Fernando Maximiliano José María de Habsburgo-Lorena (Vienna, July 6, 1832-Querétaro, June 19, 1867) was an Austrian-Mexican political and military nobleman. He was born with the title of Archduke of Austria as Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria, however he renounced them to become Emperor of Mexico under the name of Maximilian I. His reign was the only one of the Second Mexican Empire, parallel to the government headed by Benito Juarez. In addition, in Mexican historiography he is known as Maximilian of Habsburg.
He was the younger brother of the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I. In 1857 he married Princess Charlotte of Belgium, the same year in which he was appointed viceroy of the kingdom of Lombardy-Veneto, which Austria acquired at the Congress of Vienna. Two years later the Kingdom rebelled against the House of Habsburg. His policy towards the Italians, too lenient and liberal in the eyes of the Austrian authorities, forced him to resign on April 10, 1859.
With the suspension of payments to the foreign debt, France – an ally of Spain and the United Kingdom – began an intervention in Mexico in 1861. Although its allies withdrew from the battle in April 1862, the French army remained in the country. As a strategy to legitimize the intervention, Napoleon III supported a group of monarchists of the Conservative Party -opponents of the liberal government of Juarez- who gathered in the Assembly of the Notables and established the Second Imperial Regency. On October 3, 1863, a delegation of conservatives offered Maximilian the crown of Mexico; he conditioned his acceptance to the throne to the celebration of a referendum accompanied by solid financial and military guarantees. After months of hesitation, on April 10, 1864 he finally accepted.
The Second Mexican Empire obtained international recognition from several European powers (on the other hand, the United States, due to the Monroe Doctrine, recognized Juarez”s republican side, which, after a long term, could not be defeated by the Empire). In 1865, with the end of the Civil War, the United States sponsored the republican forces which, together with the withdrawal of the French army from the territory the following year, weakened Maximilian”s situation even more. His wife returned to Europe with the objective of once again obtaining the support of Napoleon III or any other European monarch, but to no avail. Defeated at Cerro de las Campanas in the city of Querétaro, Maximilian was captured, tried by a court martial and ordered to be shot on June 19, 1867. After his death, the republican system was reinstated in Mexico, which began the period known as the Restored Republic.
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Early years and childhood (1832-1848)
Maximilian was born on July 6, 1832 in the Schönbrunn Palace, located near Vienna. He was the second son of Archdukes Franz Karl of Austria and Sophie of Bavaria; he was also the grandson – by paternal line – of the reigning emperor Franz I of Austria and younger brother of the future emperor Franz Joseph I. His secular name was Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph Mary: Ferdinand paid homage to Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria (his godfather and paternal uncle), Maximilian in honor of King Maximilian I of Bavaria (his maternal grandfather) and Joseph Mary as a name of Catholic tradition.
During his childhood Maximilian suffered constantly from poor health: he tended to catch colds due to the poorly heated rooms in the Imperial Palace Hofburg, the Austrian emperor”s residence.
Maximilian”s fondness for naturalistic disciplines (such as botanical drawing and landscaping) was also born during this period, as he appreciated the emperor”s private garden of the palace, as it had a space made up of a grove of palm trees and tropical plants where parrots nest; that taste spread and was always reflected in the drawings he made of the gardens of the residences he lived in throughout his life and with various recreational activities such as hunting butterflies.
Sophie declared that among all her children he was the most affectionate: while she described Franz Joseph as “precociously thrifty”, Maximilian she described as having a “more dreamy and spendthrift nature”. Maximilian”s uncle, Ferdinand II of Austria, had ruled since 1835. Maximilian and Franz Joseph were very close, to the extent that both used to make fun of his uncle, considering him intellectually deficient. In 1845, Maximilian -who had just turned thirteen years old- traveled with Franz Joseph through the kingdoms of the Italian peninsula under the command of Marshal Joseph Radetzky.
All of Franz Karl and Sophie”s children were educated in the same way and had to bow from an early age to the rigors of court etiquette in Vienna. Maximilian was first raised by a governess, Baroness Louise Sturmfeder von Oppenweiler, and then by preceptors headed by Count Heinrich de Bombelles, a French-born diplomat in the service of Austria. Both Franz Joseph and Maximilian shared a dense school schedule: when Maximilian was seventeen, both had up to fifty-five hours of study per week. Throughout his education he was instructed in piano, modeling, philosophy, history, canon law and horsemanship. He also became a polyglot, for in addition to his native German he learned English, French, Italian, Hungarian, Polish, Romanian and Czech; throughout his life he continued to learn more languages: Portuguese, Spanish and even, as Emperor of Mexico, Nahuatl.
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Adolescence and young adulthood (1848-1856)
In February 1848, the revolution of the Italians quickly won the entire empire. The dismissal of Klemens von Metternich marked the end of an era. Emperor Ferdinand I was recognized as unfit to rule. His brother and legitimate successor, Archduke Franz Karl, encouraged by his wife Sophie, renounced his rights to the throne in favor of his eldest son Franz Joseph, who began his reign on December 2, 1848.
From the beginning, Franz Joseph took power seriously and effectively. The Hungarians held out until the summer of 1849, when Franz Joseph put Maximilian in command of military operations. While remaining impassive, Maximilian reported, “Bullets are whistling over their heads and that the rebels are firing at them from burning houses.” After the victory over the Hungarians, ruthless repression was exercised against the opponents, some of whom were hanged and shot in the presence of the archdukes. Unlike his brother, Maximilian was impressed by the brutality of the executions. Maximilian admires the naturalness with which his brother received the homage of ministers and generals. Now he too had to ask for an audience before seeing his brother.
Analyses of his personality are contrasting: O. Defrance presents Maximilian as less talented and more complex in character than his older brother, while L. Sondhaus indicates, on the contrary, that he had often overshadowed his brother since childhood and that the latter seemed duller and less talented in comparison. Maximilian at eighteen was described as attractive, dreamy, romantic and dilettante.
In 1850, Maximilian fell in love with Countess Paula von Linden, daughter of the Württemberg ambassador in Vienna. Their feelings were reciprocal, but because of the countess”s lower rank, Franz Joseph put an end to this idyll by sending Maximilian to Trieste to familiarize him with the Austrian navy, where he would later make a career in it.
Maximilian embarked on the corvette Vulcain for a brief cruise in Greece. In October 1850 he was appointed lieutenant of the navy. At the beginning of 1851 he made another voyage, now aboard the SMS Novara. That voyage delighted him so much that he expressed in his diary: “I am going to fulfill my dearest dream: a sea voyage. With some knowledge, he left the beloved Austrian land. This moment is a source of great emotion for me”.
This trip took him in particular to Lisbon. There he met Princess Maria Amelia de Braganza, nineteen years old, the only daughter of the late Emperor Pedro I of Brazil, who was described as beautiful, pious, ingenious and of refined education. The two fell in love. Francisco José and his mother authorized a possible marriage. However, in February 1852, Maria Amelia contracted scarlet fever. As the months passed, her health worsened before the tuberculosis outbreak. Her doctors advised her to leave Lisbon for Madeira, where she arrived in August 1852. By the end of November, all hope of recovering his health was lost. Maria Amelia died on February 4, 1853, which caused Maximilian deep sorrow.
Maximilian perfected himself in commanding crews and received a solid naval technical training. On September 10, 1854, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Austrian Navy and promoted to Rear Admiral. From those experiences in the navy he developed his taste for travel and for getting to know new destinations -especially exotic ones-, he even went to Beirut, Palestine and Egypt.
At the end of 1855, due to the rough waters of the Adriatic Sea, he found refuge in the Gulf of Trieste. He immediately thought of building a residence there one day. In March 1856 he put that wish into action when he started the construction of what he would later call Miramar Castle, namely in the city of Trieste.
The end of the Crimean War with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on March 30, 1856 brought a pacification in Europe, so Maximilian still aboard the Novara went to Paris to meet the Emperor of the French Napoleon III and his Empress Eugenie, two characters that would be influential in his life in the following years. Maximilian wrote about that event in his diary: “Although the emperor does not have the genius of his famous uncle, he nevertheless has, fortunately for France, a very great personality. He dominates his century and will leave his mark on it”, and declared at that time: “It is not admiration that I have for him, but adoration”.
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Engagement and marriage to Charlotte of Belgium (1856-1857)
In May 1856, Franz Joseph asked Maximilian to return from Paris to Vienna with a stopover in Brussels to visit the king of the Belgians, Leopold I. On May 30, 1856, he arrived in Belgium where he was received by Philip of Belgium, younger son of Leopold I. Accompanied by the princes of Belgium, he visited the cities of Tournai, Cortrique, Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp and Charleroi.In Brussels, Maximilian met the only daughter of the King and the late Queen Louise of Orleans, the sixteen-year-old Princess Charlotte, who immediately fell under his spell.
Leopold I, realizing these feelings, suggested to Maximilian that he ask for her hand. Following her advice he accepted. He received a cordial welcome at the Belgian court, but could not help but judge the sobriety of Laeken Castle – where he noted that the stairs were of wood and not marble – so far removed from the luxury of the Viennese imperial residences.
Prince George of Saxony, who had previously been rejected by Charlotte, warned Leopold I of the “calculating character of the Archduke of Vienna”.Regarding Leopold I”s son, the Duke of Brabant Leopold (future King Leopold II), he wrote to Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom: “Max is a child full of wit, knowledge, talent and kindness. The archduke is very poor, he seeks above all to enrich himself, to earn money to complete the various constructions he has undertaken”, as Victoria was also a cousin of Carlota. Maximilian himself wrote to his future son-in-law: “In May you gained all my confidence and benevolence. I also noticed that my girl shared these dispositions; however, it was my duty to proceed with caution”.
On the other hand, far from the future wedding, Austria obtained at the Congress of Vienna the acquisition of the kingdom of Lombardy-Veneto for the House of Habsburg. On February 28, 1857 Francis Joseph officially named Maximilian was officially named viceroy of Lombardy-Veneto.
Returning to the marriage arrangement, in reality after accepting marriage to the Belgian princess he showed neither enthusiasm nor signs of being in love.He bitterly negotiated his fiancée”s dowry.While bitter financial transactions continued between Vienna and Brussels with a view to the marriage, King Leopold requested that an act of separation of property be drawn up to protect his daughter”s interests. Charlotte, who was little concerned with the settlement of those “purely material” considerations, declared, “If, as is in question, the Archduke was invested with the Viceroyalty of Italy, that would be charming, that is all I want.”
The engagement was formally concluded on December 23, 1856. On July 27, 1857 Maximilian and Charlotte were married at the royal palace in Brussels. Distinguished European ruling houses attended the event, including Carlotta”s cousin-in-law and husband of Victoria of the United Kingdom, Prince Albert consort. The matrimonial alliance increased the prestige of the recent Belgian dynasty, which was once again allied with the House of Habsburg.
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Viceroy of Lombardy-Veneto (1857-1859)
On September 6, 1857 Maximilian and Carlota made their joyous entry into Milan, capital of Lombardy-Veneto. During their stay there, the couple lived in the Royal Palace of Milan and sometimes in the Royal Villa of Monza, and as governor, Maximilian lived like a sovereign surrounded by an imposing courtyard of chamberlains and butlers.
During his government Maximilian continued the construction of the Miramar castle, which would not be finished until three years later. Carlota”s dowry was undoubtedly a significant help for the construction of the castle. The future Leopold II once wrote in his diary: “The construction of this palace in these days is an endless madness”.
Inspired by the Austrian navy, Maximilian developed the imperial fleet and encouraged the expedition on the Novara that carried out the first maritime world tour commanded by the Austrian Empire, a scientific expedition that lasted more than two years (between 1857 and 1859) involving various Viennese scholars.Politically the Archduke was greatly influenced by the progressive ideas cusp at the time. His appointment to the viceroyalty, replacing the old Marshal Joseph Radetzky, responded to the growing discontent of the Italian population for the arrival of a younger and more liberal figure. The election of an archduke, brother of the Emperor of Austria, tended to foster a certain personal loyalty to the House of Habsburg.
Maximilian and Carlota continued without the expected success in Milan. Carlota tried to conquer her new designs by speaking Italian and did everything possible to please her people: she visited charitable institutions, opened schools and even dressed like a Lombard peasant girl to attract the good graces of the Italians.At Easter 1858, dressed in ceremonial clothes, Maximilian and Carlota walked along the Grand Canal of Venice intoxicated by its importance.Despite all the attempts made by the couple to seduce them, anti-Austrian feelings grew rapidly among the Italian population.
Maximilian”s work in the provinces he governed was fruitful and rapid: revision of the cadastre, more equitable distribution of taxes, establishment of cantonal doctors, deepening of the Venetian passes, enlargement of the port of Como, drainage of the marshes to curb malaria and fertilize the soil, irrigation of the Friulian plains, reclamation of the lagoons. There was also a series of urban improvements: the Riva was extended to the royal gardens of Venice, while in Milan, the promenades gained importance, the Duomo square was widened, a new square was laid out between La Scala and Palazzo Marino and the Ambrosiana library was restored. The Foreign Minister of the United Kingdom wrote in January 1859: “The administration of the Lombard-Venetian provinces was directed by Archduke Maximilian with great talent and a spirit imbued with liberalism and the most honorable conciliation”.
Even though he was officially the viceroy, Maximilian”s authority was limited before the soldiers of the Austrian Empire, opposed to any kind of liberal reform. Maximilian went to Vienna in April 1858 to ask Franz Joseph I to personally concentrate the administrative and military powers, while following a policy of concessions; his brother rejected that request and hindered him to lead a more repressive policy.
Maximilian was reduced to playing the limited role of prefect of police, while tensions in Piedmont increased. On January 3, 1859, Maximilian, for security reasons and for fear of being attacked in public, sent Carlota back to Miramar and sent her most precious objects out of the territories he ruled. Alone in the palace of Milan he shared his grievances with his mother Sophia: “So here I am banished and alone as a hermit. I am the prophet who is ridiculed, who must prove, piece by piece, what he predicted word for word to deaf ears.”
In February 1859 numerous arrests were made in Milan and Venice. The prisoners belonged to the wealthy classes of the population and were transported to Mantua and to various fortresses of the Monarchy. The city of Brescia was occupied by the militia, while many battalions were encamped in Plasencia and along the banks of the Po River. The archduke tried to moderate the severe dispositions of General Ferencz Gyulai. Maximilian had just obtained his brother”s permission to reopen the private law schools in Pavia and the University of Padua. In March 1859 incidents broke out between the police and the Milanese and Veronese. In Pavia, one of the states ruled by Maximilian, Austria created a real military siege crew. The situation in Italy became even more critical: order could no longer be maintained there except by foreign troops.
Maximilian”s conciliatory work finally collapsed when his various projects to improve the welfare of the population had to be aborted. At the same time, those welfare attempts were contrary to the position in Austria, which fought any element that disturbed its “unitary program”. Francis Joseph considered Maximilian too liberal and wasteful with his reforms and too indulgent with the Italian rebels, forcing him to resign from office, which took place on April 10, 1859.
The resignation was welcomed by an important player in the Italian unification, Camillo Cavour, who declared:
In Lombardy, our most terrible enemy was Archduke Maximilian: young, active, enterprising, who gave himself completely to the difficult task of conquering the Milanese and who was going to triumph. Never had the Lombard provinces been so prosperous and so well administered. Thank God, the good government of Vienna intervened and, as usual, seized on the fly the opportunity to commit a folly, a discourteous act, the most fatal for Austria, the most advantageous for Piedmont . Lombardy could no longer escape us.
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Exile and the formation of the Second Empire (1859-1863)
On April 26, 1859 Austria declared war on the king of Sardinia Victor Emmanuel II, later known as the Second Italian War of Independence or Franco-Austrian War. Sardinia was victorious in the war thanks to the support given by Napoleon III, resulting as a blow to the relations between France and Austria. The conflict ended with the Treaty of Villafranca on July 11, 1859, which brought Napoleon II and Franz Joseph back on friendly terms. As for Venice, during their meeting in Villafranca Napoleon III proposed to Franz Joseph I to create an independent Venetian kingdom at the head of which Maximilian and Charlotte would be placed, but Franz Joseph categorically refused the idea. The good Franco-Austrian relationship was reconfirmed with the Treaty of Zurich in November 1859 in which the annexation of Lombardy to the Kingdom of Sardinia was confirmed.
At the age of twenty-seven, the archduke, now without official activity and with no real prospects, left Milan to retire to the Dalmatian coast where Charlotte had just acquired the island of Lokrum and its ruined convent. She quickly transformed the former Benedictine abbey into a second home before being able to move into her castle at Miramar at Christmas 1860, where the work was almost finished. While workmen were still doing work on the castle, the couple first occupied the apartments on the first floor before being able to do so with the rest of the castle.
Meanwhile, Maximilian and Charlotte embarked on a voyage aboard the yacht Fantasia that took them to Madeira in December 1859, the same place where Princess Maria Amelia of Brazil had died six years earlier. There Maximilian fell prey to melancholy laments: “I see with sadness the valley of Machico and the kind Santa Cruz where, seven years ago, we had lived such sweet moments… Seven years full of joys, fruitful in trials and bitter disappointments. But a deep melancholy comes over me when I compare the two eras. Today I already feel fatigue; my shoulders are no longer free and light, they have to bear the weight of a bitter past… It is here that the only daughter of the Emperor of Brazil died: an accomplished creature, she left this imperfect world, like a pure angel of light, to return to heaven, her true homeland.”
While Carlota stayed alone in Funchal for three months, Maximilian continued on his own pilgrimage beyond Madeira in the footsteps of the late princess: first Bahia, then Rio de Janeiro and finally Espirito Santo. The trip included a stay at the court of Emperor Pedro II and also featured scientific and ethnographic aspects. Maximilian embarked on an adventure into the jungle and visited several plantations, where he enlisted the help of his personal physician August von Jilek, an oceanography buff who specialized in the study of infectious pathologies such as malaria. During this period Maximilian gathered a lot of information on topics such as botany, ecosystems or agrarian methods. It is also worth mentioning that during his voyage he saw the use of slaves in the latifundia system, which he judged to be cruel and stained with sin; as for the priests, he considered them immodest and too powerful in the Empire.
On board the Fantasia Maximilian sailed from the Brazilian coast to Funchal where he met up with Carlota to return to Europe. They made a stopover in Tetouan (Morocco) where they arrived on March 18, 1860. Once in Lokrum Maximilian left his wife depressed there while he escaped to Venice where it is known that he was unfaithful to her, but even that life tired him quickly. Months passed and Maximilian returned to Miramar Castle, where Charlotte would later return. They would live there together for almost four more years. Carlota painted to her family an idyllic portrait of their marriage in the golden but forced exile, but contrary to the reality in which the estrangement between the spouses was very marked and their marital life had been reduced to practically nothing.
Far from Maximilian and Carlota”s exhausting marital life, in Mexico during the governments of Juan Alvarez (1855), Ignacio Comonfort (1855-1858) and Benito Juarez (since 1858), the Reform Laws had been issued. These laws abolished the privileges of the Church and the Army, decreed freedom of the press, disentailed ecclesiastical property and civil corporations, prohibited parish obventions, decreed freedom of worship, created the Civil Registry and took away the Church”s monopoly control of marriages and deaths. The situation got out of control when the Reform War of 1858 to 1861 began, which confronted liberals -led by Juarez- and conservatives -led by Felix Maria Zuloaga-, since the latter wanted to maintain their privileges. In the end, the liberals won the war, but the large landowners in support of the conservative side asked Europe for help.
In France, Napoleon III, drugged by imperialist ambitions, decided to intervene in Mexican politics. Taking advantage of the Civil War (1861-1865) that paralyzed the United States and with the pretext of obtaining the reimbursement of debts that the Juarez government had suspended due to lack of resources, France ratified the London Convention on October 31, 1861. That treaty, contrary to the Monroe Doctrine -which condemned any European intervention in the affairs of the Americas-, constituted the prelude to the Intervention in Mexico in which France allied itself with the Spanish and English. After the departure of both allies in April 1862, France decided to stay and nurtured the ambitious plan to occupy the country to turn it into an industrialized nation that would compete with the U.S. French troops soon disembarked in Veracruz and soon after took Puebla in May 1863, which opened the way to the Valley of Mexico; finally under the command of Generals Frédéric Forey and François Achille Bazaine they occupied Mexico City in June of the same year.
Napoleon III”s goal was to make Mexico a French protectorate. If Mexico became theoretically independent and was soon endowed with a sovereign bearing the title of emperor, everything concerning foreign policy, the army and defense could be administered by the French. In addition, France would become the country”s main trading partner: favored for investments, purchases of raw materials and other imports. France intensified the sending of settlers (particularly those from Barcelonnette and the Ubaye Valley, in the Alps of Haute Provence) to strengthen its presence on Mexican soil.
In French territory Napoleon III planned to offer the Mexican imperial crown to Maximilian, whom he knew personally and whose qualities he appreciated. This esteem was reciprocal as had already been demonstrated by his visit to Paris in 1856. In July 1862 Napoleon III directly cited the name of Archduke Maximilian as a candidate, especially since he was already familiar with America from his previous visits to the Brazilian Empire, the only great monarchy on the continent.
After the Republican defeat in Mexico, the conservatives agreed that the traditional system of government would be restored in the Mexican Empire, and the Conservative Party was entrusted with the search to find a European prince who would fulfill certain aptitudes to govern a territory as complex as Mexico, since it was requested that he be Catholic and also respect the traditions of the nation -something that the Republican governments had “failed to do” due to the Laws of Reforms-.
On July 21, 1864, the Junta Superior de Gobierno (also called Asamblea de notables or Junta de los treinta y cinco, due to its number of members) was formed, being its president Teodosio Lares assigned by Frédéric Forey, plenipotentiary minister of the French. For several months, possible candidates were discussed, among whom was also Enrique de Borbón, Duke of Seville. Finally Napoleon III decided to formally propose Maximilian because he met the requirements. Moreover, since Napoleon III was the only one who actually knew European princes personally, his candidate enjoyed greater credibility than any other candidate.
At the conclusion of the long discussions, the proposed candidacy was approved and a commission of notable personalities was created to meet with the candidate and ask him to accept the throne of the empire. Evidently that candidate was Maximilian of Austria, who at that time was retired in the Castle of Miramar on the Adriatic coast.
On July 10, 1863, the Junta Superior de Gobierno was officially dissolved, issuing as its last act the following opinion, which was published the following day.
The Mexican nation adopts for form of government the moderate, hereditary monarchy, with a Catholic prince.the sovereign will take the title of Emperor of Mexico.the imperial crown of Mexico is offered to H. A. I. and R., The imperial crown of Mexico is offered to H.A.I. and R. Prince Maximilian, Archduke of Austria, for himself and his descendants.In the event that, due to circumstances impossible to foresee, Archduke Maximilian should not be able to take possession of the throne offered to him, the Mexican nation refers to the benevolence of H.M. Napoleon III, Emperor of the French, to indicate another Catholic prince.
The conservative delegation was carefully chosen since all had to be worthy of representing Mexico and its history; great care was taken to ensure that they were the right ones to show a worthy image of the country before the Archduke. Napoleon III had already notified Maximilian and he had had time to consider it seriously. On October 3, 1863, the delegation arrived at the Castle headed by the diplomat José María Gutiérrez de Estrada and followed by other characters such as Juan Nepomuceno Almonte (biological son of the insurgent José María Morelos), José Pablo Martínez del Río, Antonio Escandón, Tomás Murphy y Alegría, Adrián Woll, Ignacio Aguilar y Marocho, Joaquín Velázquez de León, Francisco Javier Miranda, José Manuel Hidalgo y Esnaurrízar and Ángel Iglesias as secretary.
At the head of the deputation Gutiérrez Estrada claimed to be the spokesman of the Assembly of Notables that met in Mexico City on July 3. Maximilian responded officially: “It is flattering for our house that the eyes of his compatriots have turned to the family of Charles V as soon as the word monarchy was pronounced. However, I recognize, in perfect agreement with H. M. the Emperor of France, whose initiative allowed the regeneration of his beautiful homeland, that the monarchy could not be established there on a legitimate and perfectly sound basis only if the whole nation, expressing its will, comes to ratify the desire of the capital. Therefore, it is on the result of the votes of the generality of the country that I must make depend in the first place, the acceptance of the throne that is offered to me”.
Maximilian, therefore, procrastinated before accepting the proposal. Advised by his father-in-law, Leopold I, Maximilian demanded the holding of a popular referendum accompanied by guarantees of financial and military support from France.
In March 1864, Maximilian and Carlota traveled to Paris, where Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie gave them a warm welcome to encourage them to accept the throne of Mexico. The emperor pledged to keep twenty thousand French soldiers in Mexico until 1867. Maximilian contracted before Napoleon III an obligation of five hundred million Mexican pesos, equivalent at that time to two thousand five hundred million gold francs, destined to subsidize his projects when he reigned in Mexico. As for King Leopold, he promised to send a Belgian expeditionary force to Mexico to support them.
The same month later Maximilian went to Vienna to visit his brother Franz Joseph I, who asked him to sign a family pact that obligated him to renounce for himself and his descendants his rights to the Austrian crown, to a possible inheritance, as well as to his movable and immovable patrimony in Austria, otherwise he would not be able to reign in Mexico. Maximilian tried to add a secret clause that would allow him, in case of his death in Mexico, to recover his family rights if he returned to Austria. Francis Joseph I refused the addition of this clause, however he promised subsidies and volunteer soldiers (six thousand men and three hundred sailors), as well as an annual pension. The parents of the two tried, in vain, to influence the decision of Francis Joseph I. However, accompanied by his brothers Charles Ludwig and Ludwig Victor, as well as five other archdukes and dignitaries of the Austrian Empire, Francis Joseph I landed in Miramar because Maximilian finally resolved to accept the severe conditions imposed by his brother. Discouraged by these drastic requirements, Maximilian considered giving up going to Mexico. However, after a long and very violent discussion between the two brothers, Francisco José I and Maximilian signed the desired family pact on April 9, 1864. Although, when they left each other on the station platform, they embraced with great emotion.
S. A. I. Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian renounces in his august person and on behalf of his descendants, the succession of the crown in the empire of Austria, as well as the kingdoms and countries and which depend on it, without any exception in favor of all the other members who are in a position to succeed in the male line of the house of Austria and their descendants from male to male; so that at any time that there is only one of the archdukes or of their male descendants, even of the most distant, called to occupy the throne by virtue of the laws that establish the order of succession in the imperial house and particularly by virtue of the family statute signed by Emperor Charles VI on August 19, 1713, with the name of pragmatic sanction, as well as the family statute promulgated on February 3, 1839 by H. M. the emperor Femando, neither S. A. imperial, nor his descendants, nor anyone in his representation, nor at any time can claim the least right to the succession referred to.
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Emperor of Mexico (1864-1867)
The following day, on April 10, 1864, Maximilian declared in Miramar to the delegates that he accepted the imperial crown, officially becoming Emperor of Mexico. He affirmed that the wishes of the Mexican people allowed him to consider himself as the legitimate elected representative of the people. Although, in reality, Maximilian was deceived by some conservatives, among them Juan Nepomuceno Almonte, who assured him of a hypothetical massive popular support. In order to have a supposed document that ratified the support to the emperor, the Mexican deputation produced it by adding in the margin the number of the population in the locality where each one of the delegates resided, as if all the inhabitants had gone to the polls.
That same April 10 an official dinner was scheduled in Miramar in the great salon of Les Mouettes. Due to a nervous breakdown Maximilian did not attend and retired to his bedroom where he was examined by Dr. August von Jilek. His doctor found him prostrate and so overwhelmed that he suggested that he rest in the pavilion of Gartenhaus to calm down. Charlotte therefore presided at the banquet alone.
The departure for Mexico was set for April 14, 1864. That day they sailed aboard the SMS Novara escorted by the French frigate Thémis, so Maximilian was more serene. He and Carlota stopped in Rome to receive the blessing of Pope Pius IX. On April 19, 1864, during the pontifical audience, everyone avoided directly mentioning the plundering of the clergy”s goods by the Mexican republicans, but the pope could not fail to emphasize that Maximilian must respect the rights of his people and those of the Church.
During the long voyage, Maximilian and Charlotte rarely evoked the diplomatic and political difficulties they would soon face, but they conceived in great detail the etiquette of their future court. They began to write a six-hundred-page manuscript relating to ceremonial, studied in its most minute aspects. The Novara stopped in Madeira and Jamaica. The travelers endured heavy storms before a final stop in Martinique.
Maximilian arrived on May 28, 1864 in the port of Veracruz. Due to a yellow fever epidemic in that city, the new imperial couple crossed the city without stopping. In addition, the early hour of their disembarkation earned them a bad reception from the Veracruz citizens. Carlota was particularly impressed: crossing warm lands with bad weather conditions and an automobile accident helped to cast an unfavorable shadow over their first steps in Mexico. Nevertheless, in Cordoba Maximilian and Carlota were acclaimed by the natives who saw them as liberators.
The ovations continued on the way to Mexico City. With the arrival in other cities, the receptions were very jubilant and of great joy, which was especially expressed in Puebla. Closer to Mexico City they were offered a different panorama: a country wounded by the war and deeply divided in its convictions. Maximilian fell in love with the beautiful landscapes of his new country and its people in a short period of time. On June 12, 1864, the imperial couple made their official entry into the Capital. They stopped at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe where an important part of the Capitoline society was waiting for them and the deputations of the provinces of the interior also gave testimony of their enthusiasm. Meanwhile, the French troops continued fighting to acquire the totality of the Mexican territory.
The National Palace -which had been used historically, since the consummation of Independence, as the official residence of the heads of the executive branch- did not correspond to Maximilian and Carlota”s idea of an “imperial residence”. Given to bedbugs, the building was a sort of austere and dilapidated barracks that required major work. A week after their arrival, Maximilian and Carlota preferred to settle in Chapultepec Castle, located on a hill near the city, which they renamed Miravalle Castle to match Miramar. Centuries before the construction of the castle, the Mexica had inhabited the area.
Shortly after his arrival, Maximilian requested that an avenue be laid out from Chapultepec Castle to the center of the capital; the avenue was named in honor of Carlota as Paseo de la Emperatriz, which many years later was renamed to its current name: Paseo de la Reforma. It is worth mentioning that later in summers, the imperial couple also enjoyed the Palacio de Cortés in Cuernavaca. Maximilian made numerous and costly improvements to his various properties -with a catastrophic situation at the Hacienda-.
Immediately upon his arrival Maximilian began to build museums with the objective of preserving Mexican culture, while Carlota began to organize parties for national charity in order to raise funds for the construction of things for the poor.
The Empire used the phrase “Equity in justice”. At the beginning he had the support of the Catholic Church in Mexico headed by Archbishop Labastida y Dávalos and was constantly supported by a good part of the population of Catholic tradition, although he was strongly opposed by the liberals.During his government Maximilian tried to develop economically and socially the territories under his custody by applying the knowledge learned from his studies in Europe and from his family, one of the oldest monarchic houses in Europe and of openly Catholic tradition.
For Maximilian, as his motto stated, justice and welfare were the objectives he declared most important to him. One of his first acts, as emperor, was to restrict working hours and abolish child labor. He cancelled all peasant debts exceeding ten pesos and restored common property. He also broke with the monopoly of the “tiendas de raya” and decreed that the labor force could not be bought or sold for the price of his decree.Maximilian was also interested in peonage and the living conditions of the indigenous people in the haciendas: while most of the indigenous people in the towns enjoyed freedom, those in the haciendas were subjected to a master who could punish them with prison or torture with iron or whip.
At the end of July 1864, six weeks after his triumphant entry into Mexico City, Maximilian complained about the inefficiency of the French squadron that did not leave Veracruz, leaving the ports of Manzanillo, Mazatlan and Guaymas in the hands of dissidents where they collected the proceeds of customs at the expense of the Empire. Juarista troops were retreating everywhere, but the war was turning into skirmishes led by guerrillas; for Bazaine, marshal since September 5, this form of combat was particularly disconcerting.
Maximilian traveled on horseback from August 10 to October 30, 1864 through the interior of the Mexican lands escorted by two platoons of cavalry. It is worth mentioning that the Empire had decreed a new administrative organization in which it was divided into fifty departments -although in reality it could only be applied in the areas they controlled-. He visited the department of Querétaro, then the cities of Celaya, Irapuato, Dolores Hidalgo and León de los Aldama (in the department of Guanajuato), Morelia (in Michoacán) and finally Toluca (in Toluca). Carlota accompanied him on the last city of the tour to act as a chaperone on a three-day excursion before returning home; but, even in Bazaine”s presence, Juarista troops galloped through the countryside less than two kilometers away, but nothing came of it.
By the end of 1864, the French army had succeeded in gaining recognition of imperial authority over most of Mexico”s territory, although even so the Empire”s existence remained fragile. French military successes were the only foundation on which the imperial project rested. It did not take long for new challenges to appear: the pacification of Michoacán, the occupation of the Pacific Ocean ports, the expulsion of Juárez from Chihuahua and the subjugation of Oaxaca.
To the dismay of his conservative allies who brought him to power, Maximilian defended several liberal political ideas proposed by the republican administration of Juarez: agrarian reforms, freedom of religion and the extension of the right to vote beyond the privileged classes. Maximilian”s liberal temperament had already been expressed in Lombardy and, as in Italian lands where he strove to defend the interests of those who had put him on the throne and the construction of the State was limited by the troops, in Mexico a similar situation occurred in which he oscillated between liberal and conservative ideals but did not exercise an indisputably real dominion over the country: the measures taken by his government only applied to territories controlled by French garrisons. Soon Maximilian alienated the conservatives and the clergy by ratifying the secularization of ecclesiastical property for the benefit of the national domain, and even decreed amnesty for all those liberals who wanted to join his cause. Pedro Escudo and José María Cortés y Esparza, who had participated in the Constituent Congress of 1856, joined his council of ministers. He even offered Juárez to join his council as Minister of Justice, but he flatly refused even to meet with him in Mexico City.
There is a letter attributed to Juarez whose authenticity is widely debated due to the fact that the original has not been preserved and which reads as follows.
You cordially invite me to Mexico City, where you are going, so that we may have a conference together with other Mexican chiefs who are currently in arms, promising us all the necessary forces to escort us on our journey, pledging their word of honor, their public faith and their honor, as a guarantee of our safety. It is impossible for me, sir, to respond to this call. My official occupations will not permit me to do so. Here, in America, we know too well the value of that public faith, that word and that honor, as well as the French people know the value of Napoleon”s oaths and promises.
On the other hand, when Maximilian was absent from Mexico City (even for several months) Carlota, as established in the Provisional Statute of the Empire, ruled: she presided over the Council of Ministers and gave, on behalf of her husband, a public audience on Sundays perhaps with an influence of the Council of the Indies and the General Court of the Indians. Carlota also executed several of Maximilian”s social policies, which de facto made her the first woman ruler of Mexico.
Since 1864 Maximilian had invited Europeans to settle in the “Colonia de Carlota” in the Yucatan peninsula where six hundred families of farmers and artisans, predominantly Prussians, settled with the objective of Europeanizing the country; another plan for the creation of a dozen more settlements by American ex-confederates was devised by the oceanographer Matthew Fontaine Maury; to Maximilian”s misfortune this ambitious immigration project had little success. In July 1865, only eleven hundred colonists, more soldiers than farmers, coming mainly from Louisiana, settled in Mexico and remained billeted in the state of Veracruz, waiting for the imperial government to direct them to the land they were supposed to cultivate. This plan naturally displeased the government in Washington D. C., which frowned upon its citizens for depopulating the United States to serve a “foreign emperor”. Maximilian also tried, unsuccessfully, to lure the English colony of British Honduras (present-day Belize) to the Yucatan. In fact, while the amount of territory in Mexico was vast, little of it belonged to the public domain: all land had a master with more or less regular property rights; the large landowning hacienda owners, therefore, derived little benefit from the establishment of colonists. It was not long before the new agricultural colonies quickly abandoned Mexico in favor of the Brazilian Empire.
On April 10, 1865 Maximilian instituted a political assembly “protector of the needy classes”, whose mission was to reform the abuses committed against the seven million indigenous people present on Mexican soil. On November 1, 1865, the emperor issued a decree abolishing corporal punishment, reducing the workday and guaranteeing wages. This decree, however, did not have the desired scope because the landowners refused to employ the peons, who were often reduced back to their initial servitude.It began with legislative transcendence, as the second empire was the first Mexican government to establish laws, rules and regulations that protected and promoted social rights. Outside its governmental action, the fascination awakened, especially in the capital, by the monarchical system, the life inside and outside the castle of both emperors and the pomp of the court was relevant.
The closeness with the population that always showed the couple manifested in their attempt to adopt and spread the identity of the country they governed with actions such as the practice of charrería, the study of plant and animal species of the forest of Chapultepec and the interior of the Empire (which even led him to finance the Public Museum of Natural History, Archaeology and History), the translation into Nahuatl of the imperial decrees, the castle parties organized by the empress to raise funds for charity and the visit of the Emperor to Dolores Hidalgo being, on September 15, 1864, the first ruler of Mexico to give the Cry of Independence in the original place where it took place. There are a variety of books, novels, short stories, plays and various literary works whose premise is based on the couple who ruled over a native country as their own, as seen in another section of the article.
Other transcendental facts of this historical period can also be listed. Maximilian was the one who hired engineer M. Lyons for the construction of the railroad from La Soledad to Cerro del Chiquihuite, which later grew to the line from Veracruz to Paso del Macho, on September 8, 1864. He reorganized the San Carlos Academy of Arts. The remodeling of the National Palace and Chapultepec Castle would eventually provide artistic and ornamental treasures that still remain on display in both precincts. The construction of the Paseo de la Emperatriz began the reorganization and beautification of Mexico City, being this the model that would materialize the Porfiriato.
Maximilian and Carlota had not fathered any heirs. To Carlota”s great disapproval, Maximilian decided in September 1865 to adopt the two grandsons of the previous emperor of Mexico Agustin de Iturbide: Agustin de Iturbide y Green and Salvador de Iturbide y Marzan. With such adoptions he constituted that the official name of the reigning dynasty in Mexico would be House of Habsburg-Iturbide. Agustin was only two years old when he was adopted and was to be separated from his mother, according to Maximilian”s wishes. The situation unanimously offended public opinion.As for the United States, the House of Representatives voted a resolution requesting the president to submit to Congress: “Correspondence concerning the kidnapping of the son of an American in Mexico City by the usurper of that republic named emperor, under the pretext of making this child a prince . This resolution refers to the son of Mrs. Iturbide”.
From a personal point of view, a hypothesis that affirms Maximilian”s membership in Freemasonry, without calling for any real controversy, however, let it be clear that it is not cited by any author or reference work of the time. According to Alvarez de Arcila Maximilian was a Mason. Such hypothesis suggests that he belonged to a lodge that practiced the ancient and accepted Scottish Rite; Arcila specifies that on December 27, 1865 the Supreme Council of the Grand Orient of Mexico was formed, which offered Maximilian the title of Sovereign Grand Commander, but that he rejected it. On the other hand, the Masonic history of Mexico shows that he received an offer from the recently constituted Grand Orient of Mexico, which created a Supreme Council in 1865, proposing to Maximilian the quality of Grand Master and Grand Commander. He declined this offer for political reasons and suggested instead that he be represented by his chamberlain Rudolfo Gunner and his physician Federico Semeler, who joined the orders in June 1866. However, Maximilian did place himself as a protector of Freemasonry.
All republican liberals, who were headed by Juarez, openly and regularly opposed Maximilian. The progress of pacification among the populations, generally well disposed to the new empire, was hindered in the east and southwest of Mexico by a strong Juarista presence. The Juaristas in 1865 began military operations in Puebla that still did not recognize imperial authority. Porfirio Diaz, one of Juarez”s best generals, established himself in the city of Oaxaca, with a considerable army corps financed with local resources. The strategic position chosen by Diaz -near the main road to Veracruz- forced Bazaine to maintain constant military posts around that line of communication for observation.
The French expeditionary force began operations against the dissident settlers in the state of Oaxaca for the construction of a road passable by convoys. After intense fighting, on February 9, 1865, Bazaine managed to seize Oaxaca, but the guerrilla leaders took refuge in the mountains, from where it was almost impossible to expel them. The incompleteness of this was repeated in various parts of Mexico: Michoacán, Sinaloa and the Huasteca.
After the end of the U.S. Civil War in April 1865, President Andrew Johnson – invoking the Monroe Doctrine – recognized the Juarez government as the legitimate government in Mexico. The United States exerted increasing diplomatic pressure to persuade Napoleon III to end French support and, therefore, to withdraw his troops from Mexico. The United States supplied the Republicans with arms depots at El Paso del Norte on the Mexican border. The possibility of an American invasion to reinstate Juarez in Mexico led a large number of loyal supporters of the Empire to abandon the imperial cause and change their residence to Mexico City.
Faced with the pressures of a hypothetical American intervention, Maximilian, under pressure from Bazaine, agreed to begin a ruthless campaign against the Republicans. On October 3, 1865 the so-called “Black Decree” was published which, although it stipulated amnesty for dissidents of the Juarista cause, declared in its first article: “All persons belonging to armed bands or assemblies that exist without legal authorization, whether or not they proclaim a political pretext, will be judged militarily by court-martial. If they are declared guilty, even if only for the mere fact of belonging to an armed band, they will be condemned to death and the sentence will be executed within twenty-four hours”.According to the decree hundreds of opponents were executed.
Even with this decree, the republican forces did not cease. From October 1865 onwards, the imperialists reinforced the security of the highways with posts of Turkish inhabitants in the territory in charge of “summarily executing justice” against any armed passer-by, especially on the Mexico-Veracruz stretch. This was due to the fact that in that month in Paso del Macho (Veracruz) about three hundred and fifty assailants derailed a train and stripped, mutilated and massacred the travelers, among them eleven French soldiers. From that moment on, each train was accompanied by a guard of twenty-five soldiers.
In January 1866 Napoleon III was pressured by the French public opinion about the “hostility to the Mexican cause” and, on the other hand, he was worried about the development of the Prussian army that required the reinforcement of the army present in French soil; it was then that he decided to break his promises with Maximilian and he gradually withdrew the French troops from Mexico since September 1866; he was also constrained by the official opposition of the United States that sent him an ultimatum ordering the withdrawal of the French troops from Mexico. In New York during a ceremony in honor of the late President Lincoln, the diplomat and historian George Bancroft gave a speech in which he described Maximilian as an “Austrian adventurer”. The power and prestige of the Empire weakened considerably.
At the beginning of 1866, without any support from France with the Empire, Maximilian only had for his defense the support of some Mexican soldiers loyal to him, the Austrians granted by his brother and the Belgians financed by Leopold II. On September 25, 1866 in Hidalgo the Belgian Legion commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Alfred van der Smissen lost definitively in the battle of Ixmiquilpan: at the head of two hundred and fifty men and two companies of one hundred men, Van der Smissen attacked Ixmiquilpan penetrating to the main square, but he was forced to retreat amid great difficulties to bring back his troops before reaching Tula, leaving eleven officers and sixty men dead and wounded.
In March 1866 Carlota took the initiative to directly attempt a final step with Napoleon III so that he could reconsider his decision to abandon the Mexican cause. Encouraged by this plan, Carlota left Mexico on July 9, 1866 to go to Europe; in Paris her pleas failed and she suffered a deep emotional collapse. Soon also the only two foreign supporters of the Empire were withdrawn: her brother Leopold II found himself unable to ignore the hostility of the Belgians towards a country that “often brings them bad news” and Franz Joseph – who suffered a defeat by Prussia in Sadowa – lost his influence over the Germanic states and had to withdraw his military. Carlota, finding herself isolated and without the support of any European monarch, sent a telegram to Maximilian which read: “Everything is useless!
As a last resort, Charlotte went to Italy to seek the protection of Pius IX. It was there that the first symptoms of mental disorders that in the coming years would torment her until her death were openly declared. Charlotte was taken to the Gartenhaus Pavilion in Trieste where she was confined for nine months. On October 12, 1866 Maximilian received a telegram informing him that Charlotte was suffering from demeningitis. But it was when he was informed that the alienist doctor Josef Gottfried von Riedel was treating his wife that he was astonished to understand the true nature of her pathology. Maximilian would never see Carlota again and she spent the rest of her days in the care of her brother Leopold II, suffering serious health problems until her death on January 19, 1927.
When Maximilian learned that Carlota”s trip was a resounding failure, he considered renouncing the Crown. Maximilian”s decisions were torn between two contradictory pieces of advice: his friend Stephan Herzfeld -whom he had met during his military service in the Novara- predicted the end of the Empire and recommended him to return to Europe as soon as possible, while Father Augustin Fischer begged him to stay in Mexico.At first Herzfeld managed to harbor in him the idea of abdication.
On October 18, 1866 he ordered the Austrian corvette Dandolo to be ready to embark Maximilian and a suite of fifteen to twenty people to take them back to Europe. They carry valuables from imperial residences and secret documents. Maximilian entrusts his resolution to abdicate to Bazaine. The decision is publicized and the conservatives are furious. Sick and demoralized, Maximilian leaves for Orizaba, where the climate is milder and where he approaches the Dandolo that anchors in Veracruz. On the way Maximilian and his entourage make many stops, but Fischer tirelessly tried to dissuade Maximilian from leaving, evoking lost honor, flight and future life with Carlota now madly.
Maximilian again found himself in the grip of indecision and asked the conservative government, presuming the positive answer, if he should stay in Mexico; before the obvious positive answer Maximilian decided to stay and continue his fight against Juarez, where he was forced to finance only the military expense and collected new taxes. In early 1867 Maximilian -who in his letters to his family in Austria minimized his inherent difficulties- received a letter from his mother Sofia in which she congratulated him on his decision not to abdicate, alluding to the dishonor: “Now that so much love, self-sacrifice and, no doubt, also fear of future anarchy keep you there, I welcome your decision and hope that the rich countries will support you in the fulfillment of your task”. Another brother of Maximilian, Archduke Charles Ludwig of Austria sent a similar message: “You have done well in allowing yourself to be persuaded to remain in Mexico, in spite of the enormous sorrows that overwhelm you. Remain and persevere in your position as long as possible”.
French military support had married: Napoleon III gave the definitive order to return the troops to France, given that the protests of the French people were increasing, in addition to the fact that intellectuals were wondering what they were doing in Mexico, knowing that, unlike other successful interventions such as in Algeria or French Indochina, it had become a war of attrition -both economically and in human lives- and in the face of such pressures in January 1867 Maximilian was already without protection.
Meanwhile, in Mexico the liberals formed a homogeneous army and left the imperial troops alone in Mexico City, Veracruz, Puebla and Querétaro. On February 13, 1867 Maximilian left Mexico City accompanied by his doctor Samuel Basch, his personal physician José Luis Blasio, his private secretary and two European servants. Maximilian headed for a city favorable to the Empire: Querétaro. He arrived on February 19, 1867 where he was acclaimed with warm ovations and an army of almost all Mexicans who were loyal to the imperial cause.
The Emperor assumed the superior command of his men headed by the generals in charge of the defense of the city: Leonardo Márquez Araujo (general staff), Miguel Miramón (infantry), Tomás Mejía (cavalry) and Ramón Méndez (reserve). The soldiers received training in tactical maneuvers on the Carretas plain.
Liberal forces arrived to lay siege on March 5, 1867 commanded by the famous republican general Mariano Escobedo. Two days later Maximiliano established his headquarters at Cerro de las Campanas. Already on March 8 he held a council of ministers, where it was discussed that due to lack of economic resources it was impossible to take any significant action. On March 12, Bazaine -who had already given previous and sporadic signs of wanting to abort the mission- fled the battlefield on his way abroad. The following day Maximilian, who had been sleeping on the floor of a tent in the Cerro de las Campanas, reinstalled his quarters in the Convent of La Cruz, whose impoverished situation remained just as latent but he maintained continuous personal visits to the defense maneuvers and a habitual rhythm of life. That same day he held another council of war in what today is the building of the Municipal Presidency of Santiago de Queretaro.
On March 17 Maximilian gave the order to counterattack, but the mission failed due to a disagreement between Miramón and Márquez. On the night of March 22, Maximiliano gave Márquez the special mission to ride to Mexico City to recruit reinforcements, an order that he carried out at dawn the following day with twelve hundred horsemen. In the afternoon of the same day, the Republicans proposed Maximilian to surrender in the war in exchange for an honorable discharge from the war, but Maximilian refused.
On March 27 a contingent commanded by Miramón achieved a triumph. A whole month of resistance and uncertainty passed in the siege where, in spite of the low number of imperial soldiers and their low spirits, they resisted the liberal forces. A month later, on April 27, Miramón ordered an attack on the Cerro del Cimatario whose main purpose was to raise the morale of his troops, dejected with boredom and tempted to desertion; the mission consisted of attacking the Callejas Hacienda occupied by Juaristas -which was located near the city cemetery-, where the result was in favor of the imperialists and where they captured twenty cannons, a herd of oxen and a chest with money. The following day Miramón reinforced his corps of lancers with some elements of Mejía”s cavalry to occupy the cemetery, but this time the imperialists encountered a battery of ten cannons installed during the night that managed to decimate them. The Juaristas retaken the Hacienda and with that the retreat of the imperialists was a resounding defeat: the Juaristas almost entered the city.
On May 13 Maximilian held his last council of war, where he declared: “Five thousand soldiers hold this place today, after a siege of seventy days, a siege carried out by forty thousand men who have at their disposal all the resources of the country. During this long period fifty-four days were wasted waiting for General Marquez, who was to return from Mexico in twenty days”.
Consequently, an escape plan was agreed upon, which would be scheduled for two days later, that is to say, May 15. However, in the early morning of the scheduled day, Colonel Miguel López, commander of the Empress regiment, surrendered to the enemy a gate of the besieged city that allowed access to the Convent of the Cross, where Maximilian resided. Querétaro fell into the hands of the Republicans.
Even warned of the presence of the enemy with the capture of the city, Maximilian refused to hide. He easily and voluntarily left the Convent of La Cruz where he was staying since he preferred to be apprehended outside; in his company was his military guard, Prince Felix de Salm-Salm. Colonel José Rincón Gallardo, Escobedo”s aide-de-camp, recognized them but let them go on their way, considering them as simple bourgeois.Maximiliano walked to Cerro de las Campanas now in the company of his generals Miguel Miramón and Tomás Mejía. Mejía, wounded in the face and left hand, suggested Maximiliano to flee through the mountains, however it was impossible; after his refusal Mejía voluntarily stayed by his side. Once they arrived at Cerro de las Campanas, there Maximilian is captured.
He met with Escobedo on May 23 where in exchange for his return to Austria he would return the two cities still in the hands of the imperialists: Mexico City and Veracruz; Escobedo rejected the proposal because both were ready to fall into the hands of the republicans. Maximiliano, deeply discouraged, returned to the Convent of Las Teresas. The day after this interview, May 24, 1867, Maximilian was taken to the Convent of the Capuchinas, which became his last prison.
On June 13, 1867 Maximilian and his generals Miramon and Mejia were to appear before a special court-martial held in the Iturbide Theater, which was installed at eight in the morning; it was conformed by seven officers and presided over by Rafael Platon Sanchez, a military man who participated in the Battle of Puebla. Affected by dysentery, Maximiliano managed not to appear before such court, but he was represented by two Mexican lawyers: Mariano Riva Palacio and Rafael Martínez de la Torre. The accusation contained thirteen points; the following day, after the prosecutor Manuel Azpíroz declared it, he stated that the facts were “obvious” and, therefore, he received three votes in favor of the death penalty and three in favor of banishment, but the seventh vote of Azpíroz concluded the condemnation.
In an attempt to protect his brother, Franz Joseph I fully reinstated him in his rights as Archduke of the House of Habsburg. Other European monarchs (Queen Victoria, King Leopold II and Isabel II of Spain) sent various letters and telegrams begging Juarez for Maximilian”s life; other prominent figures of the time such as Victor Hugo or Giuseppe Garibaldi also did so. When the verdict and the final arguments of the defense lawyers were concluded, Juarez was present; Baron Anton von Magnus and a group of women from San Luis Potosi (Juarez inflexibly answered them: “The law and the sentence are inexorable at this moment, because public safety requires it”.
Princess Inés de Salm-Salm (wife of Prince Felix) who was in Querétaro tried to bribe part of the garrison guarding the city in order to facilitate the escape of Maximilian and the other two prisoners, but the maneuver was discovered by Mariano Escobedo.
The conditions of the last days of Maximilian”s captivity were extremely severe: he lived in a convent cell measuring 2.7 meters long by 1.8 meters wide; even with dysentery he was not allowed a visit from a doctor; the guards who guarded the cell discussed aloud about how he could be executed and made jokes only about Carlota. Later, and out of the official, Maximilian managed to receive visits from his private doctor and Felix de Salm-Salm.
On Wednesday, June 19, 1867, the execution was scheduled for 3:00 p.m. That day, at 3:00 a.m. Maximilian dressed in a black suit and the Golden Fleece with the help of his servant and cook Tüdös. Maximiliano received Father Manuel Soria y Breña, with whom he went to confession for the last time; shortly after Maximiliano felt quite ill, so they gave him vials of salt, but even so Soria officiated a mass for both Maximiliano and the Miramón and Mejía. At the end of the mass they were given their last meal: bread with chicken and wine; they did not even touch the chicken, however, they drank some wine. At half past six in the morning, Colonel Miguel Palacios, in charge of the firing squad, entered the corridor of the Convent together with the rest of the men of the firing squad; when they both met Maximiliano exclaimed: “I am ready”.
Three hired carriages awaited the condemned, who climbed up with Soria. The procession went through the streets of Las Capuchinas and La Laguna towards the Cerro de las Campanas -the place of the execution- with the lookout of the first battalion of Nuevo Leon. During the way Maximiliano became doubtful and wondered if Carlota was still alive; he also observed the clear sky exclaiming: “It is a good day to die”.
When they reached the place Tüdös exclaimed to him, “You have always refused to believe that this would happen. You see you were wrong. But dying is not as difficult as you think”; to Tüdös Maximilian threw him his cloth while saying in Hungarian: “Take this to my mother and tell her that my last thought was for her”. He handed Soria his watch containing a portrait of Carlota and said: “Send this souvenir to Europe to my very dear wife, if she lives, and tell her that my eyes are closed with her image that I will take to the afterlife”.
The three condemned men were placed in a line behind a rough adobe wall -which had been ordered to be built the day before by the Coahuila Battalion- and Maximilian insisted to Miramon that he should occupy the place in the center, telling him: “General, a brave man must be admired even by monarchs”. The platoon was integrated by a total of five soldiers led by Captain Simón Montemayor, twenty-two years old; Maximiliano gave each of the soldiers a gold coin asking them to aim well and not to shoot at his head. Before the exact moment of being shot Maximiliano with a clear voice exclaimed:
I am going to die for a just cause, that of the independence and freedom of Mexico. May my blood seal the misfortunes of my new homeland! Long live Mexico! Long live Independence”.
While Mejía made a speech in which he refused to be considered a traitor, Miramón did not utter a single word, although he did look directly at the military.
An anonymous Austrian doctor, who resided in Mexico City, was previously called to bring the necessary products for an imminent embalming. Already after Maximilian”s execution, he was sent to color a sheet over his body in the coffin, which was later taken by a group of soldiers who carried it to the Convent of the Capuchinas.
Baron Anton von Magnus asked Escobedo for the body, a request that he denied, but nevertheless allowed Basch to enter the Convent to say goodbye to his body and order four doctors to perform the embalming. The process did not go as Basch had planned: it was carried out too quickly and carelessly, and the hair from his beard was sold for eighty dollars of the time and a garment of Maximilian himself to the highest bidder.
Soon the news of Maximilian”s death reached the American government, and from there it was referred to Europe, telegrams that arrived on July 1, 1867. Franz Joseph I requested Maximilian”s body from the Mexican authorities so he could bury him in Austria; likewise Von Magnus and Basch directly requested Juarez to deliver the body to them, which he refused, so he left the coffin abandoned in the residence of the prefect of Queretaro. The situation did not change until the arrival of a vice-admiral sent by Franz Joseph, Wilhelm von Tegetthoff, and soon he was able to encourage Juarez to reconsider his decision. Finally Juarez”s Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Sebastian Lerdo de Tejada, officially accepted Austria”s request on November 4, 1867.
His stay in the capital of the country did not last more than two weeks and after finishing some paperwork, his repatriation to Europe was ordered. He arrived at the port of Veracruz on November 26, 1867, the same date on which he departed from the SMS Novara, the same ship on which Maximilian and Carlota had arrived in Mexico.
It took almost three months for the Navora to reach European shores. On January 16, 1868 it docked in Trieste: Maximilian”s two younger brothers, Archdukes Karl Ludwig and Ludwig Victor personally received their brother”s remains, which they escorted to Vienna. Franz Joseph I had ordered that the coffin be permanently sealed in Trieste so that Sophia could not see the remains of her son, an action that was carried out punctually and that fulfilled its task. He arrived in the Austrian capital two days later, on January 18, in which a funeral ceremony was held, in which all the countries allied to Austria sent their representatives, with a notable exception of the United States, since it was a conflict of interests.
The mortal remains of Maximilian of Habsburg were deposited on January 18, 1868 in the Austrian royal crypt, the Capuchin crypt in Vienna. His remains are currently resting there.
In Europe the Second French Intervention in Mexico (including the execution of Maximilian) was a historically controversial subject. During the French Second Empire The Execution of Maximilian (explored in the “Maximilian in Art” section of this article) was a major subject of censorship to which Manet did not even offer it to be presented at the Paris Salon because its rejection would be predictable. The play Juarez was censored in France and Belgium and released until 1886; the Belgian Catholic population considered the play “offensive to the memory of Maximilian” because it had a perspective that favored Mexican Republicans.
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A constant rumor is that Maximilian”s father was actually Napoleon II Bonaparte. The hypothesis is that Napoleon II was raised in the Austrian court of the Habsburgs. After the birth of Franz Joseph, Sophie of Bavaria had become very close to Napoleon II. Napoleon II died on July 22, 1832 (sixteen days after Maximilian”s birth) and Sophia is recorded to have been so volatile that she was even unable to breastfeed Maximilian. In any case, at that time her paternity was never seriously questioned.
Maximilian considered himself ethnically German at a time when German nationalism aspired to unite all German-speaking territories into a single nation-state. Moreover, Maximilian was a devout Catholic who prided himself on his descent from the Catholic Monarchs.
He valued all the natives of America and this was evident in his national project, where he tried to improve the living conditions of the Mexican indigenous peoples (explored in the section “Maximilian Politics”). He was firmly opposed to slavery and always fought for the abolition of slavery at a time when it was common in several countries of the world.
His vision for America was the formation of two great Habsburg empires: Mexico in North America and Brazil in South America, which, thanks to their success, would eventually attract and absorb the smaller neighboring republics.
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Édouard Manet, outraged by the death of Maximilian, worked for more than a year on several versions of his painting The Execution of Maximilian, which constitutes a forceful pictorial indictment of the policy led in Mexico by Napoleon III. Three versions were produced between 1867 and 1869.
The first can be seen in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; fragments of the second are in the National Gallery, London; the final sketch is in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotheque in Copenhagen; while the final composition is preserved in the Kunsthalle Mannheim.
The final version of the work (which may have been influenced by Goya”s The Third of May in Madrid) personally satisfied Manet where the soldiers of the firing squad are not dressed in the Mexican uniform of the time but as of the French Imperial Army and the sergeant (with a red cap) who reloads his rifle makes a reference to Napoleon III.
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