Liechtenstein Under the Counts of Montfort

1200 to 1416

In 1200 A.D., Count Hugo von Montfort, a descendent of the old Counts of Lower Rätia, inherited the county of Vaduz together with the neighbouring Werdenberg and Sargans in modern Switzerland, and Montfort in modern Austria.

Hugo lived a wild and rich life in Feldkirch, and was regarded as a daredevil and terrorised the countryside. He held up passing travellers and plundered monasteries, and frightened his noble neighbours. He robbed all around him, and lived a festive lifestyle into old age. When he couldn't party any longer, he repented and built a hospital in Feldkirch just before he died.

After Hugo's death, the area was the destination of many peasant families who wandered from the southern Swiss canton of Vallis (Wallis), and many of them settled around Triesenberg. It is said that they were driven away by famine, with their arrival documented first in 1313. They were used to high mountain homes and inhospitable slopes and were pleased to acquire the lonely farms and mountain ledges to rear cattle and produce dairy produce.

Because the land was owned as freeholds, they called themselves "Free Walsers" and were distinguished by their fair hair and blue eyes. Some Liechtensteiners still call them 'newcomers' after 600 years. Because of their isolated lives, a separate dialect developed and their customs were maintained, and still exist in the mountains of Liechtenstein today.

The Chapel of St Theodul in MaseschaWhen the Walsers first came to Liechtenstein they built a chapel in Masescha, and a frieze shows the legend of St. Theodul who was a Bishop in Vallis. It shows the Bishop followed by the devil carrying a bell that he was forced to carry across the Alps as no human could carry it.

In 1342 Count Hartmann von Montfort became the owner of the Castle in Vaduz following an agreement with his brother. The castle was probably built around 1300, but much smaller than it is today. It consisted of the square Heidenturm (the heathen tower), probably of Roman origin, and some adjoining living quarters. Hartmann called himself the Count of Vaduz, and his son obtained confirmation from the Emperor that his estates were a Reichslehen (Fief of the Empire), making them independent of the Dukes of Swabia. This was the seed of the modern state of Liechtenstein.

The Montfort's ruled the country for 200 years, but lost their fortune when they got entangled in the German civil wars, and in the squabbling amongst themselves and their neighbours, the Bishops of Chur and Abbots of St. Gallen. The last of the Montfort line pledged the county of Vaduz to the family of Brandis in 1416.

At the same time in Schellenberg was ruled by the Knights of Schellenberg. The castles in Schellenberg were first mentioned in 1220, so at the time of Hugo von Montfort, but it is said that they were built in the tenth century. They were originally owned by the German Emperor of the House of Hohenstaufen who entrusted the guarding of the Alpine passes linking his native Swabia and his Italian lands to the Knights.

Later the Lords of Schellenberg became faithful supporters of the Emperors of the House of Hapsburg who originally came from Switzerland. They were diplomats to the Pope and were skilful arbiters, acquiring great wealth, so much so that they could vouch for Emperor Albrecht with 1,600 pounds of silver.

The splendour of the gallant knights did not last long, as in 1317 Schellenberg was sold to the Counts of Werdenberg who lived there for 100 years. The last count was said to be a cruel man who stole all he could from his subjects. The subjects ganged on up him when he was drunk, although he escaped his attackers only to leap to his death off a crag by the Rhine. His ghost is said still to roam the area. The castles were all burnt down and the estates sold to the family of Brandis, thus uniting the the two counties.

Only one part of modern Liechtenstein was missing - Gutenberg, the castle above modern-day Balzers. It is said that the Romans first camped on the rock, and that Charlemagne planted the vines around its base. In the 13th century, Heinrich von Frauenberg lived on Gutenberg, and his banner is still the arms of the village.

These were the days of the Minnesinger or troubadours. As the crusades came to an end, the knights travelled in search of dragons, damsels in distress and adventure in general, riding from court to court singing about their imaginary victories. Heinrich was a well-known Minnesinger, and many troubadours stopped

Heinrich von Frauenberg was less successful in his political actions, and throughout his life he was hostile to the Hapsburg family who were becoming increasingly powerful. Bitter feuds were fought and in 1308 Gutenberg was taken. It was put under a governor and an Austrian garrison was billeted there, which in the 15th century numbered 100 men. It was an important, strategic location in a 'sea' of the lords of Vaduz's land. The Hapsburgs clung onto this rock for 500 years. It was only in 1824 that the Austrian government consented to selling Gutenberg, then a ruin to the village of Balzers for 1,000 Guilders.

The Rätians > Romans > Goths & Franks > Counts of Montfort > Barons of Brandis > Counts of Sulz > Counts of Hohenems > Princes of Liechtenstein > The modern day