Maximilian, the Austrian dreamer who died as emperor of Mexico | Entertainment | The USA Print

Maximilian, the Austrian dreamer who died as emperor of Mexico

Aware of how a Habsburg should behave, as a young man, Maximilian carried with him a card with twenty-seven aphorisms to encourage good behavior, including “Take it coolly” (take it easy, written in English), “be nice to everyone” and “nothing lasts forever.” In his case, it didn’t last long. His greatest dream, the one that would make him make up for the humiliations of his conservative older brother, Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, and emulate the deeds of the Habsburgs, lasted three dizzying years that, by the grace of Napoleon III, led him in 1864 to also become emperor… but of Mexico.

A dream that, if it appears delusional today, was then part of the geopolitical struggle between the decadent old monarchical Europe threatened by revolutions and the ascendant republican United States of the Monroe doctrine: America for the Americans, that is, for a United States. .that many believed that they wanted to keep a good part of the continent after conquering half of Mexico – from New Mexico to California – with an illegal war.

“His enemies say that Prim also wanted to be emperor and, when he found it impossible, he retired”

A dream in any case that for the charismatic, enlightened and contradictory Maximilian ended in the worst way. Governor of the Austrian province of Lombardy-Venice – from which his brother, who feared his popularity, ousted him – and having rejected the throne of Greece because it had already been offered to others and because Mexico was more important and there he could demonstrate his worth. real, he would die by shooting at the age of 34 and his wife, Carlota, daughter of Leopold of Belgium, and decisive for her husband, ended up crazy, believing that everyone wanted to poison her.

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'The Execution of Emperor Maximilian', by Manet

‘The Execution of Emperor Maximilian’, by Manet

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An execution portrayed in a painting by Manet in which the final French betrayal of Maximilian means that the man who is going to deliver the final blow to the failed emperor has features of Napoleon III, nephew of Bonaparte who became president of the French Republic at the polls. But that, after four years of popular government, he carried out a coup d’état and proclaimed himself emperor for 18 more – “he wanted to marry the order and security that his uncle brought with mass democracy, in a way he was a populist,” he says. the British historian Edward Shawcross, who publishes the fascinating study The last emperor of Mexico (Attic of Books). In those years, Napoleon III carried out an enormous colonial adventure. From Indochina to the brutal conquest of Algeria. In Mexico he wanted a low-cost extension, maintained by a few thousand troops that Maximilian’s own government would have to pay for.

Mexican conservatives sought European help out of fear of being devoured by the United States.

Shawcross compares Napoleon III’s operation, backed by Mexican conservatives, to what the US would later attempt in Iraq or Afghanistan: “A regime change where the hearts and minds of the people would be won, only, instead of convert a dictatorship into a democracy, they exchanged a republic for a monarchy.” An operation, he says, in which there was the possibility of Maximilian consolidating power, but everything went wrong from the beginning.

Portrait of Archduchess Charlotte in Brianza dress (1857), by Jean François Portaels

Portrait of Archduchess Charlotte in Brianza dress (1857), by Jean François Portaels

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The context: the US has been left with half of Mexico; The country is experiencing constant political violence that leads to a civil war that the conservatives lose against the liberals of Benito Juárez; conservatives fear the US and look to Europe for help to return to being a monarchy, which is how the country began after independence – a throne that Shawcross remembers was offered to Ferdinand VII, “but he was not the most intelligent monarch.” of the 19th century” – although in just one year the republic would arrive. Conservatives, says the historian, remember that with both the Aztecs and the Spanish the country was a monarchy, and they believe that with another “all the problems would be solved magically, as with Brexit” and the country would remain independent.

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Napoleon III saw an opportunity in the US Civil War and sent his troops to take Mexico

So they look to Europe for help, promising that they will be warmly welcomed and seeing the lesser evil in having, Shawcross says, a French occupying force and a foreign ruler. The opportunity appears with the Civil War in the United States, but it will not be, he says, well taken advantage of: the army that is assembled to go to Mexico between Great Britain, Spain and France in order to collect debts – in the French mind , to take the country – takes a long time to control the capital. The Spanish force, the largest, commanded by Prim, will not intervene – “it sees that the plan could end in disaster and does not involve Spain; His enemies say that he wanted to be emperor and, when he saw it impossible, he withdrew” – and the French are defeated in Puebla. It will be a decisive year of delay.

The embalmed corpse of Maximilian I of Mexico

The embalmed corpse of Maximilian I of Mexico

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Maximilian I of Mexico upon arriving in his new country, totally unknown to him, will take liberal measures, with primary education, breaks at work or decrees in Nahuatl, but everything remains on paper, because he never concentrates on arranging the finances nor is he able to completely defeating Juárez, and ending the US civil war much sooner than expected, “at the end of 1865 the Americans basically gave an ultimatum to Napoleon III to remove his troops from Mexico.” Also harassed by the debts of the ruinous company, he will do it. Juárez will defeat Maximiliano and, despite requests for clemency even from Garibaldi, he will execute him.

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