Maximilian woke early on the morning of 19 June. Around 5, he received the last sacraments during a short mass. He handed his wedding ring, a rosary and a scapular to Doctor Basch and told them to give them to his mother. He had a breakfast of coffee, bread, chicken and red wine. His escort arrived at 6.30, upon which he suddenly went very pale.1 Maximilian and his two generals were escorted to the place of execution. They stood in front of a wall, facing the crowds. The executioners were handed money so they would aim for the heart. According to bystanders, Maximilian’s last words were, “I forgive everyone, and I ask everyone to forgive me. May my blood, which is about to be shed, be for the good of the country. Viva Mexico, Viva la Independencia!”2 Seconds later, the former Emperor fell back, but he wasn’t killed immediately. A first mercy shot was also not fatal. Then the gun refused to work. With the third attempt, Maximilian’s heart was finally pierced by a bullet.3
Ten days later, the news of his execution finally reached Europe. Franz Joseph and Elisabeth were enjoying a rare holiday together with their children when they learned of Maximilian’s fate. His mother collapsed into her husband’s arms and sobbed, “Those brutes, those savages! They have murdered him, my darling, my beautiful, lighthearted Max. They have shot him down like a common criminal.”4 Charlotte’s mental state was such that she was not immediately informed of her husband’s death. She remained convinced that he would be joining her soon. No one in the imperial family had bothered to visit Charlotte since her return from Mexico. In late July, after much bargaining with the family, Queen Marie Henriette of the Belgians came to Miramare to bring her sister-in-law Charlotte back to Belgium. She initially stayed at the Castle of Tervuren, but after a devastating fire, she moved to Bouchout Castle. When Charlotte was finally informed of her husband’s death, she reportedly wept quietly and later cried in the arms of her sister-in-law Queen Marie Henriette, saying, “Ah, if only I could make my peace with heaven and confess.”5 She also received a very touching letter of condolence from Empress Elisabeth.
At the end of November, Maximilian’s body was finally returned home, and Vienna began to prepare for a funeral with full imperial honours. He was interred in the Imperial Crypt next to the Duke of Reichstadt, formerly known as Emperor Napoleon II.
Now hidden from public view, Charlotte appeared to be all but forgotten by her husband’s family. In 1880, Empress Elisabeth was received by the Belgian royal family in Brussels. She came to see the girl her son Rudolf had chosen as his new bride – Princess Stéphanie of Belgium. Elisabeth requested that she and Queen Marie Henriette visit her long-forgotten sister-in-law. There is no account of what took place during their visit to Charlotte, but Elisabeth never visited her again. Luckily, her Belgian family would often visit her and her niece Princess Clementine was a great favourite of hers. Her moments of lucidity were often far apart, and her family sometimes witnessed her watering the flowers that were stitched into the carpet.
There is just one record of Elisabeth even mentioning Charlotte again. In 1891, she was at Miramare castle, and she was showing a newly employed teacher around the pavilion. She told him, “Thirty years of madness – a terror-haunted abyss, and yet I am told she is getting stout.”6
Charlotte would outlive not only her sister-in-law but also the Austrian Empire. There does not appear to be a record of how Charlotte responded to her sister-in-law’s assassination or if she was even informed of it. By the end of 1925, she was barely eating. Speaking to herself, she said, “Yes, sir, we are old, we are stupid, we are insane.”7 The following year, she was confined to her bed after she suffered paralysis of the legs. She was eventually able to take small steps again but never fully recovered from this. She declared, “It is all finished and will come to nothing.”8
On 19 January 1927, at 7 o’clock in the morning, Charlotte passed away at the age of 86. Sixty years earlier, as she had left Miramare, she had wistfully stared out to sea and declared, “I’ll be waiting for him for sixty years.”9 Charlotte’s prophecy had come true.
Charlotte was buried in the royal family crypt at Laeken.
- Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 459
- Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 454
- Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 455
- The crown of Mexico; Maximilian and his Empress Carlota by Joan Haslip p.504
- The Empress of farewells by Prince Michael of Greece and Denmark p.378
- The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p.421
- The Empress of farewells by Prince Michael of Greece and Denmark p.416
- The Empress of farewells by Prince Michael of Greece and Denmark p.417
- The Empress of farewells by Prince Michael of Greece and Denmark p.370