European Royalty: Thurn and Taxis

Figure 1.--.

Very few German princely families have played such an important role in Europe without ever rising to the main stage of history. The dynasty of the Princes of Thurn und Taxis is such a family. The family played a major role in the development of modern Europe by essentially setting up and running a European postal service. The family's fortunes are inextricably linked to imperial Hapsburg court at Vienna. For more than 300 years, it was Thurn und Taxis that held the monopoly over imperial communications and mail between Vienna and the far flung Habsburg possessions that formed the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. The postal operation, however, eventually delivered mail to foreign capitals as well as within the Empire itself. The English word "taxi" is derived from the family's Taxis Post coaches.

Italian Origins

The earliest records of the family date back to Lombardian (Italian) records as early as 1117 which mention Reinerius de Tasso. The ancestors of the Thurn und Taxis family , which at the time was called Tassis, in about 1290 were operating courier services in the Italian city-states. Francisco Tasso and his brothers Ruggiero, Leonardo and Janetto operated a postal service between Milan (Italy) and Innsbruck (Austria). Francisco, Germanizing his name to Franz von Taxis, moved to Brussels and established a postal service to Vienna. This undoubtedly brought the family to the attention of the Emperor in Vienna. The family shield included the post horn which was become a symbol of mail delivery in Germany and neighboring countries. In one of the great ironies of history, the family that was for over 300 years operate Europe first efficent mail sevice, began in Italy and that the Germans of all people turned to the Italians to deliver their mail. Today Italy has one of the most inefficient, incompetent postal services in the world.

Postal Monopoly

The Thurn und Taxis family still had humble beginnings in the 15th century. Emperor Frederick III celebrated 50 years on his throne in 1490. He determined that it was necessary to improve communications within his empire. The Habsburgs had recently acquired Tyrol in modern Austria, and in the coming years would also incorporate the distant possessions of Burgundy (France) and the Low Countries (the Netherlands and Belgium) to their expanding empire. Frederick III knew that without an improved communication system that it would be impossible to effectively govern the far-flung and expanding Habsburg possessions. To accomplish this, Frederick offered a communications monopoly to the Thurn und Taxis family, which already played an important role in the his Empire's communications system. Franz von Taxis' horse based messenger service as so efficient that the Emperor saw that such a system on a larger scale would emensely aid the Empire. The Emperor needed it to control his expanding dominions. Franz von Thurn und Taxis thus obtained a monopoly to operate the mail throught the Habsburg empire. For the next 300 years the name Thurn und Taxis became synonymous with transportation and communications. It was also connected with wealth as the monopoly generated substantial income and Thurn und Taxis prospered from the services they provided to Frederick and his descendants. For over three centuries, branches of the Thurn und Taxis family operated local and national postal services in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Hunagry, Italy, Luxembourg, (the) Netherlands, and Spain.

German Nobel Status

The Thurn und Taxis family originated in the Italian region of Bergamo. The family's letters of nobility were granted by Emperor Maximilian I in 1512 in recognition for services given to the Habsburg family. Emperor Charles V confirmed his grandfather's grant in 1534. The Almanac de Gotha records that the Thurn und Taxis family were officially established as Barons of the Empire in 1608. Almost two decades later, Emperor Ferdinand II further elevated the family's status to Counts of the Empire in 1624. The Hapsburg dominions also extended to Spain. They were made princes by the Spanish Court in 1681 in recognition for their services there. Finally, the Thurn und Taxis received their princely title in the Holy Roman Empire in the 1695 from Emperor Leopold I.

Postal System

The Thurn and Taxis postal system was the wonder of the day. No other country had such an efficient mail service. And no postal service in any other country could guarantee transportation and communications with the reliability offered by Thurn und Taxis. By the end of the 18th century it took only 5 days for a letter to travel from Brussels to Innsbruck. Letters could be belivered between Brussels and Paris within 40 hours. Even today it mail between Brussels and Paris routuinely takes longer. The family operated a horse relay system rather like the famed Pony Express that permitted uninterrupted delivery from one European capital to another. A horse relay system. Thurn and Taxis stations were established throughout the Empire and on routes to neighboring capitals. Riders would move between these stations and when their horses tired, a fresh horse would be waiting at each station. At its peak, the Thurn and Taxis family employed 20,000 messengers to carry mail and deliver newspapers. Interestingly, the English word "taxi" is derived from the family's Taxis Post coaches.

Emperor Napoleon

Granted by one emperor, the postal monopoly was attacked by another--the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. The Thurn and Taxis postal system continued to operate until the Napoleonic Wars of the 19th century. Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte first attacked the Thurn und Taxis postal monopoly. The family thus gradually lost its monopoly in the 19th century until completely ending its postal operations.


The Thurn und Taxis family was not devastated by the loss of the postal monnopoly. The family had effectively diversified their holdings and economic intgerests. They became involved in many different activities, including food production, finance, and the new railroad system that was criss-crossing Germany. They held vast wealth unmatched by many better known royal families.

Individual Princes

The Thurn und Taxis family not only gained prestige from their commercial operations, but they married into many princely German families. From their humble Italian origins, the family becamer the couriers of the Hapsburg Imperial Court, and then married into nobel families throughout Germany.

Eugene-Alexander I (1652-1714)

Prince Eugene-Alexander I made one of the family's first prominent matrimonial alliances when he married Princess Anna of Fürstenberg (1658-1701). Emperor Leopold I in I695 made the Thurn und Taxis family Princes of the Holy Romain Empire (German Fürst des Heiligen Römischen Reiches Deutscher Nation).

Anselm-Franz (1681-1739)

Prince Anselm-Franz married Princess Maria of Lobkowicz (1683-1750). Emperor Karl VI insists in 1728 that Anselm Franz move the post administration to Frakfurt. Anselm-Franz purchased land in the Eschesheimer Gasse to build a city palace.

Alexander-Ferdinand (1704-1773)

Alexander-Ferdinand married Sophia [?Chistianne] of Brandenburg (1710-1739). He moved the family in 1748 to Regensburg where the family was to build St. Emmeran, a 500 room castle.

Karl Anselm (1733-1805)

Karl Anselm married Duchess Augusta of Wurttemberg (1734-87). Karl Anselm in 1774 was appointed hereditary general Postmaster of the Habsburg empire. The French Revolution which broke out in 1789 caused serious difficulties on some Thurn und Taxis post routes. Other countries began setting up their own postal systems. The Emperor Napoleon in particular wanted a French postal system.

Karl-Alexander (1770-1827)

Karl-Alexander married the Duchess Theresa of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1773-1839). She was a relative of English Queen Charlotte, King George III's wife.

Maximilian Karl (1802-71)

The family in 1852 began issuing postage stamps. Prince Max Karl was responsible for the first set of postal codes--the Thurn and Taxis "Ringnummernstempel" were first used in 1853. Despite these innovations, the family was gradually looseing its control over European postal systems. The last Thurn and Taxis postal system was nationalized by the Prussian government in 1867, after defeating Austria in the Franco-Prussian War. After prolonged negotiations, the Prussians paid the family an indemnity of 3 million marks. Even after nationalization, the coiled Thurn and Taxis post horn, part of the family's coat of arms for centuries, continued to be used by many German and other European postal services, even being used by government controlled PTTs (Poste and Telecommunications et Telegraphs) in the 20th century. Maximilian Karl married Baroness Wilhelmine von Drönberg (1804-1835). Their son Prince Maximilian brought the family close to the imperial throne. He married Duchess Helene of Bavaria in 1858. She was the sister of Empress Elisabeth who married Emperor Franz Joseph. Helene was in fact initially chosen to marry the Emperor, but her beautiful and engaging younger sister attracted the young Emperor's attention. Another sister, Sofie, was engaged to their cousin King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Maximilian through the marriage became the Emperor's brother-in-law. Maximilian and Helene had a happy marriage and had four children: Louisa (1859-1948), Elisabeth (1860-81), Maximilian (1862-1885) and Albert (1867-1952). Unfortunately Maximilian died unexpectedly in 1867. Helen had to raise the children without her husband. They grew up primarily at the family's vast St. Emmeran Palace in Regensburg. The children as they were first cousin's of the future Austrian emperor were eligible for marriage to ranking European royals. Louisa von Thurn und Taxis married Prince Friedrich of Hollezollern-Sigmaringen a brother of King Carol I of Romania. Princess Elisabeth married Prince Miguel, Duke of Braganza in 1877.

Maximillian (1862-1885)

Prince Maximillian's widow Helen becomes head of the family. Her son Prince Maximillian becames reinin prince at age 9. He died at age 23 without leaving any children. He was succeeded by his only brother, Albert.

Figure 2.--Two Generations from Turin and Taxis are seen in this 1938 photograph. From left to right: The boys are Prince Johannes and Prince Anselm with their grandfather Prince Albert von Thurn und Taxis who opposed the NAZIs. Prince Anselem was killed in action during World War II in 1944.

Albert I (1867-1952)

Albert's grandfather Maximilian Karl married Baroness Wilhelmine von Drönberg (1804-1835). Their son Prince Maximilian, Albert's father, brought the family close to the imperial throne. He married Duchess Helene of Bavaria in 1858. She was the sister of Empress Elisabeth who married Emperor Franz Joseph. We have no information on Albert's childhood except that his father died when he was still a young boy. Helen had to raise the children without her husband. They grew up primarily at the family's vast St. Emmeran Palace in Regensburg. We have no information on the clothes that they wore. Prince Albert in 1885 at age 18 becomes the reining prince. Albert married Margarethe of Habsburg, a daughter of Archduke Joseph and Princess Clotilde of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, sister of Tsar Ferdinand I of Bulgaria. Prince Albert was famous throughout Europe for the family fortune that he controlled as well as his arrogant manner. He administered a vast business empire. When he became reigning prince, the family had more than a dozen palaces and castles around Regensburg and within various parts of the Habsburg Empire. The Thurn and Taxis family were also among the largest landowners in Central Europe. Prince Albert was a patron of the arts. The court balls at Regensburg were legendary and he expanded the family's already immense art collection. Albert and Margarethe had eight children. We have no information as to how Prince Albert and his family fared in World War I. We do know that Princess Margarethe was active in nursing. Prince Albert was a difficult arrogant man. Unlike some prople who are arrogant with people under them. The Prince was arrogant with virtually everyone. Prince Albert opposed the rise of Adolph Hitler. As the NAZI regime grew in power, the Prince increased his opposition to NAZIism. Hitler was suspicious of Albert and his family, but took no action against them. The Thurn and Taxis family like most Germans paid a terrible price. Family members were drafted into the army. Not only did Prince Gabriel die in 1942 at Stalingrad, but 2 years later in 1944, Prince Anselm-Albert, another grandson of Prince Albert, was killed. The family after the War lost vast properties confiscated by the Communists in East Germany and other Eastern European countries. Albert never turned control of the family fortune over to Franz Joseph or his brother Karl Auguste. Rather on his death, he arranged for control of the fortue to go to his grandson Joannes, the son of Karl Auguste. I am not sure of the details here, but presume that there differences with his two older sons.

Franz Joseph (1893-1971)

Franz Joseph was named after the Austrian Emperor showing the continued close ties of the Thurn und Taxis family with the Austrain court. He was the eldest son and succeeded his father as family head. Apparently Franz Joseph did not get on well with his father. Despite the fact that he was the eldest son, his father's will did not give him control of the family fortune. We are not sure what promted this decission on the part of his father. Rather control of the family fortune went to a nephew, Johannes, son of his brother Karl August. Franz Joseph and his brother Karl-August married two sisters, the Portuguese Infantas (princesses) Elisabeth and Maria-Anna of Braganza, daughters of Miguel, Duke of Braganza. Franz Joseph and Elizabeth had four children who survived infancy. The only surviving son, Gabriel, was killed at Stalingrad in 1942. A nother son Michaele died in 1922, perhaps a twin of Gabrriel.

Karl August (1898-1982)

Karl-August was the second son of Albert I and Franz Joseph's brother. He married Maria-Anna of Portugal (1994-1970) the sister of his brother's wife. They had four children. Their oldest son, Prince Johannes (1926-91) became the heir-presumptive to the princely title after the death of his cousin Gabriel. Hos cousin Gabriel was killed in World War II at Stalingrad. Johhannes is seen here with another cousin, Anselem who was also killed in World War II with their grandfather (figure 2). The other suviving children were Princess Clotilde von und zu Liechtenstein (1922- ), Princess Mafalda (1924- ).

Johannes (1926-1991)

Prince Albert died at age 84 years in 1952. Prince Johannes began administering the Thurn and Taxis family fortune at this time as his grandfather put it in his control rather than that of his father. Johannes was about 26 years old at the time. Johannes continued to play an important role in handling the family's business until he inherited the princely title on his father's death in 1982. When his grandfather Prince Albert died in 1952, the family had over 30,000 hectares of land in Germany. Johannes sold much of the German holdings and invested in land in North America and Brazil. He also invested substantial sums in industrial enterprises. By the 1990s the family fortune included five banks and several entertainment businesses. After the fall of East German Communist regime, Johannes began litigation to have some of the property confiscated after World War II restored. Prince Johannes did not marry until his mid-50s. Johannes surprised many by marrying a titled, but impoverished German countess, Gloria von Schönburg-Glauchau. Eyebrows were raised because she was 34 years younger than him. The Schönburg-Glauchau family were Saxon aristocrats who lost most of their properties in 1945. Saxony was in the Soviet occupation zone and their property was confiscated by the Communists. Johannes and Gloria during the 1980s led international jet set lives, spending vast sums and perhaps adversly affecting Johannes' life. They had three children, including Prince Albert (1983- ) the heir to the family fortune. Johannes died in 1991.

Albert II (1983- )

Prince Albert was only about 8 years old when his father died in 1991. His father did not leave the family's affairs in good order. Johannes' death was a disaster for the family. Large amounts were lost to death taxes and financial speculation. The extravagances of Albert's parents resulted in sizeable debts. His mother Princess Gloria open the family castles and held auctions. She sold money-losing and reduced the family expenses. Many family members complained. Johannes did not take needed steps that would have limited German government taxes. The Princess's actions appear to have saved a substantial portion of her son's patrimony. The Princess is no longer a member of the international jet set. She now spends her time lookin after her children and the safeguarding of the Thurn und Taxis legacy.


Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site royal pages:
[Main German royal page]
[Main royal pages]
[Austria] [Belgium] [Denmark] [France] [German Empire] [Italy] [Luxenburg] [Monaco] [Netherlands] [Norway] [Romania] [Russia] [Spain] [United Kingdom]

Created: June 6, 1998
Last updated: March 13, 2003