Monthly Archives: September 2016

Mexico – the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867 (10)

10 – EPILOGUE

Mexico - the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867
And so, Maximilian was shot. His body was clumsily embalmed (we can leave the unsavoury details out), and exhibited to Joe Public. Only after repeated requests from Vienna did Juárez let his prey go. He was returned home on the same ship that brought him to Mexico, the SMS Novara, received with great pomp in the harbour of Trieste, and brought to Vienna, where his remains now rest in the Imperial crypt.

Mexico - the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867
 

 

 
Almonte died shortly after his Emperor, on May 13, 1869, as an exile in Paris.

 

Mexico - the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867

 

 

 
Juárez didn’t enjoy his victory very long. He died of a heart attack on 22 July, 1872, beleaguered by his own generals who became unhappy with his government.

 

 

 

Mexico - the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867

 

 
During the First Vatican Council, Pope Pius IX had himself declared infallible. It did nothing to stop the “risorgimento”: in 1870 the city of Rome was incorporated into the new Italian state. From that moment until his death eight years later the Pope refused to leave his Vatican. Every attempt of the Italian government to come to an understanding was met with his favourite answer: “non possumus”.

 

 

Mexico - the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867
Bazaine was given the command of the Army of the Rhine during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. His view was more realistic than that of his monarch: “We are marching towards disaster”. After the war was lost, he was put forward as the scapegoat of the debacle. His death sentence was commuted to 20 years imprisonment. He escaped, and ended his life in poverty and solitude in Spain, where he was found dead in his lodgings on 20 September, 1888.

 

 

 

 

Mexico - the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867
Napoleon also died in a strange bed. After losing the war with Prussia, he lost his crown, and went into exile in England. The Emperor died on 9 January 1873 under the hands of his surgeons during an attempt to break up a kidney stone.

 

Mexico - the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867

 

 
His Empress Eugénie outlived him 47 long years of exile and mourning. Not only for her spouse, but also for their only son, the ‘Prince Impérial’, who was killed in a war with the Zulus. She died in 1920, and was entombed in the Imperial crypt of St Michael’s Abbey, Farnborough, which she had founded as a mausoleum for her husband and her son.

 

Mexico - the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867
Austrian Emperor Franz-Joseph I died just in time to be spared the sight of the downfall of his empire: he passed away on the 21st of November 1916, in the midst of the Great War, after a reign of 68 years.

Mexico - the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867

 

 
When he came of age, the Prince of Iturbide, Maximilian’s heir apparent, renounced his claim to the throne and pursued a career in the Mexican army. Later he went to his mother’s home country, the U.S., where he worked as a professor of Spanish and French at Georgetown University. He died in 1925.

 

Mexico – de Franse Interventie en het 2de keizerrijk, 1862 – 1867
Poor mad Charlotte survived them all. She was brought back to Belgium, where she lived in the castle of Tervueren for 10 years, until it burned to the ground. “How beautiful it is” she exclaimed watching the flames. Her brother bought for her Bouchout Castle, where she lived the rest of her life. It was said that she used to cuddle a little doll she called “Max”.
She died on January 19, 1927, at the age of 86, and finally found peace in the Royal crypt at Laeken.

 

 

Mexico - the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867

 

 
And with her disappeared the last actor in this tragedy of greed, ambition and folly.

 

 

 

©2010, M.S.F. Wick

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Mexico – the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867 (9/2)

9 – THE END (2)

“Todo es inutil”. “All is useless”. Maximilian is resolved. He will abdicate. He writes to his younger brother: “I came here, pushed by Charlotte. Without her, why stay? I have no heir and no more courage”. But the next day he remembers his honour as a Habsburg Prince and sends another letter, saying that he will do his “duty till the end”. And on top of his honour, there are his advisors: men who have nothing to gain, but everything to lose when he abdicates. Everyone connected with the empire shall be made to suffer when the republicans take over. Juárez’ threat to kill anyone who collaborates with the French is put enthusiastically into practice by his advancing troops.

Then Félix Eloin proposes a solution out of the imbroglio. An abdication before the French have left he considers as weakness. Once the French are gone, the Emperor can put the monarchy to the vote. If the people say “no”, he can return with honour to Europe, where he might even be called to play an important role: when in Austria, Eloin sensed a general feeling of discontent. Franz-Joseph is discouraged and the people ask his abdication. Maximilian can count on their sympathy, he knows.

The document is meant to remain highly secret and strictly confidential, but it falls into the hands of the Americans, who publish it with malign pleasure. Not least because it contains some painful details about Napoleon’s illnesses: the poor man suffers from kidney stones and prostate infections. Obviously, neither the French nor the Austrian Emperor finds it funny, but the letter does take effect: Maximilian firmly decides that maybe he’d probably better stay on after all, at least for now.

In October Napoleon sends his personal aide, General Castelnau, with powers to override Bazaine. His task is to make haste with the mopping up: he must pull out the troops, dissolve the empire and convince Maximilian to abdicate. The hedging Emperor is causing irritation in Washington and embarrassment in Paris. It might even become dangerous: the U.S. are beginning to doubt whether Napoleon intends to keep his word.

Mexico - the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867
For purely military reasons, Napoleon has decided to pull out his army in one shipment, as the plan to bring the army home in three parts would risk the annihilation of the last third. The evacuation was thus to begin four months later, but to end eight months earlier. Despite the Emperor’s orders to that effect, no word of this about-turn was properly passed to the U.S. government, but fortunately they intercepted his telegram to Castelnau: “Received your dispatch of the ninth December. Do not compel the Emperor to abdicate, but do not delay the departure of the troops; repatriate all except those who do not wish to return. Most of the ships have left. NAPOLEON”.

The Americans can comfortably sit back and watch the end. The entire French force is leaving; and with the French gone, Maximilian, even if he would try to keep his throne, won’t have a ghost of a chance against the Liberals. The European threat to American soil is virtually at an end.

Maximilian, meanwhile, flatly refuses to see Castelnau. After months of wavering between staying on or abdicating, he has come to the insight that the decision is best made for him. But not by the French: on January 14, a junta of notables assembles, to which Bazaine is invited too. The Marshal bluntly states that the government is best left to others and then leaves the assembly, which he qualifies as “a big joke”. Then the notables vote: of its 33 members, 7 vote in favour of abdication, 17 against it, and 9 shrug their shoulders. Thus the fate of Maximilian is sealed.

Mexico - the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867
This insecure harlequin is a far cry from the proud Archduke of Miramar with his noble statement that “a Habsburg never usurps a throne”. From now on he can no longer pretend to be the monarch of all Mexicans: he has become the ringleader of the conservative faction.

While anyone connected with the empire flees the capital, Maximilian returns, accompanied by General Marquez, who earned his nickname of “Hyena of Tacubaya” with murdering his own medical staff, that had dared to tend to wounded republican soldiers. On February 5, 1867, hidden behind the balustrade of his palace, he watches the French lower their flag and leave the city. “Finally, we are free!” he exclaims.

And now, when the die is cast and his ships are burned, even Maximilian understands that there can be no more wobbling. Action must be taken. His prime minister, Teodosio Lares, has promised $ 4,000,000 for his war coffers. But these 4 million now turn out to be based on the hopes of raising money with a lottery. No more than 600,000 piasters, about 50,000 dollars, can be scraped together by extorting the populace. Who can’t pay is thrown in prison. With the same methods 8,000 men are enrolled in the army. Together with the troops of Generals Miramón, Mendez and Mejia, and the Europeans that stayed behind, the Emperor can muster a force of about 16,000. With that, he must face Juárez’ 60,000, and his army is still growing.

On 13 February Maximilian leaves his capital for the town of Querétaro, where he arrives on March 4. The Republicans lay siege. After holding out for two months, on the 15th of May, Maximilian surrenders. He is imprisoned, and tried by a court martial. In compliance with his own “black decree”, he is condemned to death, as a rebel caught in arms against a lawful government.

Mexico - the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867

On June 19, 1867, Maximilian is, together with his generals Miramón and Mejia, shot by a firing squad. He dies, it must be said, with honour, as befits the last Emperor of Mexico.
 

©2010, M.S.F. Wick

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Mexico – the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867 (9/1)

9 – THE END

Mexico - the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867

The Liberals have taken the offensive with revived vigour. Guadalajara falls in the hands of General Uraga, and in July Matamoras, Monterey, and the port of Tampico are lost, which deprives the Imperialists of half their revenues. Bitter feelings are rising inside the Imperialist camp after these new setbacks. Each side accuses the other of double-dealing with the United States. The Mexicans accuse the French of delivering the empire up to the republicans, while the French accuse the Imperialists of trying to bring about such complications that it will keep France entangled in Mexican affairs..

To make sure that nothing more is lost, Bazaine orders the customs of Vera Cruz to be seized. Maximilian is furious. The enmity between them has reached a stage of open hostility. In a letter to Eloin, 29 May 1866, he writes: “The Marshal, by sloth or ill will, (…) does nothing, as he has never done anything, to organise the national army since the four years he has already spent in Mexico. I myself have personally taken the direction in hand, and I obligate the Marshal to attend once or twice every week the military Councils that I preside. I propose to send the Emperor Napoleon, by amicable letters, the minutes of these sessions so that he can finally clearly see who it is that works over here and who does nothing.” And: “Today, one sees clearly who is solely guilty, and why we haven’t been able until now to form a national army”.

Mexico - the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867Far too late, with the republicans virtually knocking at his palace doors, Maximilian has decided to put together a national army. Not that he has come to his senses. The rest of the letter, too, is that of a man who has completely lost touch with reality: “On 6 July appear the new coins, of which the die has cost so much work, but which will be so beautiful that few countries will have such a good minting”. From the tottering throne of a bankrupt country submerged in blood, this poor, incompetent fool is crowing about his new coins.

But when later that month Napoleon announces point-blank the end of the French intervention, the scales seem at last to fall from his eyes. He is prepared to abdicate. He is determined to abdicate.

Mexico - the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867

But Charlotte is still in fairyland. What envoys and letters can’t accomplish, she argues, surely the personal approach can. If she were to go to Paris to speak personally with Their Majesties, a way to save the empire will undoubtedly be found. Max is as easily convinced as ever. On July 9, the Empress starts for Europe, leaving Maximilian behind with a lengthy admonition not to abdicate: “Charles X and my grandfather (Louis-Philippe) were themselves lost by abdicating. (…) To abdicate is to pronounce one’s own condemnation, to give oneself a certificate of impotence. It is only admissible in the old or the weak of spirit (…) All that is not worthy of a Prince of the house of Habsburg (…)”

 

In Paris Charlotte pleads, reasons and argues, but it is, of course, useless. Napoleon has long ago decided to pull the plug. “Not a sou, not a man more for Mexico”. Charlotte takes the train to Rome, to try to secure a concordat with the Pope, and to ask him to press Napoleon to keep his word. But with Victor Emmanuel banging at his own door, His Holiness can’t afford to annoy the French. It is “non possumus”.

The strain of her unsuccessful, desperate mission; the fatigue of years of fighting a lost fight, the stress of an unhappy marriage; whatever the cause may be, she collapses. The poor woman suffers a complete breakdown, and is locked up in the castle of Miramar. Her last telegram to Maximilian: “Todo es inutil”.
 

©2010, M.S.F. Wick

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Mexico – the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867 (8/2)

8 – HUMPTY DUMPTY (2)

Mexico - the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867
Not only the Americans are nagging Napoleon to put an end to his Mexican escapade; on 7 March 1865 the Duc de Morny, the man who so completely dominated the Corps Législatif, inconveniently dies. In him, Napoleon loses a valuable safety valve on the boiling kettle of French politics. In the beginning of 1866, Napoleon has to send the Baron Saillard to Mexico with the notification that the Corps Législatif can no longer free funds for the maintenance of the troops in Mexico, and that he therefore is forced to withdraw them as soon a possible.

 

For any sensible man, this would have been a gift from heaven. Here is a golden opportunity to get out of the mess and return home without loss of face. Now Maximilian can, and righteously so, publicly accuse Napoleon of breaching the agreement that is the fundament of the empire. But his answer is as stupid as it is dignified: “Monsieur mon frère, Your Majesty considers himself (…) not able to observe the solemn treaties that he has signed with me hardly two years ago, and he has disclosed this with an honesty that cannot do him but honour. I am too much your friend to want to be (…) the cause of a danger for Your Majesty or his dynasty. I propose therefore, with a cordiality equal to yours, that you withdraw immediately your troops from the American continent. On my part, guided by honour, I will seek to come to terms with my compatriots in a loyal way and worthy of a Habsburg (…)”.

When he comes to his senses after a good night’s sleep, he hastily sends his secretary, Félix Eloin, to Europe. He is glacially received in Paris, where the Emperor “didn’t even once shake hands” with him. The audience in Brussels with Charlotte’s brother, Leopold II (her father has died last December) was less unfriendly, but equally fruitless.

More delegations and representatives are sent on missions to Rome and Vienna, all of them to no avail. Almonte, returned to grace, -Max pays him the ambiguous compliment “the best that Mexico has produced”- has another go in Paris, but has to report back to the same effect as the message conveyed through Saillard.

In April 1866 John Bigelow, the U.S. Minister to France, after continuous pressure and polite threats, reaches an understanding with Napoleon: the troops in Mexico will be brought home in three stages, the last being set on November 1, 1867. On July 30 Napoleon proposes a new agreement to Maximilian: in exchange for half the revenues of the customs of Tampico and Vera Cruz, he is prepared to withdraw his troops not immediately but, yes: in three stages, the last on November 1, 1867. And Napoleon means business: he instructs Bazaine formally to advance Maximilian’s government no more funds, and to pay only the auxiliary force. The Mexican army may dissolve.

To everyone it is as clear as day that the French are shutting up shop, and that the empire is finished. To everyone, except to Their Imperial Majesties, who have by now completely lost their way in cloud-cuckoo-land.
 

©2010, M.S.F. Wick

 

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Mexico – the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867 (8/1)

8 – HUMPTY DUMPTY

Mexico - the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867
The threat that the U.S. poses has always been hanging as a sword of Damocles over the intervention. Only the Civil War had made it possible, and, from its start, Napoleon has sought to support the Confederacy against the Unionists. According to John Slidell, the South’s commissioner to France, the Emperor was “convinced of the propriety of the general recognition of the Confederate States by European Powers, but that the commerce of France and the success of the Mexican Expedition would be jeopardized by a rupture with the United States, that, in case of trouble with that country, no other Power than England possessed a sufficient navy to give him efficient aid in a war on the ocean which, however, he did not anticipate, if England would join with him in recognition.” The English were not prepared to do so, and Napoleon never dared to openly support the South, though warships were built in Bordeaux for the Confederate navy.

For reasons we’ve seen before, the Union was fiercely opposed to the establishment of an empire in Mexico. On April 4, 1864, the Senate and the House of Representatives had passed a resolution in opposition to the recognition of it, and, although no action could be undertaken at the moment, Napoleon was repeatedly informed of the position of the United States by its Secretary of State, William Seward. Maximilian’s envoy, Señor Arroyo, sent to Washington with a view to obtain this recognition, wasn’t even received.

And now, things take a turn for the worse. On April 9, 1865, General Lee surrenders to the Union Army, and the Civil War comes to an end. Suddenly the scene of military interest shifts to the Rio Grande. 60,000 Union soldiers are massed upon the frontier. And although the support is as yet official nor open, the ranks of the Liberals are reinforced by volunteers from the U.S.

Mexico - the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867But there is also another side, which might offer a chance to stem the tide. On June 28 U.S. General Sheridan reports to General Grant: “Kirby Smith, Magruder, Shelby, Slaughter, Walker and others of military rank have gone to Mexico. Everything on wheels -artillery, horses, mules etc.- have been run over into Mexico. Large and small bands of rebel soldiers and some citizens, amounting to about 2,000, have crossed the Rio Grande into Mexico (…) The rebels who have gone to Mexico have sympathies with the Imperialists, and this feeling is undoubtedly reciprocated.”

The Imperial government, as well as individual landowners, encourages refugees from the north to come and develop the agricultural resources of the country. A plan is devised for a colony of Confederates in the province of Sonora which, obviously, would form a formidable bulwark against a threat from the north. Napoleon is all for it, and promises every facility and assistance. All that is missing is the signature of Maximilian. But the Emperor who, for no intelligible reason at all, is still hoping on a recognition of his empire by the U.S., is against it, and so another chance of salvation is thrown away.

“God helps that our sovereign opens his eyes, because by keeping them closed, everything goes wrong”, sighs the Grand Marshal Almonte. But as his empire is going downhill, the sovereign closes them even firmer.

“We are here, I can assure you, my good father and dear mother, in a miserable country, completely different from what one imagines in France (…) Not at all wanting to be pessimistic, one is forced to recognise that it goes wrong. Between them, the emperor and the empress make mistakes as if vying with each other and one hears words that may be translated and summarised in one only: ‘leave!’ Every day, they lose in consideration. I was going to say prestige, but it is a long time since they had any left and that surprises me not at all (…). They have no wish and no understanding except for childish things, for regulating the style of the breeches and the dress one wears at court. The only functionary that is very occupied, and really very seriously, is the master of ceremonies. Everything that touches on etiquette is of an unequalled importance and regulated, most of the time, by the emperor and the empress themselves. On top of that, he makes a fuss about little trifles that vexes and irritates the feelings by throwing a certain ridicule on those who commit them. Certainly, everything is not lost, but there is a lot to do if one wants to regain the ground lost.” The Comte de Béarn is not the only one to speak such harsh words.

Mexico - the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867
To raise the spirits, the sovereigns decide to make a big thing of Independence day, 15 September. A promenade in the capital on a carpet of flowers, followed by a Te Deum in the cathedral, a grand ceremony on the Plaza Mayor, and a ball, the most brilliant since their arrival in Mexico. It is a complete failure. On their “Champs Elysees” from Chapultepec to the city only a handful of people could be bothered to come and watch the imperial coach pass by. When they arrive at the vast and almost empty Plaza Mayor, small separate groups, under the windows of the palace and in the shadow of the cathedral, start crying “Death to the Emperor! Death to Carlotta! Death to the French!”.

That evening, in a magnificent robe set with precious stones, the Empress presides over the ball. Without a smile. She probably didn’t hear it, but she must certainly have guessed what was whispered: “What an insolence, what a clumsiness, above all. I bet that tomorrow, the courier leaving for Europe will be laden with acrid remarks on the inconsiderate sovereigns that parade about while people die at the foot of their palace”..

Mexico - the French Intervention and the 2nd Empire, 1862-1867And the day holds yet another surprise for the sorely tried Empress. With his taste for the symbolic, and regardless of his wife’s feelings about the matter, Maximilian has chosen independence day to sign the adoption papers of two grandsons of the liberator and first emperor of Mexico: the 2-year old Augustín and the 15-year old Salvador de Iturbide. The first one to be raised in Chapultepec to be the heir to his throne, the second one assumedly to be kept in reserve.

If the Emperor expects to regain the enthusiasm of his people by linking his name to that of the freedom fighter and establish a “Mexican” dynasty, he is wrong again. But the American newspapers are happy to inform their readers of yet another crime of the Austrian usurper: kidnapping. Poor Maximilian simply can do no good.
 

©2010, M.S.F. Wick

 

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