On the 10th of March 1864 Ludwig II. was named King of Bavaria at the age of 18 after the death of his father Maximilian. People accused him of disinterest in politics because he chose to spend more time in the Bavarian Alps than in the capital Munich. However up until the day he died he performed the task as monarch dutiful. He is widely known for building beautiful fairytale castles, Neuschwanstein being the most famous which was used as model for the Disneyland castles. Other mentionable palaces are Herrenchiemsee, Schloß Linderhof and the Königshaus am Schachen. But these castles took a lot of money out of the state budget and the enemies of the king used this circumstance and the absence of Ludwig from the capital to get him declared insane and removed him of his title. Just three days after this declaration the dead body of Ludwig was found in the Starnberger See, a lake near Munich and even now, 127 years after the death the circumstances are still unknown.
On the evening of his death King Ludwig went for a walk by the lake with his personal doctor and psychiatrist Prof. Dr. Bernhard von Gudden. When they did not return at dinner time the staff went looking for the missing men. Both were found floating next to each other in a shallow part near the shore of the lake. But what happened between the time they left the palace and the time the bodies where found 5 hours later? There are several theories that try to explain how the king and his doctor came to their deaths.
1. The official version:
After being diagnosed insane the king was depressed and used the walk by the lake to commit suicide by drowning. Von Gudden wanted to stop Ludwig from doing so but was overpowered by the much bigger man and murdered. Afterwards the king killed himself.
This is the official version; however there are several arguments against this theory. The first is that Ludwig was a good swimmer and the water at the spot where he was found is only about 70cm deep. How can you commit suicide in shallow water when you are a good swimmer? The only option is kneeling down and holding your breath which is not only very difficult but also highly unlikely. This is also stated by the opponents of this theory but the official answer of their questions is that after the king fought with his doctor he suffered from a heart attack in the 12 degree cold water. So did he drown or die because suffering a heart attack?
Another argument is made by the watches of the two victims. In these times wristwatches were not water proof so as soon as water gets in the clockwork they stop functioning. How is it possible then that the kings watch stoped one hour before the doctors?
The general ruling was that the King was not allowed to leave the castle just with von Gudden, but on this walk the guards were sent back. The question is now who sent them back? Some people say it was von Gudden to get rid of potential witnesses of the murder of the king, others say it was Ludwig because he wanted to commit suicide or alternatively he wanted to flee from captivity. But if it was the king why did the doctor not intervene?
2. The flight version:
This theory states that after being declared insane King Ludwig was nowhere close to comitt suicide but wanted to flee to his cousin Sissi, the duchess of Austria.
A Bavarian historian cites from a diary that four followers of the king were supposed to wait in a boat and bring the king across to lake away from captivity. However when they arrived at the scene the King was already floating dead in the water and von Gudden was preparing everything to make the scene look like a suicide. In a fight between the psychiatrist and the followers of the king, the doctor drownded. Before the loyal followers left the scene one of the helpers made a drawing of the king, where blood is coming out of the side of the kings mouth. This is also a sign that Ludwig got shot in the lungs and did not drown.
Other historians name as possible companion the royal Fisherman Lidl who even was supposed to be a witness when King Ludwig was shot in the back while trying to climb into the boat. The plan was that Lidl brings Ludwig to another boat of loyal friends of the king who take him to a horse carriage at the other shore. This is how the king should have gone to Austria. After realizing that the king was dead Lidl pushed him into the lake and rescued himself. The diary of the fisherman was unfortunately never found. Von Gudden was shot by soldiers when he found the dead king to not be able to give a statement of the killing.
There is also a rumour that the Countess Josephine of Wrba-Kaunitz, who looked after some of the royal assets, was in possesion of the coat that Ludwig wore on the night of his death. In the back of the coat there were clearly two bullet holes. Unfortunately the coat was lost after a fire in the home of the Countess in 1973 in which both Josephine and her husband died.
Until now the royal Wittelsbacher family is not acknowledging any murder theory and refuses to have the king´s body exhumed. Until their minds change we will probably never know if there are bullet holes in the back of the mumified kings body or not.