Birthday: July 6, 1832
Died At Age: 34
Sun Sign: Cancer
Born in: Vienna
Famous as: Monarch
Emperors & Kings
Height: 1.87 m
Spouse/Ex-: Carlota of Mexico
father: Archduke Franz Karl of Austria
mother: Princess Sophie of Bavaria
siblings: Archduchess Maria Anna of Austria, Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria, Archduke Ludwig Viktor of Austria, Franz Joseph I of Austria
children: Agustín de Iturbide y Green, Salvador de Iturbide y Marzán
Died on: June 19, 1867
place of death: Santiago de Querétaro
City: Vienna, Austria
Who was Maximilian I of Mexico?
Maximilian I, full name Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph Maria, was the sole monarch of the Second Mexican Empire. Maximilian served as commander of Austrian Navy under his older brother and Emperor of Austria, Franz Joseph I. Napoleon III of France, who sought to legitimize French rule in the Americas by establishing a monarchist ally there, offered Maximilian to rule Mexico. France launched Second French Intervention in Mexico, during which time support from the French army, the Austrian and Belgian crowns and most significantly from a group of conservative Mexican monarchists who wanted to overturn the liberal administration of Mexican president, Benito Juárez, led Maximilian to travel to Mexico where monarchy was declared in July 1863 with Maximilian becoming Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico. While several European powers including Britain recognised the monarchy, the United States still considered Juárez as the legal president of Mexico. Following the American Civil War, the United States aided forces of Juárez and pressurised France to respect the Monroe Doctrine. The French Empire had to withdraw from Mexico following much guerrilla warfare eventually leading to collapse of the monarchy. The Mexicans captured and executed Maximilian and restored the Mexican Republic.
Childhood & Early Life
Maximilian I was born on July 6, 1832, in the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, capital of the Austrian Empire as the son of Archduke Franz Karl and Princess Sophie of Bavaria. His father was second surviving son of Francis II, the last Holy Roman Emperor while his mother was daughter of King Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria. He hailed from the House of Habsburg-Lorraine.
According to court rumours, Maximilian was born through his mother’s extramarital affair with his first cousin Napoleon II, The Duke of Reichstadt, the only legitimate son of Napoléon Bonaparte, Emperor of the French. However the historians, particularly the British dispute such rumours.
Maximilian was brought up in accordance with conventions inherited from Spanish court during Habsburg rule. He studied different subjects like history, technology and law, learnt to speak languages including German, French, Italian, English and Spanish and took lessons on military studies, diplomacy and fencing.
Since an early age, the more popular, joyful, charismatic and a bit undisciplined Maximilian would try to outshine his self-contained and aloof older brother Franz Joseph in everything. This created a rift between the two which only increased with time.
During the Revolutions of 1848, Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria abdicated the throne which was succeeded by his nephew, and Maximilian's brother Franz Joseph. Maximilian also remained involved in campaigns to suppress rebellions across the Empire.
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Emperor of Mexico, Reign & Downfall
Maximilian was first proposed to become Emperor of Mexico by local nobleman José Pablo Martínez del Río led Mexican monarchists in 1859. He received similar proposal from Mexican diplomat and politician Gutierrez de Estrada through a letter on October 20, 1861. However, he acceded to rule Mexico later in October 1863 accepting offer by Napoleon III of France to establish a new Mexican monarchy only after the Second French Intervention in Mexico when Mexico City was captured by General Élie-Frédéric Forey and proclamation of the empire was confirmed by a French-staged plebiscite.
Maximilian had to give away his rights of nobility in Austria and resign from his duties as Chief of Naval Section of the Austrian Navy in April 1864. Backed by the French army and a group of conservative Mexican monarchists who wanted to overthrow Mexican president, Benito Juárez’s liberal administration, Maximilian sailed to Mexico aboard SMS Novara and proclaimed himself Emperor of Mexico on April 10, 1864.
With the Juárez led Liberal forces denying recognising rule of Maximilian, the latter met with several difficulties from the very start of his reign. Continuous clashes between French troops of Maximilian and the Republicans followed. Although Maximilian and his wife, Carlota, planned the coronation ceremony at the Catedral Metropolitana, it could never be carried out due to ongoing instability of the regime.
The sharp contrast between standard of living of the magnificent upper class haciendas and the poor startled Maximilian. His wife made efforts in raising money for the poor by throwing parties for wealthy Mexicans. On the other hand Maximilian cancelled all debts for peasants over 10 pesos. He shortened work hours, put an end to child labour, outlawed corporal punishment, re-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.
Many of the Juárez administration proposed policies including those on land reforms and religious freedom were upheld by Maximilian, much to the disliking of his conservative allies. Maximilian also offered amnesty and post of Prime Minister to Juárez which the latter refused.
Eventually Juárez was forced into exile in the Mexican areas that were not controlled by the French. However he never gave up his office and maintained that he was still the legitimate head of the Mexican state and not Emperor Maximilian, which was also considered by the United States. Following the American Civil War, the United States extended their support to Juárez and put pressure on France to respect the Monroe Doctrine and withdraw troops from Mexico.
On October 3, 1865, Maximilian issued his Black Decree that resulted in execution of over eleven thousand supporters of Juarez without any trial thus inflaming the Mexican Resistance. He also abolished the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico on November 30 that year.
In 1866 Napoleon III ordered withdrawal of French troops from Mexico which made things even worse for Maximilian who refused to leave his Mexican supporters. While his wife sailed to Europe to seek assistance, the Republican troops advanced in Mexico. The following year Maximilian and his Royal troops were besieged in Santiago de Querétaro.
Maximilian, along with his two faithful generals Tomás Mejía and Miguel Miramón, was executed on June 19, 1867 on the Hill of the Bells by a republican firing-squad. His remains were interred besides that of his ancestors in the Imperial Crypt of the Capuchin Church in Vienna on January 18, 1868.
Family, Personal Life & Legacy
He married his second cousin Princess Charlotte of Belgium on July 27, 1857. She was the daughter of Leopold I, King of the Belgians and first cousin of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria. Maximilian had no children with Charlotte, however they adopted Don Agustin and Don Salvador in 1865.
Carlota suffered a severe emotional collapse after she failed to garner support for her husband in 1866 and never went back to Mexico. She apparently became insane after her husband’s death and died on January 19, 1927, at Bouchout Castle in Meise, Belgium.
The Emperor Maximilian Memorial Chapel was built in his honour. It is located on the Cerro de las Campanas (Hill of the Bells) in Querétaro City on the spot where Maximilian was executed.
Maximilian was portrayed in films like ‘Juárez y Maximiliano’ (1934) and ‘Juarez’ (1939) and in the telenovela ‘El Vuelo del Águila’.