Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Friday, April 23, 2021

King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886)

Paul von Thurn und Taxis, a Bavarian prince, kept a diary, but like everything else concerning him in the Regensburg archives of the powerful and wealthy Thurn und Taxis family, it was destroyed. Aside from the fact that he pursued a career as a professional stage actor, a likely reason is that Paul was an intimate, devoted boyfriend to the Wittelsbach crown prince Ludwig (shown at right), who ascended to the throne at age eighteen. Paul and Ludwig engaged in behavior that would be unflattering to the Thurn and Taxis dynasty.

From a letter sent by Paul to Ludwig on May 5, 1866, when King Ludwig was 20 years old:

“Dear and Beloved Ludwig! I am just finishing my diary with the thought of the beautiful hours which we spent together that evening a week ago which made me the happiest man on earth… Oh, Ludwig, Ludwig, I am devoted to you! I couldn’t stand the people around me; I sat still and, in my thoughts I was still with you...How my heart beat when, as I passed the Residenz, I saw a light in your window.”

Paul and Ludwig also shared a passion for composer Richard Wagner and the theater. Paul was gifted with a beautiful voice and sang for the king many times. When Paul and Ludwig visited Wagner’s home, the lads shared a “cosy little room,” as described in one of Paul’s letters. Wagner rehearsed Paul in a portion of his opera Lohengrin, which was performed for the 20th birthday of the king on August 25, 1865, at the Alpsee in Hohenschwangau, where Ludwig’s family had a favorite castle. It was magnificently staged with Paul dressed as the hero Lohengrin, wearing silver armor, drawn over the lake by an artificial swan as the scenery was illuminated by electric lights. The King sat enraptured as his intimate friend sang his favorite music.

A year later, on New Year’s day, 1867, all Bavaria was delighted to hear the announcement of their dashing King Ludwig’s engagement to Princess Sophie, a native Duchess and sister to “Sisi,” the beloved Empress of Austria. The royal wedding was arranged to take place on Ludwig’s 22nd birthday, August 25, but an official announcement early in the summer postponed the nuptials until October 12. However, Ludwig broke off the engagement a week before the marriage was to take place. In a long letter to Princess Sophie, he stated that the engagement and wedding had been forced upon him; he loved the Princess “like a sister” and hoped to remain her friend.

Ludwig's Coronation Portrait

There was a reason for the postponement and ultimate cancellation. During the summer Ludwig had met Richard Hornig, a groom employed at one of his stables. A blond, blue-eyed Prussian, five years older than the king, he was to become one of the most important people in Ludwig’s life. Hornig was a superb horseman, and their mutual love of horses allowed a friendship to develop. In a short time Hornig was seeing the king constantly and intimately. Hornig soon occupied the office of Crown Equerry and Master of the Horse. He controlled all horse transport, coaches and carriages, stabling, purchase, breeding and training of the Royal horses, which numbered around 500. The king and Hornig often visited the king’s remote castles, chalets and mountain huts, mostly in a four-horse carriage, but sometimes in a romantic, illuminated sleigh in the moonlight. When the two dined at the king’s castles, they were waited on by footmen dressed in 18th-century livery.

Hornig was soon acting as go-between for the king and his ministers, much as Queen Victoria’s John Brown, which caused much tongue-wagging and criticism. Ludwig and Hornig also set out on a journey through Germany to France, with the King traveling incognito as Count von Berg. It was during this time that the king issued a postponement of his wedding. The appearance of Richard Hornig in his life led to the king’s full break with Sophie. Ludwig’s homosexual relationship with Hornig made him realize that a normal love for any woman was not possible.

In fact Ludwig II went on to have a succession of handsome male companions, two of whom were Hungarian theater star Josef Kainz and courtier Alfons Weber. They were both good-looking young men, and Ludwig treated them as other royal males treated their mistresses.  Ludwig showed Kainz special favor, giving him expensive gifts, inviting him for stays in the king’s castles and asking him along for a vacation in Switzerland. They even had their photo taken together, although it is scandalous that in this portrait Kainz is seated, and the king is standing (photo at left). The king was an imposing figure at 6'4" tall.

King Ludwig was an obsessive, devoted patron of the composer Richard Wagner. The king wiped out Wagner’s enormous debts, built him a theater in Bayreuth custom designed for his operas as well as a private villa across town. Wagner lived on money supplied by the king. As the king aged, he became an eccentric recluse caught up in the building of fantasy castles decorated with murals depicting scenes from the legends upon which Wagner’s operas were based, all the while ignoring matters of state, which were left to his staff of ministers. It was during Ludwig’s reign that Prussia launched a successful campaign to unify all the disparate German kingdoms into one unified German Empire, with Prussian King Wilhelm I as kaiser.

When the king’s ministers caught wind that Ludwig was planning to dismiss his entire cabinet and replace them, they acted first. They plotted to depose him constitutionally, on grounds of mental illness, subsequently issuing a statement that he was unable to rule. However, this was accomplished without any medical examination, so the king’s diagnosis of insanity remains suspect. Among the list of bizarre behaviors described in this “medical report” was the fact that his young groomsmen were often ordered to strip naked and dance for the king’s entertainment. Poor taste, perhaps, but not insanity. Three of the four psychiatrists who signed the damning medical report had never met the king, and none had ever examined him.

Even so, the ministers made plans to place Ludwig’s younger brother on the throne. On June 12, 1886, a commission arrived at Neuschwanstein castle and served the king with an order of deposition, escorting him to Schloss Berg on the shores of Lake Starnberg. The next day the king’s body was discovered floating in the lake, alongside the corpse of Dr. Gudden, one of the psychiatrists who had declared the king insane. Gudden’s body showed evidence of a struggle and attempted strangulation, suggesting that the king tried to kill him (Ludwig was 6'4" tall and heavy-set, so there is validity to this theory). The exact cause of the king’s death remains open to speculation, since an autopsy found no water present in his lungs.

Ludwig is best known as an eccentric whose legacy is intertwined with the history of art and architecture. He commissioned the construction of several extravagant fantasy castles and palaces, the most famous being Neuschwanstein. Since his legacy of these grandiose castles lives on in the form of massive tourist revenue, King Ludwig is revered by many in Bavaria today. Here is a photo of the extravagant ceramic stove adorned with figures of Tristan and Isolde in the bedroom of Ludwig II at Neuschwanstein palace in southern Bavaria.

The three most-visited of Ludwig's castles:

top to bottom: Neuschwanstein, Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee


Franz, Duke of Bavaria (b. 1933) is the present head of the Wittelsbach dynasty. He is a gay man who lives in a suite of apartments in Schloss Nymphenburg (Munich), the summer residence of the Wittelsbach kings of Bavaria where King Ludwig II was born. The Duke will be 88 years old in July. Here Franz is photographed in 1993 with his nieces Duchess Marie Caroline of Württemberg (b. 1969) on the left and Duchess Elizabeth in Bavaria (b. 1973).

The Wittelsbachs were opposed to the Nazi regime in Germany, and in 1939 Franz's father Albrecht took his family to Hungary. They lived in Budapest for four years before moving to Somlovar Castle in late 1943. In March 1944, Nazi Germany occupied Hungary, and on October 6, 1944, the entire family including Franz, then aged 11, was arrested. They were sent to a series of Nazi concentration camps including Dachau. At the end of April 1945 they were liberated by the United States Army.

Note: Franz also uses Schloss Berg, the modest castle on Lake Starnberg, as a retreat. This is the location where King Ludwig II's body was found in 1886. Today a memorial cross rises from the water's surface a few yards off shore, marking the exact spot where Ludwig's body was discovered in waist-deep water. The "official" cause of death was by drowning, but this is still disputed. 40-year-old Ludwig was a strong swimmer, and no water was found in his lungs.