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Emperor Maximilian around 1865
|Emperor of Mexico|
|Reign||11 July 1863 – 19 June 1867|
(Benito Juárez, President of Mexico)
(Benito Juárez, President of Mexico)
6 July 1832|
Schönbrunn, Vienna, Austria
|Died||19 June 1867
Cerro de las Campanas, Santiago de Querétaro, Mexico
|Burial||Imperial Crypt, Vienna, Austria|
|Spouse||Charlotte of Belgium|
|Father||Archduke Franz Karl of Austria|
|Mother||Princess Sophie of Bavaria|
Maximilian (Spanish: Maximiliano; born Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph; 6 July 1832 – 19 June 1867) was the only monarch of the Second Mexican Empire. He was a younger brother of the Austrian emperor Francis Joseph I. After a distinguished career in the Austrian Navy, he accepted an offer by Napoleon III of France to rule Mexico. France (along with the United Kingdom and Spain, who both withdrew the following year after negotiating agreements with Mexico's democratic government) had invaded the Mexican Republic in the winter of 1861, as part of the War of the French Intervention. Seeking to legitimize French rule in the Americas, Napoleon III invited Maximilian to establish a new Mexican monarchy for him. With the support of the French army, and a group of conservative Mexican monarchists hostile to the liberal administration of new Mexican President Benito Juárez, Maximilian traveled to Mexico. Once there, he declared himself Emperor of Mexico on 10 April 1864.
The Empire managed to gain recognition by major European powers including Britain, Austria, and Prussia. The United States however, continued to recognize Juárez as the legal president of Mexico. Maximilian never completely defeated the Mexican Republic; Republican forces led by President Benito Juárez continued to be active during Maximilian's rule. With the end of the American Civil War in 1865, the United States (which had been too distracted by its own civil war to confront the Europeans' 1861 invasion of what it considered to be its sphere of influence) began more explicit aid of President Juárez's forces. Matters worsened for Maximilian after the French armies withdrew from Mexico in 1866. His self-declared empire collapsed, and he was captured and executed by the Mexican government in 1867. His wife, Charlotte of Belgium (Carlota), had left for Europe earlier to try to build support for her husband's regime; after his execution, she suffered an emotional collapse and was declared insane.
Maximilian was born on 6 July 1832 in the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, capital of the Austrian Empire. He was baptized the following day as Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph. The first name honored his godfather and paternal uncle, The King of Hungary and the second honored his maternal grandfather, The King of Bavaria.
His father was Archduke Franz Karl, the second surviving son of The Emperor of Austria, during whose reign he was born. Maximilian was thus a member of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine, a female-line cadet branch of the House of Habsburg. His mother was Princess Sophie of Bavaria, a member of the House of Wittelsbach. Intelligent, ambitious and strong-willed, Sophie had little in common with her husband, whom historian Richard O'Conner characterized as "an amiably dim fellow whose main interest in life was consuming bowls of dumplings drenched in gravy." Despite their different personalities, the marriage was fruitful, and after four miscarriages, four sons—including Maximilian—would reach adulthood.
Rumors at the court stated that Maximilian was in fact the product of an extramarital affair between his mother and his first cousin Napoleon II, The Duke of Reichstadt, only legitimate son of French Emperor Napoleon I; the Duke's mother was Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma, former Empress of the French, Maximilian's aunt. The existence of an illicit affair between Sophie and the Duke, and any possibility that Maximilian was conceived from such a union, are widely dismissed by historians.[A]
Adhering to traditions inherited from the Spanish court during Habsburg rule, Maximilian's upbringing was closely supervised. Until his sixth birthday, he was cared for by Baroness Louise von Sturmfeder, who was his aja (then rendered "nurse", now nanny). Afterwards, his education was entrusted to a tutor. Most of Maximilian's day was spent in study. The thirty-two hours per week of classes at age 7 steadily grew until it reached fifty-five hours per week by the time he was 17. The disciplines were diverse: ranging from history, geography, law and technology, to languages, military studies, fencing and diplomacy. In addition to his native German, he eventually learned to speak Hungarian, Slovak, English, French, Italian and Spanish. From an early age, Maximilian tried to surpass his older brother Francis Joseph in everything; attempting to prove to all that he was the better qualified and deserving of more than second place status.
The highly restrictive environment of the Austrian court was not enough to repress Maximilian's natural openness. He was joyful, highly charismatic and able to captivate those around him with ease. Although he was a charming boy, he was also undisciplined. He mocked his teachers and was often the instigator of pranks—even including his uncle, Emperor Ferdinand I, among his victims. Nonetheless Maximilian was very popular. His attempts to outshine his older brother and ability to charm opened a rift with the aloof and self-contained Franz Joseph that would widen as years passed, and the times when both were close friends in childhood would be all but forgotten.
In 1848, revolutions erupted across Europe. In the face of protests and riots, Emperor Ferdinand I abdicated in favor of Maximilian's brother, who became Francis Joseph I. Maximilian accompanied him on campaigns to put down rebellions throughout the Empire. Only in 1849 would the revolution be stamped out in Austria, with hundreds of rebels executed and thousands imprisoned. Maximilian was horrified at what he regarded as senseless brutality and openly complained about it. He would later remark: "We call our age the Age of Enlightenment, but there are cities in Europe where, in the future, men will look back in horror and amazement at the injustice of tribunals, which in a spirit of vengeance condemned to death those whose only crime lay in wanting something different to the arbitrary rule of governments which placed themselves above the law."
Maximilian was a particularly clever boy who displayed considerable culture in his taste for the arts, and he demonstrated an early interest in science, especially botany. When he entered military service, he was trained in the Austrian Navy. He threw himself into this career with so much zeal that he quickly rose to high command.
He was made a lieutenant in the navy at the age of eighteen. In 1854, he sailed as commander in the corvette Minerva, on an exploring expedition along the coast of Albania and Dalmatia. Maximilian was especially interested in the maritime and undertook many long-distance journeys (for Brazil) on the frigate Elisabeth. In 1854, he was only 22 years—as a younger brother of the Emperor, and thus a member of the ruling family—he was appointed as commander in chief of the Austrian Navy (1854–1861), which he reorganized in the following years. Like Archduke Friedrich (1821–1847) before him, Maximilian had a keen private interest in the fleet, and with him the Austrian naval force gained an influential supporter from the ranks of the Imperial Family. This was crucial as sea power was never a priority of Austrian foreign policy and the navy itself was relatively little known or supported by the public. It was only able to draw significant public attention and funds when it was actively supported by an imperial prince. As Commander-in-Chief, Maximilian carried out many reforms to modernise the naval forces, and was instrumental in creating the naval port at Trieste and Pola (now Pula) as well as the battle fleet with which admiral Wilhelm von Tegetthoff would later secure his victories. He also initiated a large-scale scientific expedition (1857–1859) during which the frigate SMS Novara became the first Austrian warship to circumnavigate the globe.
In his political views, Archduke Maximilian was very much influenced by the progressive ideas in vogue at the time. He had a reputation as a liberal, and this led,[how?] in February 1857, to his appointment as viceroy of the Kingdom of Lombardy–Venetia.
On 27 July 1857, in Brussels, Archduke Maximilian married his second cousin Princess Charlotte of Belgium (later known as Empress Carlota of Mexico), the daughter of Leopold I, King of the Belgians and Louise-Marie of France. She was first cousin to both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Maximilian and Charlotte had no children together.
They lived as the Austrian regents in Milan or Viceroys of Lombardy-Venetia from 1857 until 1859, when Emperor Francis Joseph, angered by his brother's liberal policies, dismissed him. Shortly after, Austria lost control of most of its Italian possessions. Maximilian then retired to Trieste, near which he built the castle Miramare.
In 1859, Ferdinand Maximilian was first approached by Mexican monarchists—members of the Mexican aristocracy, led by local nobleman José Pablo Martínez del Río—with a proposal to become the Emperor of Mexico. The Habsburg family had ruled the Viceroyalty of New Spain from its establishment until the Spanish throne was inherited by Bourbons. So, Maximilian was considered to have more potential legitimacy than other royalty, but Maximilian was unlikely to ever rule in Europe due to his elder brother. In Paris, 20 October 1861, Maximilian received a letter from Gutierrez de Estrada asking him to take the Mexican throne. 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, Maximilian changed his mind after the French intervention in Mexico. At the invitation from Napoleon III, after General Élie-Frédéric Forey's capture of Mexico City and a French-staged plebiscite that confirmed his proclamation of the empire, Maximilian consented to accept the crown in October 1863. His decision involved the loss of all his nobility 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".
In April 1864, Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian stepped down from his duties as Chief of Naval Section of the Austrian Navy. He traveled from Trieste aboard SMS Novara, escorted by the frigates SMS Bellona (Austrian) and Themis (French), and the Imperial yacht Phantasie led the warship procession from his palace at Miramare out to sea. They received a blessing from Pope Pius IX, and Queen Victoria ordered the Gibraltar garrison to fire a salute for Maximilian's passing ship.
The new emperor of Mexico landed at Veracruz on 21 May 1864, and received a cold reception from the townspeople. Veracruz was a liberal town, and the liberal voters were opposed to having Maximilian on the throne. He had the backing of Mexican conservatives and Napoleon III, but from the very outset he found himself involved in serious difficulties since the Liberal forces led by President 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 Paseo de la Emperatriz, it is today Mexico City's famous boulevard, Paseo de la Reforma. He also acquired a country retreat at Cuernavaca. The royal couple made plans to be crowned at the Catedral Metropolitana but, due to the constant instability of the regime, the coronation was never carried out. Maximilian was shocked by the living conditions of the poor in contrast to the magnificent haciendas of the upper class. Empress Carlota began holding parties for the wealthy Mexicans to raise money for poor houses. One of Maximilian's 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.
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. Iturbide and his cousin were granted the title Prince de Iturbide and style of Highness by imperial decree of 16 September 1865 and were ranked after the reigning family. They intended to groom Agustín as heir to the throne. However, Maximilian never intended to give the crown to the Iturbides because he considered that they were not of royal blood. It was all a charade directed to his brother Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria, as he explained himself: either Karl gave him one of his sons as an heir, or he would give everything to the Iturbide children.
To the dismay of his conservative allies, Maximilian upheld several liberal policies proposed by the Juárez administration – such as land reforms, religious freedom, 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, even offering the post of Prime Minister, which Juárez refused.
After the end of the American Civil War, the United States government used increasing diplomatic pressure to persuade Napoleon III to end French support of Maximilian and to withdraw French troops from Mexico. Washington began supplying partisans of Juárez and his ally Porfirio Díaz by "losing" arms depots for them at El Paso del Norte at the Mexican border. The prospect of a United States invasion to reinstate Juárez caused a large number of Maximilian's loyal adherents to abandon the cause and leave the capital.
Meanwhile, Maximilian invited ex-Confederates to move to Mexico in a series of settlements called the "Carlota Colony" and the New Virginia Colony with a dozen others being considered, a plan conceived by the internationally renowned U.S. Navy oceanographer and inventor Matthew Fontaine Maury. Maximilian also invited settlers from "any country" including Austria and the other German states.
Maximilian issued his Black Decree on October 3, 1865. Its first article stated that: "All individuals forming a part of armed bands or bodies existing without legal authority, whether or not proclaiming a political pretext, whatever the number of those forming such band, or its organization, character, and denomination, shall be judged militarily by the courts martial. If found guilty, even though only of the fact of belonging to an armed band, they shall be condemned to capital punishment, and the sentence shall be executed within twenty-four hours". It is calculated that more than eleven thousand of Juarez's supporters were executed as a result of the Black Decree, but at the end it only inflamed the Mexican Resistance.
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, as well as increasing his military contingent at home to face the ever growing Prussian military and 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, never admitting her husband's death, first at Miramare Castle in Trieste, Austria-Hungary, then 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 troop withdrawal from Mexico was a great blow to the Mexican Imperial cause, Maximilian refused to desert his followers. Maximilian allowed his followers to determine whether or not he abdicated. Faithful generals such as Miguel Miramón, Leonardo Márquez, and Tomás Mejía vowed to raise an army that would challenge the invading Republicans. Maximilian fought on with his army of 8,000 Mexican loyalists. Withdrawing, in February 1867, to Santiago de Querétaro, he sustained a siege for several weeks, but on May 11 resolved to attempt an escape through the enemy lines. This plan was sabotaged by Colonel Miguel López who was bribed by the Republicans to open a gate and lead a raiding party, though with the agreement that Maximilian would be allowed to escape.
The city fell on 15 May 1867 and Maximilian was captured the next morning after the failure of an attempt to escape through Republican lines by a loyal hussar cavalry brigade led by Felix Salm-Salm. 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 desperately for the Emperor's life to be spared. Although he liked Maximilian on a personal level, Juárez refused to commute the sentence in view of the Mexicans who had been killed fighting against Maximilian's forces, and because he believed it was necessary to send a message that Mexico would not tolerate any government imposed by foreign powers. Felix Salm-Salm and his wife masterminded a plan and bribed the jailors to allow Maximilian to escape execution. However, Maximilian would not go through with the plan because he felt that shaving his beard to avoid recognition would ruin his dignity if he were to be recaptured. The sentence was carried out in the Cerro de las Campanas on the morning of 19 June 1867, when Maximilian, along with Generals Miramón and Mejía, were executed by a firing squad. 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. 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!" Generals Miramón and Mejía were shot after him. Both died shouting, "Long live the Emperor."
After his execution, Maximilian's body was embalmed and displayed in Mexico. Early the following year, the Austrian admiral Wilhelm von Tegetthoff was sent to Mexico aboard SMS Novara to take the former emperor's body back to Austria. After arriving in Trieste, the coffin was taken to Vienna and placed within the Imperial Crypt, on 18 January 1868, where it can be viewed today.
The Emperor Maximilian Memorial Chapel was constructed on the hill where his execution took place.
Maximilian has been praised by some historians for his liberal reforms, his genuine desire to help the people of Mexico, his refusal to desert his loyal followers, and his personal bravery during the siege of Querétaro. However, other researchers consider him short-sighted in political and military affairs, and unwilling to restore democracy in Mexico even during the imminent collapse of the Second Mexican Empire. Today, anti-republican and anti-liberal far right groups who advocate the Second Mexican Empire, such as the Nationalist Front of Mexico, are reported to gather every year in Querétaro to commemorate the execution of Maximilian and his followers. Maximilian is portrayed in the 1934 Mexican film Juárez y Maximiliano by Enrique Herrera and the 1939 American film Juarez by Brian Aherne. He also appeared in one scene in the 1954 American film Vera Cruz, played by George Macready. In the Mexican telenovela "El Vuelo del Águila", Maximilian was portrayed by Mexican actor Mario Iván Martínez. 
In the wake of his death, carte-de-visite cards with photographs commemorating his execution circulated both among his followers and among those who wished to celebrate his death. One such card featured a photograph of the shirt he wore to his execution, riddled with bullet holes.
Maximilian I of Mexico
|Reference style||His Imperial Majesty|
|Spoken style||Your Imperial Majesty|
|Coat of Arms of His Imperial Majesty, Maximilian of Mexico|
|Ancestors of Maximilian I of Mexico|