Maximilian von Habsburg,
Emperor of Mexico


Around 1860 a group of rich Mexican emigrants met in Europe, they had fled the Juarez revolution. Catholic and conservative, they looked for support in Europe for their plan to establish a monarchy in Mexico. They needed money, troops and a genuine European noble. Napoleon III. gave them troops, French financial circles assured their assistance. The French supported the conservatives in the civil war with the radicals and occupied the capital. They planned an expansion of France on the American continent close to the United States of America, torn up by the civil war.

The brother of the emperor Franz Josef, archduke Ferdinand Max, seemed to be a suitable candidate. He was married to the Belgian princess Charlotte. As commander of the Austrian navy and governor general of Milan, he could not live all his ideas. Poet, lover of large gestures, an emperor throne was enticing for him. In addition he was honestly convinced to be able to bring law and peace to Mexico.

1863, pushed by Napoleon III., the ambitious Maximilian and its wife Charlotte, fulfilled by romantic ideas, are proclaimed emperor of Mexico. Charlotte saw herself as co-emperor, perhaps even as the actual emperor, requesting her husband to finally show his qualities - in Mexico. Perhaps she wanted also to flee the bores the Miramar castle and the shades of the more beautiful empress Elisabeth.

Lieutenant of the Volonteers for MexicoThe Austrian court was suspicious about this adventure, Maximilian had to resign any rights of succession to the Austrian throne. An Austrian volunteer corps followed him. Their uniforms aroused the mockery of the kids: "Mexikaner - mag si kaaner" Mexicans - noone likes them - they yelled. On April 14th, 1864 the Austrian frigate Novara parted with the emperor. On the trip the couple prepared for their new job: How to behave at the audience, how to place guests at diner, which medals to be given, what uniforms the guards should wear.



But the emperor found only few followers and an indebted government. The Mexican empire remained limited to a considerable number of generals, ministers, chamberlains, stable masters, cooks, gardeners and palace guards, plus some land owners and businessmen, who profited from the emperor. Maximilian, a Sombrero on his head, traveled around the country, gave dinners and distributed medals. He adopted a small Mexican boy as his son, his mother reclaimed him back later.

The republicans however became stronger and advanced. Vienna stood briefly before the 1866 war against Prussia and Italy, and permitted only a limited recruitment of volunteers. But they sent from the imperial collections the shield of Montezuma and the report by Cortez to Karl V., how he had won victory against the Aztecs.


Ferdinand Max and Charlotte of Belgium The USA supported the opponents of the emperor, conforming to the Monroe doctrine ("America the Americans"). They demanded and obtained that the recruitment of volunteers in Austria was stopped, 2000 men already embarked had to leave their ships. With the victory of the north in the American civil war 1865 the decision fell also in Mexico.


In vain, empress Charlotte searched assistance. She arrived in Europe after the battle of Königgrätz. In Paris, which had an assistance contract with Mexico, she got the answer from Napoleon III., "it would be good, if her majesty would not hang on to illusions". Napoleon did not want to invest money into an affair without future. She did not even bother to go to Vienna. Franz Josef did not want to hear anything of its brother, specially not since the Viennese rallied after the lost war against Prussia "Vivat emperor Maximilian", who seemed to them as more liberal and the better emperor for Austria. Her last hope was the Pope, who could have talked to Napoleon and Franz Josef, concluded a concordat with Mexico and convinced the Mexican catholic church. But Pius IX. only wanted to pray. Charlotte fell into depression, one night fled from the hotel and required lodging in the Vatican. Her brother brought the mentally sick to Miramar.

The French troops withdrew. Maximilian was on the way back to Austria, however his Belgian and Austrian advisors, specifically father Fischer convinced him not to give up the throne. Even his mother now requested from him to endure as long this "can happen with honor ". Its wife had written in a memorandum before her departure that "abdication is condemning himself, an certification of inability, acceptable for the old and stupid, but not for a prince of 34 years full of live and future."

But his armed forces were small and little motivated. On May 15th, 1867 Maximilian handed his sword to the partisan leader Escobedo. He was taken prisoner. He could have fled, but he had refused to leave his most devoted officers. He was condemned to death. In the prison he complained briefly before his execution, that he was here because he had followed his wife.

Now the diplomacy got into motion to prevent that a member of the ruling European dynasty would be shot like a simple murderer. Franz Joseph restored Maximilian's rights to the succession of the Austrian throne and asked the American secretary of state to intervene.

On June 19th, 1867 Maximilian was executed on the Cerro de las Campanas, a hill near the city Queretaro together with the generals Miguel de Miramon and Thomas Mejia - latter an Indian - scarcely 350 years after the murder of Montezuma by Spanish mercenaries. Maximilian gave a golden piece of twenty pesos to each soldier of the firing squad.

He was an idealist, a human full of liberal thoughts and had honestly hoped to bring the Mexican people liberty and internal peace, "a figure of beautiful, pure knighthood, which will teach up-striving souls that it there is something higher than the bare life and benefit" wrote Adalbert Stifter.

In September 1867, admiral Wilhelm von Tegetthoff had the task to bring the corpse home on the frigate Novara. Juarez agreed only after a written request of the Austrian government, an official note of Vienna against the Mexican monarchy and a recognition of the republican regime.

The window in the coffin over the face was broken and the broken glass had cut into the nose. The beard had been cut by souvenir hunters. "The face is terribly disfigured, bared teeth and conspicuous eyes, borrowed from a saint Ursula" wrote a newspaper. In the evening of January 17th, 1868 the body reached Vienna. It snowed, waltz music sounded through the windows - Vienna celebrated carnival.

One by one, the Austrian consul with his last will, his old cook with his hat and blood-soaked handkerchief and its aides and soldiers arrived in Vienna. Finally in September came three individuals, who called themselves father Roccatani, Antonio de la Rosa and Don José Maroto. They asked for an audience with the emperor, in order to entrust him a priceless secret. They would need five million silver florin, in order to show the formula for the conversion of silver into gold. Franz Josef appointed a professor of chemistry from the polytechnic institute to attend the experiments, they succeeded nevertheless to get 90000 florin, before the swindle came up.

Charlotte was brought to Belgium in 1867, she should not remain in the hands of the Habsburg. She lived until January 1927 in the Bouchout castle near Brussels, survived the Bonaparte and the Habsburg. From her parents and from her husband she had a large fortune, which constantly increased due to small expenditures. Once in the year a Belgian representative and k.u.k. envoy met in order to supervise the administration of this fortune.

The diplomatic relations between Mexico and Austria were broken off. This only changed after 1900. 1938 Mexico was the only country that protested against the occupation of Austria by Germany, a square in Vienna is named after this event "Mexikoplatz".

In the Viennese treasury some regalia can be found, with which emperor Maximilian distinguished his faithful ones in the style of the Habsburg monarchy. Its death was final scene of the colonial time in Latin America, which had begun with the Habsburg Karl V. and terminated with the Habsburg Maximilian I.