Thursday, July 30, 2015

Luxarazzi 101: Prince Alois of Liechtenstein & Archduchess Elisabeth of Austria

Two of the most influential historic figures in the Liechtenstein princely family never reigned, but nevertheless became the ancestors of the current ruling line through a unique set of circumstances designed to save the family fortunes.  They were among the first members of the Princely Family to live in the country full-time, and their marriage brought significant attention, glamour, and even a little controversy to the Principality. Today we'll be looking into the lives of Prince Alois of Liechtenstein and Archduchess Elisabeth Amalie of Austria, the parents of Franz Josef II.

Born on June 17, 1869, in Hollenegg, Austria, Prince Alois was the second son and fourth child of Prince Alfred of Liechtenstein (grandson of Prince Johann I of Liechtenstein) and Princess Henriette of Liechtenstein (daughter of Prince Alois II of Liechtenstein).  Alois was born and raised in Vienna, as were many members of the Liechtenstein princely family at that time. He attended the Schottengymnasium, a prestigious Catholic primary and secondary school in Vienna, where Alois was known as quiet, studious, and a bit of a bookworm.

Alois in his military days
Upon completion of his education, Alois joined the Austrian Army as part of the Imperial and Royal Uhlans, a division of the cavalry. He served as a captain and later a lieutenant colonel in Slovenia and Hungary, continuing on during World War I when he earned the respect of his troops.

Elisabeth was born in Reichenau, Lower Austria, on July 7, 1878.  She was the younger of two daughters of Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria (brother of Emperor Franz Joseph) and his third wife, Infanta Maria Theresa of Portugal.  Elisabeth's sister, Maria Annunziata, was two years older. Elisabeth also had several half-siblings from her father's second marriage, the most notable being Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose murder sparked the First World War. Elisabeth's mother fulfilled most of the official duties of Empress Elisabeth at court, after the latter avoided Vienna following the death of her son Rudolf in 1889.  As such, Elisabeth grew up at the Imperial Court and was present at many of its functions prior to her marriage.

Elisabeth (r) with Maria Annunziata
Elisabeth, along with her mother and sister, were the only members of the Imperial family present at the July 1900 wedding of her half-brother Franz Ferdinand to Sophie Chotek, a Czech countess. Maria Theresa was one of the few Austrian Imperials to support the morganatic marriage. Ironically, the scandal caused by Franz Ferdinand's marriage would have an unexpectedly positive effect on Elisabeth's choice for a spouse.

It is unknown how Elisabeth and Alois first met, but given Alois' presence in Vienna and Elisabeth's prominence at the Imperial Court, it was likely the two first became acquainted at a court function. Rumors of a Liechtenstein-Austrian engagement began to appear in the press during the middle of 1902, when it was reported that a marriage was being arranged between Elisabeth and Johannes of Liechtenstein, Alois' younger brother.

At around the same time, the press was eager to set Elisabeth up with at least one other Catholic prince. In August 1902, Austrian newspaper Neues Wiener Tagblatt reported that an engagement between the princess and her distant cousin, Pedro de Alcântara, Prince of Grão-Pará, was forthcoming.  Pedro was the son of Isabel, the heiress to the defunct Brazilian imperial throne. Pedro later made a morganatic marriage to a Czech countess.  

The engagement between Alois and Elisabeth was announced on November 8, 1902, at Schloss Laxenburg, one of the summer palaces of the Imperial family.  Prince Johann II gave permission for the marriage a few days later as a matter of course.

Alois and Elisabeth at the time of their engagement
There was naturally concern at first that the marriage would be unequal, being that Alois had long held Austrian citizenship. Marriage to one of Elisabeth uncle's subjects would have rendered the union unequal in terms of rank. This would have meant Elisabeth would be forced to give up her Imperial status.  Maria Theresa was prepared to use her good relationship with Emperor Franz Joseph to convince him that as Alois did come from a regnant house, and so the marriage would be equal. For his part, Alois had already planned to smooth the way by relinquishing his Austrian citizenship in favor of Liechtenstein citizenship granted by Johann II.

Emperor Franz Joseph, however, was delighted that his niece wished to marry an actual prince following the scandal of Franz Ferdinand's controversial marriage. Franz Joseph gave his blessing for the union and was even present at Laxenburg when the engagement was announced.

Alois and Elisabeth married in Vienna on April 20, 1903, with the Emperor in attendance.  The couple honeymooned at Schloss Feldburg in Lower Austria, the main home of then ruling Prince Johann II.  Johann was reportedly so excited about his cousin's marriage to a member of the Imperial family that he "sent the bride the most magnificent presents."  Among these gifts were an exquisite diamond tiara in an arabesque shape. The tiara features two solitaires, one in the center of a diamond rosette and the second at the top of the tiara. The current whereabouts of this tiara are unknown.  

The couple's first child, the future Franz Josef II of Liechtenstein, was born at Schloss Frauenthal on August 16, 1906.  Alois and Elisabeth named him Franz Josef, in honor of the Emperor and uncle who helped ensure the marriage was considered equal. The elder Franz Joseph stood godfather for his grand nephew and namesake.

Aloys and Elisabeth with baby Franz Josef
Alois and Elisabeth had seven other children after Franz Josef:

- Maria Theresia (1908-1973)
- Karl Alfred (1910-1985)
- Georg Hartmann (1911-1998)
- Ulrich Dietmar (1913-1978)
- Marie Henriette (1914-2011)
- Alois Heinrich (1917-1967)
- Heinrich Hartneid (1920-1993)

The couple spent most of their married life raising their family at castles in Hungary, Austria and what is now the Czech Republic, including Frauenthal, Velké Losiny, and Stuhlweissenburg. Prior to World War I, Elisabeth was known for her love of automobiles. This was considered unusual at the time due to her gender, the newness of the technology, and the reluctance of much of the rest of the Imperial family to take interest in cars.  So great was her love of automobiles that she converted most of the stables at her home in Hungary to garages, and hired chauffeurs and mechanics to replace stable hands to care for her 31 automobiles.

Following World War I, Alois and Elisabeth provided financial assistance to their Habsburg relatives left destitute by the conflict.  By 1923, the princely family had weathered a significant decrease in their Czechoslovakian holdings. What was more, the succession laws meant that the family faced a long series of inheritance taxes. Ruling Prince Johann II was 82, his brother and direct heir Franz was 69, and the next heir Franz de Paula (Alois' older brother) was 65.  Alois was third in line and 53. The potential for four rapid deaths of heads of the family would have put the princely fortunes under further financial strain.

Elisabeth, Alois, her sister, their children and in-laws
A radical solution was proposed that would eliminate most of these death duties. The status as head of the family and owner of the fortune would bypass Franz, Franz de Paula, and Alois, passing directly to Franz Josef upon Johann's death. While the elder Franz insisted on having his chance to rule, Franz de Paula and Alois also agreed to remove themselves from the line of succession. Alois officially renounced the princely throne on February 26, 1923.

Elisabeth and Alois moved permanently to Vaduz in 1944. Elisabeth's sister Maria Annunziata also joined the family in Vaduz, where she lived until her death in 1961. Following the death of her mother in 1944, Elisabeth inherited the Habsburg Fringe Tiara. The tiara has been worn by at least two princely family brides as well as by Hereditary Princess Sophie for major events.

Alois died following a bout of influenza on March 17, 1955, in Vaduz. The 85-year-old Prince had been sick for about a week. Alois seemed to be recovering from his illness when he unexpectedly took a turn for the worse.  Five years later, Elisabeth died at the age of 82 on March 13, 1960, also in Vaduz. The two were buried beside one another in the Cathedral of St. Florin's in Vaduz.

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