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Maximilian of Mexico
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Maximilian of Mexico

Maximilian I, Emperor of Mexico, (July 6, 1832 - June 19, 1867) was a member of Austria's Imperial Habsburg family. With the backing of Napoleon III of France and a group of Mexican conservatives, he was proclaimed Emperor of Mexico on April 10, 1864. Many Mexicans and foreign governments refused to recognize his government and Maximilian was executed after his capture by Mexican republicans.

Table of contents
1 Early Life
2 Offer of a Mexican Crown
3 Emperor of Mexico
4 Related readings

Early Life

Maximilian was born in Schönbrunn, Vienna, Austria, the second son of Franz Karl Josef, Archduke of Austria and his wife Sophie Fredericka of Bavaria. His brother was Emperor Franz Josef of Austria (sometimes identified by the English spelling Francis Joseph). Maximilian was born as His Imperial Highness Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph, Archduke of Austria, Prince of Hungary and Bohemia.

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 mainly instrumental in creating the naval port of Trieste and the fleet with which Admiral Wilhelm von Tegethoff won his victories in the Italian War. He had some reputation as a Liberal, and this led, in February 1857, to his appointment as viceroy of the Lombardo-Venetian kingdom.

He married, on July 27, 1857, at Brussels, Belgium, Princess Charlotte of Belgium, daughter of Leopold I, King of the Belgians.

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 chateau of Miramare.

Offer of a Mexican Crown

In 1859 he was first approached by Mexican monarchists 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. In 1863, however, 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 (Maximilian was not told of the dubious nature of the plebiscite, which was held while French troops were occupying the city.) His decision was contrary to the advice of his brother, Emperor Franz Josef, and involved the loss of all his noble rights in Austria. (Charlotte was thereafter known as the Empress Carlota).

On the voyage to Mexico, instead of reading the books on Mexico that were offered to him, Maximilian spent his time writing a manual of court etiquette.

Emperor of Mexico

Maximilian landed at Veracruz on May 28, 1864; but from the very outset he found himself involved in serious difficulties since the Mexican liberals, led by President Benito Juárez, refused to recognize his rule and there was continuous warfare between his French troops and the Mexican republicans.

The Emperor and Empress set up their palace at Chapultepec, a hill on the outskirts of Mexico City that had been a retreat for Aztec emperors and more recently a military academy. Maximilian ordered a wide avenue cut through the city from Chapultepec to the city center; originally named Avenue of the Emperor, it is today Mexico City's famous Paseo de la Reforma.

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, an earlier Emperor of Mexico. 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 reforms 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: a tactical mistake that only exacerbated opposition to his regime.

After the end of the American Civil War the United States began supplying arms to the republicans. By 1866 the imminence of Maximilian's abdication was apparent to almost everyone outside Mexico.

In 1866 Napoleon III withdrew his troops in the face of Mexican resistance and U.S. opposition under the Monroe Doctrine. Carlota travelled to Europe, seeking assistance for her husband's regime in Paris and Vienna and, finally, in Rome from the Pope. Her efforts failed, and she suffered a profound emotional collapse (some say insanity) and never went back to Mexico. After the Mexicans executed her husband the following year, she spent the rest of her life in seclusion, first at Miramar Castle near Trieste, Italy, and then at the Château de Bouchout in Meise, Belgium, where she died on January 19, 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 Querétaro, he sustained a siege for several weeks, but on 11 May resolved to attempt an escape through the enemy lines. He was, however, intercepted before he could carry out this plan and, following a court-martial, was sentenced to death. Many of the crowned heads of Europe and other prominent figures (including Victor Hugo and Giuseppe Garibaldi) sent telegrams and letters to Mexico pleading for Maximilian's life to be spared, but 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 on June 19, 1867 when Maximilian was executed (together with his generals Miguel Miramón and Tomás Mejía) by a firing squad. Maximilian was buried in the Imperial Vault at Kapuzinergruft, Vienna, Austria, early the following year.

Related readings

Maximilian's papers were published at Leipzig in 1867, in seven volumes, under the title Aus meinem Leben, Reiseskizzen, Aphorismen, Gedichte.

See also: History of Mexico, Habsburg