Maximillian I, Emperor of Mexico
Emperor of Mexico (1864-1867)
Maximilian I was the second emperor and only monarch ever to have ruled Mexico. Mexico was in turmoil when a delegation composed of members of the Mexican aristocracy was sent to Europe in search of support to establish a monarchy in Mexico. The country needed money, troops and a European nobleman to be the head of a monarchy. With the support of Napoleon III of France and a group of Mexican monarchists, Maximilian was made emperor of Mexico in 1864, but his reign tragically ended, only three years later, in 1867, when he was executed by a firing squad at Cerro de las Campanas, Queretaro.
Maximilian was born on July 6, 1832 in Vienna, Austria. He was later baptized as Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph. His father was Archduke Franz Karl, and his mother was a Bavarian princess of the house of Wittelsbach named Sophie. As a child, he was educated by a tutor in various disciplines, including geography, history, law, languages, art, science, military studies and diplomacy. At a young age, he enrolled in the military service, and in 1854, at the age of twenty two, he took charge as Commander in Chief of the Austrian Navy, where he demonstrated his commitment and made an outstanding career.
Maximilian was a member of the House of Habsburg, an important royal house in Europe known for being the source of the elected Holy Roman Emperors, the rulers of the Austrian empire, the Spanish empire, as well as other countries across Europe. Since birth, he was given the royal title of Archduke of Austria due to his nexus to the House of Habsburg. Maximilian´s older brother, and heir of the crown of his father, was Franz Joseph. In 1857, Maximilian married Princess Charlotte of Belgium, daughter of Leopold I of Belgium and Louise Marie of France. There were no children born from this marriage.
Agustin de Iturbide
First Emperor of Mexico
The idea of establishing a monarchy in Mexico had been present since the date Mexico gained its independence from Spain. Originally the crown was offered to Fernando VII of Spain; however, the Spanish courts forbade the aforementioned king from accepting the crown of the new Empire. This led the Mexicans to impose their liberator, Agustin de Iturbide, as the first emperor of the nascent monarchy. Agustin de Iturbide as monarch of Mexico did not surpassed the nine months before he was overthrown and executed, and a republican state was imposed in Mexico supported by the U.S. government.
Despite the attempts to establish a monarchy in Mexico, all seemed to be interrupted by the political interests of the United States, as they didn´t find it convenient to their interests the establishment of a monarchy near their territory. The United States backed up by the Monroe Doctrine imposed their system of republican states in the American continent, declaring as a threat any other foreign government system different from the one they had adopted. For the United States convincing Mexico from adopting their system was not going to be an easy task, since the prehispanic civilization had lived under a monarchy system before the arrival of the Spanish, and after gaining independence, Mexico was proclaimed as a new empire.
Mexican Delegation in Miramar
Paseo de la Emperatriz. Today known as: ¨Paseo de la Reforma¨
The Imperial Crown of Mexico is Offered to Maximilian I
After the republican defeat in Mexico, it was agreed that the traditional empire system be restored, so a delegation composed of members of the Mexican aristocracy crossed the Atlantic to offer Maximilian, who had been proposed by Napoleon III, the Mexican crown. Upon meeting with the Mexican delegation in his residence at Miramar Castle, Maximilian demanded to know if the Mexican people wanted to see him as the head of the Mexican empire. They informed him that a plebiscite was held during which the majority of Mexicans accepted the establishment of a monarchy in Mexico; however, they did not tell him that the plebiscite was held while French troops were occupying most of the Mexican territory.
Maximilian accepted the crown of the new empire, and upon arriving at the port of Veracruz on May 28, 1864, the troops of Napoleon III, who had offered him his support, were already stationed in Mexico at Maximilian´s disposition. Soon, the new emperor noticed the great disparity between the country´s rich and poor. To the disappointment of those who elected him as emperor of Mexico, Maximilian supported most of the liberal reforms set forth by President Benito Juarez.
The imperial couple established their permanent residence in Chapultepec Castle in the outskirts of Mexico City. He ordered a big avenue, originally named Paseo de la Emperatriz, to be built from Chapultepec Castle to the City’s main plaza. Today, that avenue is known as Paseo de la Reforma. Maximilian ordered new museums, public parks and statues, trying to preserve Mexican culture. He ordered the restriction of working hours and abolished child labor. He also brought to an end the monopoly of Hacienda stores and decreed that laborers would no longer be sold in exchange for debt. Empress Carlota organized parties for wealthy Mexicans with the intention of raising money for the poor.
The United States Refused to Accept a Monarchy Near their Territory
When the United States got over their civil war, they turned towards Mexico and recognized Benito Juarez as the legitimate President of Mexico. They also declared a possible invasion to reinstate Benito Juarez as President of Mexico. This caused several of Maximilian’s loyals to leave the city. That year, facing Mexican resistance and the U.S. opposition under the Monroe Doctrine, Napoleon III withdrew his troops, which were sent to Europe to confront a military struggle against Prussia. During these times, Mexico suffered economic problems and was deeply indebted.
Last Moments Before Maximilian´s Execution
Carlota travelled to Europe, hoping to find assistance for Maximilian in Paris, where she received an answer from Napoleon III, saying that he would not invest money in an affair without future. She did not go to Vienna knowing Maximilian’s brother, Franz Joseph would refuse to help, and in Rome, her efforts to obtain assistance from Pope Pius IX were in vain. She did not succeed at the enterprise and suffered an emotional collapsed which impeded her to return to Mexico. She was taken by her brother to Miramar Castle, where she died on January 19, 1927, at the age of 86.
Urged by Napoleon III to abandon Mexico, Maximilian refused and fought with an army of nearly 8,000 Mexican loyalists. He and his loyalists had to retreat to Santiago de Queretaro, where he resisted for several weeks after which he was captured on May 16, 1867 after a failed attempt to break through enemy lines. He followed a martial court and was sentenced to death. Many prominent figures from Europe sent letters to the Mexican government pleading for the emperor’s life, but President Benito Juarez refused to condone the sentence, considering this as a necessary measure of intolerance from the nation of Mexico to imposed governments by foreign powers. On June 19, 1867 Maximilian was executed in Cerro de las Campanas, Queretaro.
Maximilian was a noble man with high moral values, who was deceived to accept the Mexican crown.
During his monarchy in Mexico, Maximilian did some valuable deeds for the Mexican people, especially the poor.
He ordered the embellishment of the city, by building monuments, public parks and avenues.
Maximilian´s body was embalmed and remained in Mexico for around 8 months.
One year after Maximilian´s execution, Austrian Admiral Wilhem Von Tegetthoff took Maximilian´s body Back to Austria.
Maximilian´s body was buried in Vienna in the Imperial Crypt on January 18, 1868.
© 2012 Jose Juan Gutierrez