Meet the Wittelsbachs

The Wittelsbachs were a family who produced rulers of Bavaria from the 12th century to the beginning of the 20th, as well as spreading their tentacles into other German states and such faraway places Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Hungary, and Greece. They also provided 2 Holy Roman Emperors and reigned as kings of Bavaria until 1918.

Inevitably, they were much intermarried among royal relatives. Today we know the dangers of intermarriage, so it is no surprise that they produced some… oddities. There were some scientists and soldiers and patrons of the arts, but there was also one lady who believed she had swallowed a glass piano; and of course Ludwig II, the subject of my last two posts who, mad or not, was distinctly odd; and his brother Otto, who was certainly mad; and their grandfather Ludwig I, whose passion for an Irish dancer resulted in his abdication. The list goes on… But when Wittelsbach married Wittelsbach, they passed on to their children dangerous genes.

220px-Ludovika_1808-1892

 

Such a marriage was arranged for Ludovika, one of seven daughters of King Maximilian I of Bavaria. Every one of Ludovika’s sisters married into a royal house, and she was quite distraught to be given to her second cousin, Maximilian Josef, Duke in Bavaria, a mere nobleman who belonged to a junior branch of the Wittelsbachs. Rumour has it that on their wedding night she pushed her new husband into a cupboard and locked the door. If true, it was not a very auspicious beginning.

220px-Max_de_Baviera

With adequate means, but no responsibilities, Max lived as he wished, which is to say gaily and irresponsibly. Surrounding himself with artists and writers, generally men of humble birth, he frequented the local taverns, playing his zither and singing bawdy songs. He also promoted folk music, wrote plays, poems and anonymous political articles for the liberal press. Above all, he adored the circus, and invited the Renz circus to perform every year at his palace in Munich. When the mood took him he would go off hunting in Styria or Silesia, or to the South of France or Greece, usually accompanied by a young mistress. His peccadillos  provided much gossip for the bored aristocrats of Munich. In spite of these flaws, he had great charm and his children adored him.

Not so his wife. She never could forgive him for being a mere duke. In spite of their differences, they managed to produce eight healthy children, one of whom was Empress Elizabeth (Sisi), the subject of my soon-to-be-released book. Whatever Wittelsbach genes Sisi inherited from her parents were compounded when she married her first cousin, Emperor Franz Josef of Austria.

All the children of Max and Ludovika were highly-strung, nervous, at times merry and excited and then falling into moods of dark despair or rages or passionate tears. Many seemed to suffer from migraines, as Ludovika did.

I will introduce some of these children in the next weeks.

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