Johanna von Schaffgotsch (1842–1910)

Johanna von Schaffgotsch managed and expanded a vast industrial empire in Silesia and became one of the wealthiest women in Europe.

Born Johanna Gryzik, she was the daughter of a miner who died when she was only three. When her mother remarried, her new husband would not adopt her as well as her sister. Her mother kept the baby and sent the four-year-old Johanna to live with Emilie Lukas, a housekeeper to the industrialist Karl Godulla at his mansion, Schomberg Palace. Godulla owned the largest industrial empire in the German states during the early nineteenth century. He developed a special relationship with the little girl and arranged tutors for her and planned her future education. Godulla was unmarried and when he died in 1848 the six-year-old Johanna inherited his fortune. He appointed Emilie Lukas and Maximilian Scheffler as her guardians. Godulla’s nephews fought the will, but did no succeed in taking her inheritance.

She was educated at home and then in the Ursuline Convent at Wrocłav (Breslau) in the arts, religion, French, English and elementary science. In her teens she met the aristocrat Count Hans Ulrich Schaffgotsch and they wanted to marry, but this was considered impossible due to their different social status. Scheffler paid to purchase a title for her from King Friedrich Wilhelm IV and she became Johanna Gryzik von Schomberg-Godulla. In 1858 she married Schaffgotsch; she was 16 and the count was 27. They lived in Wrocłav, at the Schomberg palace and at a castle they bought and redeveloped at Kopice near Grodków. Count Schaffgotsch had little property and Johanna remained the sole owner of the Godulla inheritance.

Scheffler managed the Godulla enterprises while Johanna was a child but she took the unusual decision for an aristocratic woman of the era to manage them herself. In 1891 she employed 5,000 workers. She owned numerous coal mines that generated huge profits and in 1895 she bought more. At the same time she sold the zinc mines and smelters that Godulla had developed, as the zinc industry was now unprofitable. In 1905 she created a joint stock company, Gräflich Schaffgotsch’sche Werke, based in the city of Bytom. Joanna was the majority shareholder but gave small holdings to her husband and general manager. She is believed during her life to have multiplied by seven the wealth she inherited.

The couple had a son and three daughters. They supported many schools, churches and hospitals and built an orphanage. A relief fund was set up to support employees of the mines and steelworks, and a boarding school for the workers’ children was established in Bytom.