace on a rugged hilltop, overlooking Ludwig's childhood home of Hohenschwangau. 

Like Ludwig's other projects, Neuschwanstein was paid for from his personal fortune (as well as a few loans!), and Ludwig oversaw every little detail of the design and construction. It was built to be decorative rather than functional and was inspired by the works of Ludwig's friend Richard Wagner. It was supposed to have more than 200 rooms, but only 15 of them were ever finished, including the 'Hall of the Singers', The Throne Hall. The Bedroom and the Study Room.

Since Ludwig's death, the castle has been an extremely popular tourist attraction, with over 60 million people having visited it to date. It was also the inspiration for Disney's Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Linderhof Palace

Linderhof is the smallest of Ludwig's castles, and is the only one he lived to see finished. It took as its inspiration Versailles, the Palace of the French Sun King, Louis IVX (who Ludwig idolized). There were only four rooms of any significance: The Hall of Mirrors, The East and West Tapestry Chambers and the Audience Room (in which Ludwig never had an audience).


Herrenchiemsee was a Benedictine abbey which was created in the year 765. It was eventually purchased by Ludwig and turned into a royal residence known as the Old Palace. Not content with that though, Ludwig also built Herrenchiemsee Palace, which became known as the New Palace. It was never finished, but it took inspiration from, and was a partial replica of, the Palace of Versailles in France.

Ludwig's Death

Despite the fact he never used public funds for any of his building projects, Ludwig was extremely unpopular with his ministers, perhaps because he wasn't interested in governing, or because he was in a lot of debt after borrowing money from many of the royal families of Europe. His ministers sought to depose him, and did so by accumulating evidence that he was in fact insane and not fit to rule. The conspirators then approached Bismark with their 'findings' which he likened to "rakings from the King's waste-paper baskets and cupboards", but didn't actually do anything to stop them.

Only three days after he was deposed, Ludwig was out taking a walk in the grounds of Berg Castle where he had been taken, with a Doctor Gudden (one of the doctors who declared him insane). Neither of them were seen alive again, and their bodies were later found in a lake in the grounds). The doctor showed signs he had been strangled but there was nothing to suggest how Ludwig died. The mystery of Ludwig's death has not been solved to this day.

So Was King Ludwig really mad?

At the fact the time, no one really refuted Ludwig's insanity, but since them historians have considered the case in more detail and many have concluded that the evidence was largely fabricated. The records of the case were even studied by psychiatrists, and findings published in the journal 'History of Psychiatry' concluded he wasn't insane, only eccentric.

How Closely Has the Game Stuck to the Theme?

The game doesn't really have anything much to do with Ludwig himself, but in one sense it has stuck closely to the theme. The artwork on the box is of (or closely resembles) Ludwig's masterpiece, Neuschwanstein. The rambling nature and strange configuration of rooms which players end up creating in the game somehow fits well with the eccentricity of Ludwig as well.

The game sticks closely to the theme in the type of rooms which are in Ludwig's castles, or would have been if he had been able to finish them. In particular there are some specific rooms featured in the game which are taken directly from Ludwig's Castles, including the Tapestry Rooms, the Audience Chamber and the Singer's Chamber.

Overall, a great theme for a great game.