Friday, October 4, 2013

Story of Monarchy: Liechtenstein

Liechtenstein, as the modern, sovereign, micro-state we know today, is relatively young. However, the overall history of Liechtenstein goes back quite a distance in time. The name of Liechtenstein is owed to its Princely Family which, in turn, came from one of their primary residences; Castle Liechtenstein in Lower Austria. Even today, the property of the Princely Family in Austria is many times larger than the tiny principality they reign over as a sovereign state. For centuries they were rather minor players in the rough and tumble world of German politics. In time though, they eventually became vassals and close advisors to the Hapsburg emperors of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. The family was awarded princely status and despite still paying homage to feudal overlords the Princes of Liechtenstein managed to qualify for a seat in the Imperial Diet. In 1712 HSH Prince Johann Adam Andreas of Liechtenstein purchased the county of Vaduz from the Hohenems and it was this land which, owing no fealty to any overlord under the Emperor, qualified the Princes of Liechtenstein for their place in the Imperial Diet. Today, Vaduz is the capital of Liechtenstein and the primary residence of the Princely Family though this is a quite recent situation.

On January 23, 1719 the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI declared the counties of Vaduz and Schellenberg to be a principality under the name of Liechtenstein and made Prince Anton Florian von Liechtenstein and all his successors Princes of the Holy Roman Empire. Today, the Princes of Liechtenstein are mostly known as leaders who are more like businessmen, however, in the past, they had great fame as soldiers in the armies of the German Holy Roman Emperors. Prince Anton Florian served in the War of the Spanish Succession, as did his son Prince Joseph Johann Adam who fought the French under the great Marlborough and who, after the war, became Imperial Privy Counselor in Vienna. In the War of the Austrian Succession, HSH Prince Joseph Wenzel I proved himself to be one of the most competent Austrian commanders of the war. In 1749 at the battle of Piacenza is northern Italy, HSH Prince Joseph Wenzel I of Liechtenstein led the Austrian forces to a great victory over the French and Spanish with future Prince Franz Joseph I also taking part. He revamped the Austrian artillery at his own expense and was later made commander-in-chief of Hungary.

Another of the most accomplished military leaders of the House of Liechtenstein was Prince Johann I Joseph who earned an illustrious reputation, mostly as a general of cavalry, in the service of the Austrian Emperor throughout the wars with Revolutionary France and the Empire of Napoleon Bonaparte. He concluded the Peace of Pressburg with the French Emperor, distinguished himself in battle after battle and even held temporary command of all the Austrian forces after the resignation of the famous Archduke Charles. Unfortunately, he had to resign in 1810 after arranging the Peace of Schoenbrunn which the Austrians claimed was too generous toward the French. Perhaps diplomacy was not his strong point but he was a very capable ruler and an absolute brilliant battlefield commander. It was also during this period that the Principality of Liechtenstein officially became a sovereign state when, after the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire (which had become mostly theoretical by that point anyway) Liechtenstein joined the French-backed Confederation of the Rhine in 1806 as a grouping of the German states that would be under French influence rather than Austrian. The Congress of Vienna reaffirmed the independence of the tiny principality and Liechtenstein later joined the German Confederation which was a grouping of the German states with the Emperor of Austria as president.

Prince Johann I was also the one who gave Liechtenstein her first constitution though it still reserved final authority for the Sovereign Prince. In 1818 Prince Aloys (one of the fourteen children of Prince Johann I and the future Sovereign Prince Aloys II) became the first member of the House of Liechtenstein to actually visit the Principality of Liechtenstein. No Sovereign Prince would set foot in the principality until he returned in with that rank in 1842. Today this would seem rather odd but it was not considered so significant at the time. To compare with the fellow micro-state of the Principality of Monaco, although the Grimaldi family had taken Monaco from the Genoese and maintained a residence there over the centuries, the Princes of Monaco usually resided mostly on their estates in France or at the court in Versailles. It was really not until the reign of Prince Rainier III that the Prince of Monaco resided in the principality more often than not. The most significant thing about these years for Liechtenstein was not the presence or absence of the Prince in Vaduz but rather the declining power of the Austrian Empire. In 1862 a new constitution gave Liechtenstein her first representative government and in 1868, after the break-up of the German Confederation (making way for the creation of the German Empire under Prussian rather than Austrian leadership) the Principality of Liechtenstein was becoming rather nervous about the future.

Realizing that Austria might be able to play the part of ‘big brother’ to little Liechtenstein, after the German Confederation broke up the Prince of Liechtenstein decided to declare permanent neutrality in the hope that everyone else would just leave them alone. To show that he was purely trusting on international goodwill, the Prince disbanded the Liechtenstein army -exactly eighty soldiers. Fortunately, during this time stable leadership was provided by HSH Prince Johann II the Good who reigned longer than any other monarch in European history after the dazzling King Louis XIV of France. He instituted land reforms, political reforms, enacted a new constitution that granted more rights and greater public participation in the political process and he did his best to keep the country on stable financial ground. That, however, proved to be a nearly hopeless struggle. Liechtenstein was, of course, neutral in World War I but the economic stranglehold placed on Austria-Hungary by the Allied nations effected Liechtenstein as well (which was, of course, quite unfair). The suffering in Austria-Hungary (and Germany) was immense so just imagine how much worse things were in Liechtenstein, a country that amounted to nothing more than a small valley with a few villages of mostly subsistence farmers.

World War I and the collapse of the monarchy in Austria-Hungary left little Liechtenstein isolated and extremely impoverished. The situation was nothing less than dire. Thankfully, under the slogan of “solidarity” neighboring Switzerland came to the rescue, effectively taking over for Austria in watching over Liechtenstein. In 1919 the Prince of Liechtenstein signed a treaty with Switzerland which pledged the Swiss to look after Liechtenstein and her interests on the diplomatic front and later Switzerland and Liechtenstein were joined in a customs union with Liechtenstein adopting the Swiss franc as their currency. Liechtenstein could relax a little and start to recover with her Swiss ‘big brother’ making sure no one picked on her. This is why, for example, if one goes to Liechtenstein today it is Swiss customs officials who handle entry and why Liechtenstein has no official passport entry stamp (though you can get your passport stamped at the tourism office if you ask for it as a souvenir). Prince Johann II died in 1929 and was succeeded by Prince Franz I who abdicated in 1938 which meant the throne was inherited by Prince Franz Joseph II who was the first Prince of Liechtenstein for permanently reside in the principality.

This was also a dangerous time for Liechtenstein, though few outsiders realize it today. The Prince was particularly alarmed by the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany. With the Nazis endeavoring to join all German-speaking populations to their “Third Reich” it was only natural that Liechtenstein should be concerned. There was also a small but vocal faction of Nazi sympathizers in Liechtenstein that wished for this to happen and who singled out Prince Franz I for particular ridicule due to his marriage to a Viennese woman who happened to be Jewish. Naturally for Nazis they tended to blame every problem in Liechtenstein on the influence of this Jewess and they would hold pro-Nazi ceremonies, carrying torches and lighting swastikas at night. The loyalists of Liechtenstein responded with their own demonstrations in support of the monarchy, matching the Nazis by lighting fires on the hillsides in the shape of a crown. Happily, throughout World War II, Nazi Germany respected the neutrality of Liechtenstein and the principality survived the Nazi era in Europe relatively unscathed, though, again, they suffered like Switzerland and Sweden simply by proximity.

Unfortunately, the Princely Family itself was not so fortunate as they came under undue retaliation seemingly for no greater “crime” than speaking German. What is worse is that they were effectively robbed by both sides with hatred against them on the Allied side for being German and hatred against them from the Germans for being anti-Nazi. After the war and the communist takeover of Eastern Europe, Liechtenstein family property was confiscated by Poland and Czechoslovakia on the grounds of it being “German”. Part of this may also have been retaliation on the part of the Russian Soviets since the Prince of Liechtenstein granted safe haven in his tiny country for about five hundred survivors of the anti-Soviet First Russian National Army that had fought alongside the Germans against Stalin. These were eventually given asylum in Argentina, far from their homeland but they were certainly better off than those who found their way into the hands of some of the Allies, like Britain, who turned them over to the Soviets who had most of them massacred or left them to a slow and miserable death in the prisons of Siberia. World War II had, again, left Liechtenstein in an impoverished state and the Princely Family was forced to start selling off art treasures acquired over the centuries to make ends meet.

The fact that this was possible was owed in large part to Prince Franz Joseph I who reigned from 1772 to 1781 who appreciated the value of the growing art collection of the family. However, it was under Franz Joseph II and especially Prince Hans Adam II that the worry of an impoverished principality became a thing of the past. The Princes of Liechtenstein knew their tiny country could produce very little and without outside investment their people would always be one step away from financial disaster. So, the Prince enacted laws which respected privacy and property, cut taxes drastically and cut regulations such as on banks which made the tiny principality one of the best places in the world to do business. The neighbors may have grumbled about Liechtenstein being a tax haven and having banking regulations that amounted to ’ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies’ but the fact is that the country prospered as never before and Liechtenstein still remains one of the wealthiest countries in the world. To put it simply, thanks to the good sense of her princes, Liechtenstein doesn’t have to worry about money anymore; which is quite a blessing for a country that not so very long ago was reduced to ruinous penury.

In recent years, under Prince Hans Adam II, Liechtenstein has become known for its thriving economy, moral principles (it is an officially Catholic monarchy and the laws reflect that) and near absolute monarchy where the Sovereign Prince still has final say in all matters. The result has caused people around the world to take notice with some attention coming from surprising quarters; such as the number of American libertarians who have such praise for an officially Catholic near absolute monarchy in central Europe. Prince Hans Adam II has even taken up writing, authoring a book about his ideas on a free economy in an effort to spread the success of Liechtenstein around the world.


  1. I had never heard of this lovely Principality! Size isn't everything, I suppose; even Rome started as a single city-state after all. As I've grown older I've contemplated moving to a nice, stable, Catholic monarchy if I could find one (assuming the Catholicism was traditional). Perhaps this is a good candidate, no?

    Thanks for all the lovely work you do here in giving us Monarchists a place to read and converse! Do we have a forum of some sort, or do you know of a good one?

    1. It is an officially Catholic monarchy, whether their style is to your taste I do not know. Like Monaco, however, Liechtenstein allows only a limited number of immigrants in and the process is not easy. "We" do not have a forum (though some conversations have been had on the Facebook page) and the one I do know of, well, I could not recommend it, especially for a traditional Catholic. Everyone I have pointed it out to had a bad experience and ended up blaming me for it.

  2. Permit me a slight correction: The photo does not show the castle of Liechtenstein in Vaduz, but the castle of Lichtenstein (without "e"), near Urach, which belongs to the Duke of Urach, who heads this branch of the W├╝rttemberg Royal Family. Do a websearch with "Liechtenstein" and "Lichtenstein" and you will easily spot the difference.

  3. Excellent post! Fascinating little state.


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