Austrian prince Johann Adam Von Liechtenstein purchased the counties of Schellenberg (1699) and Vaduz (1712) from impoverished German nobles and gave them his name. Long a principality under the Holy Roman Empire, Liechtenstein gained independence in 1866. In 1923 it formed a customs union with Switzerland.
Even then, none of the ruling Liechtensteins had bothered to leave their Viennese palace to see their acquisitions. It wasn’t until 1938, in the wake of the Anschluss (Nazi Germany’s takeover of Austria) that Prince Franz Josef II became the first monarch to live in the principality; together with his wife, Gina, he set about transforming a poor rural nation into today’s rich banking state. Their son, Prince Hans Adam II, ascended the throne on the prince’s death in 1989.
The country’s use of the Swiss franc encourages people to see it as a mere extension of its neighbour, but Liechtenstein has very different foreign policies, having joined the UN and the European Economic Area (EEA) relatively early, in 1990 and 1995 respectively.
Long known as a tax haven, the principality banned customers from stashing away money anonymously in 2000. Recently it has implemented tougher reforms in a bid to shrug off its reputation for banking secrecy and recast its image as a legitimate financial centre.