Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Monarch Profile: Emperor Maximilian of Mexico

The man who would be the last Emperor of Mexico was born Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph von Hapsburg-Lorraine on July 6, 1832 to Archduke Francis Charles of Austria (son of Emperor Francis II) and his wife Princess Sophie of Bavaria in Vienna, Austria at the Schoenbrunn Palace. His older brother, Francis Joseph, would go on to be the Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary but unlike his very disciplined and conservative brother, Archduke Max, from the very beginning, was known for being warm, friendly, romantic and keeping his head ever in the clouds. He loved the arts, botany, cataloging plants and flowers and catching butterflies. However, duty demanded military service and he joined the Austrian Imperial Navy.
The Archduke was only 22 when he took command with the rank of Grand Admiral but he took his position seriously, sincerely wanting to do his best in all endeavors. His leadership saw the creation of the port at Trieste, greatly reformed, modernized and improved the fleet, undertook a number of scientific expeditions, and a circumnavigation of the globe. The fleet he built would later be led to victory by Admiral Wilhelm von Tegetthoff but the Archduke would not be around to see it. In 1857 he married Princess Charlotte of Belgium, daughter of Belgian King Leopold I, and although different in many ways the two seemed to complement each other and were utterly devoted to one another. With their, rather liberal for the time and place, ideas it was thought they might be a good match for Austria’s troublesome Italian possessions and the Archduke was made viceroy of Lombardy-Venetia.

However, though Maximilian loved the area and lavished his attention on it, his hands were often tied from Vienna and he could not rule his corner of the Hapsburg empire as he saw fit. This made him more susceptible to the offer of the throne of Mexico where the French troops of Napoleon III had recently taken Mexico City and allowed the return of a conservative government. A delegation arrived under leading Mexican traditionalists to offer the throne to the young Hapsburg, a descendant of Emperor Charles V. Emperor Francis Joseph did everything he could to stop his brother from accepting while his wife urged him to do so. The Archduke wavered for a time but was much more in-line with the thinking of his wife than his brother. He accepted and boarded ship for Mexico.

His doubts and worries melted away as he learned Spanish, adopted Mexican dress and customs and did everything he could to make himself thoroughly Mexican. This would be his great chance to prove himself and his ideas. With his supportive wife and the stabilizing presence of the French he would be the savior of Mexico and open a new era of enlightened monarchy in the New World. He would be grand without being remote, dignified without being snobby, he would stand apart and unite the feuding factions; bring unity out of division, order out of chaos, advancement from stagnation, prosperity from penury; his dreams for Mexican greatness were boundless. He would establish peaceful relations with the United States and the Empire of Brazil (which he had visited and much admired). Imperial Mexico would expand into Central America in his vision and he would build a powerful navy that would rule the Gulf of Mexico. As the USA dominated North America and the Brazilian Empire dominated South America his Mexican Empire would balance the two by dominating the middle. He would make Mexico City the most magnificent city in the world. Even his arrival on the Mexican coast and viewing the sad state of affairs did not interfere with his magnificent dream for the future.

Emperor Maximilian was welcomed by many but his impartial attitude and fair-mindedness often resulted in making enemies of both sides. Liberals dismissed him outright, even though they could be charmed by him and greatly admire him personally his status and his nationality made them oppose him. A number of conservatives also turned against him after he did not give in to all their demands and restore all of their favored status. The US never recognized his government and ignored all of his efforts to establish friendly relations. Thus, as soon as the War Between the States ended in a Union victory, the US was able to apply pressure to the French to get out of Mexico and start sending massive amounts of money, supplies, weapons, uniforms and even (unofficially) thousands of volunteers to Maximilian’s republican enemies. The Emperor tried to make peace with his leading antagonist, Benito Juarez, but his overtures were spurned.
After 1865 pressure from the US, financial problems and approaching difficulties at home caused Emperor Napoleon III to abandon Mexico and withdraw the French army. It was a betrayal of the agreement signed with Maximilian before he accepted the throne but nothing could be done about it. Napoleon advised Maximilian to leave with the French forces for his own safety as they was a vast segment of the population that shifted allegiance to whichever side seemed to be winning. Maximilian, however, refused. He may not have ever grasped the monotony of administration, the art of political intrigue, he certainly never understood finances and he may have been happier designing new avenues and monuments than dealing with government corruption, but, he was a Hapsburg and a man of honor. He had sworn an oath to God at his coronation and he refused to abandon his country and his people no matter the odds. He sent his wife to Europe in an effort to rally support and then marched north with his small army of Mexican loyalists for a climactic battle with the republicans that would settle the issue.

Between March and May of 1867 Emperor Maximilian and his army were besieged at Queretaro by a massive republican force. The Emperor displayed his generosity and courage on this occasion, many times exposing himself to danger and often sleeping wrapped in a blanket alongside the frontline soldiers. Finally, he was betrayed by Colonel Miguel Lopez who allowed a republican column to enter the city and the imperial defenses fell apart. Maximilian was given the opportunity to escape but would not abandon his faithful generals who would be killed because of their loyalty to him. After a short military show trial he was sentenced to death with his generals Tomas Mejia and Miguel Miramon. The three men were taken to the ‘Hill of Bells’ and executed by firing squad on June 19, 1867. Maximilian, who was only 34 years old, died shouting “Viva Mexico!” while his generals died shouting, “Viva el Emperador!”

People mourned across the world. For some it reiterated their prejudice that Mexico was simply a backward and barbaric country that Maximilian should have avoided. For others, even those who opposed the empire and supported republicanism and the revolution against Maximilian, it was a stain on their cause. In France it was a black mark on the record of Napoleon III who was held by many to have had the blood of Maximilian on his own hands just as much as Benito Juarez. However, the pain did not end there. The republican government in Mexico refused to return the body of the fallen emperor until the next year when an Austrian frigate carried his ruined remains back to Vienna to bury in the Hapsburg crypt. The Mexico he envisioned would never come to be and immediately after his downfall the country fell back again into the cycle of presidential tyrants, military coups, civil wars and revolutions.


  1. i cannot gather reliable information on Benito Juarez, only the same post-mortem laudatory stuff we latin people are so good at.

    could you spend some of your time writting about him?

    more than the monarchs, i am more interested in regicides and supposed freedom fighters, as Juarez and the Portuguese Afonso Costa, or Lenin, perhaps even Guy Fawkes (though i kind of sympathize with him).

    Manuel Pinto de Rezende

  2. Indeed I already have. Some time ago I wrote a rather lengthy article on Benito Juarez showing 'the other side of the coin' so to speak. I will have to see about editing that down to an appropriate length for the blog. Costa is probably not too familiar to the non-Portuguese crowd and Lenin is famous enough around the world for most to have an idea of what he was all about (though it never hurts to confuse commies with the facts). Guy Fawkes is a rather unique case amongst those mentioned, certainly not a republican and with a good deal of information at least hinting at the idea that he may have ultimately simply been a dupe for someone who certainly did not share his aims.

  3. It seems that Albert I of Belgium was very sensitive on the topic of his uncle Maximilian. On one occasion, an article on M.'s life was published in some paper, making him out to be regrettably complaisant. The author apparently was basing his opinion, in good faith, on a biography of the emperor that had recently been published, but the King was furious and the Premier, no less, was obliged to read the author a severe lecture. Incidentally, however, the King subsequently showed the poor fellow much kindness.

  4. That is interesting. Almost everything I've read about Maximilian has been pretty fair. Even those that dwell on his short-comings cannot but admit that he was a good, well-intentioned man. However, numerous generalized histories, pop-history junk and movies invariably portray him as a villain which is such a gross misrepresentation of the facts as to defy belief. He was as far from being cruel or tyrannical as east is from west.

    Maximilian does seem to have been one of those who tended to agree with the last person to speak to him, he could be indecisive and he was often too good for his own good. However, I would not call him complaisant (though I've heard him called much worse) as he did stand up to friends, enemies and allies alike on a range of subjects. I never knew Albert I thought much about Emperor Max but it pleases me to see such filial piety in the King.

  5. What's an authoritative verdict on Joan Haslip's biography of Maximilian and Carlota (Imperial Adventurer)? I read it years ago, and found it informative, but I have no idea how it fares in the light of more recent scholarship.

  6. The same book as "The Crown of Mexico: Maximilian and His Empress Carlota"? It's pretty good over all, though with most there will be some inconsistencies because different authors trust different sources. My biggest problem with her book is probably that she seems to believe the whole 'Weygand was the son of Carlota' story and discounts the notion that he was the son of one of her ladies-in-waiting which, not too long ago, was the story a French journalist came up with after an extensive look into the origins of the infamous general.

  7. I too read it many years ago. I remember not liking it that well.
    I felt that Joan Haslip was too negative about both these and other rulers.
    Her biography of Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II was terrible, for me.

    No one could say she didn't have access to many records, as I recall from her prefaces. But it was the very critical slant I seem to recall she put on her findings.

    I tend to have a much more benign view of the monarchs she profiled.

  8. I've read worse (they are all too common unfortunately) but she did seem ever-ready to assume the worse even if the "evidence" she was going by was no more than 3rd hand rumors.

  9. Yes there are.
    I have been saving Bettina Harding (?)'s The Cactus Throne to read, because I felt it seemed the most positive.
    Is that true?
    I'm sure you have earlier mentioned that book, but I missed seeing that.
    I have it on a shelf where I can see it all the time.
    The rest of the books I have read, especially by American biographers, have a repellent condescending tone. The writers often don't try to hide their scorn for Empires.

  10. "The Cactus Throne" I have was written by Richard O'Conner. It is far from perfect, but I have yet to find a book on the subject completely acceptable to me. It has many of the same problems as other books, choosing what rumors to regard as facts and so on and of course speaks glowlingly of Juarez though, I was a little surprised to read one comment toward the end that the author was forced to admit, given the subsequent history of Mexico, they would have been better off under Maximilian.

  11. I'm personally a huge fan of Max and his many friends.

  12. Great insight! Did you look into the case of Justo Armas? It seems there is something fishy about all the different descriptions of Maximilian's death.
    BTW, it's HaBsburg, not HaPsburg.

  13. In my opinion the best book on the subject is Prince Salm Salm's diary which can be downloaded online, it is amazing!

  14. Benito Juarez was a freemason. All the masons have done in this world has been overthrowing the monarchs of the world to establish a one world government under one currency.

    Emperor Maximiliano would have been a great emperor regardless if he came from the Austrian Royal House. The United States and their pagan ran government has ruined everything about a great American Continent with no poverty and prospering people faithful to the crown.

  15. A sad end to a noble monarch who worked tirelessly and carefully to further the social and economic development of his nation. He was betrayed by Napoleon III, who had started unnecesary wars aginst Austria over Piedmont, naturally in exchange for Nice and Savoia. Napoleon III then he attacked Prussia and got his bottom spanked in 1871.

  16. Big fan of Maximilian II, when I was in Wien my Hotel had a picture of him and Wilhelm von Tegetthoff on the staircase. I decided to take the stairs to my room over taking the lift, just so I can have a little think next to those two great men.

    Shame what Napoleon III did, kind of shows the French can't be trusted, and the only thing we can expect from Americans is intervention into areas which don't concern them

  17. If you look at the way he lived his life and the events suronding his death I do think an argument could be made for his canalization and do believe it completely reasonable to consider the Emperor a Maryr. Has and attempt at Sainthood been pushed regarding The Emperor Maximilian?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...