Guns and Gear

Guns & Politics: Maximilian And Carlotta

Susan Smith Columnist

It is being said about this election year that it just might be the most bizarre of our political experience. It has indeed been an unusual one, this 2016 battle for the American presidency, but should the totally fraudulent education system in this country, currently tragically owned by the left, ever deign to actually teach history, we would discover that there were several episodes in world history that were as strange, or stranger, than what we are experiencing right now in the U.S.

Take, for example, the extraordinary experience of Maximilian and Carlotta, of Austria, er, no, Mexico, no, perhaps France would be a more apt description, and then of course, there’s Belgium. I’ll tell you the strange tale and you decide which geographical description is the best fit.

In 1862, Benito Juarez was the elected President of Mexico, and he was determined to implement a series of liberal reforms in the nation. Benito Juarez was “unique in that he was the first new world native to become President of Mexico.” One of his tactics involved the refusal to repay certain European nations a great deal of money that had been lent to his predecessor, and this prompted a response from France, Britain and Spain, which involved troops of these countries coming to Mexico to deal firmly with Juarez and his recalcitrant government.

At the same time, Napoleon III, a rather pale reflection of his spectacular ancestor, the Emperor Napoleon, was the leader of France, to whom part of this money was owed. Napoleon III also had imperialistic tendencies, and the possibility of regaining a foothold in the new world for his nation proved to be irresistible to him. But how to implement this virtual capture of a nation? The rather foolish fellow, (who ended up dying in exile in London, things not having ended well for his reign in France), considered his options and came up with a rather hapless Hapsburg Prince who was willing to be plonked onto the mythical throne of Mexico.

Maximilian, an Archduke of Austria and the brother of the notorious Emperor Franz Joseph (the real wild man of Europe at the time), was convinced by his handlers that the people of Mexico were crying out for his leadership, his never actually having previously led anything. So, in 1864, Maximilian set out for his new kingdom, with his wife, Charlotte, daughter of the King of Belgium, who was so enamored of the idea of being Mexico’s Empress that she renamed herself Carlotta, and set about learning Spanish, which, unfortunately never really took.

You may ask how such a thing was possible, that several foreign nations, among them France, Great Britain, Spain and the Papal States, could just take a superfluous Hapsburg living in Europe and establish him as a legitimate ruler of a sovereign nation thousands of miles away. The answer is, or was at the time, soldiers – a great many of them, placed in Mexico to enforce this absurdity. The people of Mexico didn’t much like their President, Juarez, after a while, but they liked even less that an extraneous fellow such as Maximilian was forcibly put in place as their new ruler.

The truly ironic, and tragic, thing about this extraordinary situation, is that Maximilian really did want to help the people of Mexico, and going completely against the orders of his handlers, implemented many of the liberal measures championed by Juarez before his ouster. One of these measures was the erstwhile Emperor’s refusal to restore property demanded by the Catholic Church in Mexico, which greatly angered the Papal States in Europe. That is not something one wanted to do to one of one’s primary backers, and that among other sparks of independence against his backers in Europe, made several of those nations pull their troops out of Mexico. Poor deluded Maximilian still felt that he was serving ‘his’ people, the citizens of Mexico, and opted to remain there despite the almost total lack of military protection. One of the reasons he was convinced of this folly was that a petition, which he had requested be done, had been circulated throughout Mexico and supposedly signed by many thousands of Mexicans pleading with him to come to them; he was never made aware that the vast majority of the population of this poor benighted nation was completely illiterate, and never would have been able to read such a document, much less affix a signature to it.

As things deteriorated for the royal couple in Mexico, and the native forces began to regroup, it was decided that Carlotta would make a return trip to Europe to try to re-engage the necessary assistance from their former backers. Carlotta, who was quite young, beautiful and who was the dominant force in the relationship with her husband, was also never really quite sane. In the 7 years of their marriage, she had never conceived an heir, (this was thought to be Maximilian’s problem), so to come up with the all-important young princeling, she allegedly had an affair with a Belgian officer stationed in Mexico, and this resulted in her becoming pregnant. This event was said by conspiracy theorists to be the ostensible reason why she returned to Europe at that time.

Carlotta was cruelly rejected by everyone she contacted in Europe, which of course included Napoleon III, who was primarily responsible for the whole fiasco. It was said that the interview in which Carlotta begged the monarch, and a later similar encounter with Papal representatives, for help, and their total rejection of her pleas, were so devastating for Carlotta, that she went completely insane and had to be institutionalized. She was to remain confined at a mental hospital in Vienna for the next 60 years and died in 1927 at the age of 87, never having seen her husband, or Mexico, again.

And the child that was to have been Mexico’s next Emperor?

Carlotta did indeed give birth, to a boy when she returned to Europe. He would grow to manhood and become infamous as the man “who surrendered France to the Nazis in 1940,” General Maxime Weygand.

Maximilian’s future was equally heartbreaking. Finally recognizing that his ‘reign’ was coming to an end, with few troops to defend it or protect him, Maximilian tried to maintain enough contact with his former handlers in Europe that he could fully expect to “be banished back to Austria.” But by this time, former President Juarez had regained control in Mexico, had captured and imprisoned the Emperor, and felt he had to send a message to the Europeans so that the adventure that had just occurred in his nation would never be repeated.

This message, Juarez felt, was nothing short of the now former Emperor’s death.

“Kept captive in a tiny wet dark room with no linens on the cot he slept on, no soap with which to bathe and no change of clothing was a source of humiliation to Maximilian, (this quintessential cossetted royal related to just about every ruling house of Europe). Maximilian was also starved and forced to beg for food, and when the news of this treatment became known…, dishes of food specially prepared (for the Emperor) were sent, and Mexican women sent him soap, towels and bed linens. They even sewed personal undergarments for Maximilian, causing him to remark that he had never had so much underwear.”

Then, on June 16, 1867, just three short years after arriving in Mexico with so much fanfare to accept his throne, the Hapsburg Archduke and Emperor of Mexico, Maximilian, was executed by firing squad, along with his last two remaining generals, in the state of Queretero. Maximilian had been provided with an opportunity for escape, but he “refused to desert his generals who had stayed with him to the end and were not included in the offer.”

At the end, Maximilian was asked if he wished to say anything, and he replied: “I pardon everyone and pray all pardon me. I hope my blood flows for the good of this earth. Viva Mexico!”

And so the strange and tragic story of Maximilian and Carlotta ended.

Makes the continuing saga of the election of 2016 seem almost normal in comparison, wouldn’t you say?

Susan Smith brings an international perspective to her writing by having lived primarily in western Europe, mainly in Paris, France, and the U.S., primarily in Washington, D.C. She authored a weekly column for Human Events on politics with historical aspects.. She also served as the Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Children, Family, Drugs and Alcoholism, and Special Assistant to the first Ambassador of Afghanistan following the initial fall of the Taliban. Ms. Smith is a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University and Georgetown University, as well as the Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris, France, where she obtained her French language certification. Ms. Smith now makes her home in McLean, Va.