Liechtenstein: The Counts of Hohenems 1613-1712

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When Ludwig, the last of the Counts of Sulz, sold Vaduz and Schellenburg to his son-in-law, Count Kaspar of Hohenems, the people of Liechtenstein were to experience a century of war, pestilence, famine and evil. By 1613, France had cut off the communications routes from Italy to Burgundy and Flanders, forcing the Spanish to use the passes of the Central Alps in the Habsburg territories in Italy and Tyrol. This route used the Splugen Road that ran down the east side of the Rhine River in the Liechtenstein Valley. Across the river on the west side was the Protestants of Grisons in the Engadin, the Pratigau (the Landquart valley) and Chur who were allies of France. They controled the road between the Lusiensteig and Splugen. Thus the stage was set for a steady stream of invasions, famines and epidemics.

The Counts of Hohenems were at the zenith of their power and as allies of the Austrians wanted to set up a buffer state between Austria and Switzerland. They paid taxes to both the Holy Roman Empire and the Swabian League. In 1614, the subjects of Count Kaspar complained vehemently about the high rate of taxation. After some discussion, they came to a mutual agreement. This argument was aprelude to the Thirty Years War.

In 1618 the disagreements between Catholics and Protestants broke out into war. The fighting raged sporadically in various places between different groups and countries. Austrian troops occupied the Luziensteig in 1620. In the following year Graubunden and Austria went to war against each other. Even though the two counties took no part, they were not spared. Both sides sent troops thought the valley, looting and plundering the inhabitants. The misery and poverty caused by the fighting continued after a peace treaty was signed in 1622. Crops failed, bread became scarce and there was no wine left for the people to down their sorrows in. To make matters worse, that same year, the people of the Pratigau rebelled against the Austrian Emperor. They captured the Luziensteig, and plundered all the villages of Vaduz County before they were defeated near Feldkirch.

Then it got even worse. The Black Plague broke out around 1634 swepting Europe and killing thousands. Many of the inhabitants of the valley fled into the mountains in the vain hope of escaping the contagion. War continued to surge back and forth over the region. Finally the counties of Vaduz and Schellenberg were forced to join the war on the Austrian side in order to survive.

More misfortune was to befall the two counties. In 1647 The Swedes under Wallenstin broke into the valley despite a heroic defense by the local militia and extorted money from the inhabitants before destroying anything not already destroyed in thirty years of constant war. The year, 1648, brought peace but at a terrible price. The inhabitants of Vaduz and Schellenberg were desitute and starving. One seventh of the population perished during these years of turmoil and famine. Nothing remained but empty houses and staving villagers. The morals and manners of the people declined. Local priests complained to the government who passed strict laws against the sinful ways of their subjects. But the misery continued.

Ignoring the poverty and misery around him, Count Franz Maria of Hohenems lived in great extravagance and waste. In 1642, he got married in an elaborate and expensive ceremony in Vaduz Castle. Even while the Thirty Years War devastated the valley, he spent money wrung from his starving subjects to beautify the castle. Luckily for his oppressed subjects, he died several months later.

A different plague now scoured the valley. Witch hunting added to the horror and misery of the people. Fuelled by fear, ignorance and greed and ambition, men, women and children denounced family, friends and complete stranger to the authorities. Innocent people were tortured until they confessed, then beheaded or burnt at the stake. Whole families perished. In August 1648, fourteen victims were put to death in Vaduz alone. In the end over three hundred out of a population of three thousand fell victim to the witch hunting terror, before it was finally stopped by the authorities.

Franz Wilhelm, Count of Vaduz from 1646-1662, followed in his family tradition. He spent more money than he had and then heavily taxed the inhabitants of his county to pay his debts. His son was even more disliked as he continued his father's ways and greatly increased the family debts. He even refused to help his brothers and sisters forcing them to live in relative poverty. Higher authorities shrugged off the people complaints. Finally, the Emperor could not ignore the situation any longer. First he removed Count Jacob Hannibal, who had acceded Franz Wilhelm's son and appointed an imperial official to sell his estates to pay the family debts. Prince Johann Adam of the House of Liechtenstein brought the County of Schellenberg in 1692 and then Vaduz in 1712.

It is from these two dates that the modern history of the Principality of Liechtenstein begins.