Maximilian I of Mexico explained

Emperor of Mexico
Maximilian I
Full Name:    Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph
Reign:10 April 1864 – 15 May 1867
Coronation:10 April 1864
Succession:Emperor of Mexico
Predecessor:Empire declared
Successor:Empire abolished
Regent:José Mariano Salas,
Juan Nepomuceno Almonte,
Pelagio Antonio de Labastida y Dávalos
Succession1:Mexican head of state
Predecessor1:Félix María Zuloaga
Successor1:Benito Juárez
Titles: HIM The Emperor of Mexico,
 HI&RH Prince Imperial Archduke
      Maximilian of Austria, Prince
      Royal of Hungary and Bohemia,
 HE The Viceroy of Lombardy-Venetia
Spouse:Charlotte of Belgium
Issue:    Prince Augustine (adoptive)
    Prince Salvador (adoptive)
Royal House:Habsburg
Father:Archduke Franz Karl of Austria
Mother:Princess Sophie of Bavaria
Date Of Birth:July 6, 1832
Place Of Birth:Schönbrunn, Vienna, Austria
Place Of Death:Cerro de las Campanas, Querétaro, Mexico
Place Of Burial:Imperial Crypt, Vienna, Austria

Maximilian I (6 July 1832 – 19 June 1867; born Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph) was a member of Austria's Imperial Habsburg-Lorraine family who was Emperor of Mexico. With the backing of Napoleon III of France and a group of Mexican monarchists, he was proclaimed Emperor of Mexico on 10 April 1864. Many foreign governments refused to recognize his government, especially the United States. This ensured the success of Republican forces led by Benito Juárez, and Maximilian was executed, after capture by Republicans, in Querétaro in 1867.

Early life

Maximilian was born in Schönbrunn, Vienna, Austria, the second son of Archduke Franz Karl of Austria and his wife Sophie Friederike Dorothee Wilhelmine, Princess of Bavaria. His siblings were Emperor Franz Josef of Austria, Karl Ludwig, Archduchess Maria Anna Caroline Pia and Archduke Ludwig Viktor. Maximilian was born with the title His Imperial and Royal Highness Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph, Prince Imperial and Archduke of Austria, Prince Royal of Hungary and Bohemia.[1]

There is well-documented suspicion that Maximilian was not the product of a union between Princess Sophie and Franz Karl. Many Europeans, and Viennese in particular, suspected that he was actually fathered by Napoleon II (son of Napoleon I and Marie Louise of Austria as Napoleon Francois Joseph Charles Bonaparte, also known as the Duke of Reichstadt). Those who subscribe to this belief cite the unnaturally close relationship that existed between Sophie and Napoleon II (it was said that Sophie never recovered after his death and that she blamed it on Metternich for the rest of her life) and that, from birth, Maximilian's stature resembled Napoleon II's more than that of Franz Karl, his older brother, and his younger brothers.[2] [3]

He was a particularly clever boy, showing considerable taste for the arts and displaying an early interest in science, especially botany. He was trained for the navy, and threw himself into this career with so much zeal that he quickly rose to high command, and was instrumental in creating the naval port of Trieste and the fleet with which Admiral Wilhelm von Tegetthoff won his victories in the Italian War. Very much influenced by the progressive ideas in vogue at the time, he had some reputation as a liberal, and this led, in February 1857, to his appointment as viceroy of the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia.

He married his second cousin Princess Charlotte of Belgium (also known as Empress Carlota of Mexico), daughter of Leopold I, King of the Belgians and of Louise-Marie of France, first cousin to both, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, on 27 July 1857, in Brussels, Belgium. They had no children.

They lived as the Austrian regents in Milan until 1859 when Emperor Franz Josef dismissed Maximilian. The emperor was angered by the liberal policies pursued by his brother in Italy. Shortly after Maximilian's dismissal, Austria lost control of most of its Italian possessions. He then retired into private life, chiefly at Trieste, near which he built the beautiful castle Miramare.

Offer of a Mexican crown

In 1859 he was first approached by Mexican monarchists, led by local nobleman José Pablo Martínez del Río, with a proposal to become the Emperor of Mexico. He did not accept at first, but sought to satisfy his restless desire for adventure with a botanical expedition to the tropical forests of Brazil. However, after the French intervention in Mexico, under pressure from Napoleon III and after General Élie-Frédéric Forey's capture of Mexico City and the plebiscite which confirmed his proclamation of the empire, he consented to accept the crown in 1863 (Maximilian was not told of the dubious nature of the plebiscite, which was held while French troops were occupying most of the territory). His decision involved the loss of all his noble rights in Austria, though he was not informed of this until just before he left. Archduchess Charlotte was thereafter known as "Her Imperial Majesty Empress Carlota".

Emperor of Mexico

Maximilian landed at Veracruz on 28 May 1864 with the backing of Mexican conservatives and Napoleon III; but from the very outset he found himself involved in serious difficulties since the Mexican liberals, led by Benito Juárez, refused to recognize his rule. There was continuous warfare between his French troops and the Republicans.

The Imperial couple chose as their seat Mexico City. The Emperor and Empress set up their residence at Chapultepec Castle, located on the top of a hill formerly at the outskirts of Mexico City that had been a retreat of Aztec emperors. Maximilian ordered a wide avenue cut through the city from Chapultepec to the city center; originally named Avenue of the Empress, it is today Mexico City's famous Paseo de la Reforma (The Reform Promenade). They made plans to be crowned at the Catedral Metropolitana, but the coronation was never actually carried out, due to the constant instability of the regime.

As Maximilian and Carlota had no children, they adopted Agustín de Iturbide y Green and his cousin Salvador de Iturbide y de Marzán, both grandsons of Agustín de Iturbide, who had briefly reigned as Emperor of Mexico in the 1820s. They gave young Agustín the title of "His Highness, the Prince of Iturbide" and intended to groom him as heir to the throne.

To the dismay of his conservative allies, Maximilian upheld several liberal policies proposed by the Juárez administration – such as land reforms, religious freedoms, and extending the right to vote beyond the landholding class. At first Maximilian offered Juárez an amnesty if he would swear allegiance to the crown, which Juárez refused. Later Maximilian ordered all captured followers of Juárez to be shot, in response to the republican practice of executing anyone who was a supporter of the Empire. In the end, it proved to be a tactical mistake that only exacerbated opposition to his regime.

After the end of the American Civil War the United States began supplying partisans of Juárez and his ally Porfirio Diaz by leaving arms depots for them at El Paso del Norte at the Mexican border. Meanwhile Maximilian invited ex-Confederates to move to Mexico in a series of settlements called the New Virginia Colony, a plan conceived by the Confederate oceanographer and inventor Matthew Fontaine Maury. Maximilian also invited settlers from Austria and Germany.[4]

Nevertheless by 1866 the imminence of Maximilian's abdication seemed apparent to almost everyone outside Mexico. That year Napoleon III withdrew his troops in the face of Mexican resistance and U.S. opposition under the Monroe Doctrine, but the main reason was to increase his military contingent at home to face the ever growing German power of Bismarck. Carlota travelled to Europe, seeking assistance for her husband's regime in Paris and Vienna and, finally, in Rome from Pope Pius IX. Her efforts failed, and she suffered a deep emotional collapse and never went back to Mexico. After her husband was executed by republicans the following year, she spent the rest of her life in seclusion, first at Miramare Castle near Trieste, Italy, and then at Bouchout Castle in Meise, Belgium, where she died on 19 January 1927.


Though urged to abandon Mexico by Napoleon III himself, whose withdrawal from Mexico was a great blow to the Mexican Imperial cause, Maximilian refused to desert his followers. Withdrawing, in February 1867, to Santiago de Querétaro, Querétaro Arteaga, he sustained a siege for several weeks, but on May 11 resolved to attempt an escape through the enemy lines. However the city fell on 15 May 1867, before he could carry out this plan, and he was captured. Following a court-martial, he was sentenced to death. Many of the crowned heads of Europe and other prominent figures (including the eminent liberals Victor Hugo and Giuseppe Garibaldi) sent telegrams and letters to Mexico pleading for Maximilian's life to be spared. Although he liked Maximilian on a personal level, Juárez refused to commute the sentence, believing that it was necessary to send a message that Mexico would not tolerate any government imposed by foreign powers.

The sentence was carried out in the Cerro de las Campanas on 19 June 1867, when Maximilian was executed (together with his generals Miguel Miramón and Tomás Mejía) by a firing squad. His last words were reported to be "Mexicans! Today I die for a fair cause: the freedom and independence of Mexico. May God allow my spilling blood to put an end forever to the disgraces of my new homeland. ¡Viva México!". Although he bribed the seven riflemen not to shoot him in the head, one did it anyway. Maximilian's body was embalmed and displayed in Mexico before being buried in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna, Austria, early the following year.

Titles from birth

Titles Maximilian held from birth, in chronological order:


Further reading

Maximilian's papers were published at Leipzig in 1867, in seven volumes, under the title Aus meinem Leben, Reiseskizzen, Aphorismen, Gedichte (In My Life: Travelogues, Aphorisms & Poems).

Other works:

See also

Franz Liszt wrote a Funeral March in Maximilian's honour in 1867, which was published as No. 6 of Années de Pèlerinage, Troisieme Année in 1883.

In the 1939 film Juarez, Brian Aherne gave a very sympathetic portrayal of Maximilian. His portrayal in 1954's Vera Cruz, by George Macready, was less sympathetic.

Fernando del Paso's novel Noticias del Imperio concerns the life of Maximiliano I and Carlota during their reign in Mexico.

French composer Darius Milhaud wrote an opera entitled Maximilien, which was premiered at the Palais Garnier in 1932.

External links

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Notes and References

  1. Titles include "HIM" for "His Imperial Majesty"; "HI&RH" for "His Imperial and Royal Highness"; and "HE" for "His Eminence".
  2. Maximilian and Carlota by Gene Smith, ISBN 0245524185, ISBN 978-0245524189
  3. Maximilian and Juarez by Jasper Ridley, ISBN 0-89919-989-5
  4. The Lost Cause: The Confederate Exodus to Mexico, by Andew Rolle, ISBN 978-0-8061-1961-8.