Happy Birthday to the Blue Duke
This week marks the 350th birthday of Kurfürst Max Emanuel, and a Jubiläumswoche (Jubilee week) of celebratory events is planned around Munich and Bavaria. Born on 11th July 1662, Max Emanuel is remembered as the Blaue Kurfürst - the "Blue Duke" - and is one of the most significant Wittelsbach rulers in Bavarian history. His legacy remains visible today, most strikingly with the new palace at Schleissheim, built by Max in the first decade of the 18th century, and also at Schloss Nymphenburg and Schloss Dachau, both improved and extended by him.
The baroque splendour of Schloss Schleissheim was intended to express Max's grand imperial vision, for he was one of the last Bavarian rulers to play the game of thrones - apologies to HBO - and aspire to pan-European greatness. An astute military commander, he participated in the successful defence of Vienna against the Ottoman Turks, led his armies to victory against the same empire in his capture of Belgrade, and won the governership of the Spanish Netherlands.
His ultimate ambition was to displace the Habsburgs and win the crown of the Holy Roman Empire for himself and his descendants. In this he failed. His dreams were dashed when he and his French allies suffered a catastrophic defeat at the hands of British forces at Blindheim in the Bavarian district of Dillingen. This is remembered in Britain as the Battle of Blenheim, and made the reputation of one of the most famous generals in British history - the Duke of Marlborough, an ancestor of Winston Churchill. Max had hoped to win an empire, but instead lost Bavaria, and was forced to nurse his regrets in exile at the king of France's court in Versailles while his fellow Bavarians suffered the indignity of partition and Austrian occupation.
He was eventually restored to power in Munich, and spent the remaining years of his life compensating for his military and political failures by building a glittering cultural legacy. A great patron of the arts, we owe many of the masterpieces of Dutch and Flemish painting today on display in Munich galleries to Max - acquired by him in his capacity as ruler of the Spanish Netherlands. He also expressed his Dutch influences by building a network of canals between the palaces at Nymphenburg, Schleissheim and Dachau.
Interior of Amalienburg. Photo: en.wikipedia.org
His cultural influences were not only Dutch but French. Returning to Munich from exile at Versailles he brought with him an architectural and design style that is today integral to the look and character of the city - French Rococco - in the shape of François de Cuvilliés, whose talent Max had spotted in France. The duke rescued the diminutive Cuvilliés from an unhappy future as a court dwarf at Versailles and entrusted him with a key role in his plans for the improvement of his various palaces. The grateful architect repaid Max's trust with the Cuvilliés Theatre in the Residenz and the Amalienburg hunting lodge in Nymphenburg. Max may not have won the glory he dreamed of, but his legacy endures in some of the most beautiful sites beloved of visitors to Munich and Bavaria today. City tour guides will salute his memory this week.
Max Emanuel is buried in the crypt at Theatinerkirche on Odeonsplatz. Jubiläumswoche, 7th - 15th July. Details of various events can be found in Tourist Information on Marienplatz.