A century-old mystery surrounding the fate of the “Mad King” who built Bavaria’s celebrated fairytale castles has taken a new twist after an historian claimed that he was murdered.
The allegation comes from an art expert turned sleuth who claims that contemporary portraits of Ludwig II prove that far from killing himself in a fit of melancholy, he was assassinated to put an end his extravagant spending.
Ludwig’s body was found on June 13, 1886, in the knee-deep waters of a lake not far from Neuschwanstein Castle, his most fanciful creation, whose soaring towers and turrets now draw tourists from all over the world.
After a cursory investigation, the death was declared suicide by drowning – a verdict fiercely protected by his successors, who have forbidden any modern scientific examination of his remains.
But art historian Siegfried Wichmann now claims that he can prove that Ludwig was murdered, after an investigation that has taken up half his life and has drawn upon his own wartime experience. “I can say that, professionally, I have never been wrong in all my career,” said Mr Wichmann, who is the leading authority on Bavarian paintings from the late 19th century.
“The killing was carried out by a assassin.” In a new book, The Killing of King Ludwig, he claims that in the 1960s he was approached by a lawyer with three paintings, one of which featured Ludwig immediately after his death. Mr Wichmann said that the face in the portrait featured no signs of rigor mortis. Instead, in the corner of the gaping mouth, the artist painted glutinous blood stains.
For Wichmann, it was a terrible reminder of his own wounds from the Second World War, when he was struck in the lung by shrapnel and coughed up the same thick blood. “King Ludwig cannot have drowned.
This is blood from the lungs and there is no water in it,” Mr Wichmann said. For the ageing art-detective, there is only one explanation for Ludwig’s wounds: he was shot. Ludwig, who suffered hallucinations and whose eccentricities included saluting a tree, spent so extravagantly upon his building projects that he threatened Bavaria with financial ruin. “The reason to kill him, as is so often the case today, was money,” said Mr Wichmann.
A secret Bavarian society known as the Guglmänner, whose members dress in capes and hoods and claim to be guardians of the German monarchy, has long questioned the official version of his death. But the calls for Ludwig’s body to be exhumed and given a modern autopsy have now grown louder. Last month, Detlev Utermöhle, a Bavarian banker, made a sworn statement claiming that he had seen the coat Ludwig was wearing on the day of his death, and that it contained two bullet holes.
He said the coat belonged to Josephine Gräfin von Wrbna-Kaunitz, a countess who managed assets belonging to Ludwig’s family and had showed it to guests at a party half a century ago. But despite the development of imaging techniques that would leave his remains undisturbed, Ludwig’s family have consistently rejected pleas for a modern examination that might settle the mystery. “There are still people in powerful positions today who don’t want to recognize these facts,” said Mr Wichmann. “Who knows why?”