Arms of Liechtenstein

Political identity came to the territory now occupied by the Principality of Liechtenstein in 814, with the formation of the subcountry of Lower Rhætia.[1] Liechtenstein's borders have remained unchanged since 1434, when the Rhine established the border between the Holy Roman Empire and the Swiss cantons.


Main article: Switzerland in the Roman era

The area that is now Liechtenstein was part of the Roman province of Rhaetia.[2] A Roman road crossed the region from south to north, traversing the Alps by the Splügen Pass and, following the right bank of the Rhine at the edge of the floodplain, was uninhabited for long lengths of time because of periodic flooding. Roman villas have been excavated in Schaanwald[3] and Nendeln.[4] The late Roman influx of the Alemanni from the north is memorialized by the remains of a Roman fort at Schaan.

Middle Ages

See also: County of Vaduz and Lordship of Schellenberg

Vaduz Castle, built during the Middle Ages

The area, part of Raetia, was incorporated into the Carolingian empire, and divided into countships, which became subdivided over the generations. Because the Duchy of Swabia lost its duke in 1268 and was never restored, all vassals of the duchy became immediate vassals of the Imperial Throne (as has happened in much of Westphalia when the duchy of Saxons was divided and partially dissolved in aftermath of the defeat of Henry the Lion). Until about 1100, the predominant language of the area was Romansch, but thereafter German gained ground, and in 1300 an Alemannic population called the Walsers (originating in Valais) entered the region. In the 21st century, the mountain village of Triesenberg still preserves features of Walser dialect.[5]

The medieval county of Vaduz was formed in 1342 as a small subdivision of the Werdenberg county of the dynasty of Montfort of Vorarlberg. The 15th century brought three wars and some devastation. Centuries later, Carl Alexander Heideloff was the one who built the Lichtenstein Castle (with the help of peasants). But the 17th century was a lowpoint, with some plague, some skirmishing from the struggles of the Thirty Years' War but most of all from a witch hunt, in which more than 100 persons were persecuted and executed.

The Principality takes its name from the Liechtenstein family, rather than vice versa, and the family in turn takes its name from Liechtenstein Castle in Lower Austria, which it owned from at least 1140 until the 13th century and from 1807 onwards. Over the centuries, the family acquired huge landed estates, mostly in Moravia, Lower Austria and Styria.

All of these rich territories were held in fief under other more senior feudal lords, particularly under various lines of the Habsburg family, to which many Liechtensteins were close advisors. Thus, without holding any land directly under the Holy Roman Emperors, the Liechtenstein dynasty was unable to meet the primary requirement to qualify for a seat in the Imperial Diet, (German Reichstag), although its head was elevated to princely rank in the late 17th century.

Early modern era

The area that was to become Liechtenstein was invaded by both Austrian and Swedish troops during the Thirty Years' War of 1618–1648.[1] During the 17th century the country was afflicted by a plague and also by the Liechtenstein witch trials, in which more than 100 people were persecuted and executed.

Prince Johann Adam Andreas of Liechtenstein bought the domain of Schellenberg in 1699 and the county of Vaduz in 1712. This Prince of Liechtenstein had wide landholdings in Austria, Bohemia and Moravia, but none of his lands were held directly from the Emperor. Thus, the prince was barred from entry to the Council of Princes and the prestige and influence that would entail.

By acquiring the Lordships of Schellenberg and Vaduz, modest areas of mountain villages each of which was directly subordinate to the Emperor because there no longer being a Duke of Swabia, the Prince of Liechtenstein achieved his goal. The territory took the name of the family which now ruled it. On January 23, 1719, Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor, decreed that the counties of Vaduz and Schellenberg be promoted to a principality with the name Liechtenstein for his servant Anton Florian of Liechtenstein whereby he and his successors became Princes of the Holy Roman Empire.

Nineteenth century

A map of the Confederation of the Rhine.

Further information: Suvorov's Swiss campaign

In the War of the First Coalition, Liechtenstein, as part of the Holy Roman Empire contributed approximately 20 troops to the coalition forces from 1793 to 1796. During the War of the Second Coalition, France invaded the country on 6 March 1799 and plundered several towns, including Nendeln was burned by French troops, which resulted in the deaths of four people. The Austrian and Volgraberg state militias under command by Lieutenant field marshal Franjo Jelačić defeated 18,000 French troops stationed in Liechtenstein under command of General André Masséna and liberated the country by 14 May.[6]

Johann I with Francis II and Napoleon following the Battle of Austerlitz, 5 December 1805.

In 1806, Liechtenstein was one of the principalities and counties Maximilian I of Bavaria wanted to annex as his price for joining the Confederation of the Rhine but Napoleon refused because he had appreciated the personal qualities of Johann I as a negotiator, Austria's envoy during the negotiations leading to the Treaty of Pressburg.[7] Thus Liechtenstein became a sovereign state later that year when it joined Napoleon's Confederation of the Rhine upon the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire.[8]

The French under Napoleon occupied the country for a few years, but Liechtenstein retained its independence in 1815. Soon afterward, Liechtenstein joined the German Confederation (20 June 1815 – 24 August 1866, which was presided over by the Emperor of Austria). In 1818, Johann I granted a constitution, although it was limited in its nature.[9] 1818 also saw the first visit of a member of the house of Liechtenstein, Prince Alois. However, the first visit by a sovereign prince did not occur until 1842.[10]

Like most of Europe at the time, Liechtenstein was subject to the German revolutions of 1848–1849 which caused increased opposition to against the absolute monarchy of Aloys II. On 22 March 1848, the people's committee appointed a three-person committee to lead the Liechtenstein revolutionary movement, which included Peter Kaiser, Karl Schädler and Ludwig Grass. Together, they managed to maintain order in Liechtenstein and formed a constitutional council.[11] Liechtenstein was a member of the National Assembly in Frankfurt until April 1849.[12]

After the failure of the German revolutions, Aloys II once again instated absolute power over Liechtenstein. However, calls for a new constitution once again appeared early in the reign of Johann II and the constitutional council was reformed again led by Karl Schädler, once again tasked with drafting a new constitution, of which, similarly to 1848, he did most of the work.[12] The draft was reviewed by an unknown German legal expert and formed the basis of the 1862 Constitution of Liechtenstein, which was ratified on 26 September.[13][14] It was heavily inspired by the constitution of Vorarlberg and largely addressed the demands of the revolutionaries in Liechtenstein.[12] This constitution established civil liberties and formed the Landtag of Liechtenstein for the first time.[13][14]

During the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, Prince Johann II placed his soldiers at the disposal of the Confederation but only to “defend the German territory of Tyrol”. The Prince refused to have his men fight against other Germans. The Liechtenstein contingent took up position on the Stilfser Joch in the south of Liechtenstein to defend the Liechtenstein/Austrian border against attacks by the Italians under Garibaldi. A reserve of 2 men remained in Liechtenstein at Vaduz Castle. When the war ended on July 22, the army of Liechtenstein marched home to a ceremonial welcome in Vaduz. Popular legend claims that 80 men went to war but 81 came back. Though it is disputed who this person was, apparently an Austrian liaison officer joined up with the contingent on the way back, whereas it has also been claimed that it was an Italian farmer.[15]

In 1868, after the German Confederation dissolved, Liechtenstein disbanded its army of 80 men and declared its permanent neutrality, neither joining the new German Empire in 1871, nor the Austrian Empire. This neutrality was respected during both World Wars, and ultimately would allow the country to avoid the fate of the other German monarchies.

Liechtenstein during the world wars

World War I

Further information: November 1918 Liechtenstein putsch

A group of Liechtensteiner smugglers on pontoons, 1916.

Liechtenstein did not participate in World War I, claiming neutrality. However, until the end of the war, Liechtenstein was closely tied to Austria-Hungary and sympathetic to the Central Powers.[16] In response, the Entente powers imposed an economic embargo on the country.[17] The country faced economic devastation and food shortages as a result, which increased smuggling within the country significantly and forced the country to reduce its reliance on Austria-Hungary and seek closer economic ties with Switzerland.[17][18][19]

As the war dragged on, the country faced increasing civil unrest and dissatisfaction, particularly of that towards to the government of Leopold Freiherr von Imhof.[20] Figures such as Wilhelm Beck formed an opposition group against him, and in November 1918 he was subject of a de-facto coup d'état against him. The coup forced Imhof's government to resign and the establishment of a provisional executive committee in his place headed by Martin Ritter, who was the first Liechtensteiner head of state.[21]

Interwar period (1919–1939)

In 1919, following the dissolution of Austria-Hungary the Liechtenstein government could no longer rely on Austria to fulfil their monetary and diplomatic needs. Liechtenstein and Switzerland signed a treaty under which Switzerland assumes the representation of Liechtenstein's interests at the diplomatic and consular level in countries where it maintains a representation and Liechtenstein does not.[22][23] Liechtenstein has used the Swiss franc since 1920 and the two countries entered a customs union in 1924.[24][25]

Liechtenstein applied to join the League of Nations in 1920, though unsuccessful. Switzerland was the only country to vote in favour of their ascension at the League of Nations Assembly on 17 December 1920, as opposed to 28 against.[26]

Since the rise of Nazi Germany in 1933 and the introduction of anti-Jewish laws in the country[which?] Liechtenstein experienced a large rise of Jewish emigrants to the country in which the government led by Josef Hoop had supported the naturalization of the refugees under a new citizenship law.[27] In doing this, Liechtenstein faced attacks from German press and internal sources such as the Liechtenstein Homeland Service.[28] Hoop personally attempted to temper relations with Germany through the use of private contacts and actively downplayed the threat of National-socialism within Liechtenstein.[29][30]

In the spring of 1938, just after the annexation of Austria into Greater Germany, eighty-four-year-old Prince Franz I made his 31-year-old grandnephew, Prince Franz Joseph II regent.[31] While Prince Franz I claimed that old age was his reason, it is believed that he had no desire to be on the throne if Germany were to invade and occupy its new neighbour, Liechtenstein. The Princess of Liechtenstein, Elisabeth von Gutmann, whom he married in 1929, was a wealthy Jewish woman from Vienna, and local Liechtenstein Nazis had already singled her out as their anti-Semitic "problem".[32][33] A Nazi sympathy movement had been simmering for years within its National Union party[34] and there was a national socialist political party - the German National Movement in Liechtenstein.[35] In 1938 Prince Franz Josef II became the first prince of Liechtenstein to take up permanent residence in Liechtenstein. He ruled from Vaduz until his death in 1989.[36]

Franz Josef II (centre) with members of the German and Liechtenstein government outside the Reich Chancellery in Berlin, 2 March 1939.

In the wake of World War II following the Anschluss of Austria, the Progressive Citizens' Party and Patriotic Union participated in a coalition government formed to prevent government deadlock and help retain Liechtenstein's neutrality overseen by Franz Joseph II and led by Josef Hoop and Otto Schaedler respectively.[37][38][39][40] Franz Josef, Hoop and Alois Vogt paid an official visit to Berlin in March 1939 where they met Adolf Hitler and Joachim von Ribbentrop in which they discussed safeguarding Liechtenstein's independence and neutrality while maintaining good relations.[41][42] Franz Joseph later reminisced on the visit and stated that Hitler showed little interest in them and that it only took place in order to "flatter Hitler's ego".[43]

While this visit was ongoing in March 1939, the German National Movement in Liechtenstein (VBDL) staged an amateurish coup attempt, first trying to provoke a intervention from Nazi Germany by burning swastikas, followed by declaring an Anschluß with Germany. The leaders were almost immediately arrested and the hoped-for German invasion failed to materialise.[44][45]

World War II

Franz Joseph II, Marcel Pilet-Golaz and Enrico Celio in Bern, 1943.

During World War II, Liechtenstein remained neutral, while family treasures within the war zone were brought to Liechtenstein (and London) for safekeeping. At the same time, Liechtenstein tied itself as closely as possible to Switzerland during the war in hopes of retaining the country's neutrality.[46] It achieved the de-facto inclusion of Liechtenstein in the Swiss national supply.[39] Notable figures in the Liechtenstein government, such as Alois Vogt retained contacts with Nazi Germany such as, Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle, who regarded him as a trusted contact.[47] Franz Joseph himself periodically sent congratulatory letters to Hitler, such as the thwarting of the 20 July plot, of which he briefly replied.[48]

At the close of the conflict, Czechoslovakia and Poland, acting to seize what they considered to be German possessions, expropriated the entirety of the Liechtenstein dynasty's hereditary lands and possessions in Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia[49] — the princes of Liechtenstein lived in Vienna until the Anschluss of 1938. During the war, Liechtenstein’s princely family owned land in Austria whose managers hired Nazi forced labor, but a much later inquiry found the family not to have known about this.[50] The expropriations (subject to modern legal dispute at the International Court of Justice) included over 1,600 square kilometres (600 sq mi) of agricultural and forest land (most notably the UNESCO listed Lednice–Valtice Cultural Landscape), and several family castles and palaces.[citation needed] Citizens of Liechtenstein were also forbidden from entering Czechoslovakia during the Cold War.

Just before the end of the war, Franz Joseph granted political asylum to First Russian National Army pro-Axis pro-emperor Vladimir White emigres led by General Boris Smyslovsky, who were being cared for by the Liechtenstein Red Cross.[51] On 16 August 1945, the Soviet Union sent a delegation to Liechtenstein in an attempt to repatriate the Russians, which was refused despite increasing Soviet pressure to participate in the repatriation program.[52] Eventually the government of Argentina offered the Russians asylum, and about a hundred people left.[51] This is commemorated by a monument at the border town of Hinterschellenberg which is marked on the country's tourist map. Pierre Laval, the Prime Minister of Vichy France had attempted to seek refuge in Liechtenstein after being flown to the American-occupied zone of Austria, but was turned away.[48][53]

The Post-War era

After World War II, the country's low taxes have spurred strong economic growth. Liechtenstein became increasingly important as a financial center. In dire financial straits following the war, the Liechtenstein dynasty often resorted to selling family artistic treasures, including for instance the portrait "Ginevra de' Benci" by Leonardo da Vinci, which was purchased by the National Gallery of Art of the United States in 1967.[54] Liechtenstein prospered, however, during the decades following, as its economy modernized with the advantage of low corporate tax rates which drew many companies to the country.[55]

Liechtenstein was neutral during the Cold War, but sided with the West ideologically, politically and economically. The nuclear threat has led to the expansion of civil defence since the 1960s in Liechtenstein. In 1964–1965, the Liechtenstein government built a command bunker with protection against nuclear bombs in Vaduz. Liechtenstein condemned the suppression of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. Liechtenstein boycotted the Olympic Games twice- in 1956 in Melbourne in protest against the suppression of the Hungarian uprising and in 1980 in Moscow due to the Soviet war in Afghanistan.[56] Women in Liechtenstein received voting rights for the first time, following a referendum on the topic (among men only) in 1984.[57]

In 1989, Prince Hans-Adam II succeeded his father to the throne.[58] In 1996, Russia returned the Liechtenstein family's archives, ending a long-running dispute between the two countries. In 1978, Liechtenstein became a member of the Council of Europe, and then joined the United Nations in 1990, the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) in 1991, and both the European Economic Area (EEA) and World Trade Organization in 1995.[59][60]

Liechtenstein during the 21st century

Prince Alois of Liechtenstein.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (January 2024)

In a referendum on March 16, 2003, Prince Hans-Adam, who had threatened to leave the country if he lost, won a large majority (64.3%) in favour of overhauling the constitution to effectively give him more powers than any other European monarch. The new constitution gave the prince the right to dismiss governments and approve judicial nominees and allowed him to veto laws simply by refusing to sign them within a six-month period.[61][62]

On August 15, 2003, Hans-Adam announced he would step down in one year and hand over the reins to his son Alois. In August 2004, Prince Hans-Adam handed over the practical running of the principality to his son, Crown Prince Alois, although still remaining official head of state.[63]

On July 1, 2007, the first two consuls in the history of the Principality were appointed to represent Liechtenstein in the United States of America.[64][65] On March 3 2007, the Swiss Armed Forces "invaded" Liechtenstein territory by mistake, with 170 Swiss Army troops crossing the border.[66]

In June 2012 voters decided in a constitutional referendum that Crown Prince Alois should be allowed to retain his power of veto over decisions made in nationwide ballots.[67]

See also



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  2. ^ Beattie, David (2004). Liechtenstein : a modern history. Triesen: Van Eck. p. 2. ISBN 3-905501-62-7.
  3. ^ Smith, J.T. (February 2011). Roman villas : A study in social structure. London: Routledge. p. 283. ISBN 9780415620116.
  4. ^ Baedeker, Karl (1891). The eastern Alps : including the Bavarian highlands, the Tyrol, Salzkammergut, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, and Istria : handbook for travellers. London: Dulau. p. 265.
  5. ^ P. Christiaan Klieger, The Microstates of Europe: Designer Nations in a Post-Modern World (2014), p. 41
  6. ^ Wanner, Gerhard (31 December 2011). "Koalitionskriege". Historisches Lexikon des Fürstentums Liechtenstein (in German). Retrieved 28 September 2023.
  7. ^ d'Arenberg, Jean (1951). Les Princes du Saint-Empire à l'époque napoléonienne (in French). Leuven. p. 115.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  8. ^ Mazohl, Brigitte (31 December 2011). "Souveränität". Historisches Lexikon des Fürstentums Liechtenstein (in German). Retrieved 30 December 2023.
  9. ^ Raton, Pierre (1970). Liechtenstein: History and Institutions of the Principality. Vaduz: Liechtenstein Verlag. p. 27. ASIN B0006D0J8E.
  10. ^ Raton 1970, p. 21.
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  13. ^ a b Wille, Herbert (31 December 2011). "Verfassung". Historisches Lexikon des Fürstentums Liechtenstein (in German). Retrieved 24 December 2023.
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