The Story of Maximilian and Carlota

MaximillianMaximilian was born in Austria, the brother of the Austrian Emperor, Franz Josef.  He was a member of the house of Hapsburg, the oldest ruling European Dynasty. The Hapsburg prince, and his young wife Carlota arrived in the early summer of 1864 at the shores of Mexico, where he was to assume the throne of Emperor at the direction of Napoleon III of France.  They were a striking pair: he, tall, blond and blue-eyed; she, small, brunette and vibrant.  To their newly adopted Castle of Chapultepec, they imported all the style and elegance they had left behind.  Lavish entertainments became routine.  At state dinners the banquet tables were laden with heirloom silver and crystal, and dancing parties lasted well past midnight.

But it soon became apparent that the greed and ambition of Napoleon III’s attempting to establish French dominance in Latin America was unpopular with Mexican liberals and conservatives alike.  It was also opposed by the United States government which demanded withdrawal of French troops in 1865.  Maximilian had been little more than a pawn of political intrigue and was abandoned without military support as the constitutional government of Benito Juarez commenced re-conquest.

CarolotaIn desperation, Carlota fled from Mexico and sailed out of the Port of Galveston en route to France, where she vainly attempted to dissuade Napoleon III from withdrawing support of her husband.

He had come to Mexico in 1864, just a little over three years before with Carlota, to rule over a new world Empire.  At 10 o’clock on June 10th, 1867, the last Emperor of Mexico extinguished the light in his small chamber in the convent of the Capucines in the town of Queretaro and went to bed.  This night was to be his last.

The next morning he and two other men were led up to the top of a hill top square. Seven uniformed men armed with rifles lined up; To each the Emperor handed an ounce of gold and he asked them to take good aim for his heart and make a clean death. He asked that the men not deface him, so his mother, the Archduchess, could see him once more in his coffin.

They say he pinned a scarlet piece of cloth to his white pleated shirt to mark the spot where the marksmen should take aim. He was wearing black civilian clothes; all signs of his Imperial office were gone. Maximilian was incredibly calm as he faced his executioners. “I forgive everybody. I pray that everybody may also forgive me, and my blood which is about to be shed will bring peace to Mexico. Long live Mexico! Long Live Independence!, he shouted in Spanish – the last words of the Austrian Archduke now so far from Vienna.

Maximilian had given precise instructions prior to his death on how his body should be prepared and shipped back to Europe. His calm preparations for death amazed his jailers, who had never seen a Hapsburg die before. 70 years before Maximilian’s great-great aunt, the Hapsburg Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, had also turned her thoughts to God and her historical legacy. In the last days, and then the last hours, it was critical to think of how history would remember you. The final moments of a Royal’s life were the last chance for a crowned head to sign humanity’s guest book. Who will ever know Maximilian’s true last thoughts?

After the death of her husband Carlota fell into deep depression and serious mental illness. Fifty years later she died, still addressed as Empress of Mexico, in a castle in her native Belgium. She was 86 and the year was 1927.

Although their short-lived rule was destined for tragedy, the story of this native young couple endures as an unequalled romantic chapter in Mexican history.

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