Death of King Ludwig II of Bavaria: Was It Murder?

Death of King Ludwig II of Bavaria: Was It Murder?

The death of King Ludwig II has long been a mystery.
Ludwig II portrait by Carl Theodor von Piloty, public domain

June 13, 2016 marks the 130th anniversary of Bavaria’s greatest unsolved mystery: the baffling death of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. How did the fairy tale king – the builder of Neuschwanstein and the patron of Richard Wagner – die?

Many Bavarians say he was murdered. Their claim is controversial, but it doesn’t hurt to look at the evidence to see why people think that. I’ll present their claims and offer a few comments without taking sides. You can decide for yourself.

A death shrouded in mystery: how did it happen?

King Ludwig II fell victim to political intrigue. Back then, the only way to get rid of a king was to have him declared insane. Historians still debate whether he the king really did suffer from a psychiatric illness. Nevertheless, Bavarian ministers had the renowned psychiatry professor Bernhard von Gudden pronounce the king unfit to rule the country in a lengthy expert opinion dated June 8, 1886. They deposed Ludwig on June 10 and set up his uncle as regent. On June 12, a commission arrested him in Neuschwanstein and transferred him to the Berg castle on the nearby Lake Starnberg.

The Bavarian ministers had already transformed the castle into a one-person insane asylum – with locked doors and barred windows. Dr. Gudden became Ludwig’s treating psychiatrist and controlled his contact with the outside world.

In the evening of June 13, the king took a walk on the lakeshore in the accompaniment of Dr. Gudden. When they didn’t return as promised at 8 p.m., a search party scoured the lakeshore. Two searchers and the fisherman Jakob Lidl went out by boat and found the bodies of both the king and the doctor floating in shallow water around 11 pm. The doctor’s body, with a broken fingernail and scratches and bruises on his face, showed signs of a struggle. According to both a doctor’s report made that night and the king’s autopsy, Ludwig’s body had no visible injuries other than a scrape on the knee. The autopsy found no water in his lungs.

No autopsy was performed on the doctor, but because he was floating, we can presume his lungs weren’t filled with water. Drowning victims sink once that happens, especially when bogged down by waterlogged clothing and shoes. Here you can find a sketch of the bodies in the water.

That’s the official government’s version, at least. The death of King Ludwig II occurred when he rushed into the lake to commit suicide by drowning and Dr. Gudden tried to stop him. In the ensuing struggle, the king killed the doctor, waded out to drown in deeper water, drowned, and then floated back to shore.

Fairy Tale Castle of Ludwig II
Neuschwanstein by Ondrey Prosicky, Shutterstock, with permission.

Why do many Bavarians attribute the death of King Ludwig II to murder?

Here are eight reasons.

Witnesses sworn to secrecy

The fisherman Jakob Lidl and all the other people involved in the search party were sworn to secrecy. A Bavarian minister asked them to take oaths never to tell what happened that night, not even to a priest. That was an unusual step if there was nothing to cover up, many Bavarians feel. Some of the people found a way to circumvent the oath. They didn’t say anything about it, but they wrote something about it. And if what they wrote is true, we have to rewrite history.

Lidl’s secret diary

Jakob Lidl, from whose boat the bodies were found, committed to his diary his memories about the death of King Ludwig II. After his death, the diary passed on to his heirs. In 1960, one of those heirs, Martin Mertl, told the Ludwig researcher Albert Widemann what Lidl had told him privately years ago: The king wanted to flee on that fateful night and Lidl waited for him on the shore with his boat. But when the king climbed into Lidl’s boat, someone shot him in the back and killed him instantly. Fearing for his life, Lidl pushed the corpse out of the boat and paddled home.

Mertl gave Widemann a page from Lidl’s diary, and Widemann had a handwriting expert compare the handwriting to Lidl’s known handwriting. The expert, in a report dated May 27, 1961, concluded the diary was authentic. On Mertl’s death, Lidl’s diary disappeared, frustrating further research efforts. But Widemann had photographed the two sides of the diary page, and they have since been published, along with the handwriting analysis.

On that diary page, Lidl wrote that Ludwig and Gudden hadn’t been engaged in a physical struggle. The footprints in the muddy bottom of the lakeshore were faked the following morning. A fisherman, Lidl wrote, used a pole with wooden shoes to create the scene of a struggle on the lake bottom.

Ludwig II with Dr. von Gudden
A 1901 postcard showing King Ludwig II and Dr. von Gudden starting off on their fateful walk on June 13, 1886. Ludwig is on the left. Public domain.

Bullet wounds

Rudolf Magg, a local physician who examined the dead king before he was transferred to Munich for autopsy and burial, may have also left behind written material. Another physician, who treated Magg’s daughter Anna, contacted Widemann to say he had once seen a document written by Magg in Anna’s home.

Magg’s purported protocol said he wanted to clear his conscience in his old age. His report on his examination of the deceased  wasn’t true. The Bavarian ministry had ordered him to write that. In truth, Magg wrote, the king had bullet entry wounds in his back.

The physician who reported having read Magg’s protocol, however, wished to remain anonymous. Following Anna Magg’s death, it wasn’t found. The lack of physical evidence makes it difficult to assess not only the protocol’s veracity but its existence.

The cross marks the place of the death of King Ludwig II.
The cross in the water marks the point where Ludwig II was found dead.

Statements from the House of Wittelsbach

Nevertheless, other witnesses have claimed Ludwig was shot. The statement that gives me the most pause comes from a member of Ludwig’s family. Prince Joseph-Clemens von Wittelsbach, Ludwig II’s nephew, reportedly told the Bavarian tabloid Bild München he knew the king had been shot and his shirt sported two bullet holes. In addition, a third shot killed the doctor. The newspaper purportedly published the statement on either March or June 8, 1986.

I haven’t been able to find the article online, and question why other media never picked up the story if it were at all credible. If anyone knows something more about the nephew’s statement, please comment!

Widemann claims the existence of a partially sworn statement by another member of the House of Wittelsbach, Prince Konstantin. The prince said he was aware of bullet holes in the king’s coat, jacket, vest, and shirt.

What does “partially sworn” mean? Does that mean Konstantin swore to the truth of only parts of his statement? If so, why not all of it? Did he swear to the part about the bullet holes? Was this statement published anywhere? And where is the original? It’s difficult to assess that evidence.

Coat with bullet holes

Another member of the House of Wittelsbach, Countess Wrnba-Kaunitz, claimed to have possessed the coat Ludwig wore at the time of his death. Numerous witnesses state the countess showed them the coat, and more specifically, two bullet holes in the back. Two of them have even made sworn statements. Gertrud Untermöhle signed an oath that she visited the countess in 1952. When their conversation turned to the death of King Ludwig II, the countess sprung up and said she had something to show Gertrud. It was a gray coat. It had two bullet holes in the back with black edges. Also under oath, Detlev Untermöhle (Gertrud’s son?) claimed he and his mother visited the countess around 1957 when he was ten. The countess said she would show them the truth about the death of King Ludwig II. She pulled a gray coat out of a chest and showed them two bullet holes in the back.

The coat disappeared after the countess and her husband died in a house fire in 1973. Without physical evidence, it’s impossible to say whether the gray coat really belonged to the king. If he was really murdered, why didn’t the conspirators destroy the evidence? Had any of the witness seen blood on the coat? Those questions remain unanswered.

Site of King Ludwig's last walk.
The path King Ludwig II walked only minutes before his death.

The sketch of the blood

Did an artist also leave behind evidence? Professor Siegfried Wichmann, an art historian, world-renowned expert on 19th-century paintings, and chairman of the Bavarian State Museum, said in a 2009 article that art appraisals for private clients are part of his job. In 1967, someone brought him a sketch of three faces and asked him to assess its authenticity. On the right, it showed a man in shock looking at the face in the middle, apparently of a dead man. The man on the right is in tears and also looking at the dead man. Three names were written on the back of the painting, “S. von Löwenfeld” (Ludwig’s personal physician, who was also present at the king’s autopsy), “Ludwig II,” and “Hornig.”

Professor Wichmann concluded the middle face showed King Ludwig II in death and that the Bavarian painter Hermann Kaulbach had sketched it. What surprised Wichmann was the blood. Kaulbach’s sketch showed blood trickling out of the dead king’s mouth – indicative of a firearm injury to the chest, not drowning. Although Wichmann lost contact with the original owner, he had the sketch photographed according to appraisal protocol and archived the photograph. Wichmann believes King Ludwig II was murdered, and this sketch was Kaulbach’s method of leaving the evidence behind. You can see Wichmann’s photograph in this article.

Hermann Kaulbach
Artist Hermann Kaulbach, By C. Kolb (1889); public domain.

Physician’s statement

His curiosity piqued by the Kaulbach sketch, Wichmann began researching the death of King Ludwig II. When the estate of Dr. Schleiss von Löwenstein, the personal royal physician depicted in the sketch, went to auction in an estate sale, Professor Wichmann decided to buy it. Inside the cover of one of Dr. Schleiss’s books, Professor Wichmann found a handwritten statement about the circumstances of the death of King Ludwig II.

According to that statement, Dr. Schleiss was concerned about the king’s safety and traveled to the Castle Berg, where the king was imprisoned, on the day Ludwig died. He went in the accompaniment of the artist Hermann Kaulbach and two brothers named Hornig. Realizing, once they arrived, that something strange was afoot, they rushed down the lakeshore. But they arrived minutes too late. King Ludwig II was dead. He had been shot in the back, and Dr. Gudden was on the shore, changing the king’s clothes and trying to stop the blood flow from the fatal wounds. When discovered, Dr. Gudden rushed at them with a syringe. In the ensuing struggle, the Hornig brothers strangled the psychiatrist. Kaulbach, who had sketching material with him, began sketching the king’s face at the lakeshore and finished later that night after the corpses had been brought to a boathouse. Conspirators then invented the story about the king killing the doctor and the king’s suicide by drowning.

If this version is true, neither the king nor the doctor was found floating in the water. Dr. Gudden was part of a conspiracy to assassinate the king and cover it up. But to what extent can we trust the handwritten statement Professor Wichmann found? Did he have any handwriting analysis done to prove Dr. Schleiss wrote it?

King Ludwig II's coronation portrait
King Ludwig II’s coronation portrait. By Ferdinand von Piloty (1828-1895) [Public domain].

Crime scene analysis: double dry drowning

The crime scene account of finding the corpses floating in the water, if true, raises a question about the official explanation of the death of King Ludwig II. Drowning victims, once their lungs fill up with water, usually sink, especially when weighted down by wet clothes and shoes. But there’s an exception. In “dry drowning,” the victim’s larynx goes into spasm and shuts off the airway, suffocating the victim. A fresh, floating corpse can be the victim of dry drowning. But dry drowning accounts for only 10-15% of all drowning cases. It’s so rare, in fact, that marine police recommend that if a corpse doesn’t sink, law enforcement should consider another cause of death, like heart attack. Or murder.

This call for further investigation doubles in volume when we find two corpses floating next to each other. Statistically, double dry drowning is possible, but with an occurrence rate of only 1-2%, an investigator would be advised to rule out other causes of death first. Nothing in the official investigation into the death of King Ludwig II does that.

Weighing the evidence

With a disappearing diary, protocol, and coat, some of the evidence is like a paper Neuschwanstein. The castle collapses every time you poke it. On the other hand, the page from Jakob Lidl’s diary and the statement Professor Wichman found both have more probative value; we at least have some physical evidence. I’d like to see some further research, especially a handwriting analysis on Dr. Schleiss’s purported statement.

What do you think? You can vote below. And if you have anything to add to the discussion, please comment!

[socialpoll id=”2366007″]

Literature on point:

Rosemarie Fruehof, A King’s Murder on Canvas: Artwork Provides Evidence of Ludwig II’s Murder, Epoch Times (September 10, 2009)

Peter Glowasz, Wurde Ludwig II. erschossen? (Berlin: Peter Glowasz Verlag, 1991)

Gary Haupt, Drowning Investigations, Missouri Water Patrol

Christopher McIntosh, The Swan King: Ludwig II of Bavaria (London: I.B. Tauris, 1982)

Alfons Schweiggert & Erich Adami, Ludwig II. Die letzten Tage des Königs von Bayern (Munich: MünchenVerlag 2014)

Conny Neumann, Fresh Doubt About Suicide Theory: Was “Mad” King Ludwig Murdered? Spiegel Online International (November 7, 2007).

Tony Paterson, Murder mystery of mad King Ludwig, Independent (November 10, 2007)

Albert Widemann, Hintergrund zum Tod von Ludwig II. (1994)



Written by
Ann Marie
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  • Very Interesting! Thanks, Ann Marie! I remember being fascinated by Crazy King Ludwig and reading all about him when we were in Germany, touring all of his castles. I remember one tour guide telling us that it was ludicrous that Ludwig had drown, as he was apparently an expert swimmer. She said he was murdered because he was thought to be bankrupting the country with his building mania. But, she said, the country now could wish that he’d built even more castles, as they make so much money from them!

    • It’s true — Ludwig’s castles have come to define Bavaria, especially for tourism. If you ask any American what comes to mind when they think of Germany, most will most likely get a picture of Neuschwanstein in their minds.

      Yes, bankruptcy, or the threat of it, is the most common reason given for the coup. On the other hand, the king paid for his castles out of his private funds, and I’m not sure to what extent the public coffers were really in danger. It’s a question for historians.

      • I was told h was declared mad and bankrupt the country by spending everything on the castle
        If he used his funds it wasn’t enough or it drained the economy too far

      • That was certainly the Bavarian government’s version of events. It’s probably true that the government’s concern about its finances led to its dethroning of Ludwig II. The theory has a couple of weak spots, though. First, the diagnosis of Ludwig’s mental unfitness to rule was made by a doctor who never examined him, which alone would constitute a violation of medical ethics, or modern medical ethics, at least. (On the other hand, the government would have probably argued that there was no way the king would have submitted to a psychiatric examination.)

        Second, some modern psychiatrists question the diagnosis based on the available evidence. See the following sources:

        Felix Summer, Psychiatrie und Macht: Leben und Krankheit König Ludwig II. von Bayern im Spiegel prominenter Zeitzeugen (Europäische Hochschulschriften / European … Universitaires Européennes) (German Edition, 2009)

        Heinz Häfner, Ein König wird beseitigt: Ludwig II. von Bayern (CH Beck, 2010).

        Thanks for you interest, Rick.

    • If the doctor was trying to stop the blood flow why would that mean he was involved in a conspiracy to kill the king?

      The most likely scenario is usually the truth in most cases. Ludwig planned to escape with the help of loyalists(he was a popular king). As he went to get on the boat, a guard spotted him and shot him. Either the conspirators killed the doctor, or Ludwig’s friends that arrived right after the death killed the doctor.

      • Thanks for commenting, Missy. That’s an interesting theory and one worthy of consideration, and if Ludwig was indeed killed by conspirators, it’s possible they killed Dr. Gudden as well. He could have made a dangerous witness.

    • I believe King Ludwig II was murdered, and that it was a conspiracy. He was religious and would not have committed suicide. It is very obvious that his enemies wanted to be rid of him. He should have been more appreciated. After all, look what a fantastic legacy he had left behind. If not for him Bavaria would not be as known and well off. He was also the most handsome King I have ever seen! Wow! He is truly a Fairy Tale King! I have seen all his castles and also stayed in the area where he was going to build his next castle Falkenstein. How I wish he could have built it!

      • Thanks for commenting. I too tend to believe it was murder. He was an interesting person and his demise makes for an interesting case, that is for sure.

      • Whi isn’t the most obvious track followed? The king was not incinerated, but buried in a crypt in St. Michael’s Church in Munich? It should be an easy task to confirm or refute that there are bullet wounds in his body.

      • Yes, and that has been tried, but the king’s living relatives block the attempt. They are the only ones that can legally authorize an exhumation. There was an attempt to appeal to the police to open a criminal investigation and exhume the body without permission from the relatives, but the police refused on the grounds that even if it was murder, the offender must be long dead.

  • Thank you! I’m fascinated by Ludwig’s weird death, but I’ve had a surprisingly hard time finding English-language material on the subject that seems reliable. It’s a pity so much of the known evidence pointing to murder is so…ephemeral.

    This may be a bit of a stupid question, but do we know whether or not Ludwig could swim?

    • Thanks, Undine, I’m glad you liked it. Although there are biographies available in English, the only books I’m aware of that focus on his death and the various theories are in German.

      As to your question: Yes, he was a strong swimmer. In fact, he liked to swim in the same lake when he was young.

      • it seems to me it was murder and whoever killed him and his doctor and family members went through a lot to cover up the truth. WOW!!. i am sure they went to there grave in deep grief. or may they were just cold and calculus. that seems like murder. all the evidence points to murder and then the evidence disappeared.

      • Thanks for commenting, Venetia. I think the evidence falls on both sides of the fence, and that is one of the reasons why this mystery endures. I’ve often thought that if only trees could talk, I’d love to go to the Starnberger See and interview the older ones to ask them what they saw.

    • The movie WAGNER, with Richard Burton, had to present many scenes about which there remain questions. It presented the “official” suicide version. for instance, and suggested strongly that Wagner and Mathilda did have a sexual affair, It also depicted in several scenes that Ludwig was indeed a frequent and expert swimmer. .I predicted JFK’s murder and that of Jack Ruby and for the same reason that I believe Ludwig was murdered. There are more termites than eagles, Most governments are manned secretly by the self serving termites. Had Ludwig spent the same money on wars with Prussia destroying property and killing thousands of men, he would be Ludwig the Great and not MAD King Ludwig. JFK was about to deprive the termites of their dear old barn…the war contracts from good ol WWII. MONEY, honey.

    • it seems to me it was murder and whoever killed him and his doctor and family members went through a lot to cover up the truth. WOW!!. i am sure they went to there grave in deep grief. or may they were just cold and calculus. that seems like murder. all the evidence points to murder and then the evidence disappeared.

  • Thanks for the interesting article.
    With the information about the missing diaries, my mind puts together another scenario:
    The King tried to flee with the help of the fisherman.
    The doctor maybe thought the King attempt suizide or tried to hold him prisoner and therefore used the syringe with a strong med. drug. The King defended himself, the Dr. drowned, but got some of the drug into the King. When the King now swam to the boat, the strong drug worked way faster and he had a heart attack, which looked for the fisherman like the King was shot. The other persons only saw everything from a distance and thought also the King was shot. Since neither the treatment with a potential deadly drug not an actual murder could be announced, because both would have thrown a bad light on the people involved in the Deposition of the King, it became a simple suizide.

    • That’s an interesting theory; thanks for commenting!

      Some people have speculated Dr. Gudden used chloroform on the king when he tried to flee. Dr. Schleiss claims Dr. Gudden attacked their party with a syringe. If the king had been drugged, via chloroform or syringe, perhaps that contributed to a heart attack. Legally at least, that might still count as murder because the administration of the drugs would have been a causal factor in the king’s death.

      I’ve read — but unfortunately don’t have any sources — that several fisherman on the lake heard shots. If that’s true, it would support both Lidl’s and Dr. Schleiss’s version of the events.

      • Dear Ann Marie: I’m not sure how to approach this just by texting. I’m not very good with technology. The occurrences taken place in childhood repeatedly. Maybe with hypnosis regression could clear things up possibly. I would like to know. One issue back in my youth, I was at Linderhof, a English speaking lady that I overheard say that I looked like him??? I would like to get an understanding of this. What direction can I take to get help with this. This possibly could be interesting??? I’m not interested in pulling somebody’s leg!!!. Can you help direct me??? Thomas. Have a good day.

    • What about the bullet holes? I think both make sense. What I still don’t see is the bullet holes. The painting suggested that the blood from his mouth meant CHEST injury, while the vest said the bullet holes were in the BACK. Also, death by syringe looks a bit different from death by bullet. Something here doesn’t add up.

      • You are absolutely right, Jeff. These are all different theories that, in part, contradict each other. That’s precisely what makes this case so difficult — the evidence doesn’t fit neatly into one particular theory. Thanks for commenting.

  • I am in the early stages of research about Ludwig for a novel, but so far I am inclined to believe that it was suicide. I can see good reason why he would want to kill himself rather than live the life planned for him by the conspirators, and I can see no reason why the conspirators, having deposed him, would want to kill him. I’m not impressed by evidence that has since disappeared. The only thing that gives me pause is the autopsy report. Does it still exist in any form? If not, how do we know about it?
    Thank you for such an interesting post. I’ll visit your blog again.

    • Thanks, Susan, for your comment, and you can drop me an Email when your novel comes out, because I’d be interested in taking a look at it.

      Here is part of the autopsy report, but it’s censored. This documentary also shows the autopsy report, both orginal and a transcription. I found the full autopsy report in cited in Wilhelm Wöbking’s book, Der Tod König Ludwigs II. von Bayern. I’m not sure where the original is archived.

      Possible motives might have included avoidance of a civil war. Or it could be that the king wanted to flee and a gendarme shot at him as a gut reaction.

      I’m a former prosecutor, and like you, I have a distaste for ephemeral evidence. But I think there’s more to this case than meets the eye. If he drowned, why was he found floating? At any rate, it’s no longer a case for lawyers, but for historians.

      • Thank you for your response. This has always been a difficult issue for me now that I’ve entered my senior years and with today’s technology, I wanted to reach out for feedback. I’m putting myself out there for the first time. ALL I want is to just understand for whatever that means. I feel the need to end my connection with this site, but someone who would like to connect with me can do so; my email address is available. God bless everyone and to PEACE to our troubling times! Thomas.

    • I believe your comments are naiv, the intruiging politicians had all reasons to want Ludwig II dead. He posed a great threat alive as being a reason for an uprising of the people.
      Why was the plan to lock up Ludwig II ? Or prevent Ludwig II fleeing from Bavaria ? The only answer is that Ludwig II alive or even free was a super risk to the conspiring corrupt politicians.
      Just by looking at all available facts and reading all comments and analyzing them in a logical/mathematical way it is quite obvious that Ludwig II was murdered.
      The only strange issue about Ludwig II’s death is that the conclusion of murder is not widely accepted.
      People in power and controlling the media can make the public believe anything. Nothing has changed from the days of Ludwig II until our present time.

      • I agree that the politicians who took over after Ludwig died had reasons to want him dead, but there isn’t enough evidence to prove anything beyond a reasonable doubt, if you want to borrow the legal measuring stick. For that reason I can’t call anyone naïve. I’m rather cautious in drawing any conclusions about this case but tend to think there really was foul play involved. If only the old trees along Lake Starnberg could talk. They witnessed everything.

      • Precisely Lars,
        The letter to his cousin shows he was lucid, and as a consequence his accusers are guilty of treason and highly likely to be shot or hung while Ludwig drew breath; especially if he managed to get away and rouse the faithful.
        Those a party to the Crown Temple legal franchise swear oaths to remain silent about many travesties including the 1938 Geneva convention bankrupting of the entire Western economic foundation and the way the Rothschild Central banking dynasty used that to revert all the hard work of Bismark to negate the Marx Engels intentional destabilising of Europe to set up Germany to be massacred and destroyed by WWII, so their word is proved as conditional at best and just bent at worst, as are people in power generally. It is just as Lidl said. The drawings of the bodies in the water is extremely accurate with regard to already dead bodies disposed of in water; the bodies form an upside down U shape as the heavy extremities founder about the gaseous organs of respiration and chemical exchanges that float. 2 cases of dry drowning, HOGWASH, an event that occurs in about 7% of cases at best and even then invites ulterior opinions as to COD as Homicide Cops, like bankers, know you cant beat a percentage and hate tautological coincidences even more.
        There is so little that doesn’t occur by design at this level of human endeavour, you could write it in five foot block letters on an Amoeba’s eyelash.
        It was murder without a shadow of doubt, and to this day we are ruled by homicidal psychopathic banking dynasties. If you don’t like feeble evidence, you better revise the entire History of WWII, the greatest crock of anti German rubbish the City of London and their global fraternity of traitors ever uttered.
        That is how murders and mass murders operate without exception LIES LIES LIES Threats and pay offs to the corruptible and why you are all de facto possessions of the Central Banks as individual Corporation Diminutio MAJORA. We are all taxed until we work ourselves to death or suffer diminished living standards but no one even batts and eyelid at the massive global enslavement drive and corruption involved in this massive crime, let alone old Ludwig. (Napoleon with the Continental System and the Germans and Bizmark tried to save us but the Allies were so hypnotised by the media they fought for their own enslavement BANG right in the foot. The Rational animal?….never such an oxymoron has existed.The human being loves to believe lies about everything if it suits his emotional opinions of himself and the emotions is precisely where the magic of the Central banking dynasties aims EMOTIVE PRINCIPALS BY PASS REASON IN A SQUIRT OF CORTISONE and it will soon be too late for us all.)

    • I’m a little late to the article, but I enjoyed it as if it was written today! I love your comment that history is great drama…how true! I hope to begin touring Europe in 2020, not as a gawking tourist, but as one that can immerse myself in to various cultures for extended periods of time. I then hope to enjoy the aura of drama and the mysteries of history first hand.

      • Thanks for commenting, Bob. Isn’t it true that history provides greater drama than fiction? I hope you enjoy your Europe tour.

  • Fascinating, and so much coincidence of hidden testimony seems to corroborate the murder theory. I write murder mysteries and I read a LOT about forensics for that end, and I wouldn’t let even the dimmest of Town Reeves or Bow Street Runners declare it an accident or suicide. It wouldn’t be credible to the knowledgeable reader that this was anything but murder if written up as a fiction. And if you wouldn’t believe it in a fiction, then it’s not credible in real life either. Poor old Ludwig.

    • There is a lot of evidence on both sides of the theory, and here I’ve only presented the reasons why so many people think it was murder. But that’s what makes this case so fascinating! Your Bow Street Runners would have looked at all angles of the case, I’m sure. Thanks for commenting, Sarah!

  • Has anyone tried to exhume the body as I think it highly likely that a couple of bullet wounds would leave traces on the skeleton?

    • Several people have asked to have the body exhumed, with the exact same argument you made, Geoff. If Ludwig had been shot, not only might there be damage to the bones, but the bullet might still be there too. But until now, the House of Wittelsbach hasn’t allowed it. One person even appealed to the Bavarian justice department, but it said that because so much time has lapsed since the event, there is no hope of prosecuting a living person, and hence, only Ludwig’s family — the House of Wittelsbach — can authorize an exhumation.

      • Thanks, Ann Marie. It looks as though they don’t want to learn the truth.

  • Now The Truth Is Finally Out! I Always Knew That The Last True King Of Bavaria Was Murdered….by His Ministers….And Was All Planned Out,Too! I Used To Have Dreams About What Really did Happened….! THANK YOU!

  • You Really Don’t Need To Exhume The King’s Body! But,One Way or Another,The Absolute Truth Will Come Out….Of The Closest! Dead Man Do Tell Tales! Do You Believe In Reincarnation?

    • An exhumation might still tell us something, especially if they find evidence that King Ludwig had been shot. But even that wouldn’t answer the questions of who or why. No, I don’t believe in reincarnation. I’m curious why you would ask.

      • Dear Ann Marie: I’m not sure how to approach this just by texting. I’m not very good with technology. The occurrences taken place in childhood repeatedly. Maybe with hypnosis regression could clear things up possibly. I would like to know. One issue back in my youth, I was at Linderhof, a English speaking lady that I overheard say that I looked like him??? I would like to get an understanding of this. What direction can I take to get help with this. This possibly could be interesting??? I’m not interested in pulling somebody’s leg!!!. Can you help direct me??? Thomas. Have a good day. OK I made the.correction. So I know now that you do not believe, belief is only an opinion and opinions aren’t based on facts. In your first response where you diplomatically mocking me? You come across as apparently you know nothing about the subject. I’m disappointed!!!!!!!. HRM THOMAS.

      • Dear Thomas, I am not mocking you and I’m sorry if I gave you that impression. I’ve studied the circumstances about Ludwig’s death (I used to be a prosecutor and I found the question of foul play fascinating), but apart from what I’ve read in a biography several years ago, I know little about his childhood. In the areas of reincarnation and hypnosis I have absolutely no experience. If you are trying to find out more about Ludwig’s life, I’d suggest reading biographies, and if you can read German, read the German biographies as well. Good luck.

  • I have been obsessed with Konig Ludwig sine I first learned about him in German class in Middle School. I have never bought the suicide story. Too much doesn’t fit- particularly that he was known to be a very good swimmer. What exactly happened, we may never know.
    This is a great article, glad I found it!

    • Thank you very much, Sharon. One of the things that makes this case so fascinating is how the evidence doesn’t quite fit any of the theories. I wish I could interview the trees along Lake Starnberg, who are probably the last surviving “witnesses.” They saw what happened.

      • Dear Ann Marie: I’ve gone back on my word by responding. I thought I take one last look. You clarified your position. I understand your view. It would be so much easier speaking by phone than with troubling texting. I keep hitting the wrong keys, so it’s time consuming for me. MY issue with our subject has been with me for decades and troubling. Before my current life ends, I think I would like some of my questions answered. Respectfully yours, Thomas.

      • I hope you can find some answers in a Ludwig biography. I don’t think I can help you further, but I wish you good luck.

  • Very interesting; it also reminded me of another famous “drowning”, that occured when I was little, that of american movie star Natalie Wood, which is as of now thought to be a covered up murder…she was found in the middle of the night dead, in dark water she was deadly afraid of, in her nightgown, socks, and a down jacket, floating…according to your article, she should have sunk, had she really drowned…Also I think austrian actor Helmut berger was very good as Ludwig, I would like to watch this film again now

    • I remember Natalie Wood’s drowning as well. But remember, some drowning victims do float, it just doesn’t happen very often, and the point of the article I quoted was that it’s rare enough that law enforcement should investigate it. But you raise a good point. I hadn’t remembered that Natalie Wood was found floating.

      Thanks for commenting!

  • I have been to two of Ludwigs castles. I also went to the lake where I believe he was murdered. I was in Germany twice and King Ludwig has always intriqued me. I enjoyed what you had to say.

      • Very good article! It raises questions, gives evidence, and enables conclusions. I’ve noticed from elders no longer with us that King Ludwig’s demise should be investigated. This was an era of defiant political theories to our nature of which we can now notice that even our DNA depicts individualism. It is a thriving rich country when the middle class dominates of which we must obtain peacefully. From the little, I know my conclusion would be that the king was led by the doctor to escape, and would not have accepted killing him. It was a planned assassination. I too am trying to finish a book, but find so much interesting reading.

      • Thanks for commenting, Elly. I agree, there’s a lot about Ludwig’s death that smells suspicious. It’s nice, though, to let the readers draw their own conclusions, and your interpretation is a viable one.

  • I just discovered the history of Ludwig II thanks to The French TV 5 documentary, « Des Racines et des Ailes « and his amazing castles. I was curious to know all about him, so I went on site to read your articles so interesting.
    I am French and live in Texas !
    I wish to visit all those Beautiful treasures that he left to Germany today especially the replica of La gallery des Glaces in Louis the XIV in Versailles !
    Thank you for all your articles so interesting on the sad ending of’Ludwig II.

    • Thanks for your kind comments, Claudine. I hope you do get a chance to visit the castles in Germany. How does the title of the documentary, “Des Racines et des Ailes,” translate into English?

  • Thanks for this interesting article. Being German, I have contacted the Offices of “Bild” to see whether they can direct me to the original article. I’ll let you know if I find out anything.

    • Thanks for your comment, Susa! If you can find the 1986 article from Bild München in which Wittelsbach said he knew the king had been shot, I’d love to see it. I haven’t been able to find it online. It was referenced in one of the books I read.

  • Immune to prosecution, would the the descendants of the House of Wittelsbach be motivated to hide the family’s participation (in the murder of King Ludwig II) due to embarrassment? Are there any initiatives, (currently under way) to exhume the kings body, to determine cause of death? I would be happy to join any efforts to petition the Wittelsbach family to exhume the kings body.

    • Those are very good questions, Terry. As to the first, perhaps. There are two possibilities: (1) If the House of Wittelsbach was somehow involved in an assassination, it might not want that information to be made public now, especially since Ludwig is extremely popular in Bavaria. (2) If the House wasn’t involved, it might prefer not to provide and fuel the flames of what it considers to be an unfounded conspiracy theory. Since either possibility is plausible, it’s hard to make any conclusions based on the House’s reaction to the assassination theory.

      As to the second question: Yes, the Bavarian government has been petitioned to exhume the body. The Bavarian prosecutor turned the petition down on the grounds that the murderer, if there was one, would be now be long dead, so that any prosecution would be moot. The decision on whether to allow an exhumation then falls to Ludwig’s relatives, the House of Wittelsbach, which has up until now refused the request. It’s not unlike Queen Elizabeth denying a request to exhume the bodies of the presumed princes in the tower for further research. We can only hope that a future generation might be more understanding.

  • I was mulling this over in my mind last night and waited to comment about it. I think that the above commenter, Terry Haas, is correct. I believe that both King Ludwig and the physician were killed, and his physician had tried to fight off the attackers. I believe that Ludwig was shot first and the physician was doing whatever he could to fight them off. I will never believe that it was a homicide/suicide, it’s pretty hard to kill yourself off by drowning I would think, your natural body reflexes would try to force you to keep coming up for air. That’s why shooting yourself is effective because you can just make up your mind to do it (if you’re ever in that state of mind) and have it over with immediately. I don’t believe there will ever be an exhumation either since he is wildly popular. I’m sorry I don’t have anything new to add, but that sounds most plausible to me.

    • That’s a really good point, Susan. I think it would be hard to drown oneself in a lake. I’ve heard of people committing suicide by jumping into icy or swiftly running rivers, but then it was the cold or the current that did them in. Neither would have applied to Lake Starnberg in June.

      • Yes, and you really don’t have a chance to change your mind if you jump into icy water or into a fast flowing river. But if you’re simply in a lake in June, it’s just going to be very difficult to commit suicide because the natural reflexes will fight to live. I looked it up and if the water temperature is 32.5 F, it takes less than 15 minutes for one to reach exhaustion or to become unconscious. Thanks very much for this article, it’s very interesting!

      • Interesting thoughts, Susan. I looked up suicide by drowning, too, and it appears that many people use weights to overcome the natural tendancy to rise to the surface. King Ludwig did not.

  • Additional thoughts and observations from my desk here in Seattle, WA in the USA

    – My family is originally from Prien am Chiemsee. I’m first American born. Old stories were that my relatives were somehow in service “fur unser Koni…” I don’t have any idea what that might’ve been. When I was little, I wasn’t interested.
    – My grandmother told me that the King had to come off the throne because not only was he gay, in very Roman Catholic territory, but he was bankrupting the Kingdom with his fantastical construction. If they wanted to keep a king, it had to be someone who could produce an heir, and this wasn’t gonna happen.
    – My grandmother was was born at the turn of the century, so this was murder was still “fresh” in the minds of the family when she was a little girl. It’s like recalling the Natalie story above. It was all recent history of 15 yrs at that point.
    – I think Bavaria is not as open and transparent as America. They are VERY protective of private info and that would extend to the Wittelsbach family who have a lot of power in high places still. Little does it make me wonder that the Justice Department would rule in favor of the family’s decision.
    – There is a lot question too, that if the King was fleeing with the help of the fisherman (which wouldn’t surprise me since so many people DID like Ludwig), that that King might’ve been fleeing to a safe haven, either to where extended family might live that would be supportive, or even to Greece where Otto was being taken off HIS throne for similar reasons. You’ll also see that uncle Luipold was behind getting his brother Otto and nephew Ludwig out of power.
    – As to the gunshot hole jacket….sure seems convenient that the people who were the last known to have the prize in their possession, were killed in a house fire and the article is gone. Just sayin’…. lol
    – Dunno…. too much of all of this smells of rats. You’d think that after all these years, even if there was an argument in the Wittelsbach family, the truth should come out. Perhaps Bavaria makes to much tourist money on the King’s stories? (wink)

    Another thought that came to me is the underground efforts to reinstate the royals and people of title once more. Are you aware of this?

    There is a Louis that I am friends with on FB who is from the House of Bourbon. I believe they were trying to keep him from his title. Louis has had a number of near death happenings. His dad’s vehicle in which he and his brother were riding, was forced off the road. Louis was injured, as was dad. I think the brother died. His dad died in a weird accident while skiing in the US. A heavy wire was drawn across the race route but not high enough and the dad’s neck just happened to be sliced by the wire. Coincidence? (shrugging) Can’t say. Sound straight out of a James Bond movie. I personally know someone else (female) that would like her family recognized again. Being in America, what do we know of what is happening overseas to suppress the effort?

    Wait… just found the article on Wiki now!
    Look for Louis Alphonse Duke of Anjou.

    I’ll search for that article you mention too. It’s probably not going to see the light of day any time soon….

    Stay in touch!

    • Interesting thoughts, so thanks for posting. It’s fascinating to hear your grandmother’s take on the story. Yes, I’m aware of the monarchist movement in Bavaria, where Ludwig (“Kini”) is quite popular. A number of his supporters support the reinstatement of a monarchy in Bavaria.

      If you ever find that article, please let me know!

      I’ve never heard of Louis Alphonse Duke of Anjou before, so I looked him up. Hard to say whether those accidents were something more.

      Please say hi to Seattle for me. I used to live there.

  • Jeannette T.
    June 20, 2019

    Wow! Such a fascinating story. I love history and all the secrets it holds. I’m completely enthralled by all these great comments and theories. Ann Marie, this article is fantastic. I for one don’t believe in coincidences and there happens to be too many of those in the perfectly and strangely arranged story provided to us by the final findings of King Ludwig II and Dr. Gudden’s death. This whole story reminds me of the game CLUE, who did it, Where did they do it and with what? Fortunately, nothing stays buried forever, even bones come up from the ground whether by nature or force and sooner or later so will the truth about this story. Sorry, I don’t have anything to add just wanted to say I enjoyed everyone’s take on this truly historical mystery.

    • I’m glad you liked the post, Jeannette. The story is so fascinating because the facts we know lend themselves to several different theories. And you are right — clues can come up later much later in the game. One such possible clue is Dr. Gudden’s death mask. I’ve read about another recent new clue and might blog about that, too. Thanks for commenting!

      • This is an interesting article, but do we know if the doctor killed him but had a hard time trying to kill him so he would have scars then he had realized what he had done so he killed him self.

      • That’s an interesting theory, but I wonder how the doctor could have killed himself. Drowning is one of the least common methods of suicide and because of the body’s natural tendency to float, it’s difficult to do without weights. The fact that the bodies were found floating suggests a cause of death other than drowning. That’s one of the things that makes this case so mysterious.

  • First, it is a well-known fact that many Bavarian construction workers of the period were Marxists. Why is there no mention of this fact in any of these histories?

    Second, the Illuminati lived in Bavaria. That is definite proof.

    Third. what about the anarchists? Hunh? What about that?

    I rest my case.

    • Thanks for commenting. I’m having trouble seeing what Marxists or the Bavarian Illuminati had to do with the case. Perhaps you could enlighten me. I can’t recall ever having read something about theories of their involvement.

  • […] By June 13th, his doctor accompanied him for a walk around Lake Starnberg, only to never return. A search was started and after a few hours of searching, both of their bodies were mysteriously found floating in the shallow waters near the shore. Ludwig’s death was pronounced as death by suicide, but during the autopsy, water was not found in his lungs, therefore starting the rumors and speculations as to how the king died. […]

  • Regarding the comment that if there was blood shown running from the side of the King’s mouth, yet it was claimed that he was shot in the back: as a former military man and having seen men who had been shot in the back, in cases where a bullet has entered the back of a battle casualty, the bullet will in many situations, enter the lung – or even both lungs in a multiple impact, the result will almost invariably be, to have blood being expelled from the mouth, and. In fact will almost invariably be taken as a strong and pretty defined indication of lung trauma, so I believe there is very strong indication, that there was an attempt to escape to a waiting boat, and both victims were then shot from behind.

    • Thank you, Stuart, for pitching in. Your personal experience also sheds some light on the situation. It makes total sense that a lung injury could cause blood to flow from the mouth.

  • I have read the earlier comments, but not all, hence I am not sure whether similar suggestions already occurred, but the suggestions that I did read were, in my opinion, way out of likelihood. They considered the technical possibilities, but not the role of Dr Gudden in the conspiracy and the noble character of the king, who was far from mad, a great genius, brave and devoted to his country and people. Corrupt Dr Gudden was the viper that stitched the king up and the crucial instrument in the treachery. Ludwig was very clear about his enemies and aware that, should he remain in their clutches, he would be killed by poisoning, or staged suicide. Ludwig was also aware that his removal will mean the end to national interests in Bavaria. Ludwig made sure to be alone on a remote place with the traitor, who he strangled. Loyalists were lurking around the area waiting for the opportunity to help the king to escape; indeed, dropping the dead traitor, Ludwig attempted to enter a boat, but the guards shot him in the back. The hero king died an honourable death, while partly avenging the treachery upon himself and his people. He furnished the traitor with a fitting end. This king was peaceful, because he was good, but he was no coward and no fool to anyone. One of the greatest men that ever lived!

    • That theory would certainly explain the situation, and it makes sense that if Ludwig was indeed shot by government agents, the government would seek to cover that fact up. And I agree, Dr. Gudden played a decisive role in the government’s decision to classify Ludwig as mentally ill and confine him. I’m curious about your source for Ludwig stating that he would end up killed at the government’s hands. At any rate, thanks for commenting, Corascendea.

  • If the descendants of the house of Wittelsbach were truly interested in solving the mystery, they could have King Ludwig II’s remains exhumed and authorize a forensic examination of the remains. If so, we might be able to resolve the mystery.

    • You are right, but they are unwilling to authorize examination of the remains. So unfortunately, the status quo will stand. Thanks for commenting, though.

  • Was King Ludwig of Bavaria given a Catholic burial? He was, at times, a very devout Catholic, but suicides were not supposed to be given a burial in a Catholic Church of that time, and if the Wittelsbachs–very devout Catholics themselves–had him buried as a Catholic, in a Catholic church, that might have been a statement, in and of itself.

  • The most complete collection of evidence I’ve ever found online so far. 💯

  • Exhume the body and perform an autopsy.. If he was shot, bullet wounds will be found… very simple… why has this not been done?? If the government refuses to do this, they are admitting that this was a political execution.

    • Lots of people have said the exact same thing. In fact, some people petitioned the government for an autopsy several years ago. But because of the certainty that any murder suspects are now deceased, the government declined the request. They only people now who can grant an autopsy are Ludwig’s family members, and they haven’t allowed it.

      • I can think of three reasons why the family wouldn’t want to know the truth or allow an autopsy. (1) They may be trying to hide something, (2) they might feel that the mystery surrounding Ludwig’s death is better for tourism, or (3) they feel uncomfortable about disturbing the remains. I tend to think it’s a combination of (2) and (3). Even if their forefathers were involved in an assination or coverup in the 19th century, it wouldn’t necessarily relfect on the family today, and for that reason, I don’t think (1) plays a big role.

    • Thank you! Unfortunately, political assinations are not uncommon. Several years ago a British team produced as series called royal murder mysteries.

  • I just returned from spending 5 weeks in Germany with my son who was attending Ludwig Maximillian University in Munich. It was a fantastic, Lifechanging Trip. I have been to Germany many times before but never stayed there for an extended period of time. While I was there, when my son had some downtime, we traveled to see King Ludwig’s beautiful castles. It was a fantastic trip. The snow, the cold, the history, the sadness I felt while at the castle’s. I had never paid any attention to the history or the man himself. I love the LGBTQ community and I immediately got it before I read anything about this beautiful king that he was a Gay man in a time when sadly, that was not as accepted as he would be today. I could feel his pain and his isolation, but also felt the beauty of his soul and his love of beautiful things and the arts and music. I found your site now that I am back home in the states and I wanted to thank you for sharing this space for those of us who are fascinated with this beautiful man and his amazing, magical castles.

  • Wonderful article; thank you so much for sharing this!
    I firmly believe that the King was murdered, that his coffin is empty, and that his remains are buried in some Bavarian monastery. A sad ending for a romantic, sensitive and good-hearted man. I hope that one day the truth becomes known!

    • Thanks for commenting, Leslie. I’m curious as to why you think his coffin is empty. Do you think the perpetrators were trying to hide evidence of the murder? I tend to think that if his body had evidence of a murder, and if there was a conspiracy to cover it up, the physicians conducting the autopsy might have removed the evidence.

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