History Files

European Kingdoms

Central Europe


Liechtenstein / Vaduz

Formerly part of the Roman province of Raetia, this region formed the eastern edge of the Germanic tribal kingdom of Alemannia, and then remained an obscure and unimportant part of Austrasia and Swabia until it was formed into a small state (just 167 square kilometres or 62 square miles of mostly mountainous terrain) by the Holy Roman empire in the thirteenth century, during the collapse of East Francia. It is made up of two medieval lordships: Vaduz and Schellenberg. The latter were a family of ancient Bohemian extraction, faithful servants of the empire.

County of Vaduz (Schellenberg)
c.AD 1267 - 1350

It is likely that the Schellenbergs were granted the county so that they would maintain the vital pass into Italy. This happened during what was effectively an interregnum in which no sole emperor was recognised and Germany began a period of collapse with no central authority to hold it together. This collapse involved the break-up of stem duchies such as Swabia and Franconia, and it was Swabia which lost Vaduz to the Schellenbergs.

Dates for the earliest counts are uncertain.

fl c.1267

Marquard I

fl c.1267

Henry I

Joint rule.

fl c.1300

Marquard II

fl c.1300


Joint rule.

fl c.1303


fl c.1303

Marquard III

Joint rule.

fl c.1303

Henry II

fl c.1318

Henry III

fl c.1318


Joint rule.

? - 1350

Henry IV

? - 1350


Joint rule.

County of Vaduz (Werdenberg)
AD 1350 - 1397

1350 - 1354

Hartmann III

1354 - 1367

Rudolph IV

1354 - 1416

Hartmann IV

1354 - 1397

Henry VII

County of Vaduz (Brandis)
AD 1416 - 1507

1416 - 1456

Wolfhard I

1456 - 1486

Ulrich (II)

1456 - pre-1486

Wolfhard II

1456 - 1487


1486 - 1507


1486 - 1507

Sigmund II

County of Vaduz (Sulz)
AD 1507 - 1613

1507 - 1535

Rudolph V

1535 - 1566

John Louis I

1566 - 1572

Alwig XI

1566 - 1569


Joint rule.

1572 - 1611

Rudolph VIII


The county is elevated by the emperor to a principality of the Holy Roman empire.

1611 - 1613

John III

Died 1617.

Principality of Hohenems-Vaduz
AD 1613 - 1712

1613 - 1638


1638 - 1646

Jacob Hannibal II

1646 - 1662

Francis William I

1662 - 1686

Ferdinand Charles

1662 - 1712

Jacob Hannibal II Frederick

1662 - 1691

Francis William II

1691 - 1712

Francis William Maximilian Charles Posthumous

Died 1759.

1699 & 1712

The principality's territory passes to the Liechtensteins when Johann Adam I of that house is allowed to purchase from the Hohenems the tiny herrschaft ('lordship' in English) of Schellenberg in 1699 and the county of Vaduz in 1712. These two purchases are vital for Johann in that they are without any feudal lord other than their comital sovereign and suzerain emperor, so enabling his house the chance of finally acquiring a seat in the Holy Roman empire's diet (parliament). The Hohenems-Vaduz house itself continues to exist without any power until the branch becomes extinct in 1766. The principality is now a possession of the House of Liechtenstein.

Principality of Liechtenstein
AD 1712 - Present Day

Generally speaking in reference to Continental Europe, only the north and also the north-western edges have retained older forms of government. Even so, these offer all of the freedoms and liberties available to any other European, which is probably the main reason for their survival. The principality of Liechtenstein is certainly a survivor from an age of pocket territories that emerged from the gradual decline of the Holy Roman empire, and is unusual in being located a little more centrally than most surviving hereditary states. It is fully landlocked, lying in central-western Europe's Upper Rhine Valley, with Germany to the north, Austria to the east, Italy to the south, and Switzerland to the west.

The principality's territory was initially part of the Roman province of Raetia. It remained an obscure and unimportant part of Austrasia and Swabia until it was formed into a small state (just 167 square kilometres or 62 square miles of mostly mountainous terrain) by the Holy Roman empire in the thirteenth century, during the collapse of East Francia. It is made up of two medieval lordships: Vaduz and Schellenberg, with the latter being a family of ancient Bohemian extraction. The territory remained a lowly county for well over three hundred years before being elevated to a principality in 1608. Then Prince John Adam I of Liechtenstein acquired the two Hohenem family titles of Schellenberg (in 1699) and Vaduz (in 1712). His successor was granted these territories as an hereditary and sovereign principality in 1719, and the state was renamed after the new ruling house. It has so far outlived its founder by well over three hundred years.

By 2008, this constitutional monarchy had a population of just 34,247 subjects, but the head of state, Prince Alois, acting as regent for Hans-Adam II, had more power than most surviving monarchs, being able to sack his government if he wished. The country was by now famous for its banks, reputedly being one of the most secretive tax havens in the world. It was also one of the richest, and had a monetary union with Switzerland. Its national anthem is sung to the same melody as that of Britain's 'God Save the Queen', albeit with different words.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Liechtenstein: A Modern History, David Beattie (2004), from Secrets of the Seven Smallest States of Europe, Thomas Eccardt (2005), from The First World War, John Keegan (Vintage Books, 2000), and from External Links: World Bank Data Catalogue (in US English), and BBC News: Nazi Crimes Taint Liechtenstein, and BBC Country Profiles, and The Princely House of Liechtenstein, and Why does Liechtenstein use 'God Save the Queen' as its national anthem? (Guardian Notes).)

1699 / 1712

John Adam I is a descendant of Prince Karl I of Liechtenstein. Karl had been raised the the rank of a prince of the empire in 1608, which position he had retained until his death in 1627. He had been succeeded, in turn by his son, Karl Eusebius I (1627-1684), and then by Karl's son Johann Adam I (1684-1712). Johann Adam completes the purchase of the lordship of Schellenberg in 1699 and the county of Vaduz in 1712, just months before his death.

John Adam I of Liechtenstein
John Adam I was the third prince of the House of Liechtenstein and the first to secure lands adjoining Switzerland that would become a refuge for the family following the collapse of the Austrian empire

1699 / 1712

Johann Adam I / 'Hans-Adam the Rich'

Died after completing the purchase of the principality's lands.

1712 - 1718

Joseph Wenceslaus / Josef Wenzel

Heir to Johann Adam who left no surviving male heir himself.

1712 - 1721

Anthony Florian / Anton Florian

Uncle. Confirmed as Prince of Liechtenstein (1719). Died.


On 23 January Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI decrees that Schellenberg and Vaduz are united as a one. The ruler of the new territory is elevated to the rank of prince of the Holy Roman empire, precisely the outcome that Hans-Adam had been working towards.

1721 - 1732

Joseph / Josef Johann Adam


1732 - 1748

John Charles / Johann Nepomuk Karl

Son. Acceded aged 8. Died without producing an heir.

1732 - 1745

Joseph Wenceslaus / Josef Wenzel

Former heir, now regent for Prince Johann Karl.

1748 - 1772

Joseph Wenceslaus / Josef Wenzel

Former regent, now sole ruler of the principality again.

1772 - 1781

Francis Joseph / Franz Josef I


1781 - 1805

Aloysius / Alois I


1805 - 1836

John / Johann I

Field Marshal in the Austrian army.

1806 - 1813

The French under Napoleon Bonaparte invade the Holy Roman empire, terminating its existence. Liechtenstein becomes a member of the French-controlled Confederation of the Rhine until its dissolution in 1813. Two years later, the Austrian-presided German Confederation performs much the same role, with the principality once again a member.


Prince John I grants the principality a limited constitution in the same year that his son, Aloysius, becomes the first member of the House of Liechtenstein to set foot in the principality itself rather than governing from a distance - their main seat being at Liechtenstein Castle in Lower Austria. The principality becomes a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament, but not until 1921.

1836 - 1858

Aloysius / Alois II


1848 - 1852

In a year of European revolutions in 1848 (France, Galicia, Hessen-Darmstadt, Ireland, Lombardy-Ventia, and Wallachia also experience problems), and subsequent to the February Revolution in Paris, liberal tendencies begin to be felt in Liechtenstein.

The population demands a liberal constitution in a petition that is addressed to the prince. In his first response, Alois II revokes various duties and feudal taxes and on 7 March 1849 he issues a series of dispositions, enabling the people to take an active part in the configuration of political life. In 1852, after the failure of the French revolution, he revokes all of these regulations, but the final step towards a new constitution after his death in 1858 is not very far away.

1858 - 1929

John / Johann II

Son. Remained unmarried and rather anti-social.


Prussia fights the Austro-Prussian War against Austria, essentially as a decider to see which of the two powers will be dominant in Central Europe. Prussia gains the newly-created kingdom of Italy as an ally in the south and several minor German states in the north. Austria and its southern German allies are crushed in just seven weeks (giving the conflict its alternative title of the Seven Weeks' War), and Prussia is now unquestionably dominant.

Austro-Prussian War 1866
Austria's slow-moving forces were outpaced by Prussia's fully modern army during the Austro-Prussian War, which decided the power balance in Central Europe, as shown in this oil by Georg Bleibtreu


With Austria's defeat and the end of the German Confederation, the principality is freed from the obligation to maintain a standing army for external service. Its army is disbanded for financial reasons, although the principality is still tied strongly to the Austrian empire. To date the principality has not resurrected any military forces.


The Austro-Hungarian empire is fast failing in the last weeks of the First World War. Realising the inevitability of the break-up of the empire, on 16 October the emperor issues a manifesto to his people that, in effect, transfers the state into a federation of nationalities. He is too late. The Austrian empire soon ceases to exist and Germany now stands alone. Liechtenstein is forced to refocus its own priorities, and soon signs a customs and monetary union with Switzerland.

1929 - 1938

Francis / Franz I

Brother. Died without producing an heir.

1938 - 1989

Francis Joseph / Franz Josef II

First cousin twice removed. Born 1906, son of Prince Alois.

1939 - 1945

Liechtenstein's Second World War is a relatively quiet one. It remains neutral alongside its immediate neighbour, Switzerland. However, Jewish slave labourers are alleged to work on Austrian estates that are owned by Liechtenstein's royal family during the war, according to an official report that is delivered in 2005 after four years of preparation. The same report alleges that the royal family also buys property that has been taken from Jews in Nazi-occupied Austria and Czechoslovakia, although in the latter country all of its holdings and possessions are seized by the state at the end of the war, with the same happening to its Polish holdings.

But the Alpine principality is not responsible for trading in gold or other valuables that have been looted from Jews. Investigations reveal that neighbouring Switzerland sends thousands of Jewish refugees back to Nazi-occupied Europe and that Swiss companies trade with Nazi Germany. Liechtenstein takes in about four hundred refugees from Nazi-controlled Austria between 1933 and 1945 and turns back a further 165. No works of art that have been plundered by the Nazis can be traced to Liechtenstein collections.

1989 - Present

Hans-Adam II

Son. Born 1945.


The principality's status comes under the spotlight when two international reports criticise it for lax financial controls. The reports say that Liechtenstein's banking system has enabled gangs from Russia, Italy, and Colombia to launder money from their criminal activities.

2004 - Present

Prince Alois

Son and regent. Born 1968.


When international recession takes hold, governments that are being affected by plummeting tax incomes become determined to flush out assets that have been hidden in tax havens, and Liechtenstein comes under considerable pressure to apply greater banking transparency. Stung by the criticism, the principality gradually reforms some of its laws. It reaches tax agreements with several countries - including Germany, the UK and the US - aimed at encouraging the citizens of these countries to come clean about any assets they may have in Liechtenstein's banks.