The Last Emperor Of Mexico

Vienna, Austria. 1840.

A sibling rivalry that will change history in Europe and the Americas.

Two brothers in line for the Austrian throne: Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph and his brother Franz Joseph.

Maximilian wants the throne, but, being the older brother Franz, is in line.

Franz is serious, Maximilian, free-spirited. Typical of brother dynamics. Maximilian is adrift in life. He likes science and the arts and wants to travel the world.

Franz has less freedom. He's being groomed to rule. In 1848, Franz's father abdicates the throne to him, and Maximilian joins the navy (the expected path for a royal's second son). Maximilian modernizes the fleet, but he is still in the shadow of his brother.

Maximilian did a bang-up job building the navy, and his brother begins sending him on diplomatic missions. In 1856, he's sent to Paris to congratulate Napoleon the 3rd on the birth of his air/to ease tensions due to Napoleon's ambitions to expand his empire.

Maximilian then heads off to Belgium. And marries the Belgian Princess, Charlotte (his second cousin!) Although marriages during this time were often used for political gain, these two kids actually liked each other. They married for love.

They began to build a life together in the southern part of the Austrian empire.

But war starts waging. Italian separatists want a bit of land back in the north that Austria took from them, a region called Lombardy-Venetia. Things are on the brink of anarchy, and it's threatening other Austrian states.

Franz tells Maximilian to be governor of Lombardy to keep it Austrian. Maximilian wants a democratic solution, but his hard line brother disagrees and declares martial law.

Franz demotes Maximilian, and Franz heads back home. He's just chilling now. Commissioning artwork and looking at the ocean. But Maximilian wants back in on some action.

Fast forward.

Paris. 1861.

Napoleon the 3rd wants to expand his empire. He's eying Mexico. The country is full of minerals, but war torn. Mexico owns a lot of money to France, England and Spain, but Mexican President Benito Juarez won't pay his debts.

Together, the three European countries strike Mexico.

But Napoleon didn't have the right ruler. He writes to Franz and requests Maximilian, seeing him as a good fit to rule Mexico.

Maximilian is hoping his bro says yes. He wants the action. He wants to be the bridge between Europe and the Americas. To make a name for himself.

For the next two years Napoleon wages war in Mexico and sends updates to Maximilian. Soon, Maximilian starts to doubt Napoleon's plans. Things appear complicated.

Franz tries to dissuade his brother from taking Napoleon up on the deal, saying it's too risky to send troops.

Spain and England have pulled tf out. Now, it's just France against Mexico. Things aren't looking good, and Maximilian is devastated. He doesn't know what to do. Napoleon is pressuring him to go, talking about how much power and prestige he'll have, but his brother is against it. Maximilian too is doubtful.

Napoleon sends a Mexican delegation (nothing more than Mexican henchmen for France) to convince Maximilian to go. Finally, Maximilian agrees. Under one condition. He wants the Mexican people to vote.

(See, Maximilian is a decent guy at heart. He wants the people to be on board if he's going to rule)

A referendum is held that suggests that the Mexican people are supportive of a European monarchy, and Maximilian finally agrees to go. He has the evidence he needs that the Mexicans are supportive.

However, what ole naive Maximilian doesn't realize is that many votes have been obtained by force.

Now, all that is left to do is to wait until Mexico is secure.

While he waits, Franz arrives at his door.

Franz is pissed off and wants Maximilian to give up his claim to the Austrian crown. Maximilian doesn't want to do it, but eventually, it does. Franz's logic being that, if he dies with Maximilian in second line to the throne and Maximilian is in Mexico, how is he supposed to rule two places from across an ocean?

Maximilian had to make a choice.

Maximilian chose Mexico.

Maximilian is now Emperor of Mexico (bet you didn't know Mexico had an emperor!).

Down in Mexico, a civil war is raging. The Mexican President is Benito Juarez, a man who values freedom, equality and independence. Juarez gained support by standing up to the Catholic Church. He put Catholic property in the hands of Mexicans. He wanted a Mexico for Mexicans. No foreign elements.

By 1864, Napoleon had pushed Juarez north, where he established a government in exile.

Maximilian, being the nice guy that he is, extends an olive branch to Juarez, offering Juarez a spot in his cabinet. Big mistake. As the president of Mexico, Juarez sees this as a massive insult.

It wouldn't be Maximilian's only mistake.

After 6 weeks at sea, Maximilian arrives at the southern port of Veracruz, Mexico. He's met with crumbling walls and silence. No cheering crowds. Maximilian has arranged to have photos of him and his wife distributed to Mexicans so they will know who their new rulers are, but nobody seems to care.

Maximilian and Charlotte continue to the capital Mexico City, where they intend to live. On the way, they fall in love with the countryside of Mexico. But when they arrive in the capital, they find it in shambles. The palace is a mess. The first night, the bedbugs are so bad, that Maximilian opts to sleep on a billiards table.

He soon finds that Napoleon has misled him. French troops have not been very successful - they have only managed to take control of less than a third of the country. Juarez has the rest. Defended by his guerrilla groups, the Juaristas.

Maximilian travels around the country to try and get an idea of what kind of reforms he'll do. He explores Central Mexico, a part of the country that has been pacified by Napoleons troops. He meets indigenous groups, and tries to learn their languages.

To protect these workers, Maximilian passes sweeping labour laws, many of which are ahead of their time, like free public schooling.

His new laws piss off the people that put him in control. Particularly the Catholic Church. They believed he'd restore the power that Juarez had taken away from them. Instead, he seemed to be looking out for the locals.

His liberal laws are considered a betrayal.

But Maximilian wasn't perfect. As he was pushing liberal reforms, he spends lavishly on his new castle. Really lavishly. Gold, artwork, all that good stuff.

A year and a half after Maximilian's arrival, Napoleon isn't looking good. The French troops are retreating. Juaristas are receiving aid from the USA. The Americans want the French the fuck out of Mexico.

Maximilian has to act. His troops are getting battered. He issues the Black Decree: armed supporters of Juarez will be executed without trial. 1000s are killed.

In their comfy palace, Maximilian and his wife Charlotte are sheltered from the bloodshed in the streets. He throws lavish parties with Mexican and European elite. The household goes through 700 bottles of wine each month.

Meanwhile, in the north, Juarez is gaining public support and talking shit about Maximilian. Juarez never liked Maximilian, seeing him as one of the elites, despite his goals for reforms.

French troops continue to get beat down. They simply can't get the Mexican people on their side.

Napoleon has had enough. He wants out. He withdraws his troops and demands that Maximilian abdicates.

But Charlotte won't have it. She's pissed off, you see. After all, her grandfather gave up the French throne to Napoleon the Third. She's not going down so easy.

Maximilian takes off to a small hacienda, to get away from it all. He finds comfort in his Mexican mistress, his gardener's daughter.

Charlotte remains in the castle. She wants to take action. She sails to Paris to change Napoleon's mind. Charlotte pleads with Napoleon but he won't budge. He says the Mexican cause is unworthy.

Maximilian is just chilling in Mexico. A man without a country. And Juarez is approaching. In secrecy, he flees Mexico City for Orizaba on the coast. He plans to leave and go to Europe to be with his wife once and for all.

BUT. . .

Right as he's about to leave, a letter arrives from his mother. She urges him to stay. Again, he's not sure what to do, so he passes the decision off to his ministers. They will take the decision.

As they debate this important decision, Maximilian spends his time studying...bugs.

The local Mexican press finds out and makes fun of him, nicknaming him "the great dreamer".

The decision comes down from the ministers: Maximilian will stay.

Juarez sees Maximilian as both a butterfly-catching fool and a colonial aggressor. The latter is unforgivable. He vows to send a clear message about imperialism.

Queretaro is one of the only cities still loyal to the Emperor Maximilian. The remaining troops hole up here. A monastery becomes the seat of Maximilian's government. After a life of excess, Maximilian now lives in a simple room. Without France, he commands his own (rather pitiful) army.

April 1867. The Juarez's army surrounds Queretaro. Right along side his soldiers, Maximilian defends the city. This went on for two months until one of Maximilian's own generals betrays him, allowing the army to break through a city wall. Queretaro falls on May 15th 1867 and Maximilian surrenders.

The last moments of this story end in the theatre of Queretaro. Juarez orders a military tribunal to try Maximilian and two of his top generals for treason. Juarez's men serve as the jury.

Maximilian refuses to attend.

The verdict of the trial comes down: execution by firing squad. Appeals come from around the world, but Juarez won't have it: he's out to prove a point: no more foreign domination of Mexico.

Maximilian requests to be shot in the chest as opposed to the head, so his mother will recognize him.

Franz tries to save his brother by reinstating his right to the Austrian throne, but it's too late.

Benito Juarez arrives to town to see Maximilian's body, the first time face to face.

Juarez's only comment?

"I thought he was taller".

Back in Europe, Maximilian's wife Charlotte goes crazy, and lives in near isolation for another 60 years.

Today in Mexico, Maximilian is seen as a fool and an aggressor: someone who prolonged the war and was therefore responsible for many deaths. His reforms largely remained on paper during his reign and, although they later served as the basis of some of Mexico's more progressive laws, for that he receives little acknowledgement.

Many people in Mexico don’t even know who he is.

Just one chapter of many in Mexico's blood-soaked past.