Thursday, September 13, 2012

Consort Profile: Empress Ana Maria of Mexico

The woman who would become the first Empress consort of Mexico, Ana Maria Josefa de Huarte y Muñiz was born in Valladolid, Michoacán in what was then New Spain on January 17, 1786 to Isidro Huarte, a Spaniard from Navarre who had made his fortune in Mexico, and his second wife Ana Manuela Muñ iz y Sanchez de Tagle; one of the most prominent, wealthy and well-connected families in New Spain. As a girl she attended Santa Maria de Valladolid College where she proved to be a very intelligent student and very musical. During her time in school, Ana Maria became known as a great beauty and a young lady of immense charm. Her good manners, well-rounded knowledge and impeccable reputation meant that she had all the qualities most prized for young ladies of the aristocracy. She was still in school when she first caught the attention of a dashing young man of good family named Agustin de Iturbide. The two hit it off right away. They seemed the perfect match, at least from a distance and as their courtship became more serious both of their families approved of each other. Soon their engagement was announced. In modern parlance they were high school sweet hearts, he was 22 and she was 19.

On February 27, 1805 Agustin and Ana Maria were married at the Cathedral of Valladolid in what was the great social event of the community. In keeping with tradition, Ana Maria brought with her a dowry of 100,000 pesos which was used to purchase the new couple an estate and large house in Maravatio. Children did not come immediately, but when they did, they came in force. In 1807 their first son, Agustin, was born, followed by their first daughter; Sabina in 1809. Then there was Juana in 1811, Josesfa in 1814, Angel in 1816, Jesus in 1817, Maria Isis in 1818, Maria de los Dolores in 1819, Salvador in 1820, Felipe in 1822 and Agustin Cosme in 1824 for a total of ten children together. While Ana Maria was the more intellectual of the pair, her husband possessed a natural talent for leadership and business and their estate was quite prosperous. However, Ana Maria increasingly saw little of her husband as unrest rocked New Spain and Iturbide, a junior officer, was often away suppressing rebellions against the Spanish Crown. He rose in prominence and when the most significant rebellion, later referred to as the war for independence, broke out in 1910, the rebel leader; a renegade and unorthodox priest named Father Hidalgo, he offered Iturbide command of his forces. Iturbide, however, refused and remained loyal to the King of Spain and rose in rank as he won victories for the royalists.

As the career of her husband rose, the place of Ana Maria rose in society as well. Eventually, as liberal forces and general unrest grew in Spain and Mexican independence became ever more inevitable because of it, Iturbide cast his lot with the freedom fighters, albeit those who wanted an independent Mexico still united with the Crown of Spain. Eventually, by political alliances and military success, Iturbide became the leader of the conservative faction and they came to dominate the fight for independence. This made Ana Maria all the more prominent as well, yet, these were not happy times for her. Despite her near constant state of pregnancy, she and her husband were not the perfect couple they appeared to be. In fact, they were quite different in many ways. Ana Maria was very cultured and refined while Agustin, though a proper gentleman of the time of course, preferred the pomp and discipline of army life and was never more comfortable than when on campaign. Ana Maria was very scholarly, curious and highly intelligent; very well educated. Agustin had not been a very noteworthy student, he had a natural gift for leadership and organization and a great deal of common sense but little patience for the knowledge that comes from books. She was fond of art and music, her husband was not, she preferred prayer and study (being a devoutly religious woman) while he preferred grand parties, games of chance and an active night life.

While Iturbide became more and more a national figure and war hero, more a celebrity, his lifestyle caused a gulf between himself and Ana Maria. As the independence of the Mexican Empire was declared and Iturbide rode triumphantly into Mexico City the private life he had with Ana Maria had effectively come to an end. By the time the last Spanish Viceroy surrendered (joining the forces of independence) and the military elites got down to the business of forming a government, Ana Maria was for all intents and purposes living quite apart from her husband, devoting her time to caring for their children, indulging a fondness for desserts and praying for divine guidance. Politics, in a way, helped bring about their reconciliation. The King of Spain refused to recognize the independence of Mexico or to allow any member of the Spanish Royal Family to accept the throne. Mexicans, starting with the army, therefore turned to Iturbide for national leadership and to become the first Emperor of Mexico.

It would not do, of course, for the leader of the country to be on bad terms with his wife (especially with the Catholic Church, whose leadership were among the core supporters of Iturbide), so Ana Maria was persuaded, for the good of Mexico, and in keeping with her own faith, to forgive and forget the indiscretions of her husband. Back together and presenting a united front to the public, Ana Maria was crowned Empress of Mexico alongside her husband who was crowned Agustin I, “by Divine Providence and the National Congress, First Constitutional Emperor of Mexico” at Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral in Mexico City on July 21, 1822. The new Imperial Couple took up residence in what had been the palace of the Marquis of San Mateo Valparaiso and the Empress had her own retinue of attendants and ladies-in-waiting. The National Palace, which had been the residence of the Spanish Viceroy, was also used but was usually in such a state of constant repair and renovation that it was unsuitable as a real home for the most part. Empress Ana Maria had been given no real preparation for the role of imperial consort but did the best she could, trying to find her own way. The life of the First Mexican Empire was short and turbulent as the considerable republican presence in the Mexican Congress was a major problem from the very beginning.

Along with her husband, the Empress came under criticism for her lifestyle, which was grossly unfair as her own expenses were relatively few. However, the Emperor had angered many of the elites who had supported him by enacting a property tax while abolishing colonial-era taxes on the common people. The liberal elites began to conspire against him, most of whom were Masons and aided by the ambassador of the United States which opposed the presence of a strong monarchy in North America. These elites turned out massive amounts of clandestine propaganda slandering the Emperor and Empress in their effort to mobilize public opinion against the monarchy. They were not entirely successful but, in the end, it did not matter. Without consulting the people, they declared themselves the representatives of majority opinion and in 1822 the disgruntled army officer Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna publicly announced his opposition to the Emperor. The republicans rallied to Santa Anna, the Central American states declared independence, the United States was unsupportive and because of the opposition of the King of Spain, no European country would recognize Mexican independence for fear of attracting the hostility of the Spanish. Agustin I finally had no choice but to abdicate, which he did, though the Congress refused to accept it, having declared the monarchy illegitimate and non-existent.

On March 19, 1823 the First Mexican Empire came to an end and Empress Ana Maria rushed to the side of her husband, gathering their children around her and with a small retinue of loyal monarchists, all left their homeland for a life of exile. They traveled first to Italy where Grand Duke Ferdinand III of Tuscany offered them sanctuary. Once again simply a wife and mother, the large family lived in a small house there before the King of Spain induced the Grand Duke to deport them after which they packed up and moved to London. All the while, letters of support came from Mexico deploring the chaotic state of the government and fearful of a Spanish invasion. Loyal Mexicans assured their former Emperor that the ordinary people had been aghast at his departure and longed for him to return to defend them from a resurgent Spain and save them from government mismanagement. In 1824 Iturbide decided to return and Empress Ana Maria was adamant that they would meet every trial together, as a family, and packed them all up, along with their family priest, to sail back to Mexico and put themselves in the hands of their people. Unfortunately, the republican government, which had been forewarned of their return, was not prepared to take the risk of Emperor Agustin being welcomed by his former subjects. The army was sent to the coast and almost as soon as he landed Emperor Agustin was arrested and almost immediately executed by firing squad.

Empress Ana Maria was greatly distraught and alone in the world save for her children. The Mexican government agreed to give her a small pension and safe passage to Gran Colombia in South America, however, they could find no transportation and finally took a ship to the United States. Heavily pregnant at the time of all these trials, the former Empress gave birth to her last child shortly after landing in New Orleans, after which the former Imperial Family moved on to Baltimore, Maryland and then to Georgetown before finally settling in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In Mexico, where chaos quickly ensued as one president after another was overthrown in one coup after another, Empress Ana Maria was quickly forgotten. Her pension was stopped and she went to see President James K. Polk at the White House to seek help in getting it restored (it being her only income) but it was to no avail. Still, she did the best she could to see that her children got the best education possible (something which was always important to her) and though short of money she donated a number of family heirlooms to the local Catholic Church. She outlived two of her daughters and was rather unhappy when one of her sons married an American as she feared that might be a problem in the future. She never gave up hope that her children would be restored to their inheritance in Mexico. Other than her children, her declining years were mostly occupied by religion.

Empress Ana Maria finally passed away at her home in Philadelphia on March 21, 1861 at the age of 75. Her funeral was very simple and not well attended and she was buried at the Church of St John the Evangelist. The first Empress of Mexico still rests there to this day, far away from her late husband, whose remains a more friendly Mexican government later had re-interred at the national cathedral in Mexico City. They remain on display in the capital still today. To date, the Mexican government has shown no interest in reclaiming the body of their first empress.

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