Life inspired by art, and a romantic view of a bygone age, which in turn has inspired the world of Hollywood. Not the sort of topic which you think you would find on a Royal website, but it is very much a Royal story. Ludwig II was born in 1845 and grew up near Schwangau in Bavaria, where his father King Maximillian II of Bavaria had a castle he had bought to live in and two close family castles which were in ruins and haunting for the young boy. As he was growing up he noticed the swan emblem on a vast number of things around the castle, he was also treated to a trip to see a new opera by Richard Wagner, who was the Swan Knight.
His early life was surrounded by myth and legend, rather than current affairs which sadly was not an ideal preparation for what was to come. When he was just 18, his father suddenly died and he became King, one of his first acts was to choose who to side with in the Austro-Prussian war. He chose Austria and they lost, Bavaria was annexed and lost most of its autonomy. The young king chose to withdraw back into the land of myth and legend and he planned a marvellous palace to do that, on the site of the ruined castles he played in as a boy.
This was the time for such a venture, as there was a trend through the Rhine Valley of renovating or building castles which were picturesque rather than for protection, it was called Burgenromantik or castle romanticism. Thanks to his friendship with Richard Wagner, Christian Jenk who was one of his set designers worked on the design alongside the architect Eduard Riedel. You may think this a curious choice, but two of our greatest stately homes in England, Castle Howard and Blenheim Palace were designed by Sir John Vanbrugh a playwright, working alongside Nicholas Hawksmoor.
The construction of Neuschwanstein was with Ludwig’s own money and provided great employment in the area. But sadly despite him moving into part of it, whilst it was being constructed, his marvellous ideas proved costly and when his cabinet refused him funds it proved too much for poor Ludwig and he was declared insane, shortly after he was found drowned near Castle Berg, it was 1886 and he was only 40.
The castle was almost immediately opened to the public to repay the debts King Ludwig had accumulated. The debts were repaid and money was also sufficient to finish a more modest version of the castle. Interest and enjoyment of the castle has not dimmed through the 130 years that the castle has been open, even more so since it became the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle and has featured in many films, perhaps Chitty Chitty Bang Bang being the most memorable though it did feature in Space Balls recently. Today, the number of visitors who annually visit the castle has reached 1.6 million.