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King Otto of Bavaria Just a Bit Mad
By Kerry Rodgers, World Coin News
August 28, 2013

This article was originally printed in World Coin News.
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This year is the centenary of the contrived abdication, for want of a better word, of one of the last monarchs of the Kingdom of Bavaria: King Otto Wilhelm Luitpold Adalbert Waldemar von Wittelsbach. Otto was the younger brother of Ludwig Otto Friedrich Wilhelm von Wittelsbach, aka Ludwig II.

The reigns of both brothers produced a significant numismatic heritage that comprises both coins and bank notes. The coins of Ludwig span the currency reforms introduced in Germany following formation of the empire in 1871. The notes of Otto include the first from the dedicated Bayerische Notenbank. The output is remarkable given the circumstances of both reigns particularly that of Otto, who is the main concern here.

Popular history holds both brothers were not playing with a full deck. Ludwig was certainly an eccentric. He is the monarch who gave Bavaria all those splendid fairy-tale castles much loved by tourists. Whether he was insane is quite another matter. Nonetheless, during a power struggle in 1886 his cabinet contrived to have him declared unfit to rule on the grounds of insanity. His uncle Prince Luitpold was appointed Regent.

There is little doubt that Ludwig was fitted-up through a legal sophistry. The finding of insanity was based entirely on unverified third party statements. Across the border in deepest Prussia the German Chancellor, Prince Otto von Bismarck, voiced profound disquiet.

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The deposed king was taken to Castle Berg south of Munich. Three days later the bodies of Ludwig and his doctor were found in waist-deep water. Their deaths have never been satisfactorily explained. The official report disregards substantive evidence.

It was Ludwig’s death that brought Otto to the throne but, from the moment of his ascension, he too was declared unfit to rule.

Otto The Mad?

Prince Otto was born on April 27, 1848. His parents were King Maximilian II of Bavaria and Marie of Prussia. Along with his brother he received an excellent education. He served in the Bavarian army from 1863.

The first signs of alleged mental issues surfaced in 1865. Whatever these may have been, they did not hinder his army career. He was promoted to captain in 1866 in time to serve in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 and by the time the Franco-German War swung around in 1870-1871 he was a full colonel.

Toward the end of the latter war some associates described Otto as withdrawing from society. Medical reports on his condition were sent regularly to Bismarck. In January 1872 he was declared mentally ill and placed under the care of Dr. von Gudden, the same doctor who would certify his brother and die beside him in a Bavarian lake.

Otto was last seen in public alongside Ludwig during a formal parade in Munich in August 1875. From September 1880 his condition worsened such that from 1883 he was confined under medical supervision in Fürstenried Palace near Munich. Officially he was diagnosed as melancholic, i.e. depressed. King Ludwig visited from time to time and gave strict orders that violence must never be used against his brother.

When Ludwig died on June 13, 1886, Otto was declared king. On hearing the formal proclamation read, Otto dismissed it out of hand and declared Prince Luitpold rightful king. Luitpold, however, continued as Regent until his death in 1912 when he was succeeded by his son Ludwig.

Sanctioning a Coup

To what extent King Otto was a victim of his doctors and the Bavarian cabinet is not clear. Hard facts are few. A published report on Oct. 15, 1889 is somewhat ambivalent:

King Otto looks very strong, if a little corpulent. He wears a huge beard, which reaches his chest ... that needs to be trimmed, but … [he] … vigorously resists such a procedure. His eyes glaze over when he stares into the distance. … He will command that some object, for example, a glass of beer, be brought to him, and then immediately forget it. … He often stands in a corner, gesturing with his hands and arms while vividly speaking to imaginary people. This alternates with a complete apathy, which may last for hours or days on end.

… His Majesty smokes cigarettes with a passion, usually 30 to 36 per day. He uses a large number of matches, as he always lights a whole bundle of matches at once and, after use, throws away the still burning bundle with visible pleasure.

… King Otto is extremely sensitive to closed doors. … All doors on the ground floor remain open during the day, including the doors to the garden. If the King finds a closed door, he falls into a rage and bangs his fists on it. Iron bars have been fitted to the windows looking out onto the street, after His Majesty broke some of them.

On Nov. 4, 1913, cabinet amended the constitution of Bavaria. The rewording specified that where a regency lasted more than 10 years due to incapacity of the monarch and there was no reasonable expectation that the king might recover, then the Regent could proclaim the end of the regency and take the crown. The following day Ludwig did just that with Parliament assenting on Nov. 6.

Otto managed to survive his incarceration a little longer than his brother, but he also died unexpectedly on Oct. 11, 1916. This time the official cause of death was a volvulus or bowel obstruction. His remains were interred in the crypt of the Michaelskirche in Munich. But, as Bavarian tradition required, his heart was placed in a silver urn and added to those of his brother, father and grandfather in Gnadenkapelle at Altötting.

Coins for Otto

Bismarck had succeeded in unifying the German states into the German Empire in 1871. The proclamation of King Wilhelm I of Prussia as German Emperor took place in Galerie des Glaces at Versailles during the Franco-Prussian war. Colonel Prince Otto represented his brother who refused to attend.

The unification saw Germany get a new currency standard for the entire country. In Bavaria the pfennig, kreuzer, gulden, thaler and krone gave way to the mark. The changeover commenced in 1872 during Ludwig II’s reign. It had been completed long before Otto came to the throne.

King Otto may have been unfit to rule, but he was still the king. His left-facing effigy occurs on the obverse of most, but not all, of his coins that are limited to 17 silver 2 mark, six silver 3 mark, 22 silver 5 mark, 17 gold 10 mark and six gold 20 mark (KM 511, 512, 514, 513, 515). In addition a 2, 3 and 5 mark were struck for the 90th birthday of Prince Regent Luitpold and show his effigy on the obverse rather than that of his king (KM 516, 517, 518).

Along with Otto’s effigy the obverses of his coins carry the simple legend: OTTO KOENIG VON BAYEREN - or occasionally: OTTO KOENIG V. BAYEREN. The reverses display the arms of Bavaria with the legend: DEUTSCHES REICH [German Empire] along with the date, denomination and a couple of stars. All coins carry the ‘D’ mm of Munich. Numerous obverse die varieties exist.

Bayerische Notenbank

Another consequence of imperial unification meant the new Reichsbank gained a monopoly on note issue. Existing state central banks of issue were permitted to continue to a limited extent so long as their new notes were denominated in mark.

An annex to the Banking Law of 1875 states that the Kingdom of Bavaria had responsibility for notes to the tune of 32 million mark. These were primarily issues of the Bavarian Mortgage and Exchange Bank. The government was anxious to protect the revenue stream these bank notes provided. It moved to establish a central bank, Bayerische Notenbank, whose primary function was control of the Kingdom’s bank notes. Approval was granted by King Ludwig II on Aug. 3, 1875, and operations commenced on Nov. 3, 1875. Two-thirds of the share capital of 15 million mark came from shareholders of Bavarian Hypo, one-sixth from the government’s Royal Bank Nürnberg and one-sixth from Bavarian Mortgage and Exchange Bank.

The new bank’s notes were printed by Giesecke & Devrient. The first issue, a 100 marks (P S921), took place in 1875. It used the face designs of a former 100 marks of the Bavarian Mortgage and Exchange Bank (P S166). A subsequent 100 mark issue with a revised design appeared in 1900 (P S922).

When the empire ended in 1918 there were just four state central banks left in Germany: in Bavaria, Baden, Saxony and Württemberg. Bayerische Notenbank continued to issue notes to the bitter end. This took place soon after the coming of the Rentenmark and its infamous cousin, the Third Reichsmark.

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