Gundakar, Prince of Liechtenstein

Prince of Liechtenstein

Gundakar of Liechtenstein
Spouse(s) Agnes of East Frisia
Elizabeth Lucretia, Duchess of Cieszyn
Noble family Liechtenstein
Father Baron Hartmann II of Liechtenstein
Mother Countess Anna Maria of Ortenburg
Born (1580-01-30)30 January 1580
Died 5 August 1658(1658-08-05) (aged 78)
Wilfersdorf Castle

Gundakar of Liechtenstein (30 January 1580 – 5 August 1658) (Prince from 1623) was a member of the House of Liechtenstein and as such the owner of a large estate. He also served the Habsburg dynasty.


He was the youngest son of Baron Hartmann II of Liechtenstein (1544–1585). His mother was Anna Maria (née Countess of Ortenburg). His brothers were Karl I and Maximilian. He received a careful education.

He himself was married twice. In the first marriage, he married Agnes, a daughter of Count Enno III of East Frisia and in the second marriage Elizabeth Lucretia, a daughter of Duke Adam Wenceslaus of Cieszyn and herself a ruling Duchess of Cieszyn. He was the founder of the so-called Gundakar line of the House of Liechtenstein. In 1606, the brothers signed a famility treaty stipulating that the first-born of the eldest surviving line would be head of the House of Liechtenstein.[1]

In Habsburg service

His father was a Lutheran and he had raised his children as Lutherans. At the beginning of the 17th century, Gundakar and his brothers converted to Catholicism. Gundakar wrote a vindication, entitled "Motives that moved me to accept the Catholic faith".

His conversion facilitated his ascent at the imperial court. He served under Emperors Matthias, Ferdinand II and Ferdinand III. He began his career at court in 1599 as chamberlain. In the following years he accompanied Archduke Matthias on military expeditions to Hungary and was present at the siege of Buda. In 1606, he served several times as an ambassador and in 1608, he accompanied Matthias on his campaign in Bohemia against Rudolf II. He became a councillor at the Exchequer in 1606 and he led the department from 1613. As early as 1608, he appears to have acted as Vice Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was also a councillor in the Chamber of Lower Austria. Between 1614 and 1617, he held various positions, including Land Marshal of Lower Austria, Chief Hofmeister to Archduke Charles John and Chief Hofmeister to the Empress Consort Anna of Tyrol.

His real political rise coincided with the beginning of the Thirty Years' War. In 1618 he led a delegation to the Estates of Silesia. His task was to prevent Silesia from joining the Bohemian revolt. This attempt, however, failed. Then, at the beginning of the year 1619, he was sent as an ambassador to various princes, electors and prince-bishops to formally notify them of the death of Emperor Matthias. Informally, he would discuss the Bohemian revolt. Secretly, he negotiated with Duke Maximilian I of Bavaria and other Catholic princes about military assistance to the Catholic League, in view of the impending war. In the same year, he undertook a second mission, to the spiritual electors, to prepare the election of Ferdinand II as the next emperor. He also visited Elector Palatine Frederick V, even though the court in Vienna already knew that Frederick was about to play an important role in the Bohemian revolt. Gundakar was present when Ferdinand was elected and continued to accompany him. He negotiated with the Upper Austrian Estates about their position with regards to the Bohemian revolt. The Austrians did not formally break with Bohemia. After the Imperial victory, Gundakar was tasked with punishing the supporters of the rebellion in Upper Austria.

From 1621, he was a secret councillor and a close political adviser to the Emperor. Especially in the period before 1626, he was influential as the leader of the Privy Council. After 1625, he was Chief Hofmeister. However, he was displaced from that position by Hans Ulrich von Eggenberg, who was a supporter of Wallenstein and leader of the "Spanish" party at the court. This turned Gundakar into an enemy of Wallenstein.[2]

He has authored several studies and has two "Mirrors for princes". He proposed the creation of a Knight academy and argued for a reform of the administration. He also demanded that the state should promote the economy, in the sense of the early mercantilism, in order to increase tax revenue. This was apparently inspired by Giovanni Botero and other contemporary political theorists. Besides his official writings, he also published a work on the bridling of horses.

In 1623, he was raised to the rank of hereditary Imperial Prince.


His ideology was anti-Machiavellian and he was influenced by the Catholic Counter-Reformation. He donated gifts to many churches and monasteries and imposed Catholicism on his possessions. He created a staged surveillance apparatus to control the faith in his lands. This allowed him to displace Protestantism from his eastern Moravian possessions, despite resistance of the population.[3]


When his father's inheritance was divided in 1598, he received the lordships Wilfersdorf and Ringelsdorf. In 1601, he issued a regulation for his subjects. He was so wealthy that he could grant loans to the state.

Like his two brothers, he contributed to the increase of his family's possessions. Like other Catholic noblemen loyal to the Emperor, he profited from the redistribution in 1619 of the dispossessed fiefs of the supporters of the Bohemian revolt. He was enfeoffed by Ferdinand II with the Lordship of Uherský Ostroh, as a reward for services rendered. In 1622, he purchased the Lordships of Ostrava and Moravský Krumlov. However, he paid with bad currency. Instead of 540000guilders, the actual value of his money was less than 70000guilders. The possessions he purchased were valued at about one million guilders.[4]

Wilfersdorf Castle, coloured copper engraving by Georg Matthäus Vischer, 1674

However, further attempts to increase the property failed. He laid a claim on the County of Rietberg, which had been owned by his first wife, Agnes of East Frisia. He was defeated, however, by Maximilian Ulrich von Kaunitz in a drawn-out legal battle. His second wife was a ruling Duchess of Cieszyn and he tried to pressure her into transferring Cieszyn to him. She retired to Silesia and informed her husband that if he was interested in continuing the marriage, he had to come to Cieszyn.[5] After her death, Cieszyn reverted to the Bohemian crown as a completed fief.

Wilfersdorf was his favorite abode. He therefore had Wilfersdorf Castle converted into a water castle.

Marriage and issue

Gundakar von Lichtenstein was twice married. He first married in 1603 with Countess Agnes of East Frisia (1 January 1584 – 28 February 1616). They had the following children:

After the death of his first wife, he married in 1618 Elizabeth Lucretia, Duchess of Cieszyn (1 June 1599 – 19 May 1653). They had three children:[6][7][8]



  1. History of the House of Liechtenstein Archived September 5, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  2. Josef V. Polišenský & Frederick Snider: War and society in Europe, 1618-1648, Cambridge, 1978, p.149
  3. Thomas Winkelbauer: Grundherrschaft, Sozialdisziplinierung und Konfessionalisierung in Böhmen, Mähren und Österreich unter der Enns im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert, in: Konfessionalisierung in Ostmitteleuropa : Wirkungen des religössen Wandels im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert in Staat, Gesellschaft und Kultur, Stuttgart, 1999, p.327
  4. Maria Harrer: Gundaker von Liechtenstein, Reviewed by Thomas Winkelbauer, in; Historicum, Autumn 1999, Online
  5. Ronald G. Asch: Europäischer Adel in der frühen Neuzeit, Cologne, 2008, p.103
  6. "Database by Herbert Stoyan". Retrieved 2013-02-15.
  7. "". Retrieved 2013-02-15.
  8. "Database by Philip van Gelderen". Retrieved 2013-02-15.
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