Maximilian I Emperor of Mexico 1864 – 1867

This month I revisited one of the most controversial characters in the history of Mexico.I am talking about Maximilian Archiduke of Austria, Emperor of Mexico. He has been portrayed as an infamous character, yet when you read his biography, you realize he was a pawn in a game of thrones – Austria-France-Vatican.

I believe it is vital to understand the world of Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph of Austria, before he become the Emperor of Mexico.
The ideas of the Enlightenment
such as democracy, freedom of expression, constitutional monarchies, and economic rights, that played the main role in the independence of the United States of America in 1776;  became the cause of uprisings by the working class and the merchants of the middle class all over Europe in the 1800s. France Revolution in 1848, and the violent Vienna and Hungary uprisings forced Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria to abdicate to his 18 year old nephew Franz Joseph, older brother of Maximilian. Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria’s Holy Roman Empire married Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie in Bavaria a.k.a. Sissi, who became Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary [There is a movie about Sissi becoming the Empress of the Austria-Hungary Empire titled “Forever my Love”.


Maximilian’s Youth

Maximilian was tutored to become a monarch, he was smart and liked the arts, and had an early interest in science, especially botany, like Alexander Humboldt. As commander in chief of the Imperial Austrian Navy, Maximilian initiated a large-scale scientific expedition (1857–1859) during which the frigate SMS Novara became the first Austrian warship to circumnavigate the globe. In the same fashion as Humboldt in 1799, and Darwin in 1831. [] Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian (the future emperor of Mexico), dressed in the uniform of the Imperial Navy.

On 27 July 1857, in Brussels, Archduke Maximilian married his second cousin  Princess Charlotte of Belgium, the only daughter of Leopold I of Belgium and Louise
of Orléans
at the Royal Palace of Brussels.
They lived in Milan, the capital of Lombardy-Venetia, from 1857 until 1859, when Emperor Franz Joseph, angered by his brother’s liberal policies, dismissed him. Maximilian then retired to Trieste, where he built Miramare Castle.

Maximilian was very much influenced by the progressive and scientific ideas of liberal democracy of his time. He had a reputation as a liberal from his time in Milan, yet, he was offered the Mexican throne by Mexican Monarchists- allied to the Vatican twice, in 1859, and 1860 and he did not accept at first, because he was planning a botanical expedition on the SMS Novara to the tropical forests of Brazil, similar to that of Humboldt and Darwin before him.

Maximilian as Emperor of Mexico 1864 -1867.

Maximilian had plans to established a “Constitutional Monarchy” with representative from various groups, similar to that of the Parliament in England. When he arrived in Veracruz, he felt he was on a mission to improve living conditions of the poor and he upheld several liberal policies proposed by the Juárez administration – such as the confiscation of ecclesiastical property. He integrated members of the liberal party to his cabinet.

Maximilian cancelled all debts that the peons had acquired with the landowners over 10 pesos. He shortened work hours – put an end to child laboroutlawed corporal punishmentre-established communal property and brought an end of monopoly of the Hacienda stores.
He issued a decree that from thereon, peons could not be traded against their debts,  and “freedom of worship.”Maximilian explicitly enumerated the rights of man and of the citizen, what we now call human rights; these were: equality before the law, personal security, property, free exercise of worship and freedom of the press. These rights were guaranteed, along with others, for all the inhabitants of the empire. And, “Habeas Corpus a right intended to protect personal freedom against arbitrary or illegal detentions,

These were just a few of the laws and decrees he issued that reflected the fact that Maximilian recognized the Juarista legislation and he even invited Benito Juárez to form part of his government as Minister of Justice —although Juarez did not accept—saying:

When a king makes a mistake, he changes the people, When a president makes a mistake, the people change him. 

Maximilian believed that there was only one word that separated his and Juarez’ political views, and that was “democracy”  the right to govern ourselves.
Maximilian believed that an elected official could be bribe, and a monarch could not. He also believed that the people would elect someone who would promise much but without principles, and a monarch will always do what was right for the country.

During the years of the French intervention and Maximilian’s empire, Benito Juarez, elected president of the United States of Mexico Juárez left the capital and set up a government in “internal exile” from his black carriage. He traveled around the country protecting the “Archives of the Nation” from the Conservative army that supported Maximilian.

Maximilian's Carriage

Maximilian’s Carriage

 Maximilian annual salary was of one and a half million pesos and another 200 thousand for Empress Carlota” added for being royalty.

Benito Juarez’ Carriage[/caption]

Benito Juarez annual salary was of 60 thousand pesos.


The beginning of the end of the monarchy in Mexico

By 1866, France was facing a war with Prussia, strong Mexican resistance, and U.S. pressure under the Monroe Doctrine. Napoleon III did not want to add a confrontation with the United States, and in 1866 France withdrew his army from Mexico. Carlota went to Europe trying to get support from the Vatican and other monarchies, but was not successful, and she never returned to Mexico. 

Maximilian was reluctant to abdicate and desert his followers. His forces sustained a siege in the city of Queretaro for several weeks. On 11 May, Maximilian attempted an escape but he was captured, convicted and sentenced to death.
A number of monarchs of Europe and other prominent figures including Victor Hugo and Giuseppe Garibaldi sent telegrams and letters to Mexico requesting that the Emperor’s life be spared.

Although Juárez respected Maximilian on a personal level, he refused to commute the sentence in view of the Mexicans who had been killed fighting against Maximilian’s forces, defending the republic, and because he believed 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 at 6:40 a.m. on the morning of 19 June 1867, when Maximilian, along with Generals Miramón and Mejía, was executed by a firing squad. He spoke only in Spanish and gave each of his executioners a gold coin to aim at his heart, not to shoot him in the head so that his mother could see his face.

After Maximilian’s execution, his 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 late emperor’s body back to Austria. After arriving in Trieste, the coffin was taken to Vienna and placed in the Imperial Crypt on 18 January 1868. The Emperor Maximilian Memorial Chapel was constructed on the hill where his execution took place.[


It is my sincere hope that you read Maximilian and Benito Juarez biographies. There are so many interesting facts about them and their time that I could not include here.
For me, he was used as a pawn in a game of power by the Vatican to restore the power of the Catholic church, by the Mexican Monarchists in Mexico, by Napoleon III and by Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria

Books about Maximilian I that you might want to read or gift.



Spread the love

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *