Our World Czechs, balances make family lore

A noble line has been restored to its wealth, writes STEPHEN SCOURFIELD

The Lobkowicz family’s enormous wealth has been twice seized and twice returned.

First the German nazis confiscated the Lobkowicz family’s property and possessions, but in 1945, after World War II, it was all given back.

Then, in 1948, the communist regime seized it all again, and patriarch Maximilian Lobkowicz and his family were forced into exile.

It was only after the peaceful protests of the Velvet Revolution in 1989, that ended the Communist era and made the Czech Republic what it is today, that the Lobkowicz family returned.

Playwright Vaclav Havel was installed as president. It was time to go home.

And Maximilian’s son William says Havel “was the inspiration for us to return to the country” from Boston in the US.

For William is, indeed, Prince William Lobkowicz, a nobleman from the House of Lobkowicz, of American origin but with Czech Bohemian roots.

William and his brother Martin set about reclaiming the family fortune. It took 26 years and cost an enormous amount of money and, William jokes today, his hair.

But their eventual success under restitution laws saw the return of extraordinary collections and 10 castles. And, indeed, we are standing in the restored 16th century Lobkowicz Palace, the only privately owned part of Prague Castle, in this country of 2000 castles. The restitution has, of course, also brought enormous challenges. As William says of the properties: “Fifty years of no one fixing anything. When you have a leaking roof, you have a big leaking roof”. There are three to five million documents to be catalogued, and 5000 musical scrolls.

While creating entrepreneurial businesses to support the properties and collections, establishing a non-profit foundation to ensure their future and continuity, and spreading the word to look for financial partners, the Lobkowicz family are also seeking academic partners to study and research in the collections. The library alone, which dates to the 8th century, has never been catalogued.

“Tell the world we are open and we want to share these things with the world,” William says.

CULTURE COLLECTED

The Lobkowicz Collections capture seven centuries of central European culture.

There are 1500 paintings, including works by Canaletto, Rubens and Brueghel.

There are decorative and sacred art objects dating from the 13th through the 20th centuries.

There are fine 17th century examples of the cabinet making and marquetry of western Bohemia; ceramics spanning five centuries; a big collection of munitions; 16th and 17th century lutes, a 17th century guitar and rare violins and wind instruments.

MUSIC, MOZART & BEETHOVEN

William’s great, great, great, great-grandfather, Ferdinand August (the third Prince Lobkowicz), began the music archive, which contains works by more than 500 composers and musicians, including rare late 17th and early 18th century lute, mandolin and guitar scores. It is the world’s biggest private collection of baroque music for plucked instruments.

And there, in one cabinet, are the most extraordinary treasures.

For Josef Frantisek Maximilian (the seventh Prince Lobkowicz) continued the family’s commitment to composers, but took it one step further, becoming a great patron of Ludwig van Beethoven, giving him a stipend. He guaranteed Beethoven an income, and gave him the freedom to write the music he wanted, not what was commissioned.

And there are some of the results of this — Beethoven’s Sinfonia manuscript, in his own hand. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. In his own hand.

Next to them, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s arrangement for Part III of Handel's Messiah. A redrafting in his own hand.

Among the Lobkowicz family’s restituted properties are composer Dvorak’s birth house.

These are, indeed, unique treasures.

TRAVELLING WITH TAUCK

There are drinks on the balcony, with a view over Prague, this city of bridges and spires, in the mellow summer evening.

William Lobkowicz tells us the family story and then we are shown into a huge room to dine as a string quartet plays.

This is a taste of palace life and it is exclusively for the guests of Tauck.

There are 106 people on Tauck’s The Blue Danube trip from Prague to Vienna and Budapest. Most is on the ship MS Joy but, as you see, this is more than a river cruise in Europe.

This is a gentle and detailed adventure, with exclusive access to great stories and histories. The first two nights are based in the Intercontinental Prague hotel, and the last two in the Ritz-Carlton Budapest, with seven nights on the excellent MS Joy river cruise ship in between.

And with this come highlights and privileged moments. The evening in Lobkowicz Palace is certainly one of them.

Fact File

Disclaimer

Stephen Scourfield was a guest of Tauck and Bicton Travel. They have not seen or approved this story.

Categories

You may also like