by Scott Mehl
King Otto of Bavaria
King Otto of Bavaria (Otto Wilhelm Luitpold Adalbert Waldemar) was the younger son of King Maximilian II of Bavaria and Princess Marie of Prussia. He was born two months prematurely on April 27, 1848 at the Munich Residenz, and was named for his uncle, King Otto of Greece. Otto had one older
Otto had one older sibling:
- King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845) – unmarried
Otto and his brother were raised primarily at Hohenschwangau Castle, brought up by nannies and servants, and had very minimal interaction with their parents, who they came to dislike. Despite this, their father was brutally strict, especially with Ludwig, as he was heir to the throne.
In 1863, Otto began serving with the Bavarian army, reaching the rank of Lieutenant the following year. By 1866, he had been promoted to Captain and entered active service with the Royal Bavarian Infantry Guards. He fought in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 and later served as Colonel in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. By this time, he was also the heir-presumptive to the Bavarian throne, as his brother had become King following their father’s death in March 1864.
In 1871, Otto, along with his uncle Luitpold, represented his brother at the proclamation of the Prussian King Wilhelm I as the first Emperor of Germany at Versailles. Despite his attendance, he agreed with his brother in disagreement of the establishment of the German Empire and Prussia’s prominence. These views, often publicly expressed, were well known to the Prussians and the newly established German court.
In this same period of time, Otto first began showing signs of mental illness, suffering from anxiety and depression after serving in the Franco-Prussian War. His illness quickly became worse, worrying the court as well as the King, who was expecting Otto to marry and provide an heir to the Bavarian throne. He was placed under medical supervision and reports of his condition were being passed to the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck by spies within the Bavarian court. By 1872, his doctors were reporting that he was mentally ill, and the following year he was moved to isolation in the southern pavilion of Nymphenburg Palace.
His physician was Dr. Bernhard von Gudden. There is much debate about von Gudden’s actions in treating Otto, as well as his brother, King Ludwig II. (Dr. von Gudden would later diagnose Ludwig as mentally ill as well, despite never examining him or treating him. This led to Ludwig being deposed in 1913, and dying mysteriously just days later.) Many speculate that the doctor’s actions were politically motivated. Unlike Otto and Ludwig, von Gudden – along with their uncle Luitpold – supported the establishment of the German Empire and Prussia’s dominance. Some historians suggest that it was Bismark pulling the strings, wanting to remove Ludwig and Otto from power and replacing him with Luitpold who was more easily controlled.
Whatever the reasons, Otto was more or less removed from the public eye. In 1875, he made a very public appearance at a mass in the Frauenkirche in Munich – causing a scene before being removed – and was moved to Schleissheim Palace against his will. He made his last public appearance later that year, in August 1875 at the King’s Parade. His condition continued to deteriorate and in 1883 he was moved for the last time, taking up residence at Fürstenried Palace which had been specially converted to provide for his confinement. Here, he was often visited by his brother, King Ludwig II, who insisted that Otto be treated well and that no harm should come to him.
Within a few years, King Ludwig II was also declared mentally ill by Dr. von Gudden, and their uncle Luitpold was appointed Prince Regent. Just days later, on June 13, 1886, Ludwig and von Gudden both died under mysterious circumstances, and Otto formally became King. However, because of his incapacity, Otto probably never understood that he had become king, and the regency remained in place under Prince Luitpold.
Otto remained in isolation at Fürstenried Palace for the rest of his life. When Prince Luitpold died in 1912, he was succeeded by his own son, Ludwig. The following year, Ludwig had the Bavarian constitution amended to allow for the King to be formally deposed. Thus, on November 5, 1913, Otto was formally deposed and replaced by his cousin who took the throne as King Ludwig III.
King Otto died unexpectedly three years later, on October 11, 1916 at Fürstenried Palace, as the result of a bowel obstruction. He was 68 years old. He was buried in the crypt at the Michaelskirche in Munich, and his heart entombed at the Shrine of Our Lady of Altötting.