Sunday, October 12, 2014

Luxarazzi 101: Princess Elisabeth "Elsa" of Liechtenstein

The wives of former rulers, not only but especially those of the Principality of Liechtenstein, are often rather unknown figures, something that is quite unfortunate as many of them had rather interesting lives themselves. Today, we are going to shed some light on the woman the later Prince Franz I wasn't allowed to marry for many years as a union of theirs was considered a mésalliance.

Elsa in 1910
Born on January 6th, 1875, in Vienna, Elisabeth "Elsa" von Gutmann was the daughter of Jewish-Hungarian industrialist Wilhelm Wolf Isaak Gutmann (1826-1895) and his second wife Ida Wodianer (1847-1924). Together with his brother David, Wilhelm had founded a coal mining and trading company called Gebrüder Gutmann during the 1850's which quickly became one of the leading coal companies of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Three years after Elsa's birth, in 1878, her family became a noble one as her father and uncle were made knights of the Order of the Iron Crown which simultaneously meant being given a hereditary knighthood by Emperor Franz Joseph I. From her father's first marriage to Leonore Latzko (1827-1867) Elsa had two half-brothers, Berthold and Max, and a half-sister called Rosa; in addition to Elsa the marriage of her parents also produced two sons, Moritz and Rudolf.

Franz and Elsa
Little is known about Elsa's life and upbringing. She was raised Jewish - her father was the president of the Jewish community of Vienna - but in January 1899 she was baptised on the name Elisabeth Sarolta and became a Catholic.  A few days later, on February 1st, she married Baron Géza Erős of Bethlenfalva, a Hungarian nobleman. The son of Baron Alexander Erös of Bethlenfalva and his wife née Franziska Chalupatzky, an adopted member of the Jewish noble Todesco family who later became the second wife of Prince Philipp of Liechtenstein (1837-1901), died in 1906 leaving Elsa widowed at the age of only 31.

During her widowhood Baroness Elsa mostly lived at her house in Theresianumgasse street in Vienna near Schloss Belvedere. In the Viennese society she was known for being a good hostess of social gatherings. How and when exactly she met her future second husband, Prince Franz of Liechtenstein, is a little unclear. There are two versions of their first meeting; one being that they firstly crossed paths at a relief fund for soldiers in 1914 and the other that they were introduced by mutual friends in 1919.

The first one of the two version of their meeting is the more common and believable story due to something that apparently happened in 1919: As mentioned before, the Liechtenstein family wasn't in favour of the relationship of Prince Franz and Elsa and the couple wasn't allowed to marry as Prince Johann II, Franz's older brother, refused to give the necessary consent. However, Prince Franz and Elsa were actually secretly joined in a so-called Notehe according to canon law which meant that they had given each other the promise of marriage without any priest actually present.

Only after the death of Prince Johann II on February 11th, 1929, and the succession of Prince Franz I to the Liechtenstein's throne (though not the headship of the house), he and Elsa officially married on July 22nd, 1929, at the small parish church of Lainz near Vienna. Officially becoming the Fürstin of Liechtenstein that day, she was immediately identified by Liechtenstein's Nazis as "our Jewish problem".

Even though they had their main residences in Vienna, Thalbach am Semmering and Eisgrub/Lednice, Prince Franz and Princess Elsa were the first princely couple to take a greater interest in Liechtenstein generally spending multiple weeks of the year in the Principality. They were also the first members of the family to come into closer contact with the general population by visiting kindergartens, schools and hospitals. The couple often and generously donated money to different causes in the Principality. The "Franz and Elsa Foundation" benefiting Liechtenstein's youth with an endowment capital of 100,000 Swiss francs still exists today. In addition, there was the "Princess Elsa foundation" for hospitals worth 40,000 Swiss francs. 

Prince Franz-Josef II and his parents,
Archduchess Elisabeth and Prince Alois,
at Elsa's funeral in Schaan
Princess Elsa was also the one to initiate the foundation of a society for traditional costumes in the Principality in 1933 as she liked wearing traditional national costumes herself. She also seems to have been a dog lover as she apparently owned no less than 26 Chinese miniature pinschers.

After the Anschluss of Austria into Nazi-Germany in March 1938 and Prince Franz I making his heir Prince Franz-Josef his regent, Princess Elsa and her husband moved to Prague. Three months later in July, Prince Franz passed away and Princess Elsa moved to Switzerland where she lived in Vitznau on Lake Lucerne. She died in Vitznau after a short illness at 1:15am on September 28th, 1947 and was buried near the pilgrimage chapel of Dux in Liechtenstein on October 2nd though her remains were later moved to the country's capital where she was interred at the newly erected princely crypt at the cathedral of Vaduz.

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