Maximilian (1832–67, emperor of Mexico)

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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Maximilian (1832–67, emperor of Mexico)

Maximilian, 1832–67, emperor of Mexico (1864–67). As the Austrian archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, he was denied a share in the imperial government by his reactionary brother, Emperor Francis Joseph. Maximilian served as commander in chief of the Austrian fleet and was governor-general of Lombardo-Venetia (1857–59), but he found no outlet for his dreams of liberal reform. When Mexican conservatives negotiated with Napoleon III to found a Mexican empire, Maximilian was persuaded to accept the crown. He and his wife, Carlotta, left their palace near Trieste and sailed (1864) to Mexico.

The empire was a failure from the start. Maximilian, who had no real understanding of Mexico, found most of the country hostile to him and loyal to Benito Juárez. He alienated the conservatives by his liberal tendencies and others of his supporters by his decree (1865) ordering the summary execution of all followers of Juárez. Indeed, Maximilian's tenure rested solely on French soldiers, who drove Juárez and his liberal army to the north. The European monarchs, except Napoleon III, were lukewarm. The United States, irked by this violation of the Monroe Doctrine, was frankly hostile and was prevented from interfering only by the American Civil War.

When affairs in France and the cessation of the Civil War impelled Napoleon III to withdraw (1866–67) the French troops from Mexico, the flimsy fabric of the empire dissolved. For a time Maximilian considered abdication, but he was irresolute. In 1866, Empress Carlotta went to Europe and vainly sought aid from Napoleon III and the pope. Maximilian, in desperation, assumed personal command of his forces, then mostly concentrated at Querétaro. There, after a siege (March–May, 1867), he was captured and shot. He wrote Aus meinem Leben (1865, tr. Recollections of My Life, 1868).

See J. Musser, The Establishment of Maximilian's Empire in Mexico (1918, repr. 1976); E. Corti, Maximilian and Charlotte of Mexico (1928, repr. 1968); Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico: Memoirs of His Private Secretary, José Luis Blasio (tr. and ed. by R. H. Murray, 1934).

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