Maximilian (1832–1867)

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Maximilian (1832–1867)

Maximilian (b. 6 July 1832; d. 19 June 1867), emperor of Mexico (1864–1867). Born in the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, Maximilian was the younger brother of Emperor Francis Joseph. He served as Austrian governor of Lombardy and Venetia from February 1857 until April 1859, when his liberal policies caused a breach with the Vienna authorities. In July 1857, he married Charlotte (known in Mexico as Carlota), daughter of Leopold I of the Belgians, who had earlier declined the Greek throne and the offer of a Mexican crown on the grounds that financial support had been lacking. Carlota, however, fervently believed in the Mexican imperial idea.

Rather than a politician, Maximilian was a romantic who wanted to do something for humanity. Before Napoleon III's suggestion of the Mexican crown, he had traveled the Mediterranean, and by the end of 1859, had also visited Madeira and Brazil. Francis Joseph, reluctant to be drawn into the Mexican scheme, left the matter of the crown to Maximilian, who verbally accepted the offer on 3 October 1863. Following Maximilian's acceptance, Napoleon, in the secret convention of Miramar, agreed to maintain an army of 20,000 men in Mexico until 1867 and the Foreign Legion until 1873, while in exchange, Mexico would cover the entire cost as well as pay back its past debts. In September-October 1863, he was apparently studying Lucas Alamán's Historia de México, a pro-monarchy tract. On 10 April 1864, Maximilian formally accepted the crown offered to him by a delegation of Mexican monarchists. Four days later he and Carlota set sail, by way of Rome, where they received the blessing of Pope Pius IX, reaching Mexico City on 12 June, after a Te Deum celebrated at the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe by Archbishop Labastida. Maximilian had no intention of restoring the position of the church to that held before the Reform Laws, an attitude that led to intense conflict with the bishops and the papal nuncio. He ignored the pope's request to suspend Liberal measures, which he himself had ratified, and issued imperial decrees confirming purchases of ecclesiastical properties (28 December 1864) and continuing sales—though providing for division of rural properties (26 February 1865).

Maximilian also was determined to free himself of the French and disliked Marshal François Bazaine, the French commander in chief in Mexico, who had abandoned the attempt to create a Mexican army late in 1864. The French army encountered fierce guerrilla resistance across Mexico. At the same time, Maximilian made the serious mistake of sending Miguel Miramón and Leonardo Márquez, the best Conservative generals, on missions in Europe.

Maximilian's Council of State and cabinet consisted in the main of moderates, since there existed little basis of support for the empire among Conservatives and the clergy. The emperor's competition for the middle ground was undermined further by Napoleon III's determination from late 1866 to evacuate all French forces. After Miramón's return to France in November, Maximilian for the first time became dependent on the Conservatives for his survival. He had in the meantime withdrawn to Orizaba for one month to ponder the question of abdication and indulge his passion for catching butterflies. Meanwhile, Carlota went to France to appeal to Napoleon III to save the empire by committing more funds. She reached Paris in August 1866, but to no avail.

Maximilian's decision to remain on the throne was made public on 30 November 1866. A junta of notables voted on 14 January 1867 in Mexico City to uphold the empire by one vote, in spite of Bazaine's reservations concerning the empire's military position. Maximilian refused to abandon Mexico City with the last French troops and departed for the interior to take personal command of his army. He was captured by forces loyal to President Benito Juárez and was summarily tried and executed at Querétaro on 19 June 1867. The case against him rested on Juárez's decree of 25 January 1862 for the execution of all collaborators, and the death sentence, which Juárez refused to commute, was determined by the imperial decree of 3 October 1865, which had established the death penalty for all members of rebel bands or bandit groups. Juárez refused all appeals for clemency and delayed sending the corpse to Europe.

Maximilian had attempted to alleviate agrarian problems in his imperial decrees of 26 June 1865, which vested communal ownership in village inhabitants in reversal of Liberal policy, and in those of 1 November 1865, which granted laborers the right to leave employment at will. He did not consider himself to be the dupe of Napoleon III or the pawn of the French army. His decision to remain in Mexico after February 1867 reflected his determination to uphold his honor as a Hapsburg. He had sought to identify with Mexico and believed that the country could attain peace under his rule. Anxious to rally moderate opinion to the throne, he alienated Mexican Conservatives and the Catholic hierarchy. Moreover, Maximilian was hampered by his own lack of political skill.

See alsoNapoleon III .


Egon Caesar Corti, Maximilian and Charlotte of Mexico, 2 vols., translated by Catherine A. Phillips (1928).

Émile de Kératry, L'elévation et la chute de l'émpereur Maximilian (1867).

Additional Bibliography

Duncan, Robert. "For the Good of the Country: State and Nation Building during Maximilian's Mexican Empire, 1864–67." Ph.D. diss., 2001.

Hamnett, Brian R. Juárez. New York: Longman, 1994.

Rodríguez O, Jaime E. The Divine Charter: Constitutionalism and Liberalism in Nineteenth-century Mexico. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005.

                                          Brian Hamnett