the Emperor Agustin’s abdication, Mexico became a republic and
as expected things got progressively worse. In 1833 Santa Anna was
elected President and three years later he lost the vast state of
Texas to Sam Houston at the battle of San Jacinto.
learnt nothing from his defeat here, Santa Anna led the Mexican forces
into a disasterous and ill advised war with the US in 1846 and went
on to lose half of all Mexico’s territory. In 1853 under what
is known as the Gadsden Purchase, he actually sold 77,000 square kilometres
of Mexico (all of Southern New Mexico and Arizona) to the US for $10
million, pocketing most of the proceeds for himself. Finally in 1855
the appalling Santa Anna was overthrown.
Things continued to go from bad to worse and became so bad that even
among his opponents, many regretted the passing of Agustin and the
Empire, which in comparison had been a sea of calm. Between 1822 and
1860 there were more than fifty changes of President and the actual
form of government was changed no less than ten times. These fluctuated
between total anarchy and outright dictatorship. In the same period
there were over 140 military coups, a record that has yet to be surpassed.
In 1860 after yet another bitter civil war, with the backing of the
United States, a ruthless and unprincipled radical native Indian lawyer
by the name of Benito Juarez seized power. Juarez immediately instigated
a bloody anti clerical policy and confiscated much of what was left
of the church’s wealth. He also suspended all repayments on
foreign debts, with the exception of those owing to the United States,
to whom after all he owed his coming to power.
The suspension led to the principal creditors, Britain, France and
Spain, sending a joint expeditionary force, which occupied the port
of Vera Cruz in December 1861. Juarez fearing the worst gave in and
repaid most of the outstanding interest and agreed to honour the debts.
Britain and Spain withdrew, their claims having been honoured. But
France continued the war marching inland and occupying Mexico City.
The France of Napoleon III had more ambitious goal in mind than merely
the of recovery of her debts. Napoleon III heavily influenced by his
romantically minded wife the Empress Eugenie, was bent of reviving
the Mexican monarchy. He wanted to place a monarch on the throne who
would promote the interests of France. The idea was not a new one
but there was a new impetus. Prior to 1861 any interference in the
affairs of Mexico by any of the European powers would have been viewed
as a challenge to the mighty United States and no one wanted to provoke
a conflict with them. However by 1861 the USA was embroiled in it’s
own bloody conflict, the civil war. The war at home made the government
in Washington powerless to intervene. And so encouraged by the Empress
Eugenie, who saw herself as the champion of the emasculated Catholic
Church in Mexico, Napoleon III took advantage of the situation.
Napoleon III saw the opportunity to make France the great ‘civilizing
influence’ in the Western Hemisphere as well as enabling her
to capture the South American markets. To give him further encouragement,
there was his half brother, the Duc de Morny, who was the largest
single holder of Mexican bonds and whose value was zero as long as
Juarez as in power.
The candidate for the throne chosen by Empress Eugenie was the Archduke
Ferdinand Maximilian brother of the Austrian Emperor. Aged 30 at the
time, Maximilian was tall, romantic, very elegant and liberal. In
other words quite the opposite of his conservative and practical brother
Franz Josef. He was so different that rumours abounded that he was
actually the son of the Duke of Reichstadt “The Young Eagle”
and son and heir of Napoleon I. The Young Eagle had lived at the Austrian
court until his untimely death at the age of 21 in the year of Maximilian’s
birth. He had been a particular favourite of Maximilian’s mother
who was utterly devoted to him. Whether this claim was true or not
it might well have influenced Napoleon III in the choice of candidate.
After all, if it were true they were cousins.
The figure of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico is usually portrayed as
a tragic one. His fate was indeed tragic but far more than that his
life was also heroic. He was a man who lived in the shadow of being
the younger son. He wanted a serious role, one he could dedicate his
life and energies too. He found it in Mexico.
Brought in as figurehead for the interests of France he proved to
be anything but. His interests became that of Mexico and the Mexican
people. When the French realized that they had bitten off more than
they could chew and had anyway miscalculated as far as Maximilian
was concerned they withdrew. Maximilian did not.
While his coming to power through the auspices of a foreign power,
namely France, was something many could not and do not forgive, Maximilian
really belongs in the realms of Mexico’s heroes not only for
what he did but also for what he didn’t do. He saw himself in
every sense as Mexico’s Emperor not France’s. Having accepted
the role it was his duty to accept their fate, for better or worse.
The second son of Archduke Franz Karl and the Archduchess Sophie of
Austria, Ferdinand Maximilian was born in the palace of Schönbrunn
in Vienna on the 6th July, 1832. Ferdinand Max grew up a lively boy
full of curiosity, with a romantic and imaginative nature. Although
his mother's favourite, he always maintained close and affectionate
relations with his elder brother, the future Emperor Francis Joseph.
His choice of careers led the archduke into the imperial navy where
he very successfully reorganised and modernised much of the imperial
Maximilian loved the sea and the Adriatic coast, and he decided to
build his legendary romantic castle of Miramar just outside the port
of Trieste. In 1857 Francis Joseph appointed his brother to the post
of governor-general in the Austrian held provinces of northern Italy,
the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia.
On July 27, 1856, Ferdinand Maximilian who had lost his fiancé
and great love of his life the beautiful Princess Maria Amalia of
Brazil, daughter of Emperor Pedro Ist, when she died suddenly at the
age of 21 in February 1853, married Princess Charlotte of Belgium
daughter of Leopold I of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, King of Belgium, and Princess
Louise of France.
Ferdinand Maximilian took up his residence at Monza outside Milan
with his new bride and although the Austrians were far from popular
in northern Italy and despite resistance from the military authorities,
the vice-regal couple began slowly to win over many Italians. Ferdinand
Maximilian's liberalism aroused less enthusiasm in Vienna, however,
where he was increasingly seen as being in opposition to his imperial
With the approach of war in 1859 against France and the north Italian
kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, Francis Joseph relieved his brother
of this office, blaming him for having added to the problems through
his liberal attitude and gave full power to the military. Both the
archduke and his wife bitterly resented this dismissal.
Ferdinand Max returned to his castle of Miramar and may well have
lived out his life there quite contentedly writing poetry and improving
the magnificent gardens but events across the Atlantic would soon
put an end to his political inactivity.
In France Napoleon's nephew Louis Bonaparte had ascended to power
as Emperor of the French, taking the name Napoleon III. He had been
trying to relive his uncle's greatness and expand French power. When
Mexico refused to repay their debts to France Napoleon III used it
as a pretext for invasion.
Mexico already having been a monarchy once before, Napoleon III decided
to re-establish it. In the first instance Mexican conservatives in
Europe spoke out in favour of returning the monarchy to the nation
and how the last Emperor had been martyred. In October 1863, Napoleon
III arranged for a Mexican delegation to offer the imperial crown
of Mexico to Ferdinand Max.
The archduke was not that keen but it became obvious that his highly
ambitious wife, Charlotte, was. In the end Maximilian agreed to accept
but he insisted that he would only do so on the condition that the
Mexican people themselves wanted him as emperor.
Furthermore his brother the Emperor Franz Josef was against the idea
but suggested that if he insisted on considering it, he should obtain
the promise of support from Napoleon III secured in writing. The U.S.
government protested at what was seen as an infringement of the Monroe
Doctrine, but the civil war between the states prevented their taking
any serious action.
After a favourable plebiscite in Mexico “organized” by
the French, the Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian accepted the imperial
crown at Miramar on the 10th April 1864. Four days later he and his
wife went on board the ship S.M.S. "Novara" to set sail
for their new homeland as the Emperor and the Empress of Mexico.
When Maximilian and Carlota left Europe they were given a fantastic
send off in a ship flying the Mexican Imperial Standard. They received
a blessing from the Pope and Queen Victoria ordered the Gibraltar
garrison to fire a salute for Maximilian's passing ship.
the new Emperor and Empress arrived at Vera Cruz in Mexico, the populace
greeted them with wild enthusiasm and it became one long fiesta. Maximilian
was enchanted but after the party was over the imperial couple registered
their shock at the living conditions of the poor in contrast to the
magnificent haciendas of the upper class. The imperial couple were
even more horrified to discover that their new realm was still embroiled
in a civil war.
Furthermore Mexico’s finances were in a chaotic state. Worsened
by the fact that Maximilian had incurred huge new debts from France,
which included the upkeep of the French troops in Mexico. Maximilian
ever the romantic was obviously not too worried by the dire financial
state, as no sooner had he arrived in Mexico City, finding the city
palace too gloomy after Miramar, he spent vast amounts enlarging and
beautifying the hilltop castle of Chapultepec. He also acquired an
enchanting country retreat at Cuernavaca.
Within a short period of time Maximilian had fallen in love with the
beautiful landscape of his new country and it’s people. While
French troops continued fighting the rebel forces Maximilian set about
building museums and trying to preserve Mexico's culture, which still
remains one of his greatest contribution as emperor. Empress Carlota
began holding parties for the wealthy Mexicans to raise money for
The couple had by this stage accepted the fact that they could not
have any children of their own so to secure the succession they adopted
the heir of the original Mexican imperial house and his cousin, thereby
not only securing the succession but also legitimising their position
in the eyes of the monarchist supporters of the Iturbide’s.
These adopted Mexican princes would succeed Maximilian with the name
of Habsburg-Iturbide. Despite these measures Maximilian realized his
throne was not secure. French troops told him it was not safe to ride
outside of Mexico City.
French had achieved the upper hand, but the liberals and the republicans
were still offering bitter resistance under their president, Benito
Juárez. Juarez had retreated to the north and was biding his
time. He was confident that the Confederacy would be defeated and
the government in Washington had steadfastly refused to recognise
Maximilian, continuing to recognise “their man” Juraez
If Maximilian was disillusioned and disappointed, his French supporters
were soon equally disappointed in their new emperor. Far from governing
in the interests of the French, Maximilian saw himself as a figure
of national integration. The welfare of all his subjects was his first
concern. One of his first acts as Emperor was to restrict working
hours and abolish child labour.
He cancelled all debts for peasants over 10 pesos, restored communal
property and forbade all forms of corporal punishment. He also broke
the monopoly of the Hacienda stores and decreed that henceforth peons
could no longer be bought and sold for the price of their debt.
the hope that his liberalism would enable a reconciliation with the
republican opposition. He did not understand that they viewed him
foremost as a French puppet.
Within a year of his arrival, the American Civil War ended and several
regiments from the U.S. army amassed on the US Mexican border. The
prospect of an US invasion to reinstate Juarez and the inevitable
bloodthirsty reprisals that Juarez was so famous for caused a large
number of Maximilian’s loyal adherents to abandon the cause
and leave the capitol. The popular enthusiasm, which had greeted the
imperial couple was eroding rapidly under the growing reality of a
return of the Juarez regime.
III realized his game was up and this in turn gave extra hope to the
Juaristas. The Emperor Napoleon III came under massive domestic pressure
to withdraw his French troops from Mexico. In spite of all his written
assurances including one that promised support “in whatever
eventuality that may arise” at the end of 1865 Napoleon III
withdrew his troops and abandoned Maximilian to his fate.
Empress Charlotte was beside herself and in early 1866 returned to
Europe to try to shame Napoleon into honouring his written promises
to Maximilian, but he was deaf to all her pleas and threats. She sought
support from the Pope Pio Nono who listened sympathetically but explained
that there was nothing he could do. The desperation of failure plunged
the young empress into the mania of a persecution complex and she
broke down during the audience an audience with the holy father and
had to be taken away. The Pope remarked “nothing is spared me
in this life, now a woman has to go mad in the Vatican”.
Once the French troops pulled out they advised Maximilian to do the
same. However, the Emperor held himself to his coronation oath and
firmly thought of himself as a Mexican. Although he realized the danger
he steadfastly refused to leave his country and people. Still believing
that he was wanted, he did not wish to leave his loyal subjects in
the face of danger.
bravely fought on with his army of 8,000 Mexican loyalists. Leaving
Mexico City on the 13th February 1867, after the rejection by Juárez
of a renewed offer of peace, Maximilian marched to Queretaro where
the Mexican Empire would make its stand. Here the imperial army fought
with great heroism, withstanding a siege by the Juaristas of several
weeks. Unfortunately, the jealousies and rivalries between his generals
greatly reduced the effectiveness of Maximilian's forces, and he and
his troops were soon besieged in Querétaro by the advancing
15th May one of his closest aides Colonel López betrayed him
and the town into the hands of the republicans. Maximilian and his
loyal generals Miramón and Mejía were arraigned before
a military tribunal and condemned to death. All the courts of Europe
pleaded with Juarez to spare the Emperor’s life but the bloodthirsty
Juarez would have none of it.
met his death very bravely. He spoke only in Spanish and gave his
executioners a portion of gold not to shoot him in the head so that
his mother could see his face. He was executed by firing squad on
the morning of June 19, 1867 at Cerro de las Campanas (the hill of
the Bells). His last words were ":"I forgive everyone, and
I ask everyone to forgive me. May my blood which is about to be shed,
be for the good of the country. Viva Mexico, viva la independencia!"
Despite having taken the money, the Juarista firing squad shot him
in the face.
two Mexican generals shot after him both died shouting "long
live the Emperor". After his death his heartbroken wife became
hopelessly insane with grief and had to be locked away until her death.
She believed she was still in Mexico and had a doll that she referred
to as Max. Empress Carlota died in 1927
After difficult negotiations with an unwilling Juárez, who
had to stomach the criticism of even friendly Washington, Maximilian's
body was returned to Austria. The same ship, S.M.S. "Novara",
which had brought him to Mexico, now carried his embalmed body back
to Trieste and to its final resting place in the imperial crypt in
tragedy of Maximilian was that he assumed the crown of Mexico in good
faith and full of the very best of intentions. He was noble, upright
and honest, and genuinely wanted to lead Mexico into an age of peace
and prosperity. It was his fate to be deceived and eventually betrayed
by the French, the political realities and the machinations of the
dictator Benito Juarez. His essentially noble character never even
allowed him to consider cutting his losses to save his own life. He
was a Mexican.
can only speculate as to what sort of Mexico he would have left behind
had he succeeded. If Maximilian had ruled instead of Juarez. In the
opinion of the authors of this piece, a far stronger one than that
which faced the might of their Northern neighbour. One thing appears
certain, the real tragedy of Maximilian’s life is that in the
end his betrayal and death was more than anything the Mexican peoples
Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian born on 6th July, the second son of
Archduke Franz Karl and his wife Sophie in Schönbrunn Palace,
1851: Begins career in the Imperial and Royal Navy
with the rank of lieutenant.
1856: The construction of his castle of Miramar near
the Adriatic port of Trieste began.
1857: Ferdinand Max appointed the governor-general
of the northern Italian provinces of Lombardy-Venetia. On the 27th
July marries the Princess Charlotte of Belgium in Brussels.
1859: On the 19th April relieved of his post as governor-general.
War breaks out between France and Piedmont-Sardinia.
1861: Napoleon III suggests Maximilian as a candidate
for the throne of Mexico.
1863: In October a Mexican delegation arrives at
Miramar to offer Maximilian and Charlotte the crown. Maximilian makes
his acceptance conditional on a national plebiscite in his favour.
1864: On the 14th April Maximilian and Charlotte
leave Miramar on board the Austrian ship NOVARA to sail to Mexico.
1865: End of the American civil war. Pressure on
France to respect the Monroe Doctrine.
Maximilian adopts Don Agustin and Don Salvador.
1866: Napoleon III orders the withdrawal of French
troops from Mexico. The Emperor Maximilian refuses to desert his Mexican
supporters. Charlotte sails to Europe to plead for help, growing persecution
mania robs her of her senses. Republican troops on the advance in
1867: Maximilian and his Imperial troops besieged
in the town of Querétaro. The town falls through betrayal after
72 days. On 19th June the Emperor Maximilian and two loyalist generals
executed by a republican firing-squad on the Hill of the Bells.
1868: On the18th January the body of Maximilian laid
to rest among his ancestors in the Imperial Crypt of the Capuchin
Church in Vienna.