Princess Ludovika of Bavaria was born on 30 August 1808 in the Munich Residenz as the daughter of King Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria and his second wife, Caroline of Baden. She was the half-sister of King Ludwig I of Bavaria. Her birth was complicated, and it had already not been an easy pregnancy for Caroline. She had also been most troubled by the death of her sister Marie in childbirth just three months earlier.
Ludovika was baptised the following day with the names Ludovika Wilhelmine with her aunt Wilhelmine standing as godmother. Ludovika had five half-siblings (of which four survived to adulthood) from her father’s first marriage and seven siblings (of which four daughters and Ludovika herself survived to adulthood) from his marriage to her mother. The five daughters received lessons in literature, geography and history from Friedrich Thiersch. However, romantic tales from literature were strictly forbidden. All the Princesses were good students, and Thiersch was pleased with them. They were raised bilingual and spoke both German and French. Especially for Ludovika, her parents also hired a naturalist who taught her and her sisters all about botany. The central figure in the girls’ lives was Charlotte von Roggenbach – who was their governess. Schloss Nymphenburg and its idyllic park were the perfect places to grow up, and Ludovika was known to have been especially fond of the park.
Her happy childhood came to an abrupt end in 1821 with the death of her 10-year-old sister Maximiliane, nicknamed Ni in the family. She returned home from the theatre in the dead of winter and caught a cold that quickly became worse. Her mother devoted all her time to nursing her sick daughter. Then, on 4 February 1821, Maximiliane died in her mother’s arms. She had always been her mother’s favourite, and Caroline was devastated.
The first of Ludovika’s (full) sisters to marry was Amalie. On 21 November 1822, Amalie married the future King John of Saxony. For Ludovika, it was the second painful goodbye in a short period of time. One year later, Amalie’s twin sister Elisabeth married the future Frederick William IV of Prussia. Yet another year later, Ludovika’s sister Sophie married Archduke Franz Karl of Austria. Now only Maria Anna and Ludovika remained unmarried. Ludovika had attended Sophie’s wedding in the Augustine Church in Vienna, and she had fallen in love with the future King Miguel I of Portugal, who was not even in town for the wedding but was actually in exile. Ludovika was by then 16 years old, and Miguel was 22. Miguel, too was charmed by Ludovika, and he even asked her father for her hand in marriage. However, he was refused – not in the least because of the reason for his exile, the rebellion against his father. Her father probably also already had another match in mind – Duke Maximilian Joseph in Bavaria, his grandnephew who had previously been promised to Maximiliane. For Ludovika – who would see her three elder sisters become Queen – it was not a particularly good match.
On 13 October 1825, Ludovika’s father died quite suddenly in his sleep at the age of 69. His successor was Ludovika’s elder half-brother, who now became King Ludwig I. The shock of his sudden death left Ludovika reeling and also delayed her marriage. Ludwig promptly had his stepmother and unmarried half-sisters moved to Würzburg. Caroline was devastated when he also tried to remove court preacher Schmidt from her service and angrily wrote to him, “Schmidt is mine, and he will remain mine.” The breach in the family bond was never healed.
Caroline took her two unmarried daughters with her to Vienna, where they stayed for several months. Miguel was also still there, and he and Ludovika often met each other. However, they were forced to say goodbye when Caroline decided to go back to Munich and renovate Schloss Biederstein, which had been left to her. They were not there for long when Ludovika’s aunt Frederica, the exiled Queen of Sweden, in Karlsruhe, became ill. It soon became apparent that Frederica was not going to recover. She wanted to go to the Côte d’Azur and travelled there via Switzerland to consult with doctors. Caroline and her two daughters followed. Unfortunately, she never made it to the Côte d’Azur and died in Lausanne on 25 September 1826. Frederica’s two daughters, Amalia and Cecilie – who also happened to be friends with Ludovika – were devastated, and Caroline quickly took her two nieces under her wing. At the end of the year, Caroline and her two daughters were back in Würzburg, and Ludovika found the time to write to Duke Maximilian about how incredibly cold it was there.
In February 1828, marriage negotiations were finally concluded, and Ludovika’s wedding was set for 9 September 1828. Ludovika would later say, “Neither of us wanted to get married.” Yet, they did and keeping Ludovika close by was a comfort for Caroline. The wedding took place in the St Quirinus Church on the bank of the Tegernsee. Just a few days after the wedding, a letter arrived from the newly proclaimed King Miguel of Portugal, asking for Ludovika’s hand in marriage. Caroline was forced to tell him her daughter was already married, but she did not inform her daughter of the letter. She could have been a Queen like her sisters.
Her new husband Maximilian was often away, and Ludovika wrote in her diary that she spent her first wedding anniversary alone and in tears “from the morning until the evening.” It wasn’t until the end of 1830 that Ludovika found herself pregnant for the first time. In the Cotta Palace in Munich, Ludovika gave birth to her first child on 21 June 1831 – her son was named Ludwig Wilhelm. Her labour lasted over ten hours. A cholera outbreak would force the family south to Italy, taking their newborn son with them. Ludovika loved Rome and spent a lot of time visiting the sights of the city. Their time in Italy would bring the couple closer together. By the time they returned north, Ludovika was pregnant again. On 24 December 1832, Ludovika gave birth to a second son – named Wilhelm Karl. Tragically, he would die just weeks later, on 13 February 1833, of whooping cough. Following the death of her son, Ludovika often had periods of depression and melancholy.1