Bouchout Castle is perhaps best known as the last residence of Charlotte of Belgium, or Empress Carlota of Mexico. It was erected around 1300 by a knight named Daniel van Bouchout. It passed through several families in the 15th and 16th century. It was partly destroyed during the French Revolutionary period. It was restored in 1832, giving it its current appearance. Charlotte bought the castle in 1879, after the most turbulent period of her life. She was born in 1840 as the daughter of Leopold I of Belgium and Louise of Orléans. She married Archduke Maximilian of Austria in 1857, who was also her second cousin, but the couple remained childless. She was disliked by her sister-in-law, Empress Elisabeth (Sisi).
In 1864 the couple became Emperor and Empress of Mexico on the initiative of Emperor Napoleon. However, his main patron soon abandoned him and things turned sour in Mexico. Charlotte returned to Europe to seek assistance for her husband, but it was no use. He was executed by firing squad in 1867.
Charlotte remained deeply devoted to her husband’s memory and began to show signs of paranoia. She was examined by psychiatrists who declared her insane. She began to live a secluded life, first in Miramar Castle in Italy, where she had lived with her husband. She was not told of her husband’s death immediately and was convinced to come to Belgium with a fake telegram from Maximilian, telling her to go to Brussels. It would be seven months before she was told of his death. By that time she was living in the Castle of Tervuren, which burned down in 1879. After this she bought Bouchout Castle in Laeken, Belgium, near her family. She stayed there for the rest of her life, even during the First World War, when Belgium was occupied. On orders of the German Emperor she was left alone, much to the relief of her exiled family.
Bouchout Castle is now a part of National Botanic Gardens of Belgium. It now houses exhibitions and is used for lectures and meetings. You have to pay to go into the gardens, but a tour of the castle is not included and besides the rooms where the exhibitions are held, you can’t really visit it. It’s about 30 minutes by bus from Brussels and is quite easy to reach. I was practically the only person there at the time, save some gardeners. I hope this was due to the weather at the time (rain was forecast) and that the Gardens and the Castle receive more visitors in the summer. It is gorgeous though, and its tragic history makes it all the more interesting.