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History of Liechtenstein
 
 
 

The territory of Liechtenstein formed a part of the ancient Roman province of Raetia, at a point in time. For centuries this territory, geographically removed from European strategic interests, had little impact on the tide of European history. Prior to the reign of its current dynasty, the region was ruled by a line of the counts of Hohenems.

The Liechtenstein dynasty, from which the principality takes its name, comes from Castle Liechtenstein in faraway Lower Austria, which the family possessed from at least 1140 to the thirteenth century, and from 1807 onward. Through the centuries, the dynasty acquired vast swaths of land, predominantly in Moravia, Lower Austria, Silesia and Styria, though in all cases, these territories were held in fief under other more senior feudal lords, particularly under various lines of the Habsburg family, to whom several Liechtenstein princes served as close advisers. Thus, and without any territory held directly under the Imperial throne, the Liechtenstein dynasty was unable to meet a primary requirement to qualify for a seat in the Imperial diet, the Reichstag.

The family yearned for the added power a seat in the Imperial government would bring, and therefore sought to acquire lands that would be unmittelbar, or held without any feudal personage other than the Holy Roman Emperor himself having rights on the land. After some time, the family was able to arrange the purchase of the minuscule Herrschaft (Lordship) of Schellenberg and countship of Vaduz (in 1699 and 1712 respectively) from the Hohenems. Tiny Schellenberg and Vaduz possessed exactly the political status required; no feudal lord other than their comital sovereign and the suzerain Emperor.

Thereby, on January 23, 1719, after purchase had been duly made, Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor, decreed Vaduz and Schellenberg were united, and raised to the dignity of Fürstentum (principality) with the name 'Liechtenstein' in honour of 'his true servant, Anton Florian of Liechtenstein'. It is on this date that Liechtenstein became a sovereign member state of the Holy Roman Empire. As a testament to the pure political expediency of the purchases, the Princes of Liechtenstein did not set foot in their new principality for over 120 years.

As a result of the Napoleonic Wars, by 1806, the Holy Roman Empire was under the control of French emperor Napoleon I Napoleon dissolved the Empire and this had broad consequences for Liechtenstein: imperial, legal and political mechanisms broke down. The state ceased owing obligations to any feudal lord beyond its borders. Modern publications generally (although incorrectly) attribute Liechtenstein's sovereignty to these events. In reality, its prince merely became suzerain, as well as remaining sovereign lord. From 25 July 1806 when the Confederation of the Rhine was founded, the prince of Liechtenstein was a member, in fact a vassal of its hegemon, styled protector, French Emperor Napoleon I, until the dissolution of the Confederation on 19 October 1813.

Soon afterward, Liechtenstein joined the German Confederation (20 June 1815-24 August 1866, which was presided over by the Emperor of Austria).

Then, in 1818, Johann I granted a constitution, although it was limited in its nature. 1818 also saw the first visit of a member of the house of Liechtenstein, Prince Alois; however, the first visit by a sovereign prince would not occur until 1842.

Liechtenstein also had many advances in the nineteenth century, as in 1836, the first factory was opened, making ceramics. In 1861, the Savings and Loans Bank was founded, as was the first cotton-weaving mill. Two bridges over the Rhine were built in 1868, and in 1872 a railway line across Liechtenstein was constructed.


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