Oktoberfest’s Royal Connection

by Susan Flantzer

Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen and King Ludwig I of Bavaria, Photo Credit – Wikipedia

October 12, 1810 – Wedding of King Ludwig I of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen

Oktoberfest is a well-known festival held each autumn for 16 days in Munich, Bavaria, Germany.  Six million people attend Oktoberfest in Munich and more than one million gallons of beer are consumed. Cities around the world have their own Oktoberfests, but many people do not know that it all began with a royal wedding on October 12, 1810.  On that day Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen.  The Bavarian royal family invited the citizens of Munich to attend the festivities, held on the fields in front of the city gates. These famous public fields were named Theresienwiese  (“Therese’s fields”) in honor of the new crown princess, but in Munich, the name became known as the “Wies’n,” and it is on these fields that Oktoberfest has been held since 1810.

Horse races were held to mark the end of the wedding festivities and the decision to repeat the horse races in subsequent years started the tradition of Oktoberfest.  The horse races, which had at one time been the most popular event of the festival are no longer held today.
An agricultural show designed to boost Bavarian agriculture began in 1811 and is still held every three years during the Oktoberfest on the southern part of the festival grounds. Amusement rides, a carousel, and two swings, made their first appearance in 1818, and visitors to the festival were able to quench their thirst at small beer stands, which grew rapidly in number. In 1896, the beer stands were replaced by the first beer tents set up with the backing of the breweries.  Since 1810, Oktoberfest was canceled 24 times due to cholera epidemics and war.

Today there are fourteen large beer tents and twenty small tents at Oktoberfest.  Only beer conforming to the Reinheitsgebot, with a minimum of 13.5% Stammwürze (approximately 6% alcohol by volume) may be served at Oktoberfest. The beer must also be brewed within the city limits of Munich. The breweries that can produce Oktoberfest Beer under the criteria are:

(Having visited Munich in August of 2012 and sampled beers from several of these breweries, I can attest that they are wonderful.  I never liked beer until I discovered Belgian and German beer.  In fact, as I wrote this, I was drinking some Paulaner Oktoberfest beer.)

Inside one of the tents at Oktoberfest, Photo Credit – Wikipedia

King Ludwig I (born in 1786) was the son of King Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria and his first wife Augusta Wilhelmine of Hesse-Darmstadt.  Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen  (born in 1792) was the daughter of Frederick, Duke of Saxe-Hildburghausen and Charlotte Georgine Luise Friederike of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.  Ludwig succeeded his father as King of Bavaria in 1825.

Although the marriage of Ludwig and Therese began with great celebration and promise, it was not a happy marriage.  Ludwig had many affairs which Therese reluctantly tolerated.  Several times, she left while Ludwig was having affairs and she refused to associate with his mistresses.  Among Ludwig’s mistresses were the scandalous English aristocrat Lady Jane Digby, Italian noblewoman Marianna Marquesa Florenzi, and Lola Montez (born Eliza Rosanna Gilbert), an Irish dancer and actress who became famous as a “Spanish dancer.”  It is likely that Ludwig’s affair with Lola Montez contributed to his abdication in 1848.  Therese died in 1854 in Munich and was buried in St. Boniface’s Abbey in Munich.  Ludwig lived for another twenty years after his abdication, died in Nice, France in 1868 and was buried next to his wife.

Ludwig and Therese had nine children:

  • Maximilian (1811–1864), married Princess Marie of Prussia, King of Bavaria as Maximilian II from 1848 – 1864
  • Mathilde Caroline (1813–1862), married Ludwig III, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine
  • Otto (1815–1867), Amalie of Oldenburg, King of Greece as Otto I from 1832-1862
  • Theodelinde (1816–1817)
  • Luitpold (1821–1912), married Archduchess Auguste of Austria, was Prince Regent of Bavaria from 1886–1912
  • Adelgunde (1823–1914), married Francis V, Duke of Modena
  • Hildegard (1825–1864), married Archduke Albert of Austria, Duke of Teschen
  • Alexandra (1826–75), never married
  • Adalbert (1828–1875), married Infanta Amelia of Spain

Official Website of Oktoberfest (in English)
Wikipedia: Oktoberfest
Wikipedia: Ludwig I of Bavaria
Wikipedia: Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen