Maximilian of Austria

(Maximilian I of Mexico)


Maximilian I of Mexico was an Austrian noble who took control of the Mexican government during the French intervention in the 1860’s. He was a staunch liberal, and as a result he made many enemies in his new country—both the followers of the deposed president and the conservatives who had originally supported him—which led to his ultimate downfall and execution.

Maximilian was born into a prominent family—his father was Archduke of Austria, and his brother would later become emperor of the country. Maximilian himself was made archduke as well as prince royal of Hungary and Bohemia. As a young man, he joined the Austrian Navy and quickly rose in rank, achieving the title of Commander-in Chief by the age of twenty-two. In this position, Maximilian carried out modernizing reforms and built several naval ports in Italy and Croatia. He also initiated an expedition in which the frigate SMS Novara became the first Austrian warship to circumnavigate the world. He was a well-known liberal, and in 1857 he was appointed viceroy of the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, then a part of the Austrian Empire. He and his new wife, Princess Charlotte of Belgium, remained at their post until Emperor Franz Joseph I, angered by Maximilian’s liberal tendencies, dismissed them. They retired to Italy.

That same year, Maximilian was approached by Mexican monarchists who wished him to become Emperor of their country. Across the Atlantic, the French had invaded Mexico City and claimed the Mexican Empire on behalf of the Archduke, who finally consented and accepted the crown. His reign was difficult from the start, as the Liberal forces led by President Benito Juarez refused to recognize his authority. To the disappointment of his conservative allies, Maximilian retained several of Juarez’s liberal policies, including freedom of religion, voting rights, and land reforms. The Emperor even offered Juarez amnesty should he swear allegiance to the new government, but after the latter’s refusal Maximilian ordered the execution of the President’s followers. Following the American Civil War, the U.S. began supplying Juarez with arms at the Mexican border, while Maximilian tried to win back support by allowing ex-Confederates to settle in the country. Despite the Emperor’s efforts, however, by 1866 Napoleon III had withdrawn his troops from Mexico and urged the king to depart as well. Maximilian refused. He later attempted to escape but was betrayed and captured. The former Emperor was executed by firing squad on June 19, 1867.

Key events during the life of Maximilian I of Mexico:

Became Commander-in-Chief of the Austrian Navy
Appointed viceroy of Lombardy-Venetia
Dismissed from viceroy position and moved to Italy
French intervention in Mexico
Proclaimed Emperor of Mexico
Confederates began supplying Juarez with weapons
Napoleon III withdrew French troops from Mexico
Captured by Liberals and executed by firing squad

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
French Invasion and Maximillian  in  The Story of Mexico  by  Charles Morris
Maximilian of Austria and his Empire in Mexico  in  Historical Tales: Spanish American  by  Charles Morris
The French Invasion  in  A Short History of Mexico  by  Arthur Howard Noll
Mexican Revolution  in  Growth of the British Empire  by  M. B. Synge

Image Links

Death of the Emperor Maximilian of Mexico
 in The Story of Mexico

Portrait of Maximilian
 in Young Folks' History of Mexico

Portrait of Carlotta
 in Young Folks' History of Mexico

Execution of Maximilian
 in Young Folks' History of Mexico

Emperor Maximilian.
 in  Table of Contents

Empress Carlotta
 in  Table of Contents

Last moments of Emperor Maximilian
 in  Table of Contents

Short Biography
Benito Juarez Leader of Mexico during the War of Reform. Passed, enforced anti-clerical laws. Supported informally by United States.
Napoleon III Nephew of Napoleon, elected emperor of France after revolution of 1848. Deposed after disastrous Franco-Prussian War.
Empress Eugenie Wife of Napoleon III and Empress of France. Influential figure in society and fashion as well as politics.
Franz Joseph I Emperor of Austria during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Kaiser William I First Kaiser of a United German Empire. With Bismarck as Chancellor, defeated Austria and France.