Sunday, December 27, 2015

Luxarazzi 101: House of Thurn und Taxis

Princess Elisabeth, the daughter of Grand Duke Wilhelm IV and Grand Duchess Maria Ana whose life we covered in an own Luxarazzi 101 yesterday, was a married Princess of Thurn und Taxis. Time to learn more about a family that might not have been a royal one but whose immense wealth and influence still made them marriage material for reigning Catholic dynasties, such as the Wittelsbachs and Habsburgs (as well as a Catholic Nassau princess, obviously).

The history of the family dates back all the way to the early 12th century, when their ancestor Reinerius de Tasso was firstly mentioned in 1117 in Lombardy. Tasso is the Italian word for badger or Dax is German, which led to the name Taxis in German. When the family became more influential during the early 17th century, they were in need of more illustrious background then that of a knight's family turned merchants. And so Alexandrine of Taxis, widow of Leonhard II of Taxis, asked genealogists to better research the family's history.

Out came the claim that the Taxis family were actually descendants of the della Torre family. The  Torriani were an Italian noble family during the 12th until 14th century, who at one time held the lordship of Milan. Though there was no factual prove to the claim, it was enough fr Emperor Ferdinand III who recognised the Taxis family as successors of the Torriani in 16500 and granted them permission to incorporate the Torre arms, and name, with their own. And so they became the Thurn und Taxis.

But why had they become so influential? Around the year 1290 Omodeo de Tasso and 32 of his relatives organised the Compagnia dei Corrieri, a system of messengers connecting Milan, Venice and Rome. The Tasso were known for their efficiency and later even became papal couriers. However, their major breakthrough came at the turn of the 16th century when the family revolutionised the courier system and thus laid the foundation for the development of an international postal system. How they did so? Read on.

After future Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I had assumed power in Tyrol, he made Innsbruck his residence. His son and daughter were living in the Burgundian Netherlands and France respectively and Maximilian was in need of a good communications system with them. Enter: Janetto de Tasso. He became the Chief Master of Postal Services at Innsbruck in 1489 and soon asked his brother Francesco and nephew Johann Baptista to follow him to Tyrol, the latter one being the ancestor of today's Thurn und Taxis.

Their inventions for the new postal system were as simple as they were revolutionary: The Tasso set up fixed routes and the post was transported in relay form meaning that both horses and messengers were changed regularly, only the post bag forwarded. Janetto paid hostel and ferry owners in villages along the route (about every 37.5 kilometres) to have enough horses ready at all times of the day and night. As a consequence, a letter could be transported between Innsbruck and Brussels in five and a half days. It might seem a lot today but remember that at the time, America hadn't even been discovered yet.

In 1502, Francesco became the captain of the post of Maximilian's son Philipp the Fair, Duke of Burgundy. When Philipp became King of Castille two years later, the Tasso became instrumental in linking the Low Countries to Spain. They were two routes: One through France and another one via the Alps to Genoa and the maritime route for times of war and hostility. In 1505, a post contracr was drawn up establishing delivery times for both summer and winter. In times of war, the contract also asked of the Tasso to draw up new routes within a matter of days and organise new relays. Francesco de Tasso guaranteed with both his life and properties for the observance of the contract.

In 1512, Maximilian I granted a patent of nobility for the Tasso family. For the next 355 years, branches of the family operated local and national postal services in Spain, Germany, Austria, Italy, Hungary, and the Low Countries (now the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg), working both with and against other couriers. The family employed up to 20,000 messengers not only to carry mail but also to deliver newspapers. From 1852 they issued issued their own postage stamps, with the last Thurn and Taxis postal system being purchased and nationalised by the Prussian government in 1867.

Already in 1615, Emperor Matthias rewarded the services of the family by granting the position of imperial postmaster general as an hereditary right in the male line of succession. Rising through the ranks, the family were elevated to barons in 1608 and counts in 1624. Adopting today's name "Thurn und Taxis" in 1650, they became Princes of the Holy Roman Empire in 1695. In 1748, Emperor Franz I named Prince Alexander Ferdinand as principal commissioner, the imperial representative at the Perpetual Diet in Regensburg. The Princes of Thurn und Taxis held the costly and prestigious position until the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire. One of the emperor’s conditions was a move of the family residence from Frankfurt to Regensburg, to this day Schloss St. Emmeram, which the bought in 1810, is the official residence of the family.

Despite being mere nobles, the family also made some very royal matches. Hereditary Prince Maximilian (1831-1867) married Duchess Helene in Bavaria, sister of Empress Elisabeth. Their son Albert, 8th Prince of Thurn und Taxis, married Archduchess Margarethe Klementine of Austria. Two of their sons married Infantas of Portugal, daughters of the deposed King Miguel, a daughter the heir to the Saxon throne, and another son, Ludwig Philipp, Princess Elisabeth of Luxembourg. (There's also a Thurn und Taxis-Liechtenstein connection by the 1944 marriage of Princess Clotilde of Thurn und Taxis and Prince Hans Moritz of Liechtenstein.)

By delivering mail and selling their rights to do so, the Thurn und Taxis amassed a great wealth. Their home, Schloss St. Emmeram, is the biggest inhabited palace in all of Europe. To this day, the Prince of Thurn und Taxis is the biggest private landowner in Germany. And apart from their vast estates, they also invested heavily in banking and industrial ventures. They continued to live a lavish lifestyle with a grand court and hundreds of employees in Regensburg even for most part of the 20th century. Fürst Johannes (the 11th Prince, 1926-1990) was known as one of the great playboys and his much younger wife Gloria as "Princess TNT, the dynamite socialite".

However after Johannes' death in 1990, it all came crashing down so to speak. It turned out that the family wealth wasn't too well managed and many of the business in debt. In addition, the family faced massive death taxes. Interestingly, the current Fürst, Albert, is the first Thurn und Taxis to actually own the family wealth for many years. In addition to his father's private wealth, he also is the heir of Prince Franz Josef, the 9th Prince of Thurn und Taxis. (Albert himself being the 12th Prince.) In the early 1970's Prince Franz Josef passed the whole family fortune to his brother's unborn grandchild, which was born 12 years later, to save money because otherwise the family would have faced numerous death taxes over the coming years.

Already during the late 1980's, the former party princess Gloria took over the management of the family fortune and sold various companies. In 1990 when Prince Johannes died after a failed heart transplant, she also had Sotheby auction of some of the family's art, silverware and tiaras fetching 26 million Deutsche Mark. She also gifted things valuing about the same amount of money to the German state to pay the death duties, which are now exhibited at a museum at Schloss St. Emmeram. After the reorganisation of the wealth by Princess Gloria, it's blossoming again and for a long time Prince Albert was considered the youngest billionaire in the world.

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