Prince Franz Josef II
Prince Franz Josef II von und zu Liechtenstein (born on 16 August 1906 in Schloss Frauenthal, Austria; died on 13 November 1989 in Grabs, Switzerland) was the Sovereign Prince of Liechtenstein from 1938 to his death in 1989. During his reign, the little Principality developed from an agricultural state to one of the richest nations in the world.
Family Background, Childhood, and Education
His Serene Highness Prince Franz Josef Maria Aloys Alfred Karl Johannes Heinrich Michael Georg Ignaz Benediktus Gerhardus Majella von und zu Liechtenstein was born on 16 August 1906 in Schloss Frauenthal, Austria; he was the first child of Prince Aloys and Princess Elisabeth Amalie, née Archduchess of Austria. His father was a son of Prince Alfred and his cousin Princess Henriette (daughter of Prince Aloys II of Liechtenstein), while his mother was the youngest daughter of Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria, younger brother of Emperor Franz Joseph I, and his third wife Archduchess Maria Teresa. Prince Franz Josef was named after his godfather and maternal great-uncle, Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria.
After Franz Josef, Prince Aloys and Princess Elisabeth had seven more children: Maria Theresia, Karl Alfred, Georg, Ulrich, Marie Henriette, Aloys and Heinrich.
Prince Franz Josef spent an untroubled youth in the castles owned by the princely family in the then Austro-Hungarian Empire, in particular in Gross-Ullersdorf Castle in Moravia, where the young prince developed his strong passion for nature that continued throughout his life.
According to the education system adopted in Liechtenstein, Franz Josef attended the Schottengymnasium in Vienna, an eminent Catholic private school attended by several members of the princely family and of the Austrian highest aristocracy, from which he graduated in 1925; his favourite subjects were mathematics, natural history and Greek. Then from 1925 to 1929 he attended the University of Agricultural Sciences in Vienna; he graduated as a forestry engineer, following his passion for nature.
After graduation the prince dedicated himself to the administration of the vast properties owned by his family in Czechoslovakia. During his youth, he also developed a passion for swimming, skiing, and alpine sports in general, which were his favourite leisure occupations; he also took several journeys in Europe and overseas.
First in the Line of Succession
At the time of Franz Josef’s birth the reigning Prince was his great-uncle Prince Johannes II (eldest brother of Princess Henriette); Franz Josef was fifth in the line of succession when he was born, but it soon became clear that he was destined to become the Reigning Prince. In 1923 Prince Aloys renounced his rights to the throne, and in 1929 the deaths of Aloys’ unmarried elder brother and of Prince Johannes made Franz Josef the first in the line of succession after Prince Franz I, the younger brother and successor of Johannes II.
Accession to the Throne and World War II
On 30 March 1938 Prince Franz I turned over the regency to Franz Josef, due to his old age; he died four months later on 25 July 1938, and at 31 years of age Franz Josef became the Reigning Prince (in German, Fürst) of Liechtenstein, Duke of Troppau and Jägerndorf.
The accession of the young prince happened at a very difficult time in his country. The economic situation of the little Principality was disastrous due to the bankruptcy of the Liechtensteinian Sparkasse in 1928, which left the government without money and very close to bankruptcy, followed by the worldwide 1929 crisis. In addition to the economic troubles was the deep feud between the two main political parties, the Christian-Social People’s Party and the Progressive Citizens’ Party. Finally in 1938 the German Nazi government occupied Austria, and several lands and possessions of the princely family in that country were expropriated.
Franz Josef devoted the first few years of his reign to keeping Liechtenstein out of the Second World War; by his speeches and messages he managed to boost the morale and resilience of his people. His efforts were rewarded, since Liechtenstein remained neutral throughout the war and was spared most of its direct consequences, thanks also to the close partnership of the Principality with Switzerland.
Marriage and children
Prince Franz Josef II married in Vaduz on 7 March 1943 the Austrian Countess Georgine von Wilczek, nicknamed Gina (1921-1989), daughter of Count Ferdinand von Wilczek and his wife Countess Nora, née Countess Kinsky von Wchinitz und Tettau. Gina and Franz Josef had five children. The eldest and heir was Hans-Adam, born on 14 February 1945, who married Countess Marie Kinsky von Wchinitz und Tettau in 1967; they have four children. Hans-Adam succeeded his father as Reigning Prince in 1989. The next was Philipp, born on 19 August 1946, who married Isabelle de l’Arbre de Malander in 1971 (they have three sons); he is the chairman of LGT Group. The next is Nikolaus, born on 24 October 1947, who married Princess Margaretha of Luxembourg in 1982 (they became parents of four children, the eldest of whom died soon after birth); Nikolaus is the Ambassador of the principality to Belgium and the Holy See. Then came Nora, born on 31 October 1950, who in 1988 became the second wife Don Vicente Sartorius y Cabeza de Vaca, Marques of Marino, who died in 2002 (they had a daughter together); Princess Nora is a member of the IOC). The youngest child was Franz Josef Wenzeslaus, nicknamed Wenzel, born on 19 November 1962, who tragically died on 28 February 1991.
Franz Josef and Gina were the first princely couple to reside permanently in Vaduz Castle instead of Vienna and the other family estates in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, as a consequence of the Anschluss and the expropriation of the estates by the Nazi government. Their full-time presence in Vaduz, together with the warm and expansive manners of Fürstin Gina that perfectly balanced the friendly but shy personality of her husband, helped increase their popularity among the people, who held their sovereigns in great esteem.
Years of financial boom
During the decades after the war, Liechtenstein was marked by an impressive economic boom, aided by several elements: its wartime neutrality, its political and social stability, its liberal economic organization, a very moderate tax rate, strict bank secrecy, the introduction of the strong and stable Swiss franc as currency, and the Customs Union with Switzerland. All these elements encouraged the establishment of many large industries, companies, trusts, and banks in the Principality. From 1950 to 1980 the country’s exports increased from 15 to 887 million Swiss francs and the banks’ balance sheet strength increased from 48 to 4364 million Swiss francs.
A consequence of the financial boom was the improvement of welfare, which helped to maintain the political and social stability in the Principality; in 1984, the last among the European nations, Liechtenstein granted voting rights to women.
In the foreign affairs field, over the years Liechtenstein joined several international organizations: the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 1950, the OSCE in 1975 and the Council of Europe in 1978.
Prince Franz Josef concentrated his attention mostly on domestic matters. He considered his country a big family of whom he was the father; his main concerns were to maintain a human dimension of the State, to fortify the coherency and community spirit of the population, and to improve education and housing for young people; he also was a strong supporter of women’s rights, seeing his efforts rewarded in 1984 when the vote was given to women. Franz Josef interfered with government decisions only on rare occasions, opposing the liberalization of abortion and a law on hunting rights.
Later Life and Death
In August 1984, after a 46-year reign, Prince Franz Josef II appointed his eldest son Hans-Adam his permanent representative, under the terms of article 13bis of the Constitution of Liechtenstein; Franz Josef remained the Head of State, but most of his executive powers were turned over to Hans-Adam; the same action had been taken in 1938, some months before his death, by Prince Franz in favour of Franz Josef.
On 25 July 1988 Franz Josef celebrated the 50th anniversary of his reign, being the third longest reigning Prince of Liechtenstein after Prince Johann II (71 years, from 1858 to 1929) and Prince Karl Eusebius (57 years, from 1627 to 1684); on 7 January 1989 Franz Josef II became the world’s longest-reigning monarch on the death of Emperor Hirohito of Japan.
In September of the following year, Princess Gina was hospitalized for cancer; she died in hospital one month later on 18 October 1989. She and Franz Josef had been married for 46 years. The Prince, already in poor health, collapsed while at her deathbed and never recovered from the loss of his wife; his illness prevented him from attending her funeral in Vaduz one week later.
Franz Josef survived Gina only for 26 days, dying on 13 November 1989 in the same hospital in Grabs, Switzerland. His funeral was conducted in Vaduz on 23 November, in St. Florin Church, and was attended by several members of the European royal and noble families. Prince Franz Josef II is buried next to his wife in the Princely Vault in Vaduz.
Official press photo by Presse- und Informationsamt, Vaduz; used with permission.