"Ludwigsburg," meaning "Louis's castle," was named after its builder, Eberhard Louis, Duke of Württemberg, in 1705. It had been previously known as the Erlachhof, a traditional hunting estate and lodge of the Dukes of Württemberg that was destroyed in 1692, during the Nine Years' War. Eberhard Louis commissioned a replacement lodge that was built from 1697 to 1701. Construction was interrupted by the beginning of the War of the Spanish Succession, fought against France and Bavaria. Württemberg resisted entry into the war until late 1702. Two years later, Eberhard Louis participated in the Battle of Blenheim in August 1704 that was followed by the exile of the Bavarian Elector. The duke used the battle to press claims to Bavarian lands, but he illegally occupied those lands and was further weakened by a French invasion of Württemberg in 1707. As a result of this attack, the ducal residence in the capital, Stuttgart, was burned and the royal family fled to Switzerland. With the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, the occupied Bavarian territory and status of the exiled Elector were restored.
Construction of Ludwigsburg Palace began in May 1704 with the laying of the Alter Hauptbau's cornerstone by Eberhard Louis. The year before, he sent
Philipp Joseph Jenisch to study architecture abroad. Eberhard Louis made Jenisch director of construction upon his return the next year, but he only managed to finish the Alter Hauptbau's (Old main building) first floor and some of the southern garden before 1707. The duke spent the winter of 1705–06 at Nymphenburg Palace, residence of the Elector of Bavaria, and was impressed by what he saw there and in architectural publications. Unable to compete with Bavaria militarily or politically, and defiant following the loss of the Stuttgart residence, Eberhard Louis decided to follow the example of Bavaria, Baden-Durlach, and the Rhineland Palatinate. He elected to build a new palace and town inspired by Versailles, which would be the center of his domestic society and diplomacy. Located 10 kilometers (6.2 mi) from Stuttgart, Eberhard Louis could set up a court with his mistress, Wilhelmine von Grävenitz, and demonstrate his absolutist status as a monarch. Eberhard Louis lost faith in Jenisch's ability and in 1707 replaced him with Johann Friedrich Nette, an engineer. Two years later, in 1709, it was apparent that the massive undertaking of the palace's construction eventually necessitated the building of a town, also known as Ludwigsburg. That cost of construction provoked financial consequences, opposition at court, and criticism from the populace. A major retrenchment of court functions took place in 1709 that shrank the orchestra to eight members. That same year, after a fatal workplace accident at the palace, a pastor in nearby
Oßweil said of the palace at his pulpit, "May God spare our land the chastising that the Ludwigsburg brood of sinners conjure."[a]
Courtyard, looking north at the corps de logis
of the Alter Hauptbau. Nette began and finished most of the structures depicted.
Nette was now charged with building a complete Baroque palace from Jenisch's central corps de logis, to which an east wing and a west wing were to be added, aligned at 11°. Nette based his plans on those of Jenisch, enabling him to complete his design for a three-wing palace in the same year as his appointment. The galleries of the Alter Hauptbau were completed in 1707, then the corps de logis the next year. The Ordensbau and Riesenbau were constructed from 1709 to 1713, and their interiors were completed in 1714. Nette began the interior of the Alter Hauptbau, which he would never finish. Construction of the building's pavilions dragged on into 1722. Nette made two trips to Prague and his native Brandenburg to expand his pool of talent. He hired
Johann Jakob Stevens von Steinfels , Tomasso Soldati, and Donato Giuseppe Frisoni in 1708, Andreas Quitainner in 1709, and then Luca Antonio Colomba, Riccardo Retti and Diego Francesco Carlone. Nette fled to Paris from an accusation of embezzlement from Jenisch's allies but was ordered back to Ludwigsburg by Eberhard Louis. On his return trip, he died suddenly of a stroke on 9 December 1714 in Nancy at the age of 41. At the time of his death, most of the northern section of the modern palace and its northern garden was complete.
Eberhard Louis stunted an attempt by Jenisch to reprise his previous role as director, replacing Nette in 1715 with Frisoni. Frisoni, although having no formal training in architecture, enjoyed the support of the court chamberlain and impressed the duke with his stucco work in the Alter Hauptbau. Frisoni resumed construction with the palace's churches, beginning the Schlosskapelle in 1716 and the Ordenskapelle in 1720, then finished the Kavalierbauten (Cavaliers' Buildings) in 1722. Frisoni also added the mansard roof to the top of the Alter Hauptbau, as its flat roof was prone to water damage. This had become a common issue with Nette's work because of the pressure the duke placed on him to finish the palace as soon as possible. Frisoni's work thus far led him to believe that he did not have a large enough talent pool to satisfy the duke's desires for the palace and town, so Frisoni brought in
Giacomo Antonio Corbellini and Paolo Retti, his brother and son-in-law respectively, who were followed by Diego Carlone in 1718.
In 1721, the duke began to run out of room in the Alter Hauptbau for the functions of his court and Frisoni began planning to enlarge it. The duke dismissed the idea in 1724 and ordered Frisoni to construct the Neuer Hauptbau. Frisoni designed a four-story structure, double the height of the existing palace, but plans changed several times after construction began in 1725 atop the first terrace of the south garden. Frisoni settled on a three-story building that still afforded Eberhard Louis six rooms for his suite to the three in the Alter Hauptbau. To connect the Neuer Hauptbau to the existing palace, Frisoni built the Bildergalerie and Festinbau on the west side, and the Ahnengalerie and Schlosstheater (Palace theater) on the east. The Bildergalerie and Ahnengalerie were decorated from 1731 to 1733. With the exception of the interiors of the Neuer Hauptbau and Schlosstheater, all work was finished in 1733, but Eberhard Louis died that same year. Only a few rooms in the west end of the Neuer Hauptbau had been completed when he died. Construction of the Neuer Hauptbau and its connecting galleries cost 465,000 guilders and was managed by Paolo Retti, who at times had more than 650 stone masons, cutters, and basic laborers working on the facades between 1726 and 1728. Construction of Ludwigsburg Palace cost the Duchy of Württemberg 3,000,000 florins.
In 1760, Casanova
was a guest at Charles Eugene
's court. During his stay, he praised the performances of the duke's orchestra.
Eberhard Louis left no heirs and was succeeded by Charles Alexander. Charles Alexander ended funding for the palace, dismissed its staff, and moved the capital back to Stuttgart in 1733 to modernize Württemberg's army and fortifications. As central figures in the construction of what was now decried as the "sin palace", Frisoni and Paolo Retti were arrested in 1733 on fraudulent charges of embezzlement. The two men were acquitted in 1735 after they paid a hefty fine to the ducal treasury, despite attempted intervention by the Margrave of Ansbach to free them earlier. Frisoni died in Ludwigsburg on 29 November 1735. Charles Alexander himself died suddenly two years later on 12 March 1737 as he prepared to leave Ludwigsburg Palace to inspect the duchy's fortresses. After his death, the nine-year-old Charles Eugene became Duke, beginning a regency that lasted until 1744.
Charles Eugene began the construction of a new palace in Stuttgart in 1746 but unofficially used Ludwigsburg as his residence until 1775. The function of certain rooms at Ludwigsburg changed frequently;
Johann Christoph David von Leger converted the Ordenskapelle to a Lutheran church from 1746 to 1748 for Duchess Elisabeth Fredericka Sophie. Beginning in 1757 and lasting into the next year, the suites of the beletage were extensively modified by Philippe de La Guêpière. La Guêpière completed the Schlosstheater in 1758–59, adding a stage, machinery, and the auditorium. A wooden opera house, adorned with mirrors, was constructed in 1764–65, located east of the Alter Hauptbau. Although Charles Eugene officially declared Ludwigsburg Palace his residence in 1764, he made no further modifications after 1770. The palace that had hosted a court that Giacomo Casanova called "the most magnificent in Europe" began a steady decline.
Charles Eugene died without a legitimate heir in 1793 and was succeeded by his brother, Frederick II Eugene, who was succeeded by his son Frederick II in 1797. Ludwigsburg Palace had already been Frederick II's summer residence since 1795, and he continued to use it as such with Duchess Charlotte after marrying her on 18 May 1797.
Napoleon's armies occupied Württemberg from 1800–01, forcing the duke and duchess to flee to Vienna. The royals returned when Frederick II agreed in 1803 to pledge allegiance to Napoleon and part with Württemberg's territory on the Left Bank, an area of 388 square kilometers (150 sq mi). In exchange, according Treaty of Lunéville, Frederick II was named an Elector-prince and given 1,609 square kilometers (621 sq mi) of Right Bank territory. Frederick II, now Elector Frederick I, now tasked his court architect Nikolaus Friedrich von Thouret with renovating the palace in the Neoclassical style. Thouret started in the Ahengalerie and the Ordensbau, working there from 1803 to 1806. For two days in October 1805, Napoleon visited Ludwigsburg to coerce Frederick I into joining the Confederation of the Rhine and thus becoming his ally, compensating Württemberg with neighboring territories in the Holy Roman Empire and Frederick I with the title of King. Frederick I again tasked Thouret with a remodeling, from 1808 to 1811, of the Ordenskapelle and the king's apartment. The final modernizations ordered by the king took place from 1812 to 1816 in the Schlosstheater and Marble Hall. During this time, the ceiling frescoes of the Guard Room and the main staircases of the Neuer Hauptbau were repainted. By the time Frederick I died in 1816, the majority of the palace had been converted to reflect the latest style.
Following her husband's death, Charlotte continued to reside at Ludwigsburg, receiving visitors such as her siblings. She tasked Thouret with the renovation of her own apartment, which was carried out between 1816 and 1824. The dowager queen died at the palace on 5 October 1828 following a bout of apoplexy. Charlotte was the last ruler of Württemberg to reside at Ludwigsburg, as Frederick's son and successor, William I, and future kings did not show any interest in the palace. Members of the House of Württemberg continued to reside at the palace into the early 20th century, while the Württembergs moved to Bebenhausen Abbey after the abolition of the monarchy in 1918.
In 1817, ownership of Ludwigsburg Palace passed from the House of Württemberg to the government of the Kingdom of Württemberg, which established offices there the next year. King William I chose the Order Hall, the throne room of his father, for the ratification of the kingdom's constitution in 1819. The palace's first restoration took place at the Alter Hauptbau in 1865.
A defense counsel (standing) at the Borkum Island massacre trial
questions a witness, in the foreground next to an American soldier who is acting as interpreter.
On 9 November 1918, the King of Württemberg was dissolved with the abdication of King Wilhelm II. Ludwigsburg Palace was opened to the public that same year and a new constitution was ratified for the Free People's State of Württemberg on 12 January 1919. At this time, two apartments at Ludwigsburg Palace were still occupied by members of the House of Württemberg, Duke Ulrich and Princess Olga. The new state ordered them vacated until 1 April for the ratification. Ulrich moved out of Ludwigsburg in January, but Olga rented a new suite in the Neuer Hauptbau in February. She continuing residing at Ludwigsburg in her apartment with her family until her death in 1932.
The Schlosstheater hosted the Württemberg State Theatre for a production of Handel's Rodelinda in 1923, the first musical performance at the palace since 1853. In the early 1930s,
Wilhelm Krämer began hosting the Ludwigsburger Schloßkonzerte (Ludwigsburg Palace Concerts), which comprised six to ten concerts annually from 1933 to 1939. The palace survived World War II unscathed, though its furnishings were removed in 1944–45 and held at the monasteries at Alpirsbach and Lorch. It was chosen as the site of the Borkum Island war crimes trial in 1946. The concerts resumed in 1947 with 34 performances, a record that would not be broken until 1979. In 1952, the concerts were packed into a single week as the Ludwigsburger Schloßtage ("Palace Days"). They gained national significance when President Theodor Heuss attended a production of Mozart's Titus two years later. The concerts were named Ludwigsburger Schloßfestspiele in 1966, and were internationally known as the Ludwigsburg Festival. In 1980, the state of Baden-Württemberg made the festival an official state event. On 9 September 1962, Charles de Gaulle delivered his "speech to the German youth" in the courtyard of Ludwigsburg Palace to 20,000 people.
Restorations were undertaken in the 1950s and 1960s and again in the 1990s, in time for the palace's tricentenary in 2004. The anniversary was commemorated by the state government with three new museums. On 19 October 2011, Minister-President Winfried Kretschmann hosted a reception for the U.S. Army's 21st Theater Sustainment Command at the palace, which was attended by John D. Gardner, former deputy commander of EUCOM, and
Gert Wessels , commander of all German troops in Baden-Württemberg. Ludwigsburg appeared again on Federal postage stamps in the Burgen und Schlösser series. The 50th anniversary of Charles de Gaulle's speech at Ludwigsburg was celebrated on 22 September 2012 and included appearances by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Minister-President Kretschmann, and French President François Hollande. Merkel and Hollande both spoke at the event, the former directly referencing de Gaulle's speech in French. A painting of Frederick the Great on display was found to be a rare original by Antoine Pesne in November 2017. Michael Hörrmann – the director of the
Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg – valued the portrait at a minimum of €1 million. Baden-Württemberg's Minister of Finance,
Edith Sitzmann visited Ludwigsburg to see the painting and attend a press conference, where she spoke about the cultural importance of Ludwigsburg Palace.
In 2017, 350,642 people visited Ludwigsburg Palace. By March 2020, Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg plans to have spent €4 million to furnish the Neuer Hauptbau as it would have been during the reign of King Frederick I. To this end, about 500 paintings, 400 pieces of furniture, and 500 lamps, clocks, and sculptures – will be sourced, sorted, and restored.