I ran across this interesting character when I was perusing my Today in History
book. On April 10,1864 Maximilian the First (Fernando Maximiliano José María de Habsburgo-Lorena) became emperor of Mexico. It is interesting how this came about as Maximilian was an Austrian Archduke, second in line for the throne of Austria. He and his brother Franz Joseph heir to the throne, didn’t get along and Maximilian was looking for ways to distinguish himself.
He was born in Vienna on July 16,1832. Although Max was a sickly child, he distinguished himself in his studies and riding. When his brother became Emperor of Austria in 1848 at eighteen, Max stayed away from court, preferring to travel.
Maximilian joined the Austrian Navy, receiving a lieutenant commission at the age of eighteen. As commander of the Minerva, he explored the coasts of Albania and Dalmatia as well as a long-distance journey to Brazil on the frigate Elizabeth.
In 1854, at 22, he was appointed commander and chief of the Austrian Navy. His open-mindness, honesty, and zeal won over the career navy officers. By 1857, he’d modernized the Austrian navy, and commissioned a large-scale scientific expedition (1857-1859) during which the frigate SMS Novara became the first Austrian Warship to travel around the globe.
He was appointed Viceroy of the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia where he lived with his new bride Charlotte of Belgium from 1857-1859. His brother became angry with Max’s liberal policies and dismissed him from office.
In 1859, Maximilian was approached by the Mexican monarchists (those who believe royalty was needed for Mexico to thrive) with a proposal for him to become emperor of Mexico. Because the Hapsburg family ruled New Spain from its establishment, they felt he had the most legitimate claim to the throne. He refused and instead went on a botanical voyage in the tropical forest of Brazil.
Mexico’s many civil wars created a large debt to European countries. When Mexico suspended their repayment to their European allies, Britain, France and Spain sent naval ships to attack. Britain and Spain negotiated repayment, then withdrew. But France wanted to conquer Mexico.
The change in the political atmosphere made Max rethink his decision and accepted the position of Emperor of Mexico. Many thought it was fools’ errand to step into the monarchy of a country who had already overthrown previous rulers.
He landed in Veracruz on May 29, 1864, and received an icy reception from the townspeople. Veracruz was a liberal town and opposed Maximilian’s claim to the throne. He had the backing of the Mexican Conservative party and Napolean III of France. Benito Juarez (former president) and his liberal party refused to recognize his rule.
The emperor and empress set up their home in a former Aztec castle, Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City, it sat on a hilltop overlooking the city. He ordered a wide avenue constructed from the castle through the center of Mexico City, referred to in present day as Paseo de la Reforma. This was his only true achievement during his short reign.
The constant political strife prevented an official coronation. The couple was childless and adopted Agustin de Iturbide y Green and his cousin Salvadore de Iturbide ye de Marzan, grandsons of the former Emperor of Mexico who resigned in the 1820. Augustin was to be groomed as the future heir to the throne. But Maximillian’s true agenda was to pressure his brother into allowing one of his sons to inherit the throne, rather than someone he deemed not of royal blood.
Maximilian offered Juarez amnesty if he would pledge loyalty to the crown. Juarez refused. He even passed many liberal laws such as land reform and religious freedom, which angered his conservative supporters. It is said the Emperor spoke little to no Spanish, further alienating the citizens.
Max & Charlotte
The United States was too involved with their own Civil War to bother with an emperor they refused to recognize. After the Civil War, Andrew Johnson recognized the Juarez government as the legitimate government of Mexico. American’s support of the rebels and fear they might declare war on Mexico forced France to withdraw their support and troops from Maximilian.He sealed his fate by passing the Black Degree on Oct 3, 1865. Anyone found as part of an armed band against the crown would be executed within twenty-four hours of their arrest. Approximately eleven thousand of Juarez’s supporters were murdered.
By 1866 the world saw the abdication of Maximilian as inevitable. Charlotte traveled throughout Europe seeking aid for her husband to no avail. She was so distressed she never returned to Mexico.
Mexico City fell on May 15, 1867, and the Emperor was captured the next morning. An escape had been arranged, part of his disguise was to shave his beard. He refused stating it would ruin his dignity if he were recaptured.
Even though many European dignitaries sent telegrams asking for his release, Juarez felt not only did he need to answer for the execution of those eleven thousand people, he would be an example to the world that never again would Mexico allow any other nation to rule their country.
At 6:40 am on June 19, 1867, at the age of 34, he was executed by firing squad. He gave each of his executioners a gold coin not to shoot him in the head so that his mother could see his face. His body was entombed among the Austrian royalty. While historically Mexico viewed him as a villain. His wife Charlotte had an emotional breakdown upon hearing of his death and remained a recluse the rest of her life.
Have you ever heard of Maximilian I?
Cindy Ervin Huff is an Award-winning author of Historical and Contemporary Romance. She loves infusing hope into her stories of broken people. She addicted to reading and chocolate. Her idea of a vacation is visiting historical sites and an ideal date with her hubby of almost fifty years would be live theater.
Visit her website www.cindyervinhuff.com
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