In the 19th century it was acceptable for a man to marry a woman who was of a lesser rank providing she was near his own station and of impeccable breeding. Imperial could marry royalty; royalty could marry aristocracy; aristocracy could marry noble etc. The social barriers were flexible only to a point. If a man had the poor judgement to fall in love with a woman of low birth – no problem. He could take her as his mistress with no stigma attached to the relationship. Which is what happened to Ludwig Wilhelm, nicknamed Louis within the family.
Ludwig was born on June 21st 1831, the eldest son of Duke Maximilian in Bavaria and Duchess Ludovika. He was the elder brother of Helene, of my last post, and Sisi, the Empress of Austria.
Ludwig fell in love with an actress – the lowest of the low – named Henriette Mendel. They had a daughter together, which was also acceptable according to the morals and mores of the day. When Henriette became pregnant a second time, Ludwig declared his intent to enter into a morganatic marriage with his actress/mistress. Not only the family was astounded and outraged. His father, Duke Max, who was far from being the soul of conformism, threatened to disinherit his son and heir. The King of Bavaria refused to sanction the marriage.
Sisi, another non-conformist, stood by her brother in his decision. Eventually the king relented and created Henriette Baroness Wallersee. Clearly Duke Max relented also because in the course of time Ludwig inherited the dukedom. (That may have been because Max’s second son adopted a profession – eek!)
All of Ludwig’s sisters befriended Henriette and in time she was accepted even by that most rigid of antiquated traditionalists, Emperor Franz Josef, who received her and her daughter at Schonbrunn.
Their daughter, Marie, known to history as Baroness Larisch von Moennich played such a perfidious role in the death of Crown Prince Rudolf at Mayerling that she was perpetually banished from the palaces of the imperial family.
Whether Ludwig and Henriette had a happy marriage, I can’t say – there were few of those in the family – but it was an enduring one. Henriette died in 1891. Ludwig married again the following year but they divorced in 1918. He died in 1920.
Meet the Wittelsbachs here: