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Maximilian of Mexico

Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico, (July 6, 1832 - June 19, 1867) was an Austrian noble of the Habsburg family. With the backing of Napoleon III of France and a group of Mexican Conservativos, he was proclamed Emperor of Mexico on April 10, 1864. Many Mexicans and foreign governments refused to recognize this, and Maximilian was executed after his capture by Mexican Republicans.

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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. Maximilian was born as His Imperial Highness Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph, Archduke of Austria, Prince of Hungary and Bohemia

He was a particularly clever boy, showed considerable taste for the arts, and early displayed an 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 Austria lost control of Lombardy. He then retired into private life, chiefly at Trieste, near which he built the beautiful chateau of Miramar[?].

Offer of a Mexican Crown In 1859 he was first approached by Mexican exiles with the proposal to become the candidate for the throne of Mexico. He did not at first accept, but sought to satisfy his restless desire for adventure by a botanical expedition to the tropical forests of Brazil. In 1863, however, under pressure from Napoleon III, and after General 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 plebescite, which was taken by the French troops occupying the city.) Maximilian's decision was contrary to the advice of his brother, the emperor Francis Joseph, and involved the loss of all his rights in Austria. (Charlotte was thereafter known as the Empress Carlota).

On the voyage to Mexico, Maximillian rather than read the books on Mexico offered him, 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 difficulties of the most serious kind, as the Mexican Liberales and Republicans, led by President Benito Juarez, refused to recognize his rule, and there was continuous warfare between the 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 accademy. 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 Agustin de Iturbide y Green a grandson of earlier "Emperor of Mexico", Augustin de Iturbide. They gave young Augustin the title of "His Highness Prince of Iturbide", and they intended to groom as heir to the throne.

To the dismay of his Conservativo allies, Maximilian upheld several liberal reforms of the Juarez adminstration such as land reform, allowing freedom of religion, and extending the vote beyond the landholding class. At first Maximilian offered Juarez an amnesty if he would join with Maximilian, which Juarez refused. Later Maximilian ordered all captured followers of Juarez to be shot, which only increased opposition to his regime.

After the end of the American Civil War the United States began supplying arms to the Republicans. By 1866 the necessity of Maximilian's abdication was apparent to almost every one outside of Mexico.

In 1866 Napoleon III withdrew his troops in the face of Mexican resistance and U.S. opposition. 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 into 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 in castles at Laeken, Belgium, and near Trieste, Italy.

Though urged to quit 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 there sustained a siege for several weeks, but on the 1lth of May resolved to attempt an escape through the enemy lines. He was, however, arrested before he could carry out this resolution, and after trial by court-martial was condemned to death. Many of the crowned heads of Europe sent telegrams and letters to Mexico pleading for Maximilian's life to be spared, but Juarez refused to commute the sentence, believing that it was necessary to send a message that Mexico would not tolerate any monarchy imposed by foreign powers.

The sentence was carried out on June 19, 1867 when Maximilian was executed (together with his generals Miramón and Mejía) by 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



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