25 years ago today, Prince Franz Josef II of Liechtenstein, father of the current ruling prince, died only 26 days after his wife, Princess Gina, at the age of 83. Time for us to have a look back at the life and work of a man whose lifetime saw Liechtenstein turn from a peripheral interest of the Princely Family into their main residence and from an agricultural backdrop into one of the richest countries in the world.
|Franz Josef as a child|
Born at Schloss Frauenthal in Styria (Austria), Prince Franz Josef was the oldest of eight children of Archduchess Elisabeth and Prince Alois. The young prince was named for his mother's uncle, Emperor Franz Joseph I, who was also his godfather. Prince Franz Josef spent the first years of his life at Schloss Frauenthal as well as Stuhlweißenburg, today better known as Székesfehérvár, in Hungary. In 1911, his family moved to the Groß-Ullersdorf estate in North Moravia and later spent World War I at Schloss Liechtenstein in Maria Enzersdorf near Vienna.
|Gina and Franz Josef's wedding|
While only becoming Fürst of Liechtenstein in 1938, Prince Franz Josef already became owner of the Liechtenstein family's properties, the so-called majorat, in 1929. Six years earlier, his father, Prince Alois, an uncle, Prince Franz de Paula, and Prince Franz I waived their rights to the majorat. Thus the future Prince Franz Josef II became the direct heir to the family's possessions to save inheritance taxes. While Prince Franz de Paula and Prince Alois also gave up their rights to the throne, Prince Franz became Fürst upon his brother's death in 1929.
The same year he was made the eventual heir of the Liechtenstein majorat (1923), Prince Franz Josef firstly visited the Principality together with his parents and three of his siblings on June 29. Allegedly he already announced his intention to one day move to Liechtenstein during that visit. Four years later, he returned to Liechtenstein on his first official mission: After the Rhine floods of 1927, Prince Johann II sent the young prince to the alpine nation to get an idea of the damages caused.
|Birth of Princess Nora|
As a small country close to Germany and Austria during the late 1930's, Liechtenstein did not face an easy time. Fascist ideas, both from within and from the outside, threatened the Principality's existence. And so the celebration of homage with its pledge of allegiance between the Prince and his people, which took place on Whitmonday in 1939 and was attended by some 10,000 Liechtensteiners, was seen as a sign that the people wanted to keep the country's independence.
In 1938, Prince Franz Josef II had moved his main residence from Austria to Liechtenstein. The move to the Principality changed the relationship between the people of Liechtenstein and their ruler: All of a sudden, the Princely Family wasn't a distant symbol anymore but very real and palpable. This changed even more after the Fürst married his Fürstin: On March 7, 1943, Prince Franz Josef married the 21-year-old Countess Georgina "Gina" of Wilczek. While the Prince was considered to be a quiet thinker, his wife was known for her charm and spontaneity. Theirs was the first wedding of a member of the Princely Family to take place in Liechtenstein.
|Franz Josef with his wife, parents, aunt,|
siblings and siblings-in-law
However, a few years ago, it was revealed that Jewish labourers from the Strasshof concentration camp worked on estates in Austria owned by the Princely Family during the Second World War. At the end of the war, Prince Franz Josef II granted asylum to approximately five hundred soldiers of the First Russian National Army who would have been otherwise likely executed.
During the last years of World War II, Prince Franz Josef II had many of his family's possessions, among them the art collection, brought from Austria to Liechtenstein and London. While the art thus escaped intact, the Stadtpalais was partly destroyed by bombs and a crashing airplane. After the war, the Princely Family took a major blow when they lost their their Silesian, Bohemian and Moravian properties on the basis of the Beneš decrees. The new Communist government expropriated them of 17 castles and 1.600 square kilometres of agricultural and forest land, about two percent of the size of the Czech Republic. All in all, the Princely Family lost around 90% of their possessions.
|Franz Josef and his family with|
Pope John Paul II in 1983
While Liechtenstein started to prosper after the end of the Second World War due to the industrialisation initiated by Prince Franz Josef and the government, it took the Princely Family a little longer to recover. Until the end of the 1960's Prince Franz Josef had to sell valuable possessions including Leonardo da Vinci's "Ginevra de' Benci" to make ends meet. The last painting from the Princely Collections to be sold for financial reasons was Frans Hals' "Portrait of Willem van Heythuysen" in 1969. A year later, then Hereditary Prince Hans-Adam started to restructur the Princely Family's finances with much success.
The later years of Prince Franz Josef's reign were much quieter ones than the early years. During the Fürst's lifetime, Liechtenstein had developed from one of Europe's poorest countries into one of the world's richest (per capita). In his private life, he enjoyed ski sports, alpine sports and swimming as well as to solve mathematical calculations. In 1984, Prince Franz Josef named his oldest son, Hereditary Prince Hans-Adam, as his regent while formally remaining head of state.
|Gina and Franz-Josef|
After his death, Prince Franz Josef lay in state in the chapel of Schloss Vaduz until he was laid to rest at the princely crypt next to the Kathedrale St. Florin in Vaduz on November 23. The funeral was attended by representatives of more than 30 states from four continents. Both the Presidents of Austria and Switzerland, King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola of the Belgians, Grand Duke Jean and Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte of Luxembourg, Queen Sofia of Spain and the then Prince of Asturias (Felipe), the then Prince of Orange (Willem-Alexander), the Princess of Wales (Diana), the then Hereditary Prince of Monaco (Albert) and Prince Fumihito of Japan were among the mourners.