Friday, July 18, 2014

Luxarazzi 101: Prince Johann II of Liechtenstein

When talking about history's longest royal reigns, one often comes across Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. However, there were a few reigns in history that lastest longer; one of them being that of Prince Johann II of Liechtenstein. Ruling over the Principality for 70 years and 90 days, the Prince, who was actually considered as an unsociable person and only visited the country five times during those seven decades, gained the nickname 'Johann the Good' by the people of Liechtenstein. How that happened? Read on.

Johann as a child
Born on October 5th, 1840, at Schloss Eisgrub, which is now known under its Czech name Lednice, as son of Prince Alois II and his wife née Countess Franziska Kinsky of Wchinitz and Tettau, he was baptised on the name Johann Maria Franz Placidus. Despite being considered a sickly child, Prince Johann was educated in no less than five languages (German, English, French, Italian and Czech) from an early age. His main teacher was the Catholic social reformer Baron Karl of Vogelsang who was also later to accompany the prince on his travels through Europe.

Aged only 18, he became the Prince of Liechtenstein upon his father's death of November 12th, 1858. Even though he was considered an adult by the family's house law, his mother acted as his regent starting on February 10th, 1859, to enable Prince Johann to finish his education. During the following months and years he attended university lectures in the German towns of Karlsruhe and Bonn as well as Brussels and Paris while travelling throughout Europe. Prince Johann's main interests lay in the natural sciences, especially botany, as well as visual arts.

Around 1870
During the early 1860's Prince Johann returned to Vienna to take over the responsibilities of running the Principality as well as the family's possessions from his mother, Princess Marie. After his return he soon engaged his former teacher Jacob von Falke and the manager of the Princely Collections Dallinger to catalogue all paintings. Published in 1873, the catalogue contained 1451 paintings. Being a bit puritan, Prince Johann II decided to to sell many of the paintings featuring naked women. He also considered selling many of the family's Rubens paintings but thankfully the collection's director could intervene.

However, 12 years later the Vienna-based collection only contained 839 paintings though Prince Johann II also started a purchase policy to close gaps and enlarge the collection mainly by the purchase of works of early Italian and Dutch artists as well as sculptures and furniture. In 1912, he ordered that the collection of the Liechtenstein family's archive be brought to Vienna to store it all together.

Prince Johann though wasn't only a patron of the arts who often gifted artworks to museums or cities, he also regularly donated money to archaeology and geography ventures as well as medical research. He built numerous hospitals, schools and churches throughout Liechtenstein and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Principality's villages of Vaduz, Schaan, Ruggell and Balzers all owe their parishes churches to the Prince's building acitivities. Prince Johann II also had extensive renovations works done to Burg Liechtenstein, Schloss Vaduz, Burg Fischhorn and Schloss Sternberg and made changes to the castle gardens in Eisgrub/Lednice. Interestingly, the Prince voluntarily paid six million Kronen income tax in Austria even though, as a foreign head of state, he did not have to do so.

Around 1870
Although Prince Johann I was a very benevolent person, who was nicknamed 'Johann the Good' by the people of Liechtenstein, he only rarely made public appearances and was considered to be shy and almost unsociable. He visited Liechtenstein between September 24th and October 4th, 1859, and a further four times during his reign. However, the Prince's unsociable character even extended further than official appearances as he also missed many family occasions, such as weddings, due to leading a very withdrawn life. Nevertheless, he always seems to have had an open ear for people's problems.

Giving out scholarships to students and providing provision for old age of former employees, he was always quick to provide the necessary money for building projects, such as public buildings, churches and even roads in the Principality. He also gave lots of money to the people of Liechtenstein when large parts of the country, which had about 11,000 inhabitants at the time, were destroyed by the Rhine floods of 1927. The fact that he largely wasn't present but more of a generous mystical figure in the background even kind of endeared him to the people who usually blamed the present officials if anything went wrong.

Politically, he was also a withdrawn person who wasn't quick to make major decisions. One of his very first acts was the introduction of a new education act, followed by a new constitution in 1862. He was the last Liechtenstein ruler to have sent soldiers into a war or to, in fact, even have an army. Not having seen a single enemy soldiers and with one more man than they had left with, the mobilised soldiers returned home to the Principality after the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. Both paying for the mobilisation of the troops with his own money as well as the dissolution of the army on February 12th, 1868, further endeared Prince Johann II to his people. Already in 1862, he had become the 987th Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleec.

In 1908
During the First World War, which Prince Johann II mainly spent on his Moravian estates, Liechtenstein remained neutral as country though as it had close ties with the Austro-Hungarian empire, the war years were still very difficult ones for the Principality. The  monetary, postal and customs union with Austria were dissolved after the war and Liechtenstein entered a monetary and customs union with Switzerland. In 1921, Prince Johann II signed a new Liechtenstein constitution, the one remaining until today, into law.

Having remained unmarried and with no children of his own, Prince Johann II's direct heirs were elderly. There was his younger brother Prince Franz (*1858) as well as his cousins once removed, Prince Franz de Paula (*1868) and Prince Alois (*1878). To avoid having to pay inheritance taxes numerous times during the following decades, all three of them waived their rights to the majorat in 1923 and thus Prince Alois' oldest son, the future Prince Franz Josef II, became the direct heir to the family's possessions. While Prince Franz de Paula and Prince Alois also gave up their rights to the throne, Prince Franz was to follow his brother as the Prince of Liechtenstein.

Sickly during the last years of his life, Prince Johann II withdrew even more from the public and the family's eye until he died at the age of 89 on February 11th, 1929, at Schloss Feldsberg (Valtice). He was buried at the Old Crypt of the Princely Mausoleum in Vranov u Brna.

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